Viral social media posts wrongly suggest that President Donald Trump’s three eldest children are citizens only because of birthright citizenship.
President Donald Trump’s first wife, Ivana, became a U.S. citizen in 1988 — years after the last of the couple’s three children, Eric, was born in 1984.
As the president has floated the idea of ending birthright citizenship for those born to parents in the U.S. illegally, social media users have homed in on that fact as an alleged instance of hypocrisy by Trump.
“Trump’s ex-wife Ivana wasn’t an American citizen until 1988. She gave birth to Don Junior in 1977, Ivanka in 1981, and Eric in 1984. Let’s cancel their birthright citizenship first,” one such post reads.
While the years in that post are correct, the implication is misleading.
The post suggests the three Trumps, who were all born in New York City, are only citizens because of birthright citizenship — the constitutional right that grants citizenship to all those born in the U.S. But it fails to note that their father is a U.S. citizen — and was at the time they were born — which experts told us would still qualify Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric for citizenship.
“They are not only birthright citizens, they would also receive citizenship through their citizen father, automatically under statute, since their parents were legally married and the family has always resided in the U.S.,” Rogers Smith, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies constitutional law, told us via email. “For children born out of wedlock to U.S. citizen fathers and non-citizen mothers it’s more complicated, though citizenship can be obtained if various residency requirements are met.”
Federal law spells out citizenship eligibility for children born to at least one U.S. citizen abroad. Smith said “if birthright citizenship by place did not exist, then logically the statutes governing citizenship through the parent’s citizenship would apply.”
The same logic would also apply to Barron Trump, the only child of Donald and Melania Trump. It is irrelevant that his mother was not a U.S. citizen at the time of his birth, because of his father was born in the U.S. The first lady, originally from Slovenia, reportedly obtained a green card in 2001 and has said she became U.S. citizen in July 2006, months after Barron was born in March 2006.
Birthright citizenship is enshrined in the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868 and 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.” The U.S. government’s long-standing interpretation has recognized that to be true regardless of the immigration status of the child’s parents.
Such claims about the Trump family have circulated since the 2016 presidential election, when Trump began talking about ending birthright citizenship for children born to parents in the country illegally. His campaign website called the policy the “biggest magnet for illegal immigration.”
In October 2018, Trump said in an interview with Axios that he was eyeing an executive order regarding birthright citizenship, and he recently made comments to reporters suggesting he is still considering action.
Trump, Aug. 21: We’re looking at that very seriously — birthright citizenship. Where you have a baby on our land — you walk over the border, have a baby. Congratulations, the baby is now a U.S. citizen.
Trump has not specified how he would change birthright citizenship. Some proposals put forth by Republicans rest on the idea that at least one parent should have a connection to the U.S.
One measure introduced by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, for example, proposes making birthright citizenship contingent on one parent being “a citizen or national of the United States; an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States whose residence is in the United States; or an alien performing active service in the armed forces.”
That proposal would apply to future births, but if Trump’s children had been born under such a law, they would still qualify for birthright citizenship through their father.
It’s worth noting, also, that Ivana Trump would have had to provide documentation that she was in the country legally to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1988. Applicants for naturalization who are spouses of U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for citizenship after living in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident, and being married for, three years. Ivana and Donald Trump married in 1977.
As we’ve written before, whether — or, more precisely, how — Trump could end birthright citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally is the subject of debate. Many scholars say a constitutional amendment would be required because an executive order or a simple act by Congress would prompt legal challenges for the courts to decide.
“14th Amendment.” U.S. Constitution Center. Accessed 3 Sep 2019.
Farley, Robert. “Can Trump End Birthright Citizenship by Executive Order?” FactCheck.org. 30 Oct 2018.
“Immigration Reform.” DonaldJTrump.com. Archived 19 Mar 2016.
“Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure.” White House. 21 Aug 2019.
Smith, Rogers. Professor of political science, University of Pennsylvania. Email to FactCheck.org. 3 Sep 2019.
United States v. Wong Kim Ark. U.S. Supreme Court. 28 Mar 1898.
U.S. House. “H.R.140 – Birthright Citizenship Act of 2019.” (as introduced 3 Jan 2019.)