Among the leading Republicans in the Senate supporting the move is John McCain, the 2008 presidential candidate. Photo: AFP/GETTY
They argue that the 14th amendment, which was enacted in 1868, is being exploited by illegal immigrants as well as wealthy people who want to use their children to “anchor” themselves to the US.
The suggestion of a review or repeal of the amendment is a highly controversial move as most American view the constitution as sacrosanct. The 14th amendment was designed to prevent individual states refusing to grant citizenship to slaves freed in the aftermath of the Civil War.
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Among the leading Republicans in the Senate supporting the move is John McCain, the 2008 presidential candidate, who is currently facing a Right-wing challenge from within his own party in his re-election bid in Arizona, the border state where immigration is a dominant issue.
He is joined by the Alabama Senator, Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
Sen Sessions said: “I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen.”
Sen Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader in the Senate, said: “I think we ought to take a look at it – hold hearings, listen to the experts on it,” said Sen Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader in the Senate.
Sen McCain said: “I support the idea of having hearings.”
Sen Tom Coburn said: “We have a whole new cottage industry that people of great wealth are coming here to have children too, so that they can create a basis for anchoring themselves to citizenship in this country.”
Democrats have been taken aback by what they see as a cynical position designed to pander to voters’ fears about immigration, which is shaping up to be one of the most contentious issues in November’s congressional elections.
The escalating debate on the 14th amendment comes in the wake of the legal battle between Arizona and the federal government over the state’s tough new immigration law aimed to slow the flow of illegal immigration.
Leading the official Democratic response, Sen Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate, said: “They’ve either taken leave of their senses or their principles.”
Chris Kofinis, a leading Democratic strategist, said: “It’s ironic that Republicans who say they that want to defend the constitution seem so intent on tearing it up. It’s shameful.”
Michael Gerson, a one-time speech writer to George W. Bush, the former president, was among those Republicans to express his dismay.
“Revoking birthright citizenship would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ – arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital,” he wrote on the Washington Post’s website.
“A whole class of people would grow up knowing they are hunted aliens, through no fault of their own. This cannot be called the rule of law.”
There are approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the US, according to the Homeland Security Department. As many as 3.8 million illegal immigrants have children who are US citizens, according to a 2008 estimate from the Pew Hispanic Centre.
The move for reform has been led in by Republicans in the House of Representatives, where 93 Congressman co-sponsored a bill to change the birth rule by statute rather than by amending the constitution.
Legal experts say repealing the citizenship right can be done only through constitutional amendment, which would require approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress and three-quarters of the states.