Birther conspiracy theories claiming that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) isn’t eligible to be Vice President have already started being spread on Newsweek and on Facebook, just two days after former Vice President Joe Biden named her as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.
The “Harris birthers” concede that the esteemed senator was born in Oakland, California, but they claim that she’s not really a natural-born citizen because her parents immigrated to the U.S. from India and Jamaica. Some of them are even calling her an “anchor baby.”
Newsweek published an editorial by John Eastman – who’s chairman of the board of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an anti-LGBTQ organization – that argued that the 14th Amendment requires one’s parents to be citizens in order to be a full citizen of the U.S., a rule that may surprise many people born to immigrants.
The 14th Amendment says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
“Harris was not subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States at birth,” Eastman wrote, “but instead owed her allegiance to a foreign power or powers – Jamaica, in the case of her father, and India, in the case of her mother – and was therefore not entitled to birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment as originally understood.”
He even went so far as to say that Harris may not even be eligible for the U.S. Senate because “she would have had to become naturalized herself in order to be a citizen,” and the Constitution requires senators to be citizens.
The editors of Newsweek later wrote a piece to defend Eastman’s birther claims, saying that readers were complaining about the racism in saying that the first Asian American and Black woman to be on a major party’s presidential ticket is not a U.S. citizen, even when there’s no doubt that she was born in California and there’s no evidence that the government has ever questioned her U.S. citizenship.
That editorial said that Eastman’s claim is part of an “arcane legal debate” and that Eastman can’t be racist because he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is Black and conservative.
But the conspiracy theory isn’t limited to Newsweek. Factcheck reports that Facebook messages are spreading the idea that she is ineligible to be president.
“If crazy Joe cannot serve his full term, Kamala cannot by constitutional law become President,” one of the posts said. “She is an anchor baby, mother is from India, father is Jamaican, and neither were american citizens at time of her birth. That means the Presidency would fall on Speaker of the house. Recently Nancy Pelosi stated that she was next in line to become President. THAT in itself is reason to vote her out in November. Democrats have worked the whole scenario out and I believe that is why they chose Kamala Harris.”
While the post called her an “anchor baby” – a xenophobic term used to describe the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants – there is no evidence that Harris’s parents entered the U.S. without visas.
Georgetown University Law Center Professor Josh Chafetz told Factcheck that Harris birtherism is “racist nonsense” and Harris’s parents’ immigration status is “wholly irrelevant” to her eligibility.
Factcheck linked three examples of the birther posts on Facebook. One of them has been removed by Facebook for “False information.”
Starting in 2008, birthers propagated the conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama is not a natural born U.S. citizen and therefore was not eligible to be president.
The most common reason the birthers offered for their claims about Obama was that he was actually born in Kenya instead of Hawaii, despite his valid birth certificate that said he was born in Hawaii. The claim usually involves an elaborate foreign plot to seize control of the White House.
But another form of birtherism at the time was that one’s parents need to be citizens for one to be a natural-born citizen, similar to the argument used against Harris now.
The latter theory was the subject of a lawsuit when, in 2008, Steve Ankeny and Bill Kruse sued the state of Indiana to keep the state from counting votes for Obama. The two claimed that Obama’s father wasn’t a U.S. citizen, so “President Obama is constitutionally ineligible to assume the Office of the President.”
Their claim was dismissed and the Indiana Supreme Court rejected their request to hear to hear their case, without comment.
Donald Trump publicly claimed multiple times that Obama was ineligible to be president because he wasn’t born in the U.S., saying that an “extremely credible source” called him and told him that Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate was “a fraud.”