By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump said on Tuesday that if elected president again in 2024 he would seek to end automatic citizenship for children born in the United States to immigrants in the country illegally, a plan that contradicts how a 19th century amendment to the U.S. Constitution long has been interpreted.
Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in an increasingly crowded field of candidates, said in a campaign video posted to Twitter that he would issue an executive order instructing federal agencies to stop what is known as birthright citizenship. Any such action by Trump would be certain to draw a legal challenge.
Birthright citizenship arises from the Constitution's 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868, three years after the conclusion of the American Civil War that ended the practice of enslaving Black people in Southern states and overturned a Supreme Court ruling that had held that slaves and free African Americans were not entitled to U.S. citizenship.
The amendment granted citizenship to all persons "born or naturalized in the United States," including formerly enslaved people, and has been interpreted to apply whether or not parents were in the country legally.
The proposed executive order, planned for the first day of a second Trump term in office, would require that at least one parent be an American citizen or lawful permanent resident for their children to become automatic U.S. citizens, his campaign said in a press release.
While president in 2018, Trump said he planned to issue an executive order to limit birthright citizenship, but never followed through. Many legal scholars at the time were skeptical that Trump could use executive authority to roll back the right.
Trump on Tuesday also criticized President Joe Biden, the Democrat who defeated him in 2020 and is seeking re-election in 2024, for record numbers of migrants caught crossing the border illegally in recent years, calling the citizenship right for children born on U.S. soil a "magnet." Trump noted that many countries restrict birthright citizenship for non-citizens.
Trump has sought to appeal to Republican voters on his party's right flank who support a crackdown on immigration. As president, Trump pursued hardline policies toward immigration and took steps toward building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that he had promised as a candidate in 2016.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham and Mica Rosenberg)