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Trump’s threat to revoke birthright citizenship is un-American

Will Republicans finally push back on Trump' now that he has attacked the very concept of citizenship? Today's election might give us a signal.
6 Nov 2018 – 10:06 AM EST
Draft of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, outlining the rights and priveleges of American citizenship, ratified in 1868. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Crédito: Getty Images

As we await the results of today’s voting, many Americans are feeling fatigue with the hyper-polarization that President Trump has purposely fueled in the final days of the midterm campaigning.

And traditional Republicans who have stuck with the President this far could be among the most exhausted, wrestling as many do with the cognitive dissonance of their core conservative principles and the narcissistic populism Trump has used to usurp the party.

Among the kitchen sink of issues the President threw to his base last week with predictable political timing, one stands out. The President announced that he might seek to disrupt a century and a half of constitutional precedent by revoking the concept of birthright citizenship, first established by the 14 th amendment in 1868.

He suggested he would do this with an executive order, because “they now tell me it can be done with an executive order.” Who exactly told him that remains unclear, although a great many constitutional scholars immediately rejected the notion out of hand.

As we have seen, much of the President’s daily diatribes in the homestretch of this midterm election have lacked any basis in fact, such as his repeated references to Democrats funding a bedraggled caravan of Central American refugees that he calls an “invasion” to be repelled with military rifles.

While forced to walk that one back by public outcry at the thought of our soldiers taking aim at families with baby carriages and sick children, Trump has so far held to the proposal to do away with birthright citizenship.

And this one bears watching for its effect on those fatigued Republicans. If Trump has been consistent on one issue since he began his campaign with racist slurs against Mexican migrants, it is immigration. No doubt, many Republicans have squirmed but maintained a sort of Vichy silence as Trump has attempted to change the ethos of our nation by waging his own invasion against immigration. They have assuaged their collective conscience by claiming the Trump Administration’s attack is on illegal versus legal immigration.

This is demonstrably inaccurate.

Restricting benefits for legal permanent residents who aspire to become citizens, discharging foreign enlistees from the military without explanation, and withdrawing Temporary Protected Status against State Department and Department of Homeland Security expert advice are all examples of how this Administration’s overarching goal is to send a concerted message to the world – STAY HOME, words he has literally tweeted to potential asylum seekers.

Some have suggested that Republicans who might not have supported the President’s assault on legal migration did so because they credited him with tax cuts, a strong economy and de-regulation.

However, it is worth recalling that there were hopeful signs that not all moral redlines have been erased in the Republican party, as many legislators and other officials rejected the immoral and ultimately failed zero tolerance policy that resulted in almost 2,600 separations of foreign children from their parents at the border.

Now with Trump’s threat to revoke birthright citizenship, Republican elected leaders in the party of Lincoln come face-to-face with a Presidential effort to change fundamentally the very essence of our collective American citizenship. It will be hard to duck and remain inconspicuous on this question. It will also be horribly damaging to the carefully constructed house of cards that allows many Evangelical, mainline Christian, and rule of law Main Street Republicans to continue to support President Trump.

For a party whose self-professed credos include freedom, liberty, and opportunity through self-responsibility, how will Republicans justify denying those American qualities to the unborn they so zealously seek to protect in utero?

Attempting to revoke birthright citizenship without a national conversation would exceed in scope and sheer audacity any previous effort at legislating with a Presidential pen.

Will this finally alienate those Republicans whose stock portfolios have increased a little and whose tax burden has decreased a little? Will this particular bit of American constitutional carnage be too bloody even for some Trump stalwarts? Let’s hope so, at least for those with a sense of history and a conscience.

But on the eve of the only poll that counts, we simply do not know.

What we do know, however, is that a sizeable majority of Americans will step up to the challenge, if required, of preserving our nation’s tradition of expanding human rights, individual liberties, and ensuring that all human beings with the good fortune to be born in the United States will be offered the same opportunity to contribute to its strength and future success.

As former American ambassadors who worked to ensure the privileges of visa issuance and the conferral of U.S. citizenship overseas were accomplished properly and in accordance with law, we want to shout out our encouragement to the legion of pro bono lawyers currently preparing their challenges to the President’s ill-considered and meanspirited proposed executive order.

In times like these, I am reminded of Shakespeare's famous line: ''The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.' No, the first thing we do … is protect all the lawyers. We may need them.

(James Nealon is a former US Ambassador to Honduras and Wilson Global Fellow. John Feeley is a former US Ambassador and Univision Political Consultant.)