President Trump’s statement this week that he is preparing an executive order to end birthright citizenship was quickly called out by immigrant rights advocates as a patent political ploy to appease the Republican voting base ahead of midterm elections.
Under the 14th Amendment, birthright citizenship is granted to all persons born in the U.S. Advocates are calling Trump’s plan illegal and counter to established immigration laws and the Constitution.
“President Trump cannot overturn the Constitution by executive fiat,” said Kerri Talbot, director of federal advocacy at the Immigration Hub, an immigrant rights advocacy group. “This is yet another example of the president thinking he is above the law.”
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The president made the claim Tuesday after promising to send 5,200 National Guard troops to the southern U.S. border for 45 days in response to a migrant caravan of some 3,000 unarmed men, women and children heading north through Mexico from Honduras. Trump’s executive order would prompt legal challenges on behalf of the established judicial consensus on the 14th Amendment, which scholars have said remains clear.
President Trump has also considered a plan in recent days to systematically deny Central Americans the opportunity to seek asylum, using the same emergency powers he invoked to implement a ban on refugees from predominantly Muslim countries in early 2017 to shut the U.S. border to Central American migrants ahead of the caravan’s arrival.
“This is ethnic cleansing,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of the immigrant rights organization Families Belong Together, in a statement. “Americans will reject this cynical political ploy to stoke hate before the election.”
Advocates are similarly pushing back against other recent moves to deter immigrants, including the administration’s revised family separation policy, largely hailed as “family separation 2.0.” The policy would present migrant parents with a choice of whether to stay with their children in immigrant family jails for months or even years, or hand them over to be placed in shelters until other relatives or guardians could seek custody.
“The Trump administration is doubling down on its own disgraceful family separation policy, ignoring federal court rulings and millions of Americans calling for an end to family separation and imprisonment,” said Talbot. “Instead of stopping this abuse, the White House is trying to give family separation a makeover, hoping nobody will notice.”
Additionally, more than 50 organizations filed a “People’s Amicus Brief” in opposition to a plan by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that would allow asylum seekers to be detained indefinitely. Sessions announced in September that he would overturn a Board of Immigration Appeals precedent holding that immigration judges have the power to release certain migrants on bond at a hearing. The move would strip immigration judges of that power, leaving the decision to release immigrants from detention solely to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Immigrant rights organizations called the administration’s recent moves a desperate attempt to boost Republicans’ sinking election chances, labeling Trump’s plan draconian and divisive at a time when the nation needs healing after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist driven by anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant sentiment and a series of bomb scares by a Trump supporter who also targeted a Jewish donor.
Jewish activists drew links between anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment, and the kind of anti-Semitism that motivated the alleged Pittsburgh shooter, Robert Bowers. “He was responding to a perceived threat, and that threat is wholly unfounded. There has been absolutely no terrorist attacks performed by refugees in this country, and nor do we think there would be,” said Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of the Jewish refugee resettlement agency HIAS Pennsylvania, one of the organizations targeted by Bowers in his anti-Semitic rants online.
But while the Trump administration’s pandering is meant to energize Republicans’ anti-immigrant base ahead of Election Day, the recent moves are also backfiring, sharpening progressives and young voters’ sense of urgency to turn out at the polls to protect vulnerable asylum seekers and undocumented communities in the U.S.
President Trump’s new midterm strategy, particularly his proposal to end birthright citizenship by executive order, is also worrying Republicans in swing districts with high concentrations of immigrants.
Ploys Driving Latinos, Progressives to the Polls
The blowback of this summer’s family separation and detention crisis had already dented the GOP’s hold on immigration as an issue, motivating unlikely voters appalled by horrific images of separations and news of abuses in immigrant jails. Now, President Trump’s recent proposals are driving an already historic Latino voter turnout even higher.
In the hotly watched contest in Georgia, for instance, Latinos are looking at the upcoming elections as a referendum on Trump’s immigration politics. As Truthout has reported, Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp falsely purged 340,134 voters from the rolls last year, employing methods that disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color, including Latinos.
Immigrant rights organizations in the state are working to mobilize voters for Stacey Abrams for governor with the largest Latina-led canvass the state has ever seen. More than 100 Latina women will knock on doors and call up voters for Abrams during the last weekend before Election Day. The campaign says it has already reached more than 170,000 Latino voters so far.
Other groups are focusing on major media campaigns urging Latinos to head to the polls. Mi Familia Vota, a Latino-focused voter engagement organization, recently released an ad campaign in five states, featuring a dramatization of President Trump’s and other officials’ recent attacks against Latino and undocumented communities. The organization’s multistate “#VoteNoTrumpadas” ads present the president’s “slaps in the face” to mobilize Latino vote.
Mi Familia Vota is also mounting daily canvassing operations, with organizers planning to contact 63,908 voters in key states with a significant Latino population during the final weekend between Friday afternoon and the close of polls on Election Day.
Separately, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent more than half a million dollars to run a Spanish-language television ad on Univision, Telemundo and other stations in eight large media markets until Election Day on November 6.
Polling on immigration-related issues and early voting turnout also shows voters’ sense of urgency to turn out on behalf of vulnerable immigrants. Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, told reporters that 7.8 million Latinos are expected to vote in the midterm elections, representing a 15 percent increase over the 2014 midterms, but this number is still lower than the Latino voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. Twenty-nine million Latinos are eligible to vote in the midterm election nationwide, with immigration remaining a top issue for them, according to the poll.
At the height of the family separation crisis over the summer, a July Quinnipiac poll showed more than 58 percent of Americans disapprove of how President Trump has handled immigration matters, a troubling sign for Republican candidates in battleground districts.
Another recent national poll conducted by ALG Research for the Families Belong Together coalition confirms that family separation remains a top election issue, and that a majority of likely voters strongly oppose the policy. Further, another poll conducted by Lake Research Partner for the Women’s Refugee Commission shows that 60 percent of voters favor allowing refugees to seek asylum in the United States.
Moreover, young voters, who poll more in favor of protecting immigrant rights, are turning out in historic numbers. According to The Independent, early voting turnout rates for 18-29-year-olds in the traditionally Republican-leaning states of Texas and Georgia, are nearly five times more than the 2014 rate, for instance.
Hector Angeles, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has been knocking on doors in Houston for more than two months as part of immigrant youth organization United We Dream’s “Education Not Deportation” effort. The campaign is targeting neighborhoods of color with a history of low voter turnout, canvassing homes to highlight issues of criminalization of undocumented communities and spending on deportation and detention in ICE-contracted private immigrant jails. Instead, their “Education Not Deportation” campaign wants that money to be spent on after-school programs.
“I was one of the first people that signed up because I really believe that [voters] should go out and go vote, ” Angeles told Truthout. “It was already personal, but over time, it just became more and more important.”
Almost unanimously, he says, he receives support from these communities. “What I see across the board, across every single house is that everybody agrees with what we’re doing, and they like being informed, because a lot of them say they didn’t know this issue was a thing.”
Angeles is appalled at Trump’s recent political proposals on immigration. “These are just people trying to get a better life for them and their children, and [Trump’s] just trying to politicize [that]…. I find it very dehumanizing to our community,” Angeles told Truthout. “It’s an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality, and they don’t see the humanity side of it. We’re actually humans. We’re actually people with feelings and emotions. We just want a better life for everyone.”
Angeles is urging communities to vote, in part, he says “because there’s people out there in the community who don’t have the right to vote, and you can be the voice for them.”