Fresh from a bitter row over Arizona’s tough crackdown on illegal immigrants, top Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are pushing to review a constitutional amendment that grants automatic birthright citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
In the past week several Republicans have called for or supported hearings on Capitol Hill reviewing the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was enacted in 1868 following the Civil War and granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and erstwhile supporter of comprehensive immigration reform granting a path to legal status for the nearly 11 million illegal immigrants living stateside, kicked off the row with an interview on the Fox network a week ago in which he said automatic citizenship attracted illegal immigrants, and that a review was needed.
“People come here to have babies. They come here to drop a child, it’s called drop and leave,” Graham said. “To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, they have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen. That shouldn’t be the case. That attracts people for all the wrong reasons,” he added.
Graham said he was considering introducing a constitutional amendment to change the rules on automatic citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. A study last year by the Pew Hispanic Center estimated at 4 million the number of U.S. citizen children of families where at least one parent was an illegal immigrant.
Challenging birthright citizenship has until now been an issue pushed by conservatives on the right of the Republican party. That stand has also gained backing in the past week of Senators Jon Kyl, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, and Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Administrative Oversight and the Courts Subcommittee.
The latest drive by Republicans follows hot on the heels of Arizona’s tough immigration law — a measure crafted by Republican state lawmakers that sought to drive illegal immigrants out of the Mexico border state, but was blocked by a federal judge last week, arguing that immigration matters are the federal government’s responsibility.
Tensions over that law have inflamed a decades-old national debate over immigration, which promises to play into the elections in November, when President Barack Obama’s Democrats are fighting to retain control of Congress.
While taking a tough stance on illegal immigrants may play well with the Republican’s conservative base, it runs the risk of alienating U.S. Hispanics, an increasingly weighty voter bloc that turned out for Obama in 2008 by a two-to-one margin.
Senator John McCain, who ran for president against Obama and faces a tough primary battle this month in Arizona for his party’s nomination to run for the Senate, also lent his support to the process of reviewing citizenship rights, although he sounded a note of caution about changing the Constitution.
“Our Founding Fathers intentionally made the process of amending our Constitution extremely difficult. I believe that the Constitution is a strong, complete and carefully crafted document that has successfully governed our nation for centuries and any proposal to amend the Constitution should receive extensive and thoughtful consideration,” he said in a statement released by his office.