COLUMBUS, Ohio — Vivek Ramaswamy often touts his family’s history of immigration and naturalization on the campaign trail while promoting two controversial policy ideas: stripping citizenship and deporting people born in the United States to immigrant parents without papers, and remove the right to vote from 18 to 24 years old. -years old unless they pass a civics exam.
“I think there is no reason why every high school graduate in this country should not be required to take the same civics test that an immigrant, like my parents, had to take to become a citizen of this country ” he told Iowa. Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa State Fair in August.
In an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, Ramaswamy noted that his father was not a U.S. citizen and had never taken the test. “He hasn’t. And it’s a choice he made for family reasons,” Ramaswamy said.
“But my mom did it,” the presidential candidate continued, explaining that she took the test and completed the process after he was born. “And I think every immigrant who comes to this country to become a full voting citizen should do the same.”
The story sits at the center of a campaign full of off-the-cuff rhetoric and aggressive, attention-grabbing policy proposals that go further than previous Republican presidential administrations have deemed possible — or even legal. The proposal that young voters first take a civics test, for example, speaks directly to the Constitution’s 26th Amendment: “The right to vote of citizens of the United States who are 18 years of age or more will not be refused. or abbreviated by the United States or any state due to age.
And Ramaswamy is particularly passionate about the controversial idea of ending access to birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. This has long been guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, which states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States. »
The 38-year-old entrepreneur was born in the United States to two non-citizens, meaning he personally acquired citizenship by birthright, although he noted that his parents immigrated to the country legally.
“I want to be very clear about this. I believe that birthright citizenship does not and should not apply to children of parents who entered this country illegally,” Ramaswamy added.
“This is the policy we are going to enforce: This is where I have been clear: Children of illegal immigrants and families who arrived here without documentation must be returned to their country of origin,” Ramaswamy said.
When asked if this plan included U.S. citizens who have only lived in this country, Ramaswamy said yes.
“You become president, this 25 or 30 year old man born to undocumented immigrants, they and their parents are deported – to say they are from Venezuela, they all go back to Venezuela?” asked NBC News.
Ramaswamy agreed, recognizing that it would be a shocking change. And when NBC News asked Ramaswamy if this constituted “a brutal attack” on people who could have lived, worked and paid taxes in the United States their entire lives under the rights granted by the 14th Amendment, he replied: “That must be the case. »
But he added that he would support a return to citizenship “through legal meritocratic immigration.”
“This cannot be a system that unfairly penalizes those who wait in line to enter this country legally, with the illegal immigration that we have illegally allowed into this country. And I recognize that it will not be easy,” Ramaswamy said.
Recently, Ramaswamy has refined the rhetoric he uses during his election campaign about his parents’ experience in the United States.
At a campaign stop in Contoocook, New Hampshire, earlier this month, the candidate said, “I think every high school student who graduates from high school should take the same civics test that our parents had to go through to become immigrants of – voting citizens in this country. country.”
And at another campaign stop in Laconia, New Hampshire, Ramaswamy said, “I think every 12th grader who graduates from high school should take the same civics test as every immigrant must succeed – Apoorva’s parents, my parents must have succeeded. »
Later, on the same day as the Contoocook event, Ramaswamy changed his line, saying: “Every child who graduates from high school should take the same civics test as my own mother, which every immigrant must pass , in order to become a citizen. citizen of this country.
Ramaswamy’s wife, Apoorva, immigrated to the United States from India when she was four years old. According to the candidate, his wife’s parents took the citizenship test after immigrating to the country.
The experience of campaigning for the first time
Ramaswamy has outpaced more experienced politicians in polls, but he is still far behind former President Donald Trump in the GOP primaries. However, he said he was not tied to the results of the 2024 elections.
“I don’t like the idea of being the next president. I realized it more through this process,” Ramaswamy said, adding that by spending more time on the campaign trail, he learned much more about the nature of the presidency. “Personally, I don’t even consider it a pleasant job,” he added.
But he said he and his family were campaigning because he felt they had a duty to a country that has given them so much.
Much of the campaign saw Ramaswamy making controversial news, from his comments on 9/11 to calling Rep. Ayanna Pressley a “modern wizard of the modern KKK.”
“I know it’s going to be controversial. So I think it’s healthy for our country to have open, radically honest, frank conversations. » Ramaswamy explained.
Speaking to reporters in Newton, Iowa, in August, Ramaswamy told NBC News that his responses during the question-and-answer portion of his forums were often not thoughtful: “I answer honestly… out of the blue.” »
NBC News pressed Ramaswamy’s behavior during the interview: “How much do you mean what you say? »
“On things that matter, I share my honest and true beliefs,” Ramaswamy responded. But he added: “Not everything I say is a political priority. »
One of those priorities is abortion, where Ramaswamy is one of the few candidates in the Republican primary who has expressed a clear position — and also thinks the Republican Party has missed a huge opportunity by dancing around clear policies. He calls himself “decidedly pro-life” but favors laws developed at the state level, not a national policy adopted by the federal government.
“It doesn’t have to be as divisive as it has been if we also address contraception, adoption, child care and male sexual responsibility,” Ramaswamy said.
“And so – I am not guided, I have not tested any poll of any of this,” Ramaswamy added. “This is not a group debate about ‘How might we approach the problem.’ This is a substantive point… Let’s take action on our pro-life position.