Donald Trump is calling to “end birthright citizenship,” a demand that would mean the people born to foreign parents in America are no longer automatically U.S. citizens. And though many presidential candidates are now lining up to support Trump — some suggesting that immigrants are “taking advantage” of this part of the Constitution — this policy change could hit close to home for them.
The Constitution’s 14th Amendment currently grants automatic citizenship to infants born on U.S. soil, including those who are born to immigrants, undocumented or otherwise. The amendment reads in part, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
It’s not entirely clear whether Trump’s plan should be taken seriously. Legal experts say that repealing birthright citizenship would require a constitutional amendment; others, like Rep. Steve King (R-IA), believe it would only require a change to federal statute. However, Trump is currently the GOP presidential frontrunner, and some of his ideas are gaining traction among other candidates aiming to match his extreme immigration policy.
Had the United States previously taken this harsh stance to immigration policy, some presidential candidates’ own families may have been in trouble:
“We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants,” Jindal tweeted on Monday night.
Jindal likely forgot that he is a beneficiary of birthright citizenship, and could even be considered a so-called “anchor baby.” Amar and Raj Jindal, Jindal’s parents, moved to the United States in 1971 as legal immigrants after Raj received a scholarship to Louisiana State University. Though Raj was reportedly a permanent resident, Jindal was born in the United States four months after his parents arrived in the country. Jindal’s mother became a citizen in 1976 and his father was naturalized in 1986.
“I’m not in favor of repealing the 14th Amendment,” Rubio said in Iowa on Tuesday. “I am open to doing things that prevent people who deliberately come to the U.S. for purposes of taking advantage of the 14th amendment but I’m not in favor of repealing it.”
Even as Rubio is pushing to remove people “deliberately” coming to the United States, his own heritage as the son of economic Cuban migrants could make him double back on his statement. Rubio, like Jindal, is actually a beneficiary of birthright citizenship. Rubio’s parents were not permanent legal residents in the U.S. at the time of his birth in 1971. And neither one of his parents became citizens until four years after he was born, the National Journal noted.
“I know the 14th Amendment has been brought up recently, about anchor babies—and it doesn’t make any sense to me that people could come in here, have a baby and that baby becomes an American citizen,” Carson said Tuesday, according to Breitbart.
As ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser explained, the 14th Amendment provides for birthright citizenship in order to overrule the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, which reasoned that citizenship was a kind of hereditary inheritance, passed down from the kind of people “who were citizens of the several States when the Constitution was adopted” to their children. “[N]either the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants,” according to Dred Scott, were “acknowledged as a part of the people” entitled to citizenship, regardless whether these individuals “had become free or not.”
The 14th Amendment, which granted full citizenship to former slaves and their descendants, impacted some of Carson’s maternal ancestors. According to The Root, Carson’s great-grandfather was born a slave in 1831, though it’s unclear what happened to him after emancipation occurred before the turn of the century. Indeed, had the 14th Amendment — with its language overruling Dred Scott — never been ratified, Carson arguably would be ineligible for citizenship because he is descended from a member of “the class of persons who had been imported as slaves.”
“Only children born on American soil where at least one parent is a citizen or resident aliens is automatically a U.S. citizen,” Santorum wrote in an op-ed for Breitbart in May.
Even as Santorum opposes birthright citizenship, his own muddled immigrant history may have barred his family from admission into the United States by today’s standards. During an interview with The Daily Caller last month, Santorum revealed that his grandfather knew Adolf Hitler and thought that he was a “loud-mouth.” Applicants may be ineligible for citizenship if they’re associated with terrorists or they’re members of certain ideologies or parties like communism, something that applies to Rick Santorum’s “red communist” grandfather.
Cruz “absolutely” supports ending birthright citizenship, a Bloomberg Politics reporter tweeted on Wednesday. The Republican Texas senator previously hadn’t given a straight answer on his position on the subject, according to Talking Points Memo.
These questions about citizenship have been very relevant to Cruz’ political career. Cruz was born in Calgary, Canada and some observers initially wondered whether that made him ineligible for the presidency. The Constitution states that presidential candidates must be a “natural born citizen” but doesn’t exactly define what that means. Cruz does qualify, even though he wasn’t born in the United States, because he was born to an American mother and gained her citizenship at birth. His father immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1957 and became a citizen in 2005.
Despite being the loudest voice in favor of harsh immigration policies, Trump himself isn’t insulated from this issue.
Though Trump’s paternal grandfather, Frederich Christ Trump, immigrated to the country in 1885 and became a citizen years before his child Friederich (Fred) was born, it’s likely that immigrant-restrictionist policies would have prevented his family from entering the country in the first place. As the Atlantic noted, many German immigrants arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio where it “became increasingly unstable as German and Irish immigrants poured in,” a similar situation that Trump warned against in his rant against Mexican immigrants earlier this year.