Just four years ago, Representative Steve King’s commitment to ending birthright citizenship was considered such a political liability for Republicans that King was passed over to chair the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration.
Now a growing number of Republican presidential candidates would end birthright citizenship for children born to parents not authorized to live in the U.S. In fact, GOP presidential contenders who share King’s perspective outnumber those who are willing to defend current law, which has been settled for more than a century.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1898 decision U.S. v Wong Kim Ark, the government has accepted that the Fourteenth Amendment means children born in this country are U.S. citizens, even if their parents were not legally authorized to be here.
Although scores of House Republicans are on record supporting an end to automatic citizenship for all babies born on U.S. soil, and they have introduced many bills to that effect during the past two decades, legislation to limit this aspect of the Fourteenth Amendment has never gotten traction. King introduces a birthright citizenship bill at the beginning of every Congress, but his legislation doesn’t even get through a subcommittee. Here’s the official summary of King’s “Birthright Citizenship Act of 2015”:
Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to consider a person born in the United States “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States for citizenship at birth purposes if the person is born in the United States of parents, one of whom is: (1) a U.S. citizen or national, (2) a lawful permanent resident alien whose residence is in the United States, or (3) an alien performing active service in the U.S. Armed Forces.
States that this Act shall not be construed to affect the citizenship or nationality status of any person born before the date of its enactment.
After Republicans regained the U.S. House majority in the 2010 elections, I expected the House to approve or at least seriously consider King’s birthright citizenship proposal. Then a group of Latino Republicans urged House GOP leaders not to put King in charge of a subcommittee on immigration, citing King’s “defamatory language that is extremely offensive to Hispanics” as well as his “extreme” and “un-constitutional” stance on birthright citizenship. In January 2011, King introduced his birthright citizenship bill but didn’t land the subcommittee chairmanship that would have put him in a position to move that bill.
At the time, King hinted that House Speaker John Boehner had pressured the House Judiciary Committee chair to pass him over. I suspect that’s right. There is no love lost between Boehner and King. The House speaker would later go on record slamming some of King’s most infamous comments about DREAMers, whose parents brought them to this country as children.
King’s faction of Republicans did manage to block House consideration of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that had passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. The proposals in that bill, including a pathway to legal residence or citizenship for some immigrants not authorized to live here, appeared to have real momentum in Congress in early 2013.
But as for birthright citizenship, King’s position looked too toxic to merit serious discussion.
Fast-forward to this summer, when the presidential candidate who has taken the most extreme stance on deportations and made the most offensive comments about Mexican immigrants vaulted to the top of Republican polls.
Mark Murray compiled comments on birthright citizenship from thirteen of the seventeen major declared Republican presidential candidates. Click through to read quotations from each candidate.
Seven are for ending birthright citizenship along the lines proposed by King: Donald Trump, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal.
Scott Walker seemed to support that position, then tried to straddle the issue with weasel-words.
Murray named five candidates who accept the Fourteenth Amendment as currently understood, to allow citizenship for all children born in the U.S.: Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, George Pataki, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich (who as a member of Congress co-sponsored legislation to limit birthright citizenship).
I haven’t seen any recent comments from Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee on this issue, but in 2010 Huckabee said he was against partial repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Rick Perry recently indicated that he is not interested in going down this path, since it is nearly impossible to amend the constitution. He did not clarify whether he agrees with birthright citizenship in principle.
I didn’t bother to look up Jim Gilmore’s position, since he is a non-entity in the Republican field.
King may not endorse a candidate before the Iowa caucuses, but he will have several like-minded Republicans to consider if he is inclined to do so. That’s good news for King and bad news for GOP prospects of winning the presidency:
“If Republicans want to be competitive in the general election, they have to distance themselves from Trump on both illegal and legal immigration,” said Alfonso Aguilar, an official in George W. Bush’s administration and the executive director of the American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership, a conservative group. “His proposal on birthright citizenship is very insulting to Latinos, and every day, this is the top story on Spanish language media. Right now, if the other candidates don’t respond to Trump, Latinos will buy the argument that Republicans agree with him.”
A study released last month found that
Thanks to changing demographics, the conventional math that once said the GOP would need to win a minimum of 40% of the Latino electorate no longer holds.
Now, data suggests that Republicans will need as much as 47% of Latino voters — nearly twice the share that Mitt Romney is believed to have captured in 2012. […]
The last Republican nominee to hit the 40% threshold was George W. Bush in 2004, who was popular with Latino voters. He went on to win the White House with 58% of the white vote, at a time when Latinos were 7% of overall voters.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
P.S.- When I looked for the November 2010 open letter from Somos Republicans to House GOP leaders, I learned that what used to be the Somos Republicans website (www.somosrepublicans.com) now redirects to Somos Independents.