Amid immigration debate, Democrats battle GOP over Fourteenth Amendment

Senate Democrats pushed back Tuesday against Republican demands to change a part of the 14th Amendment that grants U.S. citizenship by birthright to children of illegal immigrants.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMore than 300 abuse victim support groups oppose GOP healthcare bill Dem lawmaker: GOP healthcare battle is like the Titantic Behind closed doors, tensions in the GOP MORE (Ky.) and GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) have called for hearings on the amendment, while Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamOvernight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership Graham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate GOP senator: Don't expect Trump to 'have your back' on healthcare vote MORE (R-S.C.) has called for elimination of the provision. 

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The arguing is over the Citizenship Clause to the 14th Amendment, which was adopted in 1868 during the Reconstruction era. The clause was intended to reverse the 1857 Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case that denied citizenship to African-Americans. The Supreme Court subsequently interpreted the clause to mean that children born in the United States have an inherent right to citizenship.

Republicans maintained Tuesday that modern times present a much more difficult situation, with immigration stressing the country’s resources and dividing the country.

“I’m supportive of [changing the provision] because at the time the amendment was put in, transportation was different, the environment was different and we didn’t have as much crime,” said Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeSenators urge Trump to do right thing with arms sales to Taiwan McCain strikes back as Trump’s chief critic Turbulence for Trump on air traffic control MORE (R-Okla.). “Just a lot of things were different.”

Democrats say the calls are merely election-year politics that shamefully target children.

“It’s outrageous,” said Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownMajor progressive group rolls out first incumbent House endorsement Dems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Senate Banking panel huddles with regulators on bank relief MORE (D-Ohio). “To target children on this makes no sense. It’s the Constitution. It’s what we’ve done our entire lives. It’s all about politics and Republicans trying to gin up their base. It’s one of those distractions that just puzzles me.”

“The Republicans have to decide if they only like one amendment, which is the second,” said Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? MORE (D-Md.), referring to the right to bear arms. “I happen to like all of the amendments. They just seem to like only the second one.”

Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinDistance education: Tumultuous today and yesterday Grassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream MORE (D-Iowa) said a change would introduce a dangerous precedent of tying citizenship to political beliefs.

“We ought to leave the 14th Amendment alone. It allows for citizenship that’s not based on political considerations,” he said. “Once you introduce political considerations, it degrades citizenship. If you’re born here, you’re a citizen. Period. No tests, no profiling, nothing else.”

On Monday, McConnell became the highest-ranking Republican in Washington to endorse the idea of at least exploring a change to the provision.

“I haven’t made a final decision about it, but that’s something that we clearly need to look at,” McConnell said. “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.”

Last weekend, Kyl told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he too wants to hold hearings, saying the question comes down to: “If both parents are here illegally, should there be a reward for their illegal behavior?”

Graham, meanwhile, told Fox News on Friday that “birthright citizenship is a mistake.”

Graham is working with Sen. Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissFormer GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party GOP hopefuls crowd Georgia special race MORE (R-Ga.) to study how the provision could be reversed, either by the amendment process or by some kind of legislation. Chambliss noted that countries such as Ireland have already repealed citizenship birthright laws.

“It’s something that not only needs to be discussed,” Chambliss said. “Our situation may be a little different than Ireland, but we’re certainly going to explore what they did. It may be as simple as giving Congress the authority to act legislatively, or it may take a constitutional amendment. I’m not sure yet.”

The idea also has traction among House Republicans, where Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) is leading the drive for the Birthright Citizenship Act, which would deny citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants by statute instead of repealing the amendment.

The legislation has 93 co-sponsors, including prominent members such as Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.).