By Marian Baker, Contributor
Donald Trump has been making plenty of headlines this election cycle. In recent weeks, the real estate mogul turned presidential candidate made the news for proclaiming he would seek to abolish birthright citizenship if elected president, a proposal that aligns with his other anti-immigrant policies and radical brand of nativism.
However, such a move would not be easy. Birth right citizenship has been in the Constitution since the adoption of the 14th Amendment. It was established in order to combat denied voting rights to former slaves on the basis of their ancestors being unable to vote. The 14th Amendment formally defined citizens in general as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.”
The United States has followed the rule of jus solis, citizenship by birthplace, for even longer than the institution of the 14th Amendment. It has been the de facto mechanism of citizenship since our founding, and was only replaced for a brief period by jus sanguinis, citizenship by blood or parentage, in the years leading up to and following the Civil War in certain states. While it was never formalized until the 14th Amendment, birthright citizenship is certainly what the Founding Fathers intended, as the rule of jus solis is what they followed.
So, why do some Republicans wish to abolish the practice of birthright citizenship? In Trump’s case, he believes that it leads to “birth tourism” and the proliferation of what he calls “anchor babies.” Birth tourism refers to the practice of non-U.S. citizens traveling to the United States in order to give birth on U.S. soil, conferring automatic U.S. citizenship on their children. These children can then supposedly be used to “anchor” the family in the United States despite the fact that the parents do not hold U.S. citizenship. In cases where the parents are in fact illegal immigrants, this further complicates the issue of deportation. Trump is therefore in favor of removing birthright citizenship in order to simplify the deportation of illegal parents.
While the practice of birth tourism is certainly troubling, it is no reason to remove birthright citizenship altogether. Instead, there should be a reformation of birthright citizenship to remove the loopholes that allow people who have no intention of long-term residency for themselves or for their children to claim the benefits of citizenship.
The United States is a nation of immigrants, no matter how distant those immigrant roots might be. Many of the arguments against birthright citizenship ring of xenophobia, and, in the case of Trump, no other explanation can be made. His extreme nativism is apparent in his racist statements against immigrants and promises to employ a mass deportation policy if elected president.
Illegal immigration is an issue in the United States, but the solution should be to reform the process into making gaining citizenship easier, not harder. A common reason people become illegal immigrants is because they are prevented by time constraints or other insurmountable challenges such that they cannot participate in the current process it takes to become a citizen. What the U.S. government should be doing is creating a path to citizenship, not to deportation. If parents intend to establish residency, either for themselves or for their children, there should be no issue in allowing their children to claim citizenship by birth. Stipulations and laws that prevent the integration of immigrants into the U.S. legal system are based on fears of a changing demographic, a fear that goes against the very foundation of all that makes America the nation it is today.
The 14th Amendment granted rights to those who had been denied them on account of their race. The Republican Party would do well to remember the significance of it as one of their greatest achievements.