By J. Taylor Rushing and Bob Cusack - 08/02/10 10:56 PM EDT
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told The Hill on Monday that Congress “ought to take a look at” changing the 14th Amendment, which gives the children of illegal immigrants a right to U.S. citizenship.
McConnell’s statement signals growing support within the GOP for the controversial idea, which has also recently been touted by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
McConnell stopped short of echoing Graham’s call for revamping the amendment.
“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.”
During an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Kyl said, “There 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. … And so the question is, if both parents are here illegally, should there be a reward for their illegal behavior?”
Kyl added that he suggested to Graham 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.”
It is unclear when such hearings would occur. Democrats, who control the Senate, set the chamber’s hearing schedule.
Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform strongly oppose the Republican-led effort, which could play a major role in firing up both the left and right this election year.
The escalating debate on the 14th Amendment comes in the wake of the legal battle between Arizona and the federal government over the state’s immigration law.
The idea of changing the nation's policy on this issue has picked up steam among conservatives in recent weeks. Legislation previously introduced by retired Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) has since been taken up by Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.). Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, is among the 93 cosponsors of the measure. This bill would not alter the 14th Amendment, however. Instead, it would revise the immigration law via statute.
Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) is the highest-ranking House Republican to formally co-sponsor the measure.
Graham, who had considered working with Democrats on immigration reform earlier this year, told Fox News last week that “birthright citizenship is a mistake.”
“We should change our Constitution and say if you come illegally and you have a child, that child is automatically not a citizen,” Graham said.
McConnell said the Obama administration needs to improve its ability to secure the country’s borders before tackling a change to the amendment.
“That’s how you get the credibility to deal with other aspects of the problem,” he said.
While President Obama’s push for immigration reform is considered dead in the 111th Congress, some Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing for a scaled-back bill to move this fall.
One such option is Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) Dream Act, which would give undocumented students the right to apply for permanent residence in the U.S. Durbin’s bill has attracted praise from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), but Durbin has publicly noted that some Democrats are not on board.
This article was updated at 12:38 p.m. on Aug. 3.
[More on The Hill’s interview with McConnell will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.]