Republicans Push To Revise 14th Amendment

Sen. Lindsey Graham i i

hide captionRepublican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he thinks giving automatic citizenship to children of non-residents is a mistake.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sen. Lindsey Graham

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he thinks giving automatic citizenship to children of non-residents is a mistake.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The immigration debate sparked by Arizona's controversial new law has revived calls to reconsider the Constitution's 14th Amendment.

The amendment, ratified more than 140 years ago, grants automatic citizenship to nearly any child born in the U.S.

Critics say it's an irresistible lure to illegal immigrants — and needs to be revised. Recently, it's been getting a lot of play on the cable news shows.

Republicans Call For Senate Hearings

CNN's Anderson Cooper recently tried to moderate opposing viewpoints over whether it's time to change the citizenship clause. The furor was touched off by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who said he thinks giving automatic citizenship to children of non-residents is a mistake.

"People come here to have babies," Graham said. "They come here to drop a child — it's called drop and leave. To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to an emergency room, have a child and that child is automatically an American citizen. That shouldn't be the case — that attracts people here for all the wrong reasons."

Graham has been joined by other leading Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in calling for Senate hearings on whether changes to the 14th Amendment are needed.

They say not only are tourists taking advantage of the automatic citizenship clause, but so are illegal immigrants who use their citizen children to petition for legal residency. Many refer to these children of illegal immigrants as "anchor babies."

'He Has Rights'

Fatima Renteria says she's never heard the term "anchor baby" before. Her parents brought her to the U.S. illegally when she was 4 months old. She's now 22 and just had a baby of her own who is an automatic U.S. citizen.

"I don't even know how to reply to that without being too angry," she says. "I didn't decide to just come here to have a baby here. I've been here my whole life, grew up and got married and decided to have a baby."

Renteria was in line in the admissions office of a Southern California community college, waiting to see a counselor. She says she wants to be a high school math teacher. She says illegal immigrants don't come to the United States to have babies — they come to have a better life. She's upset that lawmakers would try and take away her son's citizenship rights.

The 14th Amendment

Section 1. 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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges of immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

"He has rights. He was born here. He has rights ... they can't just do that," she says.

Repealing The Clause: A Radical Move

Immigrant advocates say Republicans are creating a controversy to keep the issue of illegal immigration in the news through midterm elections in November.

Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center says repealing the citizenship clause is too drastic a move and would mark the first time the Constitution would be amended to make it less egalitarian.

"While everyone recognizes that there are problems with our immigration system in this country, my perspective is: Let's try to fix this through legislation and not tinker with the genius of our constitutional design," she says.

The 14th Amendment was ratified after the Civil War to ensure that children of freed slaves would be granted citizenship, and scholars say it is on solid legal ground. The Supreme Court upheld the amendment when it ruled in favor of a man born in the U.S. to Chinese immigrants and granted him citizenship back in 1892.

But Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) says it's been more than a century since the Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue — and it's long overdue. Bilbray has been fighting since the 1990s to change the 14th Amendment citizenship clause. He says in these tough economic times, the law must be reviewed.

"When you say there's not enough to go around for those who are here legally — or those playing by the rules — you sort of say, 'Why do we continue to have an enticement to encourage people to break the law?'" he says.

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