Tom Blanton is the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University and a co-author of The Safe Havens of Indifference: Authoritarianism, Democracy, and the International Order. He is also the author of 20 books, including The Road to 9/11: How Bill Clinton and the Democrats Fought George W. Bush and the Wars He Started.
Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have already introduced bipartisan legislation that would end birthright citizenship.
Congress has to act, and fast. Trump’s declaration to end birthright citizenship would spark legal and constitutional chaos and create havoc on the southern border.
It could also cause a lot of confusion and potentially harm the American people.
President Trump recently announced that his Administration will go forward with plans to change birthright citizenship. Under current law, a person born in the United States is a U.S. citizen at birth even if that person’s parents are not United States citizens.
In practice, birthright citizenship is guaranteed to anyone born in the United States to parents who are not U.S. citizens. The language of the Constitution specifically mentions the United States and no other country, such as Canada or Mexico, has a “right to confer citizenship upon any child born within its territory.”
If we did not already have birthright citizenship, any parent who entered the United States illegally and unlawfully would not have U.S. citizenship at birth under our current law. These parents may also be subject to felony prosecution for their actions.
Closing the birthright citizenship loophole would force Congress to act. The question is, will the law itself be a fix or would Congress simply pass Trump’s executive order as the replacement for the existing law? The problem with the latter is that it would be a major addition to the government’s executive power to unilaterally impose restrictions on the American people and to limit their freedoms.
Like former vice president Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has hinted that he does not believe birthright citizenship is unconstitutional.
However, there is broad consensus among scholars that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which was passed by Congress and ratified by the states in 1868, and as amended in 1898, grant citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
Conservatives in the Supreme Court currently have a 5-4 majority on the court who believe the Constitution does not give any particular status to those born in the United States to non-citizens. They believe that the Amendment simply grants birthright citizenship to anyone born in the United States to a U.S. citizen parent.
They also believe that the language in the Amendment does not require states to recognize the citizenship of anyone born in the United States.
As if no one was watching, you can imagine the chaos that would occur if Congress and the Trump Administration are unable to agree on a solution that recognizes all that is right and proper about birthright citizenship.
Anyone who has lived in this country for 50 years, regardless of where their parents came from, should be given full rights, privileges, and protections to enjoy American culture, prosperity, and liberty.
These rights include the right to live, to work, to be educated, to vote, to run for public office, to protest, to be housed, to work, to eat, to travel, to vote, to vote in elections, to own property, to own a vehicle, to inherit property, to marry, to own land, to farm, to vote in elections, to have access to medical care, to obtain goods and services, to receive all the benefits and privileges of citizenship, and to defend the rights of the American people in a fair and transparent legal system.
Forcing Congress to come to an agreement will be difficult, perhaps impossible, given the current divisions in Washington.
We should do what is right and proper for all Americans and give all birthright citizens full and equal rights to enjoy the fruits of American citizenship and the greatest nation on Earth.
This column originally appeared in the National Review, which is run by William F. Buckley, Jr.
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