Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., said today that Congress should hold hearings to look into denying citizenship to illegal aliens' children born in the United States, as the fight over immigration widens into the explosive "birthright" issue.
No. 2 Republican Wants 'Birthright Citizenship' Removed From U.S. Constitution
Kyl: Illegal Aliens' Kids Shouldn't Be Citizens
Wants Hearing on Republican backed 14th Amendment Which Grants Citizenship to Children of Illegal Immigrants Born in America
Kyl told CBS' "Face the Nation" that he supports a call by fellow Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to introduce a new amendment to repeal the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
Support is growing for this stunning reversal from Graham, who in 2007 drew the ire of Republicans when he lobbied for granting legal status to 12 million undocumented workers, and along with President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., led the failed immigration reform effort that would have given illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
The 14th Amendment was enacted in 1868 to ensure that states would not deny citizenship to former slaves. It reads, "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."
Arizona's Republican State Sen. Russell Pearce - the architect of the controversial immigration law that was largely struck down by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton - also separately proposed the same measure.
"The 14th Amendment [has been] interpreted to provide that if you are born in the United States, you are a citizen no matter what," Kyl said. "So the question is, if both parents are here illegally, should there be a reward for their illegal behavior?"
Kyl said Congress should hold hearings and invite constitutional experts to look at the state of the 14th Amendment. The growing support for the issue suggests the Republicans are exploring different strategies to fight the Obama administration's victory over the Arizona immigration law, after Bolton issued a preliminary injunction on key provisions.
Kyl is a supporter of the law.
"I think the court's decision was wrong," he said today. "The governor and legislative leaders have talked about possibly tweaking - to use their phrase - the law to see if they can obviate the concerns the judge expressed. I don't think they can because her decision was very sweeping.
"I think it more likely that Congress could act to actually fix the problem," Kyl said, "by reaffirming that it is Congress' intent that the law be enforced, rather than having the administration decide that they don't want to thoroughly enforce the law."
Kyl said his support of the law has to do with illegal aliens taking jobs that Americans want; immigrants posing a burden on the state in the form of education, medical care and welfare benefits; and crime.
"To me the most important thing is the crime associated with it - not necessarily committed by illegal immigrants but committed on illegal immigrants, as well as the roughly 15 percent of the people who cross the border each year illegally who are criminals."
But this week's "Face the Nation" host Harry Smith pointed out that crime has had a negative correlation with the arrival of immigrants. "Crime in Phoenix, for instance, is down significantly over the last couple of years," Smith said.
"That's a gross generalization," Kyl said. "Property crimes are up. Certain violent crimes on certain parts of the citizenry are up. Phoenix is a very large source of kidnapping. It's called the kidnapping capital of the United States because the illegal immigrants who are brought to Phoenix for distribution throughout the country are held in drop houses. They are mistreated, horribly treated."
Kyl said the law is not discriminatory. "But if you live here in Arizona you'll appreciate the fact that we have a great tradition, particularly with our neighbor to the south, Mexico. It's not a matter of being anti-Hispanic. It's a matter of wanting to enforce the law."
But Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund disputed Kyl's claim.
"I think that whenever you enact something that requires police officers - as the law would have done - to engage in stereotyping, to engage in racial profiling, acting on what they understand to be the undocumented profile, that's going to result in discrimination against Latinos and others who may appear to be foreign, who may appear to be immigrants," Saenz said. "In that very practical sense, it is an anti-Latino law."
Saenz also lashed out against Kyl's support of the repeal of the 14th Amendment.
"I think it's deplorable," he said. "It's an attempt to turn our back on 150 years of constitutional history and tradition. I think it's contrary to the values of this country. I think it's an assault on the recognition that ours is a country of immigrants and always has been.
The 14th Amendment is very clear: Anyone who is born here, unless you are the child of a diplomat, is a United States citizen. That has led to great success. It's part of what has made this nation the great nation that it is in 2010.
"I think determining to change that would be a grave mistake," he said.