Paul Ryan Says Birthright Change Would Require Constitutional Amendment

‘You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order,’ speaker says, dismissing Trump idea

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., says you cannot end birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants through executive order as President Donald Trump said he plans to do. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday dismissed President Donald Trump’s plan to issue an executive order ending birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants, saying such a change could be made only through a constitutional amendment. 

Trump told Axios this week that while he has always heard that a constitutional amendment was needed, he now believes that’s not the case. 

“It’s in the process. It will happen with an executive order,” Trump said.

Ryan disagreed with Trump’s assessment of the law. 

“You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order,” the Wisconsin Republican said in an interview with WLVK while campaigning in Kentucky Tuesday

“As a conservative, I’m a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution,” Ryan added. “And in this case I think the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process.”

Amending the constitution involves the cooperation of either two-thirds of Congress or three-fourths of the states, neither of which seems politically feasible on the issue of ending birthright citizenship.  

Despite dismissing the process Trump proposed, Ryan was careful not to trample on the idea itself. 

“Where we obviously totally agree with the president is getting at the root issue here, which is unchecked illegal immigration,” the speaker said.

The 14th 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.”

Asked about arguments that the reference to jurisdiction means that the birthright should apply only to offspring of parents legally residing in the U.S., Ryan said he’s familiar with it but that he would argue the opposite side. 

“Everyone’s under jurispudence of our laws here, so speaking strictly constitutionally, you can have a pretty good argument about this,” he said. “What’s very clear is you can’t change this via executive fiat. At the very least it would have to be statutory through Congress, but I still think a plain reading of the Constitution is fairly clear on this.”

Agreeing with Ryan’s interpretation was New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

“The 14th Amendment is clear that persons born in the United States are U.S. citizens,” said Nadler, who is poised to become Judiciary chairman next year if Democrats win the House majority. “And yet President Trump feels compelled to single-handedly change what has been universally understood about the law since the Amendment was adopted in 1868.”

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