In an interview with MSNBC’s Craig Melvin this week, outgoing South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford said he wasn’t a “fan” of birthright citizenship and believed that people who come to the United States. “from Haiti or anywhere else” shouldn’t necessarily have access to it. In fact, if Sanford had his way, it would only apply to the descendants of slaves.
If that’s the case, white people, sit down. We have some terrible news for you.
Sanford’s comments, which he delivered on Thursday, refer back to President Donald Trump’s controversial announcement that he would end the practice of giving automatic citizenship to any person born in the United States. Trump falsely claimed that the United States was the only country in the world to confer such rights—in fact, almost every country in the Americas, including Canada and Mexico—give automatic citizenship to babies born there.
While Sanford conceded that removing birthright citizenship—a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment—wouldn’t be as easy as Trump signing an executive order, he made clear that he’s “not a fan” of it.
“Why are you not a fan of it?” Melvin asked. “You do recognize that it’s in enshrined in the Constitution, the 14th Amendment?”
“I happen to be on a bill that would say otherwise,” Sanford responded, adding that he and others feel extending birthright citizenship to a broad array of people “is not what the founding fathers intended.”
What kind of people does Sanford seem to take issue with, you ask? Well, let him tell you himself.
“The idea that you just happen to come in from Haiti or anywhere else, and just because you get your boat to shore, all of a sudden you’re open to the same rights and privileges as anybody else is—I think that’s at odds with the intent,” Sanford explained. “I think it was ultimately about slavery at the time, and rights that should come to former slaves.”
Melvin didn’t follow up with Sanford—the asshole former governor best known for his crazy-ass extramarital affair in 2009—on his feelings about immigrants from Germany, Italy, Greece and Poland, countries that made up the bulk of U.S. immigration from 1890 to 1920. Thanks to birthright citizenship, those families assimilated into U.S. culture and society, eventually fully embracing their Americanness, which in this instance means extolling the virtue of your merits while fighting tooth and nail to deny those rights to people who don’t look like you.
A quick recap on the 14th Amendment for those in the back: ratified in 1868, the amendment grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States”—at the time, this most directly applied to formerly enslaved black Americans, though it’s been applied to scores of Americans since then. The amendment also contains the the Equal Protection Clause, which forbids the government from depriving its citizens and anyone who lives in the United States of their basic rights.
Sanford, who had given copies of the Constitutions to kids as Halloween “treats” (like a real self-important asshole) may want to bone up on his American civics: Despite his assertion that the present interpretation of the 14th Amendment is a wrong one, it was already upheld by the Supreme Court in 1898.
For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, conservatives like Sanford and Trump have a particular obsession with Haiti and Haitian immigrants—one that has shaped policy towards Haitians in the United States. Memorably, at a White House meeting on immigration, Trump infamously asked why the United States attracted immigrants from “shithole countries,” specifically naming Haiti (and El Salvador, and the whole of Africa). Trump also tried to revoke Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from Haitian and Central American immigrants already legally living in the United States this year, until a federal judge blocked him.