In late October 2018, President Donald Trump announced that he is preparing an executive order with the intention of nullifying the long-accepted constitutional guarantee of 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,” Mr. Trump stated during an interview. “It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”
The right in question is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Since it is a Constitutional amendment and not just a law, legal consensus is that this right is not able to be overruled by executive order, and many Democrats are adamantly arguing this fact. That being said, both political parties have had a tumultuous relationship with this Amendment for some time now. While many Democrats spoke out against Trump now, over the years, various Democrats have flip flopped on this policy in both directions, leaving the public questioning the Democratic views on birthright citizenship.
History of Democrats and Birthright Citizenship
Perhaps the most well-known, or at least most publicized, representation of the shift in Democratic views on birthright citizenship is Harry Reid. In 1993, Reid was the Democratic Senator of Nevada, and he took the Senate floor in an impassioned stand against birthright citizenship. He explained that “no sane country” would grant birthright citizenship to children whose parents did not have legal status in said country, stating “If making it easy to be an illegal alien isn’t enough, how about offering a reward to be an illegal immigrant. No sane country would do that, right? Guess again. If you break our laws by entering this country without permission and give birth to a child, we reward that child with U.S. citizenship and guarantee a full access to all public and social services this society provides — and that’s a lot of services.” He was on the Senate floor, in fact, because he had introduced the Immigration Stabilization Act of 1993, which challenged the clause in the 14th Amendment that grants birthright citizenship. Reid’s act died in Committee.
Reid, surprisingly enough, has been one of the most outspoken opponents of Trump’s proposal. But his change of heart has been long in the making. In 2006, Reid went so far as to apologize for the Act, calling it a mistake and the “low point” of his legislative career. “I want to relate to the Senate that the biggest mistake I ever made, the largest error I ever made was 15 or 18 years ago,” said Reid. “That is a low point of my legislative career, the low point of my governmental career. That is why I believe we need comprehensive immigration reform today… After I proposed that awful bill, my wife Landra immediately sat me down and said, ‘Harry, what are you doing, don’t you know that my father is an immigrant?’ She set me straight,” Reid stated. “This president wants to destroy not build, to stoke hatred instead of unify. He can tweet whatever he wants while he sits around watching TV, but he is profoundly wrong.” Reid then went on to explain how important he has realized immigration is to this country, stating, “And in my 36 years in Washington, there is no more valuable lesson I learned than the strength and power of immigrants and no issue and I worked harder on than fixing our broken immigration system. I had the privilege of learning from heroes like Astrid Silva who came to this nation as a little girl and has emerged as a powerful leader.”
Reid’s change of heart largely mimics that of the Democratic Party’s on this issue. Over the last couple of decades, Democrats have moved increasingly left on immigration as a whole, and particularly this issue. Currently, fewer than 1 in 4 Democrats support an end to birthright citizenship. This contrasts to 2006, when slightly more than 1 in 3 Democrats supported ending it. Similarly, more Democrats oppose Trump’s proposed Mexican border wall.
The DNC spoke out against Donald Trump’s statements. Spokesperson Daniel Wessel released the following statement in the aftermath of Trump’s announcement: “While Trump’s proposal to end birthright citizenship is obviously unconstitutional, his intent is clear – to incite fear, divide our nation, and make vulnerable communities feel unsafe. If you want leaders who will unite our country instead of divide it, you must vote on November 6.” This statement makes it clear that the DNC is sure their voters will largely side with them. Further, Democratic support for not only birthright citizenship but for infants brought here before they were able to consciously decide to break the law has grown over the past few decades. Democrats have fought hard with Trump on this front as well, trying to keep programs like DACA and DAPA running.
- Harry Reid once said ‘no sane country’ would allow birthright citizenship. He regrets it again. – The Washington Post
- Democrats move left on immigration, GOP to the right – Los Angeles Times
- DNC On Trump’s Threat to End Birthright Citizenship – Democrats.org
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