The Extreme New Anti-Immigration Litmus Test: Ending Birthright Citizenship

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks to the media after arriving by helicopter at a nearby ballpark before Trump attended the Iowa State Fair Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Forget building a wall. Some Republicans want to tear down an amendment in the Constitution to prove their anti-immigration bonafides.

Ending birthright citizenship — the practice enshrined by the 14th Amendment that grants citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil — is the latest conservative litmus test, thanks in no small part to Donald Trump, who included it in his immigration platform released Sunday.

Since then, it’s been a race among GOP 2016ers to follow Trump to the fringes.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — typically considered a moderate on immigration — said Monday it was “a bad practice to give citizenship based on birth.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) — whose immigrant descent has already attracted suspicion from birthers — tweeted, “We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.”

Gov. Scott Walker — who called his immigration plan “very similar” to Trump’s — waffled on the issue, telling MSNBC only that he would “enforce the laws,” before a spokesperson followed up that “by addressing the root problems we will end the birthright citizenship problem.”

The discussion comes as the candidates tour the Iowa State Fair, traversing the stomping grounds of conservative kingmaker and prominent birthright citizenship opponent Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

But even before Trump’s endorsement of ending birthright citizenship landed the issue on ground zero of the Republican primary, it was simmering on the edges.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said last week the policy needed to be “re-examined.”

Previously this spring, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) attempted to add as an amendment to an anti-human trafficking bill legislation a limitation of citizenship to the children of a citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or a member of the military. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) all dodged the question as to their support then. But Paul co-sponsored a previous version of the legislation in 2011.

The issue of birthright citizenship tends to rear its head during fights over immigration, particularly where so-called “anchor babies” are concerned.

“We have evidence of people buying tourist visas for the express purpose of coming over here and having a child as birth tourism. I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Graham said Monday. He expressed interest in introducing a constitutional amendment in 2010.

The potency of the issue to rile up the conservative base aside, most legal experts contend that changing the policy would require a constitutional amendment, no small feat in a gridlocked Washington. Even King, who has pushed legislation to end the policy without a constitutional amendment, said Monday that the issue “has constitutional underpinnings” and his proposal “will be litigated.”

And not every Republican is jumping on the train. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) reversed his support for ending birthright citizenship, telling CNN earlier this month, “I think we need to get over that. I’m not for it anymore. Let these people who are born here be citizens and that’s the end of it. I don’t want to dwell on it.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has come out against changing the Constitution. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) also threw cold water on the idea Monday, as did Carly Fiorina, who said the political energy should be funneled elsewhere in the immigration debate. Rubio took a similar line Tuesday.

Not surprisingly, the Hillary Clinton campaign was quick to draw a contrast on the issue, in a statement released Monday evening.

“It is disturbing that Republican presidential candidates continue to embrace extreme anti-immigrant positions as core pieces of their immigration platform.” said Lorella Praeli, Hillary for America Latino Outreach Director. “While more Republicans are promoting policies that tear families apart, Hillary Clinton remains consistent in her position to defend President Obama’s executive actions and push for a comprehensive solution that includes a pathway to full and equal citizenship at the heart of any immigration reform plan.”

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