Early last week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump released his plan for immigration reform. This is particularly significant because Trump now leads the race in a Reuters/Ipsos poll with 32%. This is close to double the support of his closest rival, Jeb Bush. Trump’s hard line stance on immigration is credited as one of the reasons for his soaring popularity, and it has already influenced the positions of the other Republican candidates.
In addition to his plans for building a wall across the southern United States and tripling the number of Immigration and Customs officers, Trump intends to end birthright citizenship. Trump’s immigration plan gives two reasons for taking away citizenship from the children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States: 1. It is unpopular, and 2. Birthright citizenship “remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration.”
The day after Trump released his immigration plan, Republican candidate Ben Carson came forward in support of ending birthright citizenship. Candidate Jeb Bush, who does not agree with Trump and Carson on birthright citizenship, has responded by adopting Trump’s use of the term “anchor babies” to describe the American-born children of undocumented immigrants—a term that many consider to be offensive.
Trump’s success in the polls is shifting Republican candidates’ conversations about immigration to birthright citizenship, a practice that has been upheld by the Supreme Court for over one hundred years.
Trump claims that birthright citizenship is the greatest draw of immigrants to the United States. However, studies by the Pew Research Center show that this is untrue. The overwhelming majority of immigrants come to the United States for economic reasons, not for their children’s citizenship. If birthright citizenship were such a “magnet” for immigrants as Trump describes, we would see many more female immigrants entering the country illegally. However, male immigrants outnumber their female counterparts, according to Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends project.
Birthright citizenship is backed by the 14th amendment of the US Constitution, which grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Changing this would necessitate a repeal of the amendment, requiring two-thirds of the members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate vote in favor of it. Considering the highly divisive nature of birthright citizenship, this outcome is unlikely.
Historical perspective on this issue reveals that the Supreme Court first upheld birthright citizenship in 1898 in the case of the American-born Chinese man Wong Kim Ark, who was prohibited from re-entering the United States after a trip to China. Wong was a victim of the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1890, which limited Chinese immigration to the United States and forbid Chinese immigrants from becoming US citizens. It was Wong’s case that resulted in the setting of a legal precedent for birthright citizenship. Sadly, his own citizenship was never completely recognized by the US government.
On June 18, 2012, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution introduced by Congresswoman Judy Chu that formally expresses the regret of the House of Representatives for the Chinese Exclusion Act, which imposed almost total restrictions on Chinese immigration and naturalization and denied Chinese-Americans basic freedoms because of their ethnicity.
If Donald Trump’s threat of ending birthright citizenship were actually brought to fruition, our country could be set back over a hundred years in our immigration policies.
Could history repeat itself? Fortunately, Latinos presently make up 17% of the US population, and Latino Decisions estimate that Republicans will need over 42% of the Latino vote to win the presidency in 2016. What do you think the chances are?
Sources: Edelman, Adam, “Donald Trump’s Policies on Immigration, Economy Put Him in the Lead for GOP Nomination Among Voters,” New York Daily News, 18 August 2015.
Hensch, Mark, “‘Anchor Baby’ Fight Scrambles GOP Field,” The Hill, 22 August 2015.
“Immigration Reform That Will Make America Great Again,” Trump.
Lee, Erika, “An Immigration History Lesson for Donald Trump,” New York Daily News, 18 August 2015.
Stableford, Dylan, “How Does Trump Intend to Pull off his Immigration Plan? ‘It’s Called Management,'” Yahoo Politics, 23 August 2015.
Stephenson, Emily, “Trump Widens Lead in Poll to 32% After ‘Hard Line Immigration Stance,'” Reuters, 21 August 2015.
“Trump’s Immigration Plan,” FactCheck.Org, 20 August 2015.