Here's What You Need to Know to Argue in the Latest Immigration Debate

President Trump's hardline immigration stances have made for some polarizing debates.



With a migrant caravan making its way to the U.S.–Mexico border, Americans are once again split over an immigration debate and President Trump's administration. A group of Central Americans began a march from Honduras to the United States in an effort to seek asylum. Though it is not the first of its kind, the migrant caravan has become a talking point just ahead of the midterm elections. Trump ordered over 5,000 armed troops to the southern border in response, referring to the migrant caravan as "invaders." In a second display of his hardline immigration stance, Trump also announced that he wanted to get rid of birthright citizenship via executive order.

As pundits and Facebook users choose sides over the migrant caravan and the president's actions, Reason has created a guide for the various terms and concepts appearing in the latest polarizing discussion:

The migrant caravan

The term "migrant caravan" is used to identify the group of people attempting to reach the southern border. According to the BBC, the journey began in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with 160 people gathering at a bus station on October 12. While making its way through Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, the group has since swelled to an estimated 7,000 people. Some who started the trip have since turned back or settled in Mexico. The group faces a number of trials, including lack of resources, run-ins with cartels, and clashes with various authorities.

Though this group is receiving a significant amount of attention, it's not the first of its kind. Another migrant caravan was organized by Pueblo Sin Fronteras, an immigration advocacy group, earlier in the year. Reports at the time explained that migrants traveled in large groups for safety and to bring attention to the dangers encountered on their trek. The advocacy group also provided information about seeking asylum and other legal protection in the U.S. and Mexico.

In both cases, migrants expressed a desire to find a peaceful and prosperous life away from violence and corruption. During a cringeworthy attempt to bust the migrant caravan, a Fox News reporter learned from a woman in the group that she left Honduras in search of work "because the criminals [in Honduras] will always get your money." Members in the earlier migrant caravan indicated that they were leaving Honduras to escape the political upheaval caused by the "the re-election of U.S.-backed president, Juan Orlando Hernández in an intensely disputed election."

Asylum seekers vs. invaders

There are two major narratives about the migrant caravan.

According to immigration advocates, those in the migrant caravan are hoping to apply for asylum status. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines asylum seekers as those who either suffer from or fear persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. USCIS further qualifies that asylum seekers must be physically present in the U.S. or a port of entry and apply within one year of arrival. An application can also include spouses and children.

Conversely, hardliners believe the migrant caravan is actually a vehicle for much more nefarious characters. Several conservative sites, pundits, and even the president quickly jumped on a claim that Guatemala detained nearly 100 people in the caravan with ties to ISIS. The claim originated from Guatemalan paper Prensa Libre that got it from Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales. Though further details were not provided, Guatemalan Secretary of Strategic Intelligence Mario Duarte cited the 2016 detention of Syrian refugees who were in possession of falsified documents.

Despite the claim, even the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which generally opposes illegal immigration, said that a healthy dose of skepticism about supposed ISIS connections was needed. Others have outright criticized the attempt to villainize the migrant caravan. Fox News' Shep Smith chalked up the tough rhetoric to a cheap talking point.

Birthright citizenship

The president's immigration stances are predictably tough. Still, news that he recently expressed a desire to end birthright citizenship with an executive order managed to stun many.

Birthright citizenship is established in the 14th Amendment, which 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." While immigration advocates have argued that "all persons" truly means all people, hardliners maintain that the clause was not intended to extend beyond the children of U.S.-born citizens.

One reason they offer is that at the time the amendment was passed, no laws restricting immigration existed. So its authors could not have possibly meant to extend the privileges of citizenship to those who violated the law to those in the country illegally. But Reason's Shikha Dalmia cautioned against this line of thinking, noting that if the failure to forsee future events is sufficient grounds for amending the Constitution, then no freedom would be safe. After all, when the First Amendment was passed, the internet didn't exist. Or cop-killing bullets at the time of the Second Amendment.

Executive order vs. the amendment process

When the president expressed a desire to rescind the 14th Amendment, he indicated that he was able to do so with an executive order. But that is a dubious proposition, to say the least. Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin notes that although there is a broad consensus among law scholars that the amendment ensures citizenship to children of immigrants born in the United States, there are a few dissenters. However, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone defending the claim that citizenship can be denied by executive order. Article I of the Constitution gives Congress, not the executive, the right to establish naturalization rules. A federal statute, 8 U.S.C. Section 1401, extends birthright citizenship to any "person born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof." Hence, at the very least, Congress would have to scrap citizenship for children of immigrants. The president can't unilaterally do so.

However, if the courts determine that citizenship rights for the children of immigrants are guaranteed not just by statute but by the 14th Amendment as well, as Somin and others claim is the case, then Trump will have to follow the process detailed in Article V to amend the Constitution. This will require convincing two-thirds of both chambers, as was the case when Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal the Prohibition Amendment.