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Politics & Government

Trump Claims He Will End Birthright Citizenship Through Executive Order


With one week to go before the midterm elections, President Trump is floating a new tactic in his immigration crackdown. The president says he wants to end the automatic right to citizenship for babies born in the U.S. Birthright citizenship is protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. In an interview with "Axios," Trump insisted he can change that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You can definitely do it with an act of Congress, but now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order.

SHAPIRO: The full interview airs this weekend on "Axios" on HBO. Joining us now is NPR's Joel Rose.

Hi, Joel.


SHAPIRO: First, just fact check for us. Can the president do this?

ROSE: Most constitutional scholars would say he can't do it alone, and they would argue, actually, that Congress couldn't do it alone either. They say it would require a constitutional amendment because right now, here is what the 14th amendment says, quote, "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."

SHAPIRO: That seems like pretty clear language. So where does President Trump's argument come from that he could do this without a constitutional amendment?

ROSE: The president is relying basically on a small but very vocal group of conservative legal scholars who say that the entire country, basically, has been reading the 14th Amendment wrong for over a century and that children who are born to noncitizens should not be granted automatic citizenship. They argue that was a mistake and that it's led immigrants to abuse the current system.

SHAPIRO: I know there has been a lot of reaction to this today both on Capitol Hill and among the legal community. Tell us what people are saying.

ROSE: Well, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked about the president's comments today and said flatly that you cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order. Most legal scholars say the Supreme Court settled this more than a century ago.

Margaret Stock is an immigration lawyer in Alaska who taught constitutional law at West Point. Here is what she said.

MARGARET STOCK: I think it's kind of a lunatic fringe argument, but it's been going on for a long time. I mean, I've been debating folks like this for more than a decade, and now they've got a president in office who apparently has fixated on this as well.

ROSE: If President Trump does follow through on this proposal, there would certainly be legal challenges. And it's important to note, though, that the White House has floated other executive orders that never saw the light of day. So a lot of the White House's critics are saying that this is just politics.

SHAPIRO: And in terms of politics, the timing seems significant that we're one week from the midterm elections. Is this just President Trump trying to make immigration the central issue in these final days?

ROSE: Well, the president has definitely been talking a lot about immigration at his campaign rallies. Just yesterday, the Department of Defense announced that it's sending about 5,000 troops to the southwest border to support immigration authorities. That is in response to the migrant caravan of people fleeing from violence in Central America that is slowly making its way across Mexico.

No question that this president was elected on a promise to get tough on immigration and that this issue plays well with his base. He wants to turn that base out to vote next week or in the midterm elections. Although, you know, judging by the outrage from Democrats and others over his proposal to end birthright citizenship, I guess it's possible that this issue will motivate voters on the other side as well.

SHAPIRO: One more statement from the president on this that I'd like you to fact check. Trump says the U.S. is out of step with the rest of the world and that it is the only country to allow birthright citizenship. Is that true?

ROSE: No, that's not true. The U.S. is unusual, but it is not unique. There are over 30 countries that also have birthright citizenship. Mostly, they are in the Western Hemisphere, including Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, but we are not alone.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Joel Rose, thanks a lot.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.