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Tensions Mount over Trump’s Threat to End Birthright Citizenship

President Trump talks to reporters prior to departing on a campaign trip to Florida on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., October 31, 2018. (Kevin Lamarqu/REUTERS)

Congressional leaders are pushing back on President Trump’s plan to end birthright citizenship by executive order, saying any such change would require a constitutional amendment.

“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 Tuesday, ignoring the dozens of other countries that offer some form of birthright citizenship. “It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”

“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t,” he added. “You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”

Most legal scholars consider birthright citizenship to be a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, which reads, “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.” This led prominent leaders in both parties to push back on Trump’s stated intentions.

House speaker Paul Ryan objected to Trump’s claim that birthright citizenship could be scrapped by a simple executive order.

“You obviously cannot do that,” Ryan said on Tuesday. “You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order. We didn’t like it when Obama tried changing immigration laws via executive action, and obviously as conservatives we believe in the Constitution.”

Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also expressed skepticism.

“I am not a lawyer but it seems to me it would take a constitutional amendment to change that as opposed to an executive order,” Grassley said.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was harsher in her criticism, calling Trump’s plan an “abuse” of presidential power.

Trump responded with a broadside against Ryan, saying he should be concentrating on the upcoming midterm congressional elections, since Republicans are expected to lose the House.

To bolster his position, the president later referenced decades-old comments by former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who retired last year.

“If making it easy to be an illegal alien isn’t enough, how about offering a reward for being an illegal immigrant,” Reid said on the Senate floor in 1993. “No sane country would do that, right? Guess again. If you break our laws by entering this country without permission and give birth to a child, we reward that child with U.S. citizenship and guarantee a full access to all public and social services this society provides, and that’s a lot of services.”

Reid hit back Wednesday, saying Trump is “profoundly wrong.”

“This president wants to destroy not build, to stoke hatred instead of unify. He can tweet whatever he wants while he sits around watching TV, but he is profoundly wrong,” the Nevada Democrat, who is being treated for cancer, said in a statement.

Reid has repudiated his previous opposition to birthright citizenship in the decades since the remarks Trump cited, apologizing in 2006 and arguing that immigrants “are the lifeblood of our nation.”

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