What is birthright citizenship?
Although more than three million votes have already been cast in Florida ahead of Election Day next week — and more than 20 million people have voted early nationwide — an 11th-hour policy issue was unexpectedly sprung on voters Tuesday, as news broke of President Donald Trump’s proposal to reform birthright citizenship.
Any changes to the policy, which is entrenched in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and grants citizenship to U.S.-born children regardless of their parents’ immigration status, would be acutely felt in South Florida, where half a million undocumented immigrants live, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.
And so it was outside a voting precinct in West Miami-Dade County on Wednesday that Maria Elvira Salazar, the Republican candidate for a hotly contested congressional seat in Miami-Dade County, gave her thoughts on the president’s proposal to change birthright citizenship with an executive order. The former broadcast journalist, running for Florida’s 27th congressional district seat, said the birthright citizenship of the 14th Amendment should be reviewed, calling it a “complicated” issue.
“It is also true that this is a country of laws and a country where you have to respect the Constitution and if the Constitution says that people born in this country have to become American citizens, but we have to see which ones, and who they are and under what rules — not just anyone,” she said.
She added: “The first clause of the 14th Amendment needs to be reviewed, but I think the president is saying what I think my community shares, the fact that we do not want abuses,” Salazar said. “The Constitution says very clearly that those that are born here are citizens, but we need to see to what extent.”
On Tuesday, when the news of Trump’s comments on the proposal to the news outlet Axios emerged, Salazar struck a more combative tone with the president over his proposal.
“.@realDonaldTrump, our Constitution is sacred!” she tweeted. “Birthright Citizenship is protected and you cannot change that by executive order. Focus efforts on immigration reform that secures our borders and is true to our legacy of being a nation of immigrants.”
In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that Wong Kim Ark, who was born in San Francisco to Chinese parents residing in the U.S., was a citizen of the U.S. because of his birth in the country.
“The citizenship of your parents has nothing to do with your ability to become a citizen,” said University of Miami law professor Kunal Parker. “It was litigated over a century ago, [but] it has been questioned by scholars. At various points there have been people who questioned the meaning of it.”
Critics of the legal protection have argued that the Supreme Court ruling did not specifically mention unauthorized immigrants.
Salazar’s opponent, Democrat Donna Shalala, tweeted on Tuesday that Trump was “blatantly attempting to rewrite our Constitution as he continues to stoke hatred and fear.”
“The United States has always been and will continue to be a beacon of hope to the world,” Shalala said, “and no executive order can change that.”
Salazar, who said the 14th Amendment needed to be scrutinized, made her remarks during a press conference also attended by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, the running mate for Republican governor candidate Ron DeSantis.
Salazar and Rubio cited instances of birthright citizenship abuse, when foreigners come to South Florida to give birth before leaving to their home country, as a rationale to consider reforming the policy.
Neither took a definitive stance, but left the door open to further consideration. Salazar said she did not “want to take any rights away from anybody.”
Rubio stressed that President Trump would not retroactively “take away your citizenship” if you were born in the country and have been given citizenship.
“You can’t retroactively do that, so let’s take that off the table,” he said. “If your parents have a green card or permanent residence in the United States, you’re a U.S. citizen. None of that is in dispute. In fact, the president hasn’t even talked about any of that. The only thing that’s being discussed is whether that same right belongs to someone who is in the country as a visitor, as a tourist, as a student, or here illegally. That is the only thing that is in question.”
Other than DeSantis, who said he supported Trump’s proposal, South Florida Republicans have stayed at arm’s length from the latest controversy to come out of the White House, although Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz Balart said he “strongly” disagreed with Trump’s proposal and Rep. Carlos Curbelo also came out against it.
“The Congressman does not support an end to birthright citizenship through any means and would oppose such an effort in the Congress,” Curbelo’s spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez told the Herald in an email.
Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday said he would need to “fully review” Trump’s proposal before giving his opinion.
“I believe legal immigration makes us a better and stronger country, but illegal immigration does the opposite,” he said in a statement released by his campaign. “I have not seen the details of what the president is suggesting and would need to fully review the proposal. While I’ve been clear that Florida is a great melting pot, America’s immigration system is broken and Congress — including Senator Nelson — has done nothing to fix the problem. My priorities continue to be securing the border and fixing the long-broken immigration system.”
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is running for reelection against Scott, tweeted that Trump “cannot change” the birthright provision with an executive order, but did not condemn the proposal itself.
Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, running for Congress against Curbelo, called Trump’s proposal “unconstitutional” and a “complete affront to the ideals the U.S. has always stood for” in a tweet.
The citizenship clause of 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.”
At least 30 other countries, including Canada and Mexico, grant automatic birthright citizenship, according to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies.
Rubio called it a “complicated issue.”
“The courts have not specifically ruled on that, so I don’t know how courts would rule on that. It’s not even clear that the president could change that through an executive order,” he said. “It would be a big change and I don’t think we should make big changes without careful thought, consideration and debate. On the other hand, living in this community, we all know. We’ve all seen — I certainly have — cases of very wealthy people flying in here to have children and then leaving. They never live here. And they get a citizenship in case something goes wrong in their country in the future. I don’t think that’s what most Americans or the Founders believed when they saw it. Whether you can change that without a constitutional amendment, I don’t know. That’s never been decided by the courts.”
Explaining how such a proposal could be acted upon, Rubio said President Trump could theoretically order the federal government to not grant citizenship to U.S.-born children whose parents are not citizens or permanent residents.
“That would be immediately challenged in federal court. It would work its way through the court system and eventually, I think, wind up at the Supreme Court,” he said. “That’s a separate question from whether or not someone who’s abusing the system, is it wise to continue to grant citizenship in the same way you would for someone who’s here permanently?”