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President Trump plans to sign an executive order that would remove the right to citizenship for babies of non-citizens and unauthorized immigrants born on U.S. soil, he said yesterday in an exclusive interview for "Axios on HBO," a new four-part documentary news series debuting on HBO this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT.

Why it matters: This would be the most dramatic move yet in Trump's hard-line immigration campaign, this time targeting "anchor babies" and "chain migration." And it will set off another standoff with the courts, as Trump’s power to do this through executive action is debatable, to say the least.

[Get more stories like this in our daily morning newsletter, Axios AM. Sign up here.]

Trump told "Axios on HBO" that he has run the idea of ending birthright citizenship by his counsel and plans to proceed with the highly controversial move, which certainly will face legal challenges.

  • "It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don't," Trump said, declaring he can do it by executive order.
  • When told that's very much in dispute, Trump replied: "You can definitely do it with an Act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."
  • "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 continued. "It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end." (More than 30 countries, most in the Western Hemisphere, provide birthright citizenship.)
  • "It's in the process. It'll happen ... with an executive order."

The president expressed surprise that "Axios on HBO" knew about his secret plan: "I didn't think anybody knew that but me. I thought I was the only one. "

  • Behind the scenes: "Axios on HBO" had been working for weeks on a story on Trump’s plans for birthright citizenship, based on conversations with several sources, including one close to the White House Counsel’s office.

The legal challenges would force the courts to decide on a constitutional debate over the 14th Amendment, which says:

  • "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."

Be smart: Few immigration and constitutional scholars believe it is within the president's power to change birthright citizenship, former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services chief counsel Lynden Melmed tells Axios.

  • But some conservatives have argued that the 14th Amendment was only intended to provide citizenship to children born in the U.S. to lawful permanent residents — not to unauthorized immigrants or those on temporary visas.
  • John Eastman, a constitutional scholar and director of Chapman University's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, told "Axios on HBO" that the Constitution has been misapplied over the past 40 or so years. He says the line "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" refers to people with full, political allegiance to the U.S. — such as green card holders and citizens.

Michael Anton, a former national security official in the Trump administration, recently took up this argument in the Washington Post.

  • Anton said that Trump could, via executive order, "specify to federal agencies that the children of noncitizens are not citizens" simply because they were born on U.S. soil. (It’s not yet clear whether Trump will take this maximalist argument, though his previous rhetoric suggests there’s a good chance.)
  • But others — such as Judge James C. Ho, who was appointed by Trump to Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans — say the line in the amendment refers to the legal obligation to follow U.S. laws, which applies to all foreign visitors (except diplomats) and immigrants. He has written that changing how the 14th Amendment is applied would be "unconstitutional."

Between the lines: Until the 1960s, the 14th Amendment was never applied to undocumented or temporary immigrants, Eastman said.

  • Between 1980 and 2006, the number of births to unauthorized immigrants — which opponents of birthright citizenship call "anchor babies" — skyrocketed to a peak of 370,000, according to a 2016 study by Pew Research. It then declined slightly during and following the Great Recession.
  • The Supreme Court has already ruled that children born to immigrants who are legal permanent residents have citizenship. But those who claim the 14th Amendment should not apply to everyone point to the fact that there has been no ruling on a case specifically involving immigrants in the country illegally or those with temporary legal status.

The bottom line: If Trump follows through on the executive order, "the courts would have to weigh in in a way they haven't," Eastman said.

The full interview will air on "Axios on HBO" this Sunday, Nov. 4, at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 14 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Military members will be included in Biden's new COVID guidance

Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Members of the military will be required to get vaccinations or face regular testing, social distancing, mask mandates and restrictions on travel for work, the the Pentagon said on Thursday evening.

Why it matters: The policy was announced for federal workers and onsite contractors earlier on Thursday, part of several new Biden initiatives to get more Americans vaccinated and slow the spread of the Delta variant.

Trump's Republican critics rake in cash

Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger during the first Jan. 6 hearing. Photo: Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

Republican critics of Donald Trump have raked in campaign cash this year as their votes to impeach the former president and investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack have put them in the crosshairs of Trump and his allies.

Why it matters: The 2022 midterms won't just determine which party controls Congress. They're also shaping up to be a test of Trump's continued hold on the GOP. The few remaining Republican dissenters in Washington need to put up big fundraising numbers if they hope to stave off a purge.

The Republicans' mixed mandate message

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Republicans have expressed selective rage amid the rise of the Delta variant: They rail against the return of indoor masking but are far less vocal about vaccine requirements.

Why it matters: Masking may help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but the real solution to the pandemic is getting more Americans vaccinated. Increased support for that — including the use of heavier-handed methods like mandates — will only increase its chance of succeeding.