Across the country, an out-there theme has been re-emerging among conservatives seeking to crack down on illegal immigration: End “birthright citizenship,” a right based in the 14th Amendment, which leads to automatic citizenship for children born in the United States — at least, end it as it applies to American-born children whose parents are here illegally.
Birthright citizenship in the 14th Amendment was intended, at least in part, to guarantee citizenship for freed slaves and otherwise secure legal equality: “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.” Without the concept of birthright citizenship, it’s possible for someone to be born without having citizenship in any country at all. Experts have told TPM that any plans to change that right are “clearly unconstitutional.”
That’s not stopping some right-wingers. Let’s take a look at the list of conservatives who insist that birthright citizenship be done away with, either by constitutional amendment or (more often) by looking for a legislative loophole.
1. Lindsey Graham
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has come under fire from the right for having previously worked on immigration reform, is now going so far as to announce that he will propose a constitutional amendment: “But there’s another problem we have in this nation that I think is novel and needs to be fixed. If you come across the border illegally and you have a child in America, automatically, that child becomes an American citizen. Under the 14th Amendment, three court cases says there’s a constitutional right to that,” Graham said in an appearance Wednesday on Greta Van Susteren’s show. “But I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here. Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake, that we should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child’s automatically not a citizen.” Watch it.
2. J.D. Hayworth
Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), who is challenging Sen. John McCain in the Republican primary, said Thursday that the phenomena of “birth tourism” is a pressing issue that requires ending birthright citizenship: “It’s not exclusive to our neighbors to the south, from Mexico. Many families around the world in the jet age are timing the gestation period to come to the United States, to have the blessed event here, so that the new birthright citizen will have access to a phalanx of American benefits, courtesy of you and me and other American taxpayers.” Watch it.
3. Louie Gohmert
A month ago, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) warned that birthright citizenship was a national security issue — involving a diabolical 30-year plot by some very patient terrorists: “I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn’t even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.”
4. Duncan Hunter
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) has gone even further — he would deport a natural-born citizen child along with their illegal-immigrant parents. “You can look and say, ‘You’re a mean guy. That’s a mean thing to do. That’s not a humanitarian thing to do.’ We simply cannot afford what we’re doing right now,” said Hunter, also adding: “And we’re not being mean. We’re just saying it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen.” Watch it.
As Jonathan Turley pointed out, regarding Hunter’s statement: “Of course the recognition of birth right citizens is different from deporting already recognized citizens. Even if Congress changed the current law, Hunter suggested that he would deport existing citizens. That would raise a host of constitutional problems in the retroactive stripping of citizenship since you cannot simply deport a U.S. citizens because they are too costly.”
5. George Will
In a column this past March, George F. Will wrote in favor of ending birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, and said that the 14th Amendment could not have been intended for such a thing — under the logic that America at the time of the Amendment’s passage was such an open-borders place: “The authors and ratifiers could not have intended birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants because in 1868 there were and never had been any illegal immigrants because no law ever had restricted immigration. If those who wrote and ratified the 14th Amendment had imagined laws restricting immigration — and had anticipated huge waves of illegal immigration — is it reasonable to presume they would have wanted to provide the reward of citizenship to the children of the violators of those laws? Surely not.” (Emphasis in the original.)
6. Nathan Deal
Back in 2009, then-Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) proposed a bill that would seek to legislatively define “jurisdiction” to exclude illegal immigrants, though the drafted bill would not seek to affect any children born before the bill’s hypothetical adoption into law (to do otherwise would likely run afoul of the ex post facto prohibition in the Constitution). The bill attracted 92 co-sponsors, made up of 91 Republicans and one Democrat. The almost-all-Republican sponsor list includes Paul Broun (GA), Virginia Foxx (NC), Trent Franks (AZ), Louie Gohmert (TX), Steve King (IA), Randy Neugebauer (TX), John Shadegg (AZ), Joe Wilson (SC), plus conservative Democrat Gene Taylor (MS), and many more. Deal later resigned his seat in order to focus on his campaign for governor of Georgia.
7. Mitt Romney
And as a special bonus, let’s go back to 2007, when Mitt Romney considered getting rid of birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, or at the very least adopting a policy of eliminating chain migration centered around said children. The funny thing here of course is that Romney’s own family has its links to Mexico — his father George Romney was born there, as part of a Mormon colony founded by polygamists. (George Romney’s own parents were monogamists.) Interestingly enough, George Romney’s U.S. citizenship was taken for granted when the family moved to the United States when he was a child, and he later was elected governor of Michigan and even ran for president in 1968 — an office that of course has the much higher bar of “natural born citizen” that the birthers often talk so much about.