Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now adding his voice to those Republicans flirting with an attempted repeal of birthright citizenship for the U.S.-born children of parents who are illegal immigrants — by far the highest-level endorsement yet from the party establishment. Although McConnell did not take a firm position on the issue, he nevertheless seemed to paint this as a widespread, consensus belief: “I don’t think anybody thinks that’s something they’re comfortable with,” he said of the status quo, guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, in which anyone born in the U.S. automatically becomes a citizen, regardless of their parents’ immigration status.
In a follow-up interview with The Hill, McConnell elaborated. “I think we ought to take a look at it — hold hearings, listen to the experts on it,” McConnell said. “I haven’t made a final decision about it, but that’s something that we clearly need to look at. Regardless of how you feel about the various aspects of immigration reform, I don’t think anybody thinks that’s something they’re comfortable with.”
McConnell’s remarks follow an appearance this past Sunday on Face The Nation by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who said that there should be hearings on the topic:
HARRY SMITH: There is a movement afoot to rescind the law that makes anyone born in the United States a U.S. citizen, specifically aimed at the children of illegal immigrants. Do you support that?
SENATOR JON KYL: Well, actually this is a constitutional provision in the 14th Amendment that has been interpreted to provide that if you are born in the United States, you are a citizen, no matter what.
HARRY SMITH: Mm-Hm.
SENATOR JON KYL: Now, there are limitations on that, for example, for the children of diplomats and so on. And so the question is if both parents are here illegally, should there be a reward for their illegal behavior? And what I suggested to— my colleague Lindsey Graham from South Carolina suggested that we pursue that. And what I suggested to him was that we should hold some hearings and hear first from the constitutional experts to at least tell us what the state of the law on that proposition is.
Birthright citizenship, a right based in the 14th Amendment and further elaborated on in court decisions in the late 19th century, was intended 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 is 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.”