Trump wants to end birthright citizenship in the U.S.

President Donald Trump says he wants to order the end the constitutional right to citizenship for babies of non-citizens and unauthorized immigrants born in the United States.

Republican Lindsey Graham says he'll introduce similar legislation when Senate reconvenes

U.S. President Donald Trump, shown during a campaign rally at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro on Sunday, expressed during his first election campaign a desire to end birthright citizenship. (Al Drago/Reuters)

President Donald Trump says he wants to end the constitutional right to citizenship for babies of non-citizens and unauthorized immigrants born in the United States.

The president's comments to Axios on HBO come amid a renewed push for hardline immigration policies before the midterm elections. Trump believes focusing on immigration will energize his supporters and help Republicans keep control of Congress.

"Now how ridiculous: 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," Trump said in the interview scheduled to air on Nov. 4.

Trump's comments were incorrect, however.

Canada, for one, is among countries that grant citizenship by birthplace, although there has been a push here and in several other countries in recent years to modify an automatic birthright based on conditions, or to end it outright.

Britain and Australia in the 1980s modified their laws, requiring a parent to be a citizen or permanent resident in order for a newborn to qualify for citizenship, in part to prevent so-called birth tourism.

Revoking birthright citizenship in the U.S. could spark a court fight over the president's unilateral ability to change the Constitution's 14th Amendment, which guarantees that right for children born in the U.S.

The first line of the 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."

Asked about the legality of such an executive order, Trump said "they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."

Lindsey Graham, senator from South Carolina, was a prominent Republican critic of Trump's during the presidential campaign. Recently, he was a vociferous supporter of Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and on Tuesday he signalled he would support the president's bid to end birthright citizenship. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Trump says White House lawyers are reviewing his proposal. It's unclear how quickly he'd act on an executive order to fulfil the idea he first proposed on the campaign trail in 2015.

During a campaign stop in Florida, he said: "The birthright citizenship — the anchor baby — birthright citizenship, it's over, not going to happen."

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Tuesday in social media posts he would introduce legislation in the Senate "along the same lines as the proposed executive order."

Graham called the policy absurd and said it was a "magnet for illegal immigration" which is "out of the mainstream of the developed world."

'False narrative'

Trump, seeking to energize his supporters and help Republicans keep control of Congress, has stoked anxiety about a caravan of Central American migrants making its way to the U.S.-Mexico border. He is dispatching additional troops and saying he'll set up tent cities for asylum seekers.

In the final days before the Nov. 6 midterms, Trump has emphasized immigration, as he seeks to counter Democratic enthusiasm. Trump believes that his campaign pledges, including his much vaunted and still-unfulfilled promise to quickly build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, are still rallying cries for his base and that this latest focus will further erode the enthusiasm gap.

But some believe it will also energize turnout for those who were appalled at the administration's separation of migrant parents from children at the border, and who have pointed out that asylum seekers are a fraction of the number of applicants in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware on the Senate's foreign relations committee, said on Tuesday that Trump "was driving a false narrative on immigration" in many ways to stoke fear ahead of next week's vote.

(CBC)

In a Politico interview on Tuesday, Vice-President Mike Pence denied that Trump's current talk about immigration is a scare tactic to rally Republican support in the midterms.

Pence also argued, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled whether the 14th Amendment "applies specifically to people who are in the country illegally."

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan disagreed, in an interview with WVLK radio in Kentucky on Tuesday.

"Well you obviously cannot do that," said Ryan. "You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order."

Graham's proposed legislation would have to wait until Nov. 11, when Senate reconvenes.

Republicans currently hold a 51-49 margin advantage in the Senate, which could change after next week's elections. Some three dozen Senate seats will be contested, with all 435 House seats in play.

Ryan is among those not running for re-election.

The 14th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1866 during the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. It was ratified in 1868 by three-fourths of the states. By extending citizenship to those born in the U.S., the amendment nullified an 1857 Supreme Court decision (Dred Scott v. Sandford), which ruled that those descended from slaves could not be citizens.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell university immigration expert, said the case against Trump being able to use an executive order is "not open and shut, but the better view is it would require a constitutional amendment."

Republicans in Congress continue introducing bills to end birthright citizenship, including legislation this session from conservative Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa who has aligned himself with some white nationalist political leaders abroad. King's bill has almost 50 co-sponsors in the House. 

With files from CBC News and Reuters