Is Immigration Reform The Logic Behind Lindsey Graham’s 14th Amendment Madness?

Immigration advocates and anti-immigrant zealots alike have been scratching their heads ever since Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went from working with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on crafting an immigration reform bill to walking away from negotiations and suggesting that the 14th amendment should be amended to deny the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants from automatically becoming citizens upon birth. In an interview with Politico on who might be the “Republican standard-bearer for immigration reform” after the fall elections, GOP political consultant Ana Navarro suggests that there could be a method to Graham’s 14th amendment madness:

While many believe McCain is a lost cause on reform, GOP strategist Ana Navarro hasn’t written off one of the senator’s closest allies, Graham, who rolled out a reform proposal with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in March that included a path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. […]

“There is a logic to his madness,” said Navarro, who fled Nicaragua at age 8 during the Sandinista revolution. “What he was trying to do is put something in the pot, to sweeten the pot so he could attract some of the right wing to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform.”

Meanwhile, Graham’s spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied Navarro’s speculations:

Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said border security remains the senator’s No. 1 concern but that other issues — including employment verification, a guest worker program, birthright citizenship and a plan to deal with the illegal immigrants already in the country — also need to be looked at.

If Navarro is right, it would make the task of achieving effective and humane immigration reform that both sides can agree on pretty difficult. While immigration reform that includes a path to legalization together with an updated visa system would go a long way in eliminating most undocumented immigration, it’s hard to say whether the phenomena would disappear altogether. If not, changing the 14th amendment would cause a manageable problem to grow larger and larger in size every time an undocumented mother gives birth in the U.S.


It’s unclear that “sweetening the pot” by changing the Constitution would be enough to bring right-wingers to the table without causing pro-immigrant lawmakers to walk away from it. It didn’t work very well last time. In 2007 lawmakers crafted a bipartisan piece of legislation that was the last immigration reform bill that made it to the Senate floor. Though the legislation included a legalization program, it also contained a provision that replaced the green card system with a problematic “point system” that ignored labor needs and would’ve essentially changed the demographics of future immigration by prioritizing high-skilled immigrants over lower-skilled ones. Labor unions abandoned the bill when a temporary worker program was added without any path to permanent residence. At the time, The Council on Foreign Relations wrote, “the current bill will address the presence of millions of undocumented workers — no small feat. Yet without consideration of these underlying structural issues, the fundamental goals of immigration reform will remain elusive.” The bill didn’t make it past cloture.

It’s far too early to speculate as to what Graham would want in his immigration bill or if he’s even willing to work on one again. However, if his current 14th amendment politics are any indication, the compromise reached in 2007 would pale in comparison to what Graham has in mind now.