Every day, it seems like there’s a new outrage from President Trump.
In an interview released yesterday, Trump says he’s preparing an executive order to eliminate the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship.
It’s an obvious, election-eve ploy to light a fire under white voters who are anxious and resentful about our nation’s changing demographics and culture.
Three years ago, I testified before Congress about the roots of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment.
Enacted in the wake of the Civil War, the amendment was intended to grant citizenship, not only to former slaves and their descendants, but to all children born in our country. That included the children of Chinese laborers, who were building the nation’s railroads as the amendment was being debated, as well as the children of “Gypsies,” who were demonized as “trespassers” by the amendment’s congressional opponents.
Today, the amendment extends its majestic grant of citizenship to people like Wendy Ruiz, one of our former clients in Florida.
We represented Wendy when the state of Florida refused to grant her in-state college tuition because she couldn’t prove her parents’ immigrant status. We sued the state and won, allowing her to attend college and setting a precedent that has helped thousands of other aspiring students.
A few years ago, after attending college for two years, Wendy spoke at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which stands beside our building here in Montgomery. It’s the church from which Dr. King and his allies launched the modern civil rights movement.
Wendy told an inspiring story – a deeply American story. She talked about the struggles of her farmworker parents; she talked about her determination to get an education; she talked about her dream of becoming a lawyer so she could give back to the community.
It is simply inconceivable that our country would deny the blessings of citizenship to the Wendy Ruizes of the world.
The birthright citizenship clause expresses a fundamental principle of our democracy – that there are no second-class citizens; that all persons born in this country, regardless of the status of their parents, are equal citizens under the law.
Wendy is as American as anyone can be – just as American as Trump.
It tells us something about the president that he doesn’t appreciate this fact.
Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Associated Press.