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Birthright Citizenship Expert: This Is Not a Diversion, Trump Has Pushed Radical Plan for Years

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President Trump claimed that he can rewrite the Constitution and end birthright citizenship in the United States in an interview released Tuesday, sparking widespread outrage. Trump told the news outlet Axios that he planned to sign an executive order ending citizenship for children of noncitizens born on U.S. soil. Civil rights groups, legal experts and politicians on both sides of the aisle are blasting Trump for his comments, including the false claim that the U.S. is the only country with birthright laws. In fact, at least 30 other countries have similar laws, including Canada, Mexico and Cuba. We speak with Martha Jones, author of “Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America,” about the history of the 14th Amendment. Martha Jones is the Society of Black Alumni presidential professor and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Vice President Mike Pence speaking to Politico on Tuesday.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: What I think the president has made clear is that we are looking at action that would reconsider birthright citizenship. We all know what the 14th Amendment says. We all cherish the language of the 14th Amendment. But the Supreme Court of the United States has never ruled on whether or not the language of the 14th Amendment—”subject to the jurisdiction thereof”—applies specifically to people who are in the country illegally.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the vice president of the United States. Professor Jones, can you respond to what he’s saying?

MARTHA JONES: I can, I think with a word of caution, Amy. Vice President Pence is, I think, attempting to distinguish the facts in our present day of a family of unauthorized immigrants who give birth to a child in the United States with the case of Wong Kim Ark, in which Wong Kim Ark’s parents, while not eligible for citizenship, were what we would call authorized or legal immigrants, legal residents in the United States. And I do think this is where the question may turn for us, going forward. Certainly, it appears that the president is prepared to split hairs in this way. Perhaps the Senate is willing to do so, as well. Ultimately, the meaning of this not-very-often-visited provision of the 14th Amendment will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But there have been cases subsequently in which the court ruled as to whether the children of undocumented or unauthorized citizens had rights to equal protection or education or other issues, as well, hasn’t there been?

MARTHA JONES: Of course. And you are right to point to a long, more than century-long, clear law practice, custom, that has regarded the children of unauthorized immigrants as citizens of the United States. And I would say this is important for everything, from the securing of a passport and travel to the receipt of public benefits. And so, you’re absolutely right that to pose this question in 2018 is to go against more than a century of our understanding of the 14th Amendment, its purpose and its function for Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is your assessment right now? I mean, the midterm elections are a few days away. You have these horrific white supremacist, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic attacks that have all taken place within a week, from the letter bomber to the attacks on African Americans in Kentucky to the 11 Jewish worshipers who were gunned down in Pittsburgh. President Trump wants to pivot away from this—the alleged shooters, the attackers quoting President Trump—so he throws this out. Many say this will not stand after the election; he is just revving it up to go along with “invaders” from the south, as he puts it. But there are others who are deeply concerned that he is signaling now what he will do after the midterms. You have Lindsey Graham saying he’ll introduce a bill. Your thoughts, as a historian of U.S. history, where this goes, Professor Jones?

MARTHA JONES: Absolutely. I’m a student, if you will, of birthright citizenship, and so I have followed the president’s rhetoric, the chatter, if you will, of his base, but I have also followed the work of some of our—scholars from some of our most eminent institutions of higher learning, who, for a very long time, have been critics of and aiming for the 14th Amendment and its birthright provision. Certainly, there is something seemingly opportunistic in President Trump’s announcement or revelation—right?—of his intent in this particular week. But I want to remind your viewers that this rhetoric extends back to at least 2015, when candidate Trump made clear his intention of challenging, troubling, undoing, curtailing the effect of the 14th Amendment’s birthright provision. I don’t think this is a casual or off-the-cuff or improvisational gesture by the president. This has been on his agenda for many years, and now we are seeing it begin to get traction.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s very interesting. He said he consulted his lawyers. His White House lawyer, McGahn, has left. The new one has not even come in yet. It’s a real question who exactly he has consulted.

Martha Jones, the author of the new book Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America. It is just out. She’s the Society of Black Alumni presidential professor and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. She’s also the co-president of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians.

When we come back, we head south to Brazil. What does the election of the far-right Army captain Bolsonaro, who praises the military dictatorship, mean for Brazil, for Latin America, for the United States and the world? Stay for us.


AMY GOODMAN: Protesters singing in the streets of Pittsburgh during President Trump’s visit at the Tree of Life synagogue. It’s believed all local elected officials boycotted his visit yesterday. Thousands protested in the streets.

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