No, to answer E.J. Dionne Jr.’s article in the New Republic.  I have never heard any Republican oppose the 14th Amendment in general, including Senator Lindsey Graham.  Graham opposes a small piece that gives citizenship to children of non-citizens born in the U.S.  I imagine other conservatives might agree.  That’s not an attack on the whole Amendment, and certainly not a rebuke to the spirit of Lincoln.  It is legitimate viewpoint.  I would further argue that it’s a moderate stance.

It’s probably correct that Graham was looking for red meat to satisfy the Republican base.  He needs to do that to survive, so he can continue to follow his principles on important issues.  This is a position I believe he actually supports, and I do too.

Some people think we should drive out the illegal immigrants and enforce the laws on them, and others think we should provide some form of amnesty.  Fine. Those are both relatively coherent positions, perhaps even in combination.  But, it’s questionable to give citizenship to children of illegal immigrants, and keep their parents on illegal status.

It provides an incentive for immigrants to evade our laws, or stick around to pursue a family lifestyle outside the boundaries of our laws.  It puts the kids in a difficult position.  Illegal immigrants are not only legally disadvantaged (by being on the wrong side of the law), but also tend to be economically disadvantaged (by working insecure, low-paying jobs).  Employers can screw them around, because the threat of deportation creates a huge bargaining chip.  And what happens if the parents get deported?  What if the parents need certain services that are only available to citizens?  It creates an dilemma between hiding to stay in the U.S. and coming forward to get what the family needs.  We would never put a child in the custody of parents in that situation, so we should not have child citizenship rules that encourage such a situation.  We don’t need to put a legal stamp of approval on this family arrangement.

Of course, the kids never chose to break the law.  It’s unfair to punish them, and some people might think that Graham’s position would punish the kids or jeopardize their health care, education or welfare.  But, another point of view is that, while these parents are still violating our laws, it’s them (not the government) who are punishing the kids by keeping the family in a risky, illegal situation.  If we didn’t have this rule for kids, then more of these people might have stayed home, or more people might have gone through the legal path.  America isn’t in control of our immigration situation enough to guarantee kids would do better under this dysfunctional citizenship rule.

If we had an easier path to citizenship in the first place, wouldn’t that alleviate some of the problem?  I think so.  Graham showed a willingness to reform immigration in general, but there wasn’t enough consensus.  The child citizenship issue would probably work better in combination with a path to citizenship, but it might make sense as stand-alone initiative too.  It might force the sides to start talking again or pressure a consensus.  It might make enforcement easier.

No matter what we think about this issue, we shouldn’t treat Graham like he’s trying to get rid of due process or equal protection.  We need to admit that his idea is principled, temperate, fresh, sincere – and that reasonable people could agree with it.

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