President Trump’s Twitter tantrum calling for four female Democratic members of Congress to “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came” was ugly and ill-founded. Only one of the four, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, was born outside the United States, in Somalia.
As an editorial in the Los Angeles Times noted, Trump wasn’t trying to make a reasoned point with his tweet. Basically he was trolling progressive Democrats who have been involved in an ideological face-off with more centrist Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). He continued the trolling Sunday night and Monday morning by accusing the “Radical Left Congresswomen” of disrespecting Israel and spewing “foul language and racist hatred.”
At the same time, his outrageous suggestion over the weekend that the members of Congress “go back” to their ancestral lands reflects an attitude that has crept into some of the president’s policy positions.
The notion that immigrants and their offspring aren’t “real Americans” also seems to animate Trump’s opposition to birthright citizenship, the conferring of U.S. citizenship on persons born in this country (even if their parents are here illegally).
Most legal scholars believe that birthright citizenship is mandated by the 14th Amendment, which says: 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.”
But some observers believe that the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” provides Congress with wiggle room to deny citizenship to children born here of immigrants in the country illegally. Last year, Trump went further, threatening to end birthright citizenship by executive order.
“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 for 85 years, with all of those benefits,” Trump said in an interview with Axios. “It’s ridiculous.”
The idea of terminating birthright citizenship by executive order was too much even for some Republicans to swallow, including from then-Speaker Paul Ryan, who said: “You obviously cannot do that. I’m a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case, the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process.”
Trump’s tweet exhorting the four Democrats to “go back” was, fortunately, not a policy proposal. Obviously he can’t force them to follow his insulting advice. But his threat to end birthright citizenship — not to mention his actual policies, from the original travel ban to the way his administration has handled the migrant crisis at the Mexican border — show that his attitudes about immigration and citizenship bleed into bad policy.