With three words on Sunday, Donald Trump not only reignited a fiery debate within the Republican Party but prompted an awkward question within the historically diverse 2016 GOP field.
If a candidate believes the United States should “end birthright citizenship,” as Trump wrote in his immigration policy document, does that also mean that politicians born to non-citizen parents – like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal – should still be considered Americans who are eligible to run for president?
Trump – and the other Republican candidates who have backed his call to disallow the granting of automatic citizenship to anyone born in the United States – have focused their argument on the children of immigrants in the United States illegally. (Both Rubio and Jindal’s parents were legally present in the country at the time of their sons’ birth.)
But the notion of changing the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that “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,” raises questions about what a parent’s status should say about the fate of their U.S.-born child. And it could be fuel for the fire of those in the small but vocal 'birther' movement who believe – counter to almost all legal scholars – that candidates for president should be required to be born on U.S. soil to two citizen parents.
Jindal’s parents arrived in the United States from India in 1971, a few months before he was born. They traveled on a green card secured through Jindal’s father, an engineer who qualified for a visa for the “professional or highly skilled.”
Rubio, whose rise from humble beginnings to political prestige is a key part of his campaign pitch, is the son of two Cuban parents who were in the country legally -- but also not as citizens -- at the time that Rubio was born in Miami in 1971. (They became naturalized in 1975.)
The Florida senator has rejected calls to overhaul the Fourteenth Amendment. But his campaign also notes that Rubio’s parents did not “abuse” the promise of birthright citizenship, as Trump and others in the Republican Party have suggested some immigrants do.
“They didn't come to the U.S. just to have Marco,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said of Rubio’s parents. “They lived here for over a decade before they had Marco.”
Fellow Floridian and GOP rival Jeb Bush, who has voiced support for maintaining birthright citizenship, noted Thursday that a change to the Fourteenth Amendment would impact “talented” people like Rubio.
“If people are here legally, they have a visa and they have a child who’s born here, I think that they ought to be American citizens,” Bush said. “People like Marco Rubio, by the way. That’s how he came.”
Bush also cited Cruz as another candidate who would be impacted by a revocation of birthright citizenship. But that’s incorrect; Cruz was born to an American citizen mother in Calgary, Canada. (Cruz, in fact, has been targeted by those in the ‘birther’ community who say that he’s not eligible to be president because he was not born on United States soil.)
"There seems to be confusion on the difference between legal and illegal immigration," Cruz said in a statement. "From the very first days of our nation, the children of U.S. Citizens have always been citizens by birth. On the other hand, there is no good reason that U.S. Law should continue to grant automatic citizenship to the children of those who come here illegally; after too many empty promises, it's time to finally secure the border and stop incentivizing illegal immigration."
Both Cruz and Jindal have said they support Trump’s call to end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants.
But both have also taken action to address concerns from some conservatives about their own eligibility to serve as president due to their parents’ identity as immigrants to the United States.
Last year, Cruz – who said he was surprised to learn he was technically a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. - formally renounced the Canadian citizenship automatically granted to him at birth.
And in 2011, Jindal released his birth certificate, shortly after President Barack Obama released his own “long-form” documentation to quell questions about his birthplace.
The man who most pressured Obama to make that move? Donald Trump.