Recently, the Republican Party has been rallying around a new effort to potentially repeal provisions of the 14th amendment which automatically grant citizenship to those born in the U.S. Despite the media attention the GOP is generating, few reporters have reminded their audiences of one major procedural hurdle involved: getting two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states to support an amendment to repeal part of the Constitution. Given the fact that it’s unlikely that such an amendment would get very far, it begs the question of why lawmakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and others, are proposing the Senate Judiciary Committee waste its time by organizing hearings on the topic. The truth is it likely boils down to two things: riling up their base before November’s midterm elections and creating a toxic environment to kill any chance of the DREAM Act passing if and when it is introduced this fall.
To begin with, the notion that pregnant women are crossing the border in herds simply to have a U.S. born “anchor baby” is simply mistaken. While it has certainly been known to happen, it is by no means the norm. Even immigration restrictionist Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies points out, “there’s no evidence suggesting that this ‘drop and leave’ stuff is true…. My own sense is that most illegal alien women who have kids here…didn’t come for that purpose; they came for jobs or to join relatives, and one thing led to another, birds-and-bees style, and they had kids.” Denying citizenship to those who are born to undocumented immigrant parents would only compound the problem of illegal immigration by ballooning the number of those in the country without documents.
However, the potential introduction of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act as it is known, explains a lot. In July, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated that he would introduce the DREAM Act in the coming weeks if he feels he has the votes. Based on estimations, the DREAM Act would potentially put a little under a million undocumented youth who were brought here at a young age by their parents and meet certain requirements on a path to legalization. The usual right-wing anti-immigrant talking points simply don’t hold up as well when talking about the DREAM Act. It’s much more difficult to argue that “DREAMers” are lawbreakers who are being rewarded for coming here illegally to take jobs from U.S. citizens when they were brought to the U.S. by their parents and, through no fault of their own, invested in by the U.S. education system and raised as Americans. Perhaps in response, the Republican Party is shifting the conversation to focus on the definition of citizenship itself. As they move the debate farther to the right to argue that the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be citizens, it will tighten the space Democrats have to make the case for legalizing the undocumented children of undocumented immigrants.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party stands to rack up cheap political points with its base. Graham, McCain, and Kyl have all been accused by the right of being soft on immigration. Taking such an extreme position allows moderates like them to prove that they’re willing to back up their radical anti-immigrant base rather than working with Democrats to solve the problem. And in the unlikely chance that they succeed, it would also conveniently mean more undocumented immigrants who would probably vote for Democrats, but can’t. Yet, what the senators are probably overlooking is that all those “anchor babies” already are or probably will become voters who will remind their children and their grandchildren of the party who tried to take that right away.