Published August 16, 2010
New York Times' Room for Debate
Some Republicans (like Minority Leader John Boehner and Senator Lindsey Graham) argue that allowing children of illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens attracts larger numbers of illegal immigrants. They're wrong.
For one thing, the evidence that “anchor babies” is a magnet for illegal immigration doesn't exist (the main motivators are searching for work and better economic conditions). For another, amending the 14th Amendment — which would require a vote of two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, followed by a ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures — is a distraction from necessary things that need to be done, including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time.
It would also be a dramatic and unnecessary break with precedent. As a general matter, conservatives oppose tinkering with the Constitution, especially for empty causes. And revoking birthright citizenship would, as my former White House colleague Michael Gerson has written, “turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals' — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital.”
On top of all that, it would be politically hazardous. Hispanics are among the fastest growing demographic groups in America. The party of Lincoln and Reagan can appeal to them with a principled stand on illegal immigration, in combination with policies that increase economic growth, entrepreneurship and social cohesion. To go from securing the border to amending the Constitution is to journey from serious policy to stupid symbolism.
Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has worked in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, where he served as deputy assistant to the president.