By Fatih Hafiz Mehmet
In a controversial announcement just days before hard-fought midterm elections, U.S. President Donald Trump said in comments made public Tuesday he plans to end the practice of granting citizenship to children born in the U.S. to non-citizens.
"We're the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States ... with all of those benefits," Trump claimed falsely in an interview with Axios on HBO, which is set to air in full on Sunday.
"It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end," Trump continued.
Trump's assertion that the U.S. is the only country to grant birthright citizenship is inaccurate. More than 30 countries in the Western Hemisphere alone grant automatic citizenship to everyone born in their jurisdictions, according to a 2012 study published in the Harvard Human Rights Journal.
Trump has taken a hardline approach to immigration since seeking America's highest office, decrying "anchor babies," or babies born to non-citizens in the U.S., on the campaign trail.
Birthright citizenship has its foundation in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, ratified in 1868, and was meant to stymie efforts to deny citizenship to former slaves. Ending it would likely require a constitutional amendment, according to many legal scholars.
Trump said he believes he can get rid of birthright citizenship through an executive order - an action that would almost certainly provoke legal challenges similar to his efforts to curtail immigration through executive action.
"It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment" to end birthright citizenship, Trump said. "Guess what? You don't."
Trump said the executive order is “in the process” and will happen, but did not specify a timeline for when it might be rolled out.
The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the U.S.'s largest rights groups, slammed Trump's proposal, calling it a "blatantly unconstitutional attempt to fan the flames of anti-immigrant hatred in the days ahead of the midterms.
"The 14th Amendment’s citizenship guarantee is clear. You can’t erase the Constitution with an executive order, @realDonaldTrump," the group added on Twitter.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president, voiced his support for Trump's proposal saying he is planning to introduce legislation along the same lines.
"The United States is one of two developed countries in the world who grant citizenship based on location of birth," Graham said on Twitter. "This policy is a magnet for illegal immigration, out of the mainstream of the developed world, and needs to come to an end."
At least one Republican is publicly at odds with Trump about his plan.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told a Kentucky talk radio show that Trump "obviously cannot do that."
"As a conservative, I’m a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process,” he said, according to Politico.
In the weeks leading up to the U.S.'s midterm elections, Trump has ramped up his anti-immigrant rhetoric in a move most observers see as trying to excite his base to vote Nov. 6 when most American voters will flock to polling stations to cast ballots in congressional, state and local elections.
Other commentators have linked his encouragement of violence and fear-mongering about a caravan of would-be immigrants that formed in Central America to Saturday's mass shooting at a synagogue in Pennsylvania.
Before killing 11 Jewish worshippers, the alleged shooter complained online of refugee "invaders" coming to the U.S.
*Michael Hernandez contributed to this report from Washington