Immigrant rights groups and attorneys Tuesday blasted President Donald Trump’s declared intention to end birthright citizenship with an executive order as a political ploy before the midterm elections.
"This is ethnic cleansing. This is an attempt to whiteout America’s history and heritage as a nation of immigrants. And it’s unconstitutional," said Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of Families Belong Together, an activist movement that grew as a response to the administration’s family separation policy.
"Americans will reject this cynical political ploy to stoke hate before the election," she said.
Kamal Essaheb, director of policy and advocacy at the National Immigration Law Center Immigrant Justice Fund, said the group would be looking to challenge any action taken by the president.
"When he actually announces something, we will assess it and we’ll fight as much as we can," he said.
Trump told Axios that birthright citizenship "has to end" and that he would attempt to do so "with an executive order" in an interview that aired Tuesday morning.
Under the Fourteenth Amendment, citizenship is awarded to children born in the U.S., or in U.S. territories, to parents of immigrants to the country.
"We're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits," Trump claimed. "It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end."
In fact, as of 2015, at least 32 other nations, including Canada, had passed laws granting some form of birthright citizenship, according to Politifact.
Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., issued a statement in support of Trump’s comments and said he planned to introduce legislation along the same lines as the proposed executive order.
"Finally, a president willing to take on this absurd policy of birthright citizenship," he said. "I’ve always supported comprehensive immigration reform — and at the same time — the elimination of birthright citizenship."
Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said, "the president cannot erase the Constitution with an executive order, and the 14th Amendment’s citizenship guarantee is clear."
"This is a transparent and blatantly unconstitutional attempt to sow division and fan the flames of anti-immigrant hatred in the days ahead of the midterms," he said in a statement.
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund said in a statement that Trump was "not above the law" and should not use his authority to "violate constitutional guarantees of citizenship."
The non-profit group cited a 1898 case where the Supreme Court ruled a man born in San Francisco to Chinese parents was a U.S. citizen by virtue that he was born in California under the 14th Amendment.
"In 1898, at a time when the racist Chinese Exclusion Act prevented Asian immigration to America, the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark ruled that a person born in this country is a U.S. citizen under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution," the statement said.
Essaheb said Trump’s comments also served to incite his anti-immigration base and distract the public from other issues such as health care and taxes just one week before of the midterm elections.
This rhetoric is dangerous in a divisive political climate on the heels of the deadly mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue where the suspect held anti-Semitic views and showed disdain for the caravan of migrants and refugees making its way to the southern border, he added.
Such an executive order "would exacerbate racial tensions, exploit fears and drive further polarization across the country at a moment that calls for unity and inclusion," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
"It is hard to imagine an executive order that would be more ill-timed or misguided given recent events across the country that have led to an increase in hate crimes and marginalization of minority communities based on race, national origin and religion," she said.