What is birthright citizenship?
On the campaign trail for the midterm elections — this week, in unpredictable Florida — the president of the United States is back on the Make America White Again bandwagon with a vengeance.
And by God, our President Donald Trump will take a swipe at the Constitution if that’s what it takes to defend us from immigrants of color having babies on U.S. soil — and to get his “anchor baby” clamoring base to the polls. Because sending 5,000 active troops to the border — as many as he has in Iraq — isn’t a big enough anti-immigrant move seven days before the election.
America isn’t safe for anyone anymore — we’re being massacred by other Americans — but for Trump the urgency is eliminating the right guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution that if you’re born in the United States you’re a U.S. citizen.
Now that he has his man, Brett Kavanaugh, on the Supreme Court, the Constitution is no match for the mighty Trumpster.
He can pen his way right out of that silly little script by which Americans have governed since the nation’s creation, and end the discomfort this amendment causes his racist, anti-immigrant base when it comes to the U.S.-born children of immigrants.
“They’re saying I can do it just with an executive order,” Trump said in an interview with the political news show “Axios on HBO.” He spoke with the coolness you and I might use to share an easy recipe.
And, per script, after he dropped his bomb, he went on to add a flat-out lie for effect: “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States.”
But here’s the truth: At least some 30 other countries also have birthright citizenship. Some, like Spain, are so generous that they offer extended citizenship to the grandchildren of immigrants born elsewhere. So I, the granddaughter of Spaniards who immigrated to Cuba, am eligible for Spanish citizenship even if I’m an American now.
Despite Trump’s boast that he can end birthright citizenship via executive fiat, most legal scholars of every shade of the political spectrum agree that he can’t do that.
It takes an act of Congress to amend the Constitution. An amendment has to be proposed by a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, or a constitutional convention has to be called by two-thirds of the state legislatures. Amending a constitutional right that would have such drastic effects on huge sectors of the population, not just immigrants, is unlikely.
But at the top of Trump’s campaigning greatest hits with his base is immigration — and he’s running out of rouse-them-up topics since he’s already done the unspeakable by ripping children from their parents’ arms.
“This is all about driving fear,” Cuban-American Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, said at a press conference Tuesday. “This president, who is the ultimate divider-in-chief instead of being a uniter-in-chief, who seeks to have us turn against each other instead of toward each other, is disgraceful.”
If Trump can stoke enough fear of The Other, then Republicans — and independents — might be willing to shed even more dignity and values than they already have, and he’ll win the midterms, which are a referendum on his administration as much as anything else.
Nowhere is this more so than Florida, where the GOP has become the party of Trump, as even the most moderate Republicans up for re-election or running for the first time have embraced his agenda.
But Trump has a tall order to fill in a Florida reeling from the shocking environmental disasters of toxic algae blooms and red tide to an extent never seen before, the result of eight years of disastrous policy by Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and his enabling Republican-dominated Florida Legislature. Scott is running to unseat incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.
Floridians’ beaches and waterways were ruined — and they are mad.
Trump also has a difficult task in a state where Scott and the Legislature refused federal dollars to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, leaving some 800,000 people in great need. (Scott also refused Obama’s transportation dollars, but that’s a lesser known issue.)
Let’s just say that Republicans aren’t outright winning their races, as they’re accustomed to easily manage in midterms.
Polls show that they’re in tight races despite outspending Democrats. Most interesting of all, the Democratic candidate for the governorship, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — the first African American ever nominated to the post — is the one with the momentum, the energy and the charisma, not Trump devotee Ron DeSantis.
Oh, and President Barack Obama will be in Florida this week, too.
So what could the scandalous Divider-in-Chief possibly do other than blow smoke on immigration?
He knows that he can’t end birthright citizenship by executive order. But lying for Trump is the recipe for winning.
Follow Fabiola Santiago on Twitter @fabiolasantiago