Where do we stand right now on this comparatively minor yet increasingly litmus-test-y immigration issue? By my count we’ve got Trump, Scott Walker, and Bobby Jindal all on record in the past 48 hours saying they’d end birthright citizenship for children of illegals under the Fourteenth Amendment … somehow. Now here come the establishmentarians. First up: Marco Rubio, who apparently told a crowd in Iowa today that he’s against ending the practice.
Marco Rubio dismissed Donald Trump’s immigration plan today as not feasible, and said he disagreed with the billionaire about ending birthright citizenship.
“I’m open to doing things that prevent people who deliberately come to the U.S. for the purposes of taking advantage of the 14th Amendment, but I’m not in favor of repealing it,” Rubio told reporters at the Iowa State Fair Tuesday morning. “I haven’t read his plans, I’ve only read press accounts on some of them. But obviously there’s some ideas that have merit, but the majority of it is really not a workable plan that could ever pass Congress.”…
“We have 12 or 13 million human beings that have been here for a long time. And there is really no, there’s not really a realistic way of rounding up and deporting 12 or 13 million people and our nation wouldn’t want to do that anyway,” Rubio said.
Rubio also opposes a constitutional amendment to return regulation of gay marriage to the states and he’s willing to accept abortion exceptions for rape and incest if they’re part of a bill that would restrict abortion in more conventional cases. He’s not a guy who’s going to spend a lot of energy on battles which, realistically, he almost certainly can’t win, especially if he can get half a loaf by making a deal on them. As for Jeb Bush:
Revoking birthright citizenship would require a change to the Constitution, he noted. That’s a lengthy process, so in the meantime, “There needs to be real efforts to deal with the abuse of these factories where people come in and have children to gain the citizenship for the children. But this is in the Constitution. The argument that it’s not I don’t think is the right view.”…
“There are like 10 things I would change in the Constitution with a magic wand,” Bush said. “But in the interim, we’ve got to control the border, we’ve got to enforce the rule of law, we’ve got to deal with extended stays on legal visas, we’ve got to have an e-Verify system that’s verifiable, we’ve got to deal with sanctuary cities, we’ve got to forward-lean on the border. There’s practical things that we can do to reduce the flow of illegal immigrants, which clearly is important to do.”
Er … what 10 things in the Constitution would Jeb Bush like to change? But I digress. Here again you have a guy urging righties not to waste time on quixotic pursuits like trying to change a constitutional amendment — and not just any amendment but the one that guarantees due process and equal protection — when there are other feasible priorities, like improving border security and removal procedures, that can reduce the number of children being born here to illegals in the first place. As the NRO editorial board, in a piece otherwise applauding Trump’s immigration plan, put it, “While birthright citizenship is abused now, ending it would be a Herculean task politically and the Supreme Court is unlikely to be cooperative.” Mark Krikorian, NRO’s most prominent writer on immigration, backs ending birthright citizenship for newly arriving illegals only as part of an amnesty for illegals who are already here, so that their kids don’t grow up without a civic tie to their homeland. Again, though: If you stop the flow of illegals, you don’t need to worry about birthright citizenship.
I’m in the middle on this in that I think Trump, Walker, and Jindal are right on the merits but that it’s a weird fight to pick in the middle of a presidential campaign. Of course we shouldn’t reward or incentivize illegals by promising them citizenship for their children (and, implicitly, permanent residence for themselves) if they make it across the border before mom’s water breaks. Every comprehensive reform plan that comes down the pike in Congress is loaded with measures designed to try to reduce the incentives to immigrate illegally — pay back taxes, go to the end of the line in applying for citizenship, etc. Birthright citizenship creates an incentive so strong that entire “birth tourism” industries have sprung up around it. Also, while it’s true that getting SCOTUS to read birthright citizenship out of the Constitution is a long, long shot, all it would take to force the issue is have Congress pass a law and wait for it to be challenged in court. You wouldn’t necessarily need to repeal that part of the Fourteenth Amendment, as Rubio implies. You could take your chances with John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. They wouldn’t let conservatives down, right?
The question is, given that you’re headed for near-certain defeat in court, how much do you gain and how much do you lose politically if you push this as some sort of core GOP platform plank? SCOTUS dumping birthright citizenship from the Constitution is a 100-1 shot, I’d guess, given how little fear Roberts and Kennedy have of disappointing their own party. Meanwhile, Hillary and the Democrats will club Republicans relentlessly for pushing this sort of bill in Congress. Ben Domenech, himself a supporter of birthright citizenship for all, anticipates the attacks:
First, to eliminate birthright citizenship requires a Constitutional Amendment, which will not happen. (I’m serious. This is never going to happen. The discussion is moot.) Second, endorsing eliminating birthright citizenship creates a new horde of political enemies – forget the millions who have benefited from this policy, anyone who knows anyone who is a birthright citizen is going to view this effort as an act of xenophobic rage. Third, it creates no new friends to offset these new enemies – anyone who is opposed to birthright citizenship was likely already your supporter anyway. And fourth, it runs counter to every major American historical narrative about what we believe about the possibilities of our nation, where we came from and where we are going.
I understand that my views are not representative. But for those conservatives who care about immigration policy, who believe it ought to be reformed and that the United States is not currently living up to its challenge to further an equitable, reasonable, and proper attitude toward immigration – one that balances the interests of markets in pursuing contracts and fulfilling labor needs with the needs of any nation state to guard against threats to its security, health, and welfare – birthright citizenship is not the hill you want to die on. There are 50 more feasible reforms you ought to deal with first, even if you are a hard-line conservative on the issue. And in the meantime taking this stand sends a message to every citizen born of an immigrant of dubious legality: that you do not believe they have a right to be an American. This is a powerful message, and not one that will be forgotten any time soon.
Politically, this is worth pushing if and only if you believe it’ll mobilize Trump’s “silent majority” more efficiently than Democratic demagoguery over it will mobilize the left and Latinos. Remember, even now, 50 percent of Republicans are open to a path to citizenship for illegals. Where’s the silent majority going to come from — especially once the media begins pointing out that Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal are themselves beneficiaries of birthright citizenship in having been born here to non-citizen parents?
Exit question: Is there some compromise plan on birthright citizenship that might unite the two wings of the party? E.g., the strongest case for citizenship, obviously, is someone born here to two citizen parents. The weakest case is someone born to non-citizens who came here illegally. What about children born to people who aren’t citizens but who were here legally on a visa or as permanent residents? I think most righties would be perfectly fine granting citizenship in those cases because, unlike in the case of illegals, the parents followed the rules in coming here. If U.S. officials wanted to prevent birthright citizenship for those kids, they could have simply denied the parents a visa to begin with.