Vivek Ramaswamy has positioned himself as the hardline immigration candidate in the 2024 race, thanks to one of his latest interviews with reporters on the campaign trail.
The Republican businessman spoke to NBC News on the sidelines of a town hall event in Orange City, Iowa on Friday as he makes a play to win the first-in-the-nation caucus state out from under Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor is currently leading a pack of would-be alternatives to Donald Trump, the clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination, including Mr Ramaswamy.
Asked by the news network to explain how children of undocumented immigrants would be treated under his administration if they themselves were born in the United States, Mr Ramaswamy replied: “The family unit will be deported.”
When NBC asked him to clarify if that included children born in the US, he stated, “that is correct”.
His position is a direct challenge to the concept of “birthright citizenship”, something that has been an established constitutional right for more than a century. Under the 14th Amendment, all persons born in the United States, without exception, are granted citizenship automatically. The text leaves very little wiggle room, reading: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States”.
But Mr Ramaswamy and others believe that the language can be interpreted to exclude the children of people who crossed the border to enter and reside in the United States illegally, an argument not yet supported by reality but one that could theoretically change given the nature of the Supreme Court, now helmed by a conservative majority which has already seen fit to erase decades of precedent protecting the right to an abortion nationwide. He insisted that those arguments remain “contested” in his interview with NBC.
“There are legally contested questions under the 14th Amendment of whether the child of an illegal immigrant is indeed a child who enjoys birthright citizenship,” he said. “They are contested.”
His position could very well end up being a repeat performance of Donald Trump’s promises to the extreme far right on the issue of immigration during his 2016 campaign, when he pledged to complete construction of fencing across the entire US-Mexico border at the latter’s expense. He also promised a massive surge of deportations to total in the millions; neither promise was kept.
Mr Ramaswamy’s likely inability to deliver on his promise to rewrite the 14th Amendment’s meaning, even should he be elected president, would just be another point in a long list of disappointments for the hardline anti-immigration right, which has seen its goals constantly blunted by political and legal realities after being repeatedly championed by conservative politicians.
He has made bold claims about the level of transformation he will be able to bring to the federal government throughout his campaign. On Sunday, he continued to do so, vowing to lay out how he would dismantle the Department of Education in an upcoming speech.
In Iowa, Mr Ramaswamy remains competitive among the tier of non-Trump candidates, and has already overtaken one sitting politician, Sen Tim Scott, in polling despite being a total political newcomer.
At last month’s GOP debate, he presented a fiery case for his brand of insurgent politics, while clashing with experienced Washington veterans onstage like Nikki Haley.