Birthright is at the heart of American Democracy

Jess Kaplan, Opinions Editor

Limiting citizenship and curbing undocumented immigration has been U.S. President Donald Trump’s central priority since he launched his young political career with an attack on former President Barack Obama’s status as a “natural-born citizen.” Yet on Oct. 30, Trump furthered his agenda by announcing his intentions to issue an executive order that would invalidate birthright citizenship in the United States. “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits,” Trump said in an interview with Axiom (his claim was quickly falsified, as over 30 other countries in the Western hemisphere provide birthright citizenship).

The U.S. Supreme Court has traditionally upheld an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment that anyone born on American soil is naturally a citizen, regardless of their parent’s citizenship. However, as part of Trump’s persistent acrimony towards “illegal aliens,” he has challenged whether birthright citizenship applies to immigrants and their children. The arguments made in favor of ending birthright citizens hinge on a mere five words: “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” To strict constructionists, these words have been greatly misinterpreted as the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment never intended to grant citizenship to the children of non-citizens.

Like many of Trump’s threats and insults, he was met with swift backlash, even among key members of the Republican Party. In fact, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Trump out on the “obvious” fact that an executive order cannot override a constitutional amendment. Moreover, this executive order can be seen as a final effort to ignite Republican voters a week before the midterm elections.

Nevertheless, it is critical to evaluate Trump’s vow through the historical significance of citizenship. Birthright citizenship was enacted to incorporate freed slaves into American society after the Civil War, encouraging them to make the United States their home in a white man’s country. Although the freed slaves’ citizenship was often put into question (numerous laws that transpired against freed slaves, the extreme discrimination and sharp marginalization), the Fourteenth Amendment ensured that they could not be sent back into slavery.

Moreover, in light of the tragedy at Squirrel Hill this past weekend, it is imperative to look back to when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. One of his first actions as dictator was the passage of the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped citizenship from those not of Aryan descent. Jews and other minorities were degraded to “state subjects,” lacking the same rights and freedoms and “real” Germans. The Nuremberg Laws were critical in degrading the Jews, and enabled the Germans to gain leverage over them.

As a nation that has long struggled with racism, xenophobia, political animosity and antisemitism, the Fourteenth Amendment is the heart of our democracy. To nullify the Fourteenth Amendment would be to fully disregard the America’s devotion to inclusion.

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