GOP Establishment's Epiphany on Birthright Citizenship—Be Optimistic AND Suspicious!

Recently, I wrote a piece about how the usual suspects were getting worried that Birthright Citizenship reform was gaining traction. At that time, its advocates amounted to just Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr.; a few heroic state legislators such as Russell Pearce of Arizona, Randy Terrill of Oklahoma, and Leo Berman of Texas; and Tea Party Senate Candidates Rand Paul and Sharron Angle. (Congressman Ron Paul has also long been a supporter, but didn't make much of the issue when he ran for president).

I was glad to see the issue move forward. But I would have never guessed that, within three weeks, the House and Senate Republican Establishment would come out in support of ending Birthright Citizenship—or at least to begin exploring the issue! Significantly, Treason Lobby reaction has been particularly hysterical.

Dealing with the "Anchor Baby" loophole was always seen as the ambitious edge of the patriotic immigration reform movement. Virtually no Democrat would support it, including even some otherwise courageous illegal immigration opponents such as Heath Shuler (D-NC.)

No one in the Senate has taken up the issue in the last decade.

Nathan Deal's (R-GA) bills to repeal Birthright Citizenship—by either statute or Constitutional Amendment, both are options—routinely got somewhere between 50 and 100 co-sponsors, depending on the year. But the House Republican leadership never backed it.

Indeed, in a very widely publicized debate during the 2008 election, when Virgil Goode (R-VA) brought up the issue, his opponent Tom Periello was able to respond that virtually no Republicans supported it!

Our self-consciously moderate friends like Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Krikorian had opposed it as impractical (more on him later). The pseudo-restrictionists such as National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru called it absolutely off-limits. [Born In The USA, February 27, 2006, issue of NR, reprinted (!) on NRO, August 10, 2010]

Yet in the last two weeks, one after another member of the Republican congressional leadership has jumped on to the anti-Birthright Citizenship bandwagon.

It began when Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Fox News on July 29,

"I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here…Birthright Citizenship I think is a mistake ... We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child's automatically not a citizen."

Since then, Senators John McCain (R-AZ), John Kyl (R-AZ), John Cornyn (R-TX) Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have expressed interest. Then, on Meet the Press, House Minority Leader John Boehner said that an end to Birthright Citizenship was "worth considering."

Senators Sessions and Grassley have been solid on fighting both legal and illegal immigration. But neither have addressed Birthright Citizenship up until now. When Sessions created his 15 point immigration policy quiz for Republican presidential candidates in 2008, Birthright Citizenship was not mentioned.

The other Republican Senators have been unreliable to terrible on immigration. McCain and Graham have been the two most pro-amnesty Republicans in the Senate. Cornyn, Kyl, and McConnell all voted for cloture for amnesty a.k.a to pass it in 2006, and Kyl and McConnell voted for the final bill. In 2007, Cornyn and Kyl teamed up with George Bush to create a new amnesty plan, which they only abandoned when their constituents found up what they were up to. And McConnell and Kyl both voted for cloture of the 2007 amnesty, only to reverse their position once it was clear they would lose.

Forgive me for being cynical—but I find it unlikely that these men have had an epiphany and became immigration reform patriots over night. I suggest there are some ulterior motives:

1)      Helping John McCain Defeat JD Hayworth in the Arizona Primary

This was the initial assumption of most Washington people I've spoken to. With immigration reform patriot J.D.  Hayworth challenging McCain in the primary, the much-touted "maverick" has done an astonishing 180 and has campaigned as tough on immigration. Not coincidentally, a June 29 Rasmussen Poll found that Arizona Republican voters opposed Birthright Citizenship 84%-10%, with the state as a whole opposing it 64-26%. [64% in Arizona Say Children of Illegal Immigrants Should Not Automatically Become U.S. Citizens, Rasmussen Reports, July 5, 2010]

Lindsey Graham is known as McCain's top lackey in the Senate, and the fact that Graham first brought up Birthright Citizenship reform would tend to confirm this theory.

That said, McCain is now polling far ahead of Hayworth. Unfortunately, he has apparently already succeeded in conning plenty of voters into thinking he's a restrictionist. Moreover, McCain's statements on Birthright Citizenship have been relatively tepid, saying that

"I believe that the Constitution is a strong, complete and carefully crafted document that has successfully governed our nation for centuries and any proposal to amend the Constitution should receive extensive and thoughtful consideration," [Republicans want review of Birthright Citizenship, Ben Evans, Associated Press, August 4, 2010]

And it seems unlikely that the entire Republican Establishment would take up the issue just to help John McCain.

2)      Helping Republicans Defeat Democrats in the General Election

There are two groups of Republicans who could truly benefit from the party leadership taking a strong stand against the "Anchor Baby" loophole.

