For starters, let’s remember that birthright citizenship was around long before the 14th Amendment. It came from the English Imperial days, starting around 1608 and the desire of the Empire for those born within the realm to be subjects of the Crown. The concept carried over to the United States.
The 14th Amendment enters the picture after the Civil War. It contains this language: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
Note the key part: “subject to the jurisdiction thereof”. From Wikipedia:
The author of the 14th Amendment Citizenship Clause, Senator Jacob M. Howard, stated, in reference to the Amendment, “This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the family of ambassadors, or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.”It seems most likely that the amendment was not nor does it necessitate granting birthright citizenship to the children of illegal aliens. Why then is Lindsey Graham bringing this up — particularly when the Democrats and media are using the idea of amending the 14th Amendment to beat up conservatives in an election year?
Well, the answer is pretty simple.
Lindsey Graham has never before been a big proponent of eradicating birthright citizenship. Why then go all in? Likewise, why demand amendment of the 14th Amendment when most conservative legal scholars are pretty convinced it is not necessary?
There are two reasons.
First, Graham has no objection to birthright citizenship, but he knows that many conservatives do. By making the case that the only way to fix birthright citizenship is to amend the 14th Amendment and knowing that this is a virtually impossible task, Graham can say, “Well, I tried. Can’t do it. Time to consider immigration reform with birthright citizenship remaining.”
By framing the argument as an impossible task, it makes it easier for Graham to dismiss than deal with it.
Second, Graham is in real political trouble in South Carolina. One county Republican Party has already rebuked him publicly. More are considering it. Graham has seen Bob Bennett go down in flames in the tea party movement and, even though he is safe until 2014, he has a reputation to maintain at some level.
The people of South Carolina opposed Graham’s last attempt at comprehensive immigration reform. Standing up and declaring the 14th Amendment needs to be repealed to end birthright citizenship is a great way for him to look like he is leading on a conservative stance while actually doing nothing.
In short — Lindsey Graham has no intention of amending the 14th Amendment. He just wants to save himself by looking like he is doing something without actually doing anything.
In doing so, he is also giving liberals extra ammo to attack conservatives as fringe, rally minority voters, and if the tea party candidates subsequently lose, so much the better for dear little Lindsey.