Indicted former president Donald Trump continues to lash out with the racist “birther” lie – but this time the ugly vitriol reaches new lows and is directed at a GOP opponent who was once a member of his administration.
Trump took to his Truth Social account earlier this month to repost a claim from a far-right conspiracy theory website that former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who was born in South Carolina, is ineligible to be U.S. president because her parents, both immigrants originally from India, were not U.S. citizens at the time of her birth.
This is just bogus. The fact of the matter is that Haley was born on U.S. soil, and is thus a U.S. citizen under the wording of the 14th Amendment, which states that “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.” The Constitution says the immigration status of her parents is entirely irrelevant. Plain and simple.
Notably, Trump’s “birtherism” has devolved even further, as the racist conspiracy he waged against President Barack Obama was about his own birth, whereas now conspiracy extends to the status of Haley’s parents. For Trump and his movement, her birthright citizenship is not enough, demanding it of a generation prior. For his future enemies, it may be the status of one’s grandparents that makes them not American enough.
“The claim about Haley is a lazy and xenophobic rehash of the so-called birther attacks Trump baselessly directed at President Barack Obama’s supposed ineligibility for office,” John Avlon wrote at CNN. This racist attack dated as far back as 2011, initially pushed out with help from Trump’s third wife, who is herself an immigrant. “This isn’t a dog whistle; it’s a bullhorn,” Avlon continued. “In 2016, Trump also raised a phony birther issue about Ted Cruz. In 2020, he questioned whether Kamala Harris was eligible to run for office on similar but equally false grounds. See a pattern?”
So this isn’t anything new. However, we also shouldn’t dismiss this as just another racist attack in a long line of racist attacks by a racist candidate. Trump’s bigoted claim comes on the heels of Hitler-like rhetoric claiming that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the nation, and his promotion of the white nationalist “invasion” conspiracy theory to primary voters ahead of the Iowa caucuses. This lie that immigrants and others are plotting to replace non-white Americans has inspired racist mass killers to carry out domestic terror attacks that have claimed the lives of people in El Paso, Buffalo, and elsewhere.
Trump’s birther charge is “an acute expression of the conspiratorial white nationalism that is a driving force of his bid to retake the White House,” America’s Voice Political Director Zachary Mueller writes. “For Trump and those who line up behind him, this isn’t about the law, it is about drawing the line that their enemies, like Haley, can never truly be ‘one of us.’”
It also adds further seriousness to Trump’s pledge to redefine who is an American, by announcing a “day one” plan to end constitutionally-guaranteed birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S., as well as his promise to mass-purge millions of undocumented immigrants from the country. “We are going to have the largest deportation effort in the history of the country,” he said during a recent town hall.
Trump has company. Even as she’s been the target of his racist rhetoric questioning her U.S. citizenship, Haley agrees with Trump on his dystopian, mass-purging of immigrant families.
“You have to deport them, and the reason you have to deport them is they’re cutting the line,” Haley recently vowed. Of course, there is no line, not that the facts matter to Haley and what’s left of her fellow GOP presidential candidates. In fact, House Speaker Mike Johnson has made clear Republicans want to keep immigration and the border as a political issue, by openly refusing to take up any related legislation as long as President Biden is in the White House.
Haley’s mass deportation platform is also a reminder that depictions of the former South Carolina governor as a “moderate” alternative don’t hold up to scrutiny. She already made that more than clear herself. Recall during the 2022 midterms when Haley, completely unprompted, pushed her own version of Trump’s white nationalist worldview by calling for the deportation of Georgia-born Senator Raphael Warnock.
“Legal immigrants are more patriotic than the leftists these days,” Haley claimed at a rally in support of failed GOP candidate Herschel Walker. “They knew they worked to come into America, and they love America. They want the laws followed in America. So the only person we need to make sure we deport is Warnock.” In video from the event, rallygoers, many of them appearing to be white, cheered in response.
“Reverend Warnock was born in Georgia; his dad served in the U.S. Army in World War II, and he is currently serving in the U.S. Senate,” Jezebel’s Caitlyn Cruz reported at the time. “Essentially saying this man should ‘go back to Africa’ is quite a closing message, two days before a midterm election.” Make no mistake: mass deportation remains the GOP’s closing message going into a pivotal election year. Even as Haley is herself the latest target of the white nationalism that’s the main driver behind today’s GOP, she’s an accomplice in challenging the very definition of what it means to be an American.
Not to be an afterthought in the GOP primaries where he is increasingly an afterthought, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pledged his support for mass removal of millions of long-settled immigrants while also redefining who is considered a citizen, too.