The first group: right-wing Republicans, who would be made to appear more moderate. Thus, while the Republican Establishment viciously opposed Tea Party favorites Rand Paul (KY) and Sharron Angle (NV) in the primaries, they still would rather see Republicans win the races. Both Paul and Angle have been vocal about ending Birthright Citizenship and accordingly have been labeled extremists by their opponents and the MainStream Media (same thing, really). But if the establishment of the GOP supports the same position, these candidates look more mainstream.

The second group: GOP opponents of conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats who oppose amnesty—at least in their platforms. For example, in the Indiana Senate race, Democrat Brad Ellsworth has a much stronger record on immigration than Republican Dan Coats. But Birthright Citizenship reform could well be a bridge too far for Democrats like Ellsworth. It could become the only way for Republicans like Coats to appear as more restrictionist.

However, this strategy presupposes that the Stupid Party is getting smarter, or at least more cunning.

3) Prelude to Guest Workers…or Worse

The standard line of the Republican and conservative Establishment is that a guest worker program is needed in addition to immigration control. Of course, the most obvious objection to temporary workers is that they tend to become permanent. One way they certainly do become permanent is by having US-born citizen children. Ending Birthright Citizenship, or at least talking about it, would give the corporate Republicans more cover to support a guest worker program.

This strategy is not completely new. In 2006, horse rancher and Loctite heiress Helen Krieble and the Heritage Foundation teamed up with Mike Pence's (R-IN) to write an alternative amnesty bill with an emphasis on cheap labor. But Heritage and Pence found they had provoked a massive backlash. In damage control mode, Heritage's government relations team floated the idea of exchanging Birthright Citizenship for Amnesty.

But that didn't work either and Heritage and Pence quickly retreated from amnesty. Both have been solid on illegal immigration ever since.

However, Heritage continues to push for guest workers. In the wake of the current hoopla, the Heritage Foundation is emphasizing its opposition to Birthright Citizenship.

Krieble continues to push for amnesty/guest worker programs and has since said she supported ending Birthright Citizenship in conjunction with it.

Lindsey Graham has actually admitted that his newfound opposition to Birthright Citizenship is to make an amnesty/guest worker plan more palatable to conservatives, in an interview with National Review's Daniel Foster:

FOSTER: "Isn't a bit of this, frankly, strategic? Aren't you looking for ways to bring conservatives on board with the more comprehensive immigration reform that you favor? Is that fair to say?"

GRAHAM: "Yeah, I think it's fair to say that I need to go home to South Carolina and say: listen, I know we're all upset that we have 12-14 million people illegally. I'm going to have to be practical. We're not going to deport or jail 12-14 million people. A practical solution is not awarding this citizenship on day one, but to allow them to stay here on our terms, learn our language, pay a fine, hold a job, and apply for citizenship through the legal process by getting in the back of the legal line.

"That to me is a practical solution. But, I have to be able to say, as part of doing that, we looked at all the incentives that led to the 12-13 million coming, and we changed them. That we did secure our border, unlike any other time in the past, that we now have laws that make it possible to verify employment; we now have a temporary worker program that will allow people to come here and work on our terms temporarily, and help our employers with labor when they can't find American labor..."

[Birth of a Strategy: Talking Immigration With Lindsey Graham, Daniel Foster, National Review Online, August 6, 2010]

4) Creating the fraudulent appearance of being tough

In my last piece, I quoted James Pinkerton who argued that the Arizona lawsuit could become the next Roe vs. Wade, galvanizing the grassroots against the elites.

But here is an unfortunate flipside to this analogy. Like abortion restriction, immigration control is an issue that the grassroots of the GOP supports much more than the DC establishment. The Establishment has cynically used the Right To Life issue to raise money and elect politicians—but nothing meaningful has been done since Roe vs. Wade to restrict abortion.

All that has occurred is peripheral: prohibitions of a few procedures, such as partial birth that made up a grand total of 0.17% of abortions prior to the ban; parental consent laws and other acts that do not make much of a difference in terms of actually stopping or reducing the number of abortions each year.

Still, every four years, Right to Lifers fight hard to add the Human Life Amendment to the GOP platform. They duly win a symbolic victory. And nothing more is done.

The same dynamics can be seen in the same sex marriage debate. The GOP won big in 2004 by piggybacking onto the Federal Marriage Amendment—which thereafter failed to pass. Six years later—as liberal commentators have noticed—it is not doing much to oppose the Federal Court decision forcing gay marriage on California.

Note also that Birthright Citizenship could be ended by statute, like any other piece of legislation. But, suspiciously, these Establishment Republicans all propose ending Birthright Citizenship by a Constitutional Amendment.

