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What the Constitution giveth, Trump wants to taketh away

November 7, 2018

To take Americans’ minds off his problems, President Trump offers another shiny object: birthright citizenship.

The legal concept is jus soli, Latin for “the right of the soil.” In the United States — and more than 30 other countries, including Canada and most of Latin America — if you’re born there, you’re a citizen. This includes the children of illegal immigrants.

In about two dozen countries — mainly in Asia, Europe and the Middle East — at least one parent must have legal status for a child born on their soil to get citizenship. Only two nations — India and Malta — are so strict that they deny citizenship to children born on their soil unless at least one parent is a citizen.

Thanks to the 14th Amendment, the United States has it right. But what the U.S. Constitution giveth, Trump wants to taketh away.

You ought to keep 10 things in mind:

When conservatives parrot the talking point that the Supreme Court “has never ruled” on whether the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment applies to the children of undocumented immigrants, they’re missing the point. There are reams of issues that the court has never decided because they’re ridiculous. Note that the court has also never ruled on unicorns. This could be one of those issues.

The underlying assumption of those who want to deny citizenship to the children of the undocumented seems to be that U.S. citizenship is extremely valuable. But if they want to be stingy about who becomes a citizen, then why do we give the privilege away automatically to the native-born who did nothing to earn it?

Most illegal immigrants come from Mexico and Central America. So Trump’s attack on birthright citizenship should be seen as just another hate-filled strike against the nation’s 58 million Latinos, many of whom get up and go to work everyday to help keep America great.

It’s simply false to say that “no other country” confers birthright citizenship. Besides, what the folks who say that likely mean is that few countries in Europe offer it. Who cares? The United States hasn’t followed Europe’s lead on much of anything since the Marshall Plan. When was the last time you heard of the French Dream?

Trump warns that U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants have the “benefits” of citizenship. This implies that they are takers. But countless studies show that immigrants are just as likely as the U.S.-born to be productive members of society, if not more so.

Opponents of birthright citizenship also claim that the privilege acts as a “magnet” that draws refugees and migrants to this country. That’s nonsense. I’ve spoken to dozens of immigrants over the years, and I can tell you this much: There is a jobs magnet, and a family reunification magnet. There is no citizenship magnet.

It’s pointless to dwell on the “intent” of the 14th Amendment. With the Constitution, intent is debatable — and not worth much. The 14th Amendment also guarantees “equal protection of the laws.” The fact those words were written to protect freed slaves doesn’t mean that they don’t also protect other groups from unfair treatment.

The 14th Amendment confers U.S. citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Some insist illegal immigrants don’t qualify. That’s absurd. We’re talking about the child, not the parents. And if the government can deport or imprison you, then you’re subject to its jurisdiction.

Republicans like Trump don’t really care about citizenship. They care about what citizenship bestows: the right to vote. They know they’ve misbehaved by picking on Latinos, and they’re due a spanking at the ballot box that they’re desperately trying to avoid one way or another. That’s what this is all about.

Once upon a time, some Republicans made a play for Latino voters. Those days are over. The only voters that Trump is trying to rile up so they turn out on Tuesday are those whose American Dream is an America without brown people in it.

Trump and other Republicans like to pick on Latinos. But this time, they picked the wrong spot to poke.

Those voters care about children and families. Defend them, and we will always remember. Attack them, and we will never forget.

ruben@rubennavarrette.com

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