Donald Trump’s newly-unveiled immigration plan is predictably ridiculous – shock jockette Ann Coulter calls it “the greatest political document since the Magna Carta,” which is all you need to know – and worst of all is his extremist proposal to abolish an American principle that dates back to 1866.
You know how Republicans always pride themselves as being “the party of Lincoln,” the original party of civil rights? So much for that notion. The Republican frontrunner (?!) wants to erase the key 14th Amendment provision which awards U.S citizenship to all babies born on American soil. That guarantee is embedded in the Constitution, and the language is unequivocal: “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.”
It’s called birthright citizenship. The Republicans of 1866 championed the provision, and to this day the GOP’s official website touts it as a major party achievement. But the frontrunner’s call for its removal – Scott Walker seemed to endorse the idea yesterday, before walking it back – shows us how the party is lurching to the nativist right. If the GOP’s goal is to alienate the burgeoning Hispanic electorate , and lose yet another national election, Trump’s idea is boffo.
You know how Republicans always claim to respect judicial precedent? So much for that notion. Fact is, the Supreme Court has twice validated birthright citizenship, with rulings in 1898 and 1982. Indeed, the 1898 court traced the principle back to English common law, and said that the 14th Amendment “in clear words and in manifest intent, includes the children born within the territory of the United States…of whatever race and color,” and that children born here are citizens even if the parents’ entry is “unlawful.”
But laws and precedents and constitutional amendments are being Trumped by the party’s xenophobic primal scream.
I’m tempted to say that this is just the latest symptom of August Syndrome – politicians often get stupider with each new blast of humidity – but Trump is actually dramatizing a long-marinating party impulse. Back in 2010, John Boehner said that erasing the GOP’s historic achievement was “worth considering.” And Lindsey Graham claimed that immigrants were crossing en masse into America for the sole purpose of giving birth to “anchor babies” – a notion he called “drop and leave.” His demagoguery was so laughable that even Mark Kirkorian, the prominent anti-immigration activist, dissed it: “Most illegal alien women who have kids here didn’t come for that purpose, they came for jobs or to join relatives.”
Anyway, Trump’s proposal is just the rawest of red meat, a naked pander to the nativists in The Base. His policy paper declares, “End birthright citizenship. No sane country would give automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants,” but it’s never gonna happen, because (and he may well be ignorant of the basics) tweaking the U.S. Constitution requires two-thirds approval in the House and Senate, and three-fourths of the state legislatures. But hey, if his sole aim is to bond with right-wing Iowans between now and caucus time, then it’s a swell idea.
Other planks in The Donald’s immigration plan are similarly detached from reality – deporting all 11 million undocumented immigrants (“they have to go”) would cost as much $600 billion over a decade; slapping tariffs on Mexico would violate the free trade provisions in NAFTA – but his call for the revocation of birthright citizenship is arguably the most heartless and contemptuous.
Conservative commentator Michael Gerson, former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote something wise about this issue five years ago, during the pre-Trump rumblings: “The authors of the 14th Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people ‘born or naturalized in the United States’ for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the Dred Scott decision, which said that citizenship could be granted or denied by political caprice. They purposely chose an objective standard of citizenship – birth – that was not subject to politics. (Republican) leaders established a firm, sound principle: To be an American citizen, you don’t have to please a majority, you just have to be born here.”
Gerson warned that “revoking birthright citizenship would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ – arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital. A whole class of people would grow up knowing they are hunted aliens, through no fault of their own. This cannot be called the rule of law. It would be viciousness and prejudice on a grand scale.”
The first generation of Republicans viewed their 14th Amendment as an antidote to viciousness and prejudice. But that was then. Trumpism is now.