Birthright Citizenship and the Trump Administration’s Manufacturing of a White Majority

Oct 31, 2018
11:01 AM

Donald Trump has announced that he plans to rescind birthright citizenship through an executive order.

While possibly a ploy to encourage support among his white nationalist base in the upcoming midterm elections, this new proposal fits into the Trump administrations larger policy project: making America white again. While they cannot change the demographic reality of the nation, they will make the nation whiter by fiat.

The demographics of the nation have shifted, even while the demographics of the electorate are slow to change. The median age of white Americans is 43. The most common age for a white American is 55. The median age for U.S.-born Latinos is 19. The most common age for a US born Latino is 8.  Each year brings more young Latino voters who have the potential to vote for decades to come.

The Republican Party has decided to abandon the hopes of racially diverse constituency in favor of an all-white one.  This strategy will win in the short-term. It is doomed in the long-term, unless something dramatic happens. The population momentum has shifted. Latino political potential is clearly a threat to Republican power. This is why the Trump administration is targeting birthright citizenship.

This isn’t the administration’s first attempt to make the nation whiter by omission. The 2020 census and the addition of the citizenship question is another example. The 2010 census was the most accurate census in history and it still over-counted the white population. The 2020 census will do the work that Trump’s policies cannot—return the nation to an imagined past in which there were fewer non-white people in the country. The administration hopes through adding questions about citizenship (in combination with anti-immigrant rhetoric and public deportation efforts) that Latinos with unauthorized family members will be discouraged from being counted. The statistical erasure of brown bodies will make Latinos socially invisible for at least 10 years.

Trump’s former policy advisor Steve Bannon infamously proclaimed that he wanted to destroy the administrative state. The administrative ineptitude of the Trump White House has kept this from happening, but it wasn’t their real policy goal. Instead, Trump and his advisers have aptly begun (with the help of mainline Republican policies) to deconstruct Civil Rights institutions.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was gutted in 2013, leading to widespread voter suppression that has disproportionately benefitted the Republican Party. So clearly have their efforts been aimed at voters of color, that one North Carolina judge declared that Republicans targeted Black voters with “surgical precision.” Recently in Kansas and Georgia, Republican Secretaries of State have used their power to purge voters of color from rolls, which would benefit them while they are running for office.

The protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are eroding. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in favor a business owner’s right to discriminate against LGBTQ couples if it is on religious grounds.

Steven Miller, Trump’s key immigration adviser, wants to do away with the 1965 Immigration Act that overturned the racial quotas and the eugenicist ideologist of the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act. On multiple occasions, he has voiced that he wants to return to pre-1970 levels of immigration, which are connected to the racial exclusions of the 1924 bill. Trump famously questioned why so many people were coming to the U.S. from “shithole countries” and not northern European ones. Trump’s statement resonates with the logic of the white supremacist Johnson-Reed Act that barred immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The administration is also supporting the continued conservative attack on affirmative action. Higher education has been the primary avenue for socioeconomic mobility since the mid-20th century. Attempts to address the racially exclusive pasts of many institutions of higher education through admission policies have been challenged in multiple states. The goals of these challenges is not to create a more meritocratic admission policy but to manufacture a whiter student population, ensuring white economic and social supremacy.

It is not a surprise that the Trump administration is targeting the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship. Many far-right Republicans like Pat Buchanan and Steve King have proposed the idea, although they were on the fringes for years.

What is troubling is that now Senator Lindsey Graham is supporting such calls. What is more distressing about altering the 14th Amendment either by amendment or executive order is that the 14th has been crucial in providing constitutional and legal grounding for civil rights cases through the equal protection clause. African-American, Latino, and LQBTQ civil rights lawyers have used the equal protection clause throughout 20th and 21st centuries to make their cases for better treatment and equal rights.

If the Trump administration and Republicans are comfortable challenging the key tenet of birthright citizenship to achieve a manufactured white majority, what will keep them from altering the language that provided the constitutional foundation for the equalities that Americans proclaim to believe in?

The attack on birthright citizenship is not a distraction. Trump has attempted to demonize and dehumanize communities of color, and Latinos in particular. Their denaturalization is only an extension of his larger goals and policies.


Aaron E. Sanchez is a Texas-based writer who focuses on issues of race, politics and popular culture from a Latino perspective. He holds a Ph.D., with a concentration in U.S.-Latina/o intellectual history. He is a happy husband, proud father and an avid runner. He blogs at You can connect with him .