Republicans Splitting On 14th Amendment “Reform”

There isn't as much GOP unity over the idea of changing America's citizenship rules as you might think.

Not every Republican is behind the idea of changing the birthright citizenship rules of the 14th Amendment:

The push by congressional Republicans to deny automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants has opened up a split in the GOP, with several former Bush administration officials warning that the party could lose its claim to one of its proudest legacies: the 14th Amendment.

For Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) and other conservatives, the solution to what they regard as one of the greatest flaws of U.S. immigration policy is obvious: Amend the amendment, which grants citizenship to anyone born on American soil regardless of whether their parents are legal residents.

But in recent days, former aides to bothVice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush, who pushed for comprehensive immigration reform, have condemned the calls by top Republicans to end birthright citizenship.

Cesar Conda, who served as domestic policy adviser to Cheney, has called such proposals “offensive.” Mark McKinnon, who served as media adviser in Bush’s two presidential campaigns, said Republicans risk losing their “rightful claim” to the 14th Amendment if they continue to “demagogue” the issue.

“The 14th Amendment is a great legacy of the Republican party. It is a shame and an embarrassment that the GOP now wants to amend it for starkly political reasons,” McKinnon told POLITICO. “Initially Republicans rallied around the amendment to welcome more citizens to this country. Now it is being used to drive people away.”

Enacted during Reconstruction by a Republican Congress, the 14th Amendment officially overruled the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision and defined citizenship not only for newly enfranchised blacks but for all Americans.

For more than a century, it’s been interpreted by the courts to include children whose parents are not U.S. citizens, including illegal immigrants.

“That is the wisdom of the authors of the 14th Amendment: They essentially wanted to take this very difficult issue — citizenship — outside of the political realm,” Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “They wanted to take an objective standard, birth, instead of a subjective standard, which is the majorities at the time. I think that’s a much better way to deal with an issue like this.”

Gerson is largely correct.

The 14th Amendment has been a part of the Constitution for 140 years and the idea of changing it now merely to address an immigration problem that has very little to do with the so-called “anchor baby” problem makes no sense at all. Moreover, as Steven Taylor noted last week, the number of potential problems that would be created by eliminating birthright citizenship far outweigh any supposed benefits that we would gain in the process.

Citizenship in America is a simple concept. If you’re born here, you’re own of us. Get rid of that, and we will be living in a country where, to one extent or another, citizenship will depend not on birth, but on bloodlines. That’s the law in Germany and the result is that there are entire populations of people who have come to live there, who have integrated themselves into German society, and who have no connection left with their former homelands, but, because they don’t have sufficient “German blood,” they aren’t German citizens. The dangers of such a stateless class of non-citizens should be readily apparent.

I’ll take the inconvenience of a few thousand “anchor babies” a year over that any day.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Steve Plunk says:

    I guess that’s what happens when you have a big tent.  Divergence of opinions on issues is to be expected.  Now let’s debate the pros and cons and move forward.
    Unlike Germany we have a naturalization process so I don’t see problem like theirs.  Claiming the 14th amendment as Republican is nonsense.  It’s a 142 years old and this is a very different country.  I’d like to hear some better arguments against reform before making up my mind.

  2. sam says:

    “I’ll take the inconvenience of a few thousand “anchor babies” a year over that any day.”
    One of the commenters over at Will Wilkinson’s place had this to say about the widely held belief having a so-called anchor baby makes you deportation-proof:

    That problem doesn’t exist. Children can only sponsor their parents for legal residency if the child is over 21 and the parents have never been in America illegally. Illegal immigrants will have to wait until their kid is 31 before they can become deportation-proof. There is a rarely-used provision that allows families of 10-year-olds to stay if they can prove hardship, but that’s capped at 4000 visas and even that cap hasn’t been reached in recent years


  3. sam says:

    From the wiki page on anchor babies:

    Federal appellate courts and the Supreme Court have upheld the refusal by the Immigration and Naturalization Service or Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stay the deportation of illegal immigrants merely on the grounds that they have U.S.-citizen, minor children.[Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Jong Ha Wang, 450 U.S. 139]

  4. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t think the 14th Amendment constraints are clear here.  We have a 1898 SCOTUS decision that says that a child born in this country by parents legally visiting this country (but not as diplomats) is a citizen by birth.  That means the U.S. certainly cannot foster the situation in which a second class tier of workers is formally recognized.  Whether it’s true of children of parents in the country illegally is unclear.

