In recent days, several leading Republicans have launched a movement to review or revoke parts of the 14th amendment, which guarantees birthright citizenship. While revoking the 14th Amendment has long been a right-wing fringe favorite, conservatives’ current obsession with undocumented immigration has pushed the issue into the mainstream, with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), and even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), among others, endorsing a review of the amendment.
Today, at a Tea Party Express gathering of African-American conservative leaders in Washington, ThinkProgress asked for their thoughts on the matter, considering the fact that the 14th Amendment was enacted after the Civil War to extend constitutional rights to African-Americans. Perennial GOP presidential candidate Alan Keyes responded by warning that “the 14th Amendment is not something one should play with lightly,” before singling out Graham for speaking “carelessly” on the topic:
KEYES: The 14th Amendment is not something that one should play with lightly. I noticed, finally, that Linsey Graham, used the term — as people have carelessly done over the years — referring to the 14th Amendment as something that has to do with birthright citizenship, and that we should get rid of birthright citizenship. Now let me see, if birthright citizenship is not a birthright, then it must be a grant of the government. And if it is a grant of the government, then it could be curtailed in all the ways that fascists and totalitarians always want to.
I think we ought to be real careful before we adopt a view we want to say that citizenship is not a reflection of our unalienable rights. It is not a grant of government, but arises from a set of actual conditions, starting with the rule of God, that constrain government to respect the rights of the people, and therefore the rights that involve the claim of citizenship. Those are really deep, serious issues, and when the amendment was written, and when it was first referred to in the Slaughterhouse cases, the Supreme Court declared that they knew they were touching on something that was absolutely fundamental. And I think before we play games with it in any way, we need to remember that ourselves.
Keyes is a far-right conservative — a birther who has called President Obama “a radical communist” who “is going to destroy this country” — yet he is calling out the Senate Republican leadership for taking things too far. In Keyes’ view — which he explains on his website — taking away birthright citizenship could actually help a tyrannical government take away rights, “the way that fascists and totalitarians always want to.”
Even notorious immigration hawk Lou Dobbs disagrees with Graham and McConnell on this issue, telling Fox News recently, “If you are going to insist on the rule of law and order — and I do — I have to insist that we recognize those anchor babies as citizens of this country.”