In a suburban New Jersey town, an IT executive from the United Kingdom started panicking. She has been legally living and working in the U.S. for 20 years, with three children born in America. But the claim from President Donald Trump that he would end birthright citizenship was alarming to her.
“My skin crawled, all the hairs rose on my body,” says the woman, who does not wish to use her name due to fears of retribution from the government since she is applying for U.S. citizenship.
“The first thing I thought of, ‘I am a green card holder, my husband is a green card holder,’ ” says the woman, whose spouse is the business director of a multinational company and is also applying for citizenship.
“I have a 17-year-old, 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, and I felt, ‘My goodness, does that mean we can be thrown out of the country by the whim of the government if this is allowed to happen?’ “
According to legal experts, it most likely can’t happen.
As the 14th Amendment states: “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.”
Peter Spiro, a professor of law at Temple University, tells The New York Times: “The conventional understanding is absolutely clear that children born in the United States are citizens of the United States, with the insignificant exception of the children of diplomats.”
And constitutional scholars believe it would require a constitutional amendment to change that, according to FactCheck.org.
“He’s doing something that’s going to upset a lot of people, but ultimately this will be decided by the courts,” Saikrishna Prakash, a constitutional expert and University of Virginia Law School professor, tells The BBC. “This is not something he can decide on his own.”
It is unclear how serious Trump is about acting on his plan. Critics say that Trump’s declaration is simply more of his divisive anti-immigrant and political rhetoric, just a week before the midterm elections, to try and bring out his base to vote.
Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, argues to The Washington Post that the president was involved in “a transparent and blatantly unconstitutional attempt to sow division and fan the flames of anti-immigrant hatred in the days ahead of the midterms.”
— ABC News (@ABC) October 30, 2018
And Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, tells the Times that Trump’s latest idea is both illegal and offensive.
“Aside from being unconstitutional, such an executive order would exacerbate racial tensions, exploit fears and drive further polarization across the country at a moment that calls for the promotion of unity and inclusion,” she said in a statement.
Even the Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who usually supports Trump, has rejected the idea.
“You obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order,” he told WVLK radio on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.
Ryan added: “I believe in interpreting the Constitution as its written, and that means you can’t do something like this via executive order.”
The New Jersey woman, who says she feels a bit less panicked now that she’s read about the slim chance of Trump’s success, hasn’t yet told her children the news. But she will.
“He is throwing this out there and I have to tell my children,” she says. “He has put out that statement which his base will stand behind — ‘You don’t belong here’ — and that is how I feel.”