President Donald Trump’s legally dubious promises to end birthright citizenship have reignited debate in Congress, with some Republicans taking the opportunity to push legislation aimed at the long-standing guarantee of citizenship.
The chance of any proposal advancing beyond a talking point on Capitol Hill remains slim.
Under the historical interpretation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, anyone born in the United States is a citizen, with limited exceptions. Children of undocumented immigrants in the country have long been granted citizenship under that interpretation, but the President and some Republicans on Capitol Hill want to end that.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that birthright citizenship “will be ended one way or the other.” Later in the day, he repeated his claim that he can eliminate birthright citizenship via executive order, although he said his preference would be for Congress to pass legislation.
“I believe you can have a simple vote in Congress,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House.
Then he said at a rally in Fort Myers, Florida, on Wednesday night that birthright citizenship has “created an entire industry of birth tourism, big business, where pregnant mothers travel to America to make their children instant American citizens.”
He called birthright citizenship a “crazy policy” that costs “billions of dollars a year,” though he provided no proof for his claims.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a critic-turned-ally of the President, said on Tuesday that he plans to introduce legislation in line with Trump’s vow of executive action.
Also, Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, an immigration hardliner who has been rebuked by members of his own party for incendiary comments on immigration and diversity, seized on the President’s remarks to promote legislation he has previously introduced to end birthright citizenship as it currently exists.
It’s not likely that any legislation challenging birthright citizenship would pass out of Congress, in part because there’s no broad base of support on Capitol Hill in favor of doing so and any effort to challenge the policy would be highly divisive.
“At this point, it’s really a minority within the Republican Party that’s advocating for the end of birthright citizenship,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
“There have been bills that have been introduced since the early 1990s that would limit or end birthright citizenship, but they have never had enough support to pass even out of committee, much less out of Congress.”
Legal experts have thrown cold water on Trump’s assertion that he could end birthright citizenship via executive order, by arguing that it would take the successful passage of a constitutional amendment to do so — a very high hurdle to clear, since that would necessitate a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate and ratification by three-fourths of the states.