Editor’s Note: Jennifer Taub is a professor at Vermont Law School. The views expressed here are solely hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.
For most of us, the arrival of a baby into the world brings joy and hope. The newborn cries out for sustenance as family, friends and community gather around to guide and educate the child from fragile dependency into adulthood.
Many of us experience similar feelings of warm welcome toward the children of complete strangers, including immigrants. This sentiment is also sensible. Two recent studies show that the initial costs of educating new immigrant children are far offset by the economic contributions they will make as adults.
But President Donald Trump is not like most of us. In his latest effort to stir up fear and loathing to motivate his diminishing base one week before a national election, the President has positioned newborns not as a source for society’s renewal but as threats.
The President’s contempt for new life and young families was on display Tuesday morning when he announced his planned executive order to end birthright citizenship: the legal right to citizenship for anyone born within the United States even to parents who are not US citizens. More than 30 countries have birthright citizenship, yet the President claimed we were the only one. “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States … with all of those benefits. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”
His proposal is contrary to both American law and long-standing ethical and religious traditions in this country.
Citizenship protection for infants born here, regardless of their parentage, was secured 150 years ago in the 14th Amendment to our Constitution. This 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.”
Further, in 1898 in US v. Wong Kim Ark, the Supreme Court held: “The amendment, in clear words and in manifest intent, includes the children born, within the territory of the United States, of all other persons, of whatever race or color, domiciled within the United States. Every citizen or subject of another country, while domiciled here, is within the allegiance and the protection, and consequently subject to the jurisdiction, of the United States.”
The exceptions the court identified to birthright citizenship were for “children of foreign sovereigns or their ministers, or born on foreign public ships, or of enemies within and during a hostile occupation of part of our territory, and … children of members of the Indian tribes owing direct allegiance.”
The ethical imperative to welcome immigrants has been observed for more than a millennium. A part of Christian teaching is the shameful refusal of shelter to a young migrant mother about to give birth far from her home. The Islamic tradition also emphasizes hospitality toward strangers. Jewish tradition includes the imperative to welcome the stranger. One passage in the Torah states: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
This imperative to love the stranger motivates HIAS, the organization that has helped bring immigrant children and families to this country since 1881.
The man arrested in the deaths of 11 members of the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday attacked this immigrant aid society in his last social media post: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
President Trump seems unconcerned that his lawless proposal could whip up more hate and encourage violence. After all, he moved forward and announced this heartless plan before the victims of Saturday’s anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic mass murder have been buried.
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He doesn’t care. Screw your optics. He’s going in.