It is very tough to get 67 Senators to support any Amendment. So this could just allow the GOP to make an empty gesture against illegal immigration, and then blame the Democrats for the fact that nothing changes.

Regardless of what you think about social issues, the patriotic immigration reform movement does not want to follow in the failed footsteps of the Right to Lifers and (maybe) the defenders of traditional marriage.

But don't get me wrong about all this. Despite the duplicitous motives of Lindsey Graham and the GOP Establishment, the fact that Birthright Citizenship is now getting discussed is real reason to celebrate.

One thing is for sure: if it was not for the overwhelming support among Americans for the ending of Birthright Citizenship, the GOP Establishment would not be doing anything at all. It is only because people such as Virgil Goode and Russell Pearce had the courage to push the issue, regardless of being denigrated as "extremist", that the issue is now becoming mainstream.

As I said earlier, not everyone in the patriotic immigration reform movement is happy about this new development. Writing in National Review, Mark Krikorian argues:

"The phenomenon of citizen-children of illegal aliens is a symptom of too much illegal immigration, not a cause. Comprehensive immigration enforcement — abroad, at the borders, and in the interior — plus deep, permanent cuts in future legal immigration (which is the catalyst for illegal immigration) are the solution, because when we have less illegal immigration, we'll have fewer kids born to illegals and the problem goes away. I'm afraid that if the citizenship issue makes progress, the libertarians will co-opt us, backing the citizenship change as a way of diverting attention from real immigration control.

"I hope I don't get in trouble with my friends for this, and there are indeed people I respect who disagree with me, but there's a sense in which, just as anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools, an inordinate focus on Birthright Citizenship is the restrictionism of fools — and Lindsey Graham is strong evidence for that claim."

[Lindsey Graham, Tough Guy?, Mark Krikorian, National Review Online, July 29, 2010, hyperlinks in original]

As usual with Krikorian triangulation, he makes some legitimate points, but misses the larger issue.

After all, tons of politicians and libertarians use Official English, or ending driver's licenses and in-state tuition for illegal aliens, as a way to sound relatively tough on illegal immigration without dealing with the underlying issues of legal immigration, border security, and interior enforcement.

And, just as Krikorian says about Birthright Citizenship, we wouldn't need to worry about making English the official language of the US if we didn't have millions of Hispanic immigrants. We wouldn't have to ban illegal aliens from getting in-state tuition or welfare benefits if they weren't here to begin with.

Of course, most illegal aliens do not come to this country so their children can get in-state tuition at colleges. Ending these policies and nothing else would only put a small dent in the illegal immigration crisis.

But does that mean we shouldn't worry about these issues?

Of course not! Politicians will be politicians. The fact that they may cynically exploit a good issue does not mean we should abandon it. Rather we need to hold the politicians responsible both for the issues they try to hide behind and the issues they try to hide from.

Even if these seemingly secondary issues are not the cause and solution of our immigration mess, dealing with them sends a message to illegal aliens: they are not welcome in our country.

Krikorian has opposed ending Birthright Citizenship on pragmatic grounds long before Graham and co. discovered it. In the past, he has said that ending Birthright Citizenship is a waste of political capital that would simply lead to a population of illegal alien children born here, who would be more propaganda for amnesty.

But the fact that the Republicans Establishment is now trying to use Birthright Citizenship reform to gain political capital refutes of the first part of this argument. In early June, Rasmussen Reports asked, "Should Child of Illegal Immigrant Automatically Be a Citizen?" American voters opposed this, 58-33% and Republicans opposed it 76-19%. [58% Say No to Citizenship for Children of Illegal Immigrants, Rasmussen Reports, June 3, 2010; detailed response not available without subscription]

Keep in mind this poll was taken two months ago, when virtually no one would openly support ending Birthright Citizenship. With some more leadership and attention, the gap will widen.

As for the kids, as I have previously noted, it is already virtually impossible to deport an illegal alien with a US citizen child. That's exactly why they're called "anchor babies".

The Number One emotional argument against deportation and for amnesty used by the Open Borders crowd is how terrible it is to split families. Of course, as a matter of logic, US citizen children can go back home with their parents. But, unfortunately, many Americans who haven't thought too much about the issue often naturally respond: "But shouldn't American citizens live in America?"—without even wondering why the illegal alien's child is a citizen to begin with.

Challenging Birthright Citizenship completely dispels that argument. Even if we do not immediately succeed in ending the policy, the mere fact that it is being debated will convince Americans that we can and should deport illegal aliens with anchor babies.

Immigration reform patriots do not need to "pick their battles" against America's post-1965 immigration disaster.

Rather, fighting the anchor baby loophole is just another action in the same battle.

It's all part of the patriot version of "Comprehensive Immigration Reform".

"Washington Watcher" [email him] is an anonymous source Inside The Beltway.