    Republicans should pass a law before they tinker with the Constitution.  (8 U.S.C. 1401)

  5. just me says:

    I am not really convinced this is really a problem.
    First I doubt the vast majority of illegal immigrants in the US come her specifically to have US citizen babies in order to stay here.
    Second a US citizen minor child alone is not a reason to allow illegal immigrant parents to stay-they can and are still deported.  As long as this is the case, then there really doesn’t seem to be an anchor baby problem.
    Third I think this is to some degree the easy position to take on the side of being hardline against illegal immigration because it likely isn’t going to pass but provides a drum to beat.  I think as often as not congress doesn’t want to really touch this issue because the best answers to the problem aren’t easy fixes and no matter what is eventually decided some voters are going to be angry-and as much as some want this to be a pure left/right or Dem/GOP opposites argument the reality is there is a huge range of position within both parties and both sides of the liberal/conservative continuum.  In the end some people will be happy and some people will be mad, so it is easier to take a position that will never be a reality and continue to do nothing.

  6. mike says:

    this is really a big issue right now – with the economy, unemployment, the neverending wars – sounds to me like no one wants to talk about the real issues.

  7. Anon says:

    Do the figures that are commonly cited for the number of anchor babies define anchor baby as a baby born to parents that are illegal immigrants, or a baby born to parents that are non-citizens?

  8. Trumwill says:

    // That’s the law in Germany and the result is that there are entire populations of people who have come to live there, who have integrated themselves into German society, and who have no connection left with their former homelands, but, because they don’t have sufficient “German blood,” they aren’t German citizens.//
    That’s a concern, but consider for a moment those that *can’t* integrate into society because they’re not citizens. That’s not just unfair, but it’s a real recipe for social trouble.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    For those who claim that parents are being deported, please look up the latest stories on deportations.  An illegal alien has to be a convicted felon in order to be deported and for lower level felonies, it takes several felonies to get one deported.
    Anchor babies create a reason for more illegal immigration because the kid is a reason to receive welfare.
    The La Raza Republicans need to explain why middle class whites need to pay higher taxes, higher insurance premiums, and private school tuition so that the the patron class of the U.S. can have cheaper papusas and cheaper lawn care.
    And why amend the constitution?  Because no other method will survive the rulings of a liberal judge.  The left wants to turn the U.S. into a third world county and the only way to stop it is by using the constitution.

  10. sam says:

    “The La Raza Republicans need to explain why middle class whites”
    Dude, your sheet is showing. You could have written, “need to explain why the middle class,” but nooooo. Silly person.

  11. superdestroyer says:

    Considering that the Republicans Party is made up of white voters, then the La Raza Republicans need to explain their position to middle class whites.  Middle class blacks, Hispanics, and Asians all vote overwhelmingly vote for Democrats and will probably never vote for Republicans again.
    Unless the La Raza Republicans can explain how they will get non-white to ever vote for the more conservative candidates, then yes, the La Raza Republicans need to explain who their positions are good for the middle class white voters who used to be the most loyal Republicans voter but who walked away from the party due to the incompetence of the Bush Administration.
    The La Raza Republicans need to explain who their support for open borders is something other than the continuation of the failures, incompetence, and stupidity of both Bush Administrations.

    I suspect that the La Raza Republicans are so afraid of being called a racist, that they will throw middle class whites under the bus in order to appease a demographic groups that will never vote for the more conservative party.

  12. john personna says:

    For me the strangeness of the issues is that we can’t just decide on an immigration policy, and take the best candidates world-wide, we have to accept a de-facto situation which no one really prefers.
    Well, there is one group which is happy.  Those would be the citizens of this content who feel they have a special status, and should be preferred for US citizenship over say Chinese PhDs.  Because, you know, they are almost here.