US President Donald Trump's harsh line against immigrants reached a new level of hostility this week. In an interview for Axios on HBO yesterday Trump said he was exploring a plan to abolish birthright citizenship, a move that could have consequences for a wide variety of families from around the world including 1.2 million Middle Eastern and North African immigrants living in America.
"We're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits," the president said in an interview with Axios that's scheduled to air as part of a new HBO show premiering Sunday. "It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end."
The move, which represents the most extreme stance adopted by a sitting president, is intended to be pushed through with an executive order and end the right to US citizenship for children born in the United States to noncitizens. Legal experts have denounced the proposal saying that it runs afoul of the Constitution.
The 14th Amendment of the US constitution guarantees automatic citizenship to all children born within the US. The very first line from the 14th Amendment says: "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."
Despite birthright citizenship being reaffirmed multiple times by the Supreme Court over the last 150 years, Trump's critics say he is behaving like a dictator by reaching beyond his authority in trying to amend the constitution. His hard-line immigration campaign is likely to set off another standoff with the courts similar to the one that followed his Muslims ban.
Critics of Trump, including historians, legal experts and politicians (including some Republicans) and plenty of others who feel strongly about adhering to constitutional law, have slammed the policy. His claim that only the US has a birthright citizenship is patently false. More than 30 countries, including Canada and Mexico, have similar citizenship policies in place.
Trump has long decried what opponents of birthright citizenship calls "anchor babies", a term used to describe families who use their child to remain in the country. But research cited by the New York Times found that the parents of nine in ten children born migrants came to the US at least two years before giving birth, suggesting that many chose to move in search of work, rather than simply to give birth to American babies.
"People don't come here to have a baby," said Michael Fix, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. "People tend to come here, all the studies indicate, for a better life and economic progress. Babies are more or less a byproduct."
Eliminating birthright citizenship will trigger a courtroom battle over whether or not the commander in chief has the unilateral capability to modify an amendment of the Constitution. Trump nevertheless seems intent on overturning the constitution and is seeking legal counsel. He seems to believe it can be accomplished with executive action, a view that is at odds with the opinions of most legal scholars.
Such a dramatic shift in the US will have implications for migrants from the MENA region. Figures cited by migration policy institute puts their number at 1.2 million which is roughly three per cent of the country's approximately 44 million immigrants.