What does it mean to be born in the U.S.A.? For more than a century, the answer has included automatic citizenship, complete with its array of rights and privileges.
But now at least one prominent Republican lawmaker wants to change the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which grants American citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil.
"Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Fox News last week. "We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child's automatically not a citizen."
Graham has voiced concern over the burgeoning size of America's illegal immigrant population, estimated at 10.8 million and whose offspring in the U.S. -- so-called "anchor babies" -- would be able to sponsor their parents for legal residency.
He also worries about mothers who come to the U.S. from foreign countries for the sole purpose of obtaining citizenship for their children.
"They come here to drop a child. It's called 'drop and leave.' To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child's automatically an American citizen," Graham said. "That shouldn't be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other leading Republicans, including Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, today indicated an openness to exploring the 14th Amendment issue raised by Sen. Graham.
"It's a rather unseemly business and I think we ought to have some hearings about it," McConnell told reporters.
"Congressional hearings are always warranted when members of Congress raise the issue of amending our Constitution," said McCain in a statement. "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."
But some lawmakers are calling the push to revise the 14th Amendment nothing but a political stunt.
"I think it's good to take a look at all of our constitutional amendments. But I'll tell you something: If you think it's a coincidence that this sudden discussion begins three months before an election, you'd be very, very mistaken," said Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders on "Top Line" Tuesday.
Pennsylvannia Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, whose parents were immigrants to the U.S., called U.S. citizenship by birth a fundamental right.
"The political pandering on the immigration issue has reached the hysterical level," Specter said in an interview with ABC News. "To try to direct the effort at the children born in this country is just preposterous... How can newborn children protect themselves if politicians want to gain political gain... I would be shocked if this idea would gain political traction, but I'm being shocked on a daily basis by the United States Senate."
An estimated 4 million citizen children born to illegal immigrant parents lived in the U.S. as of 2008, up about 1.3 million from 2003, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
How many children are being born to illegal immigrants in the U.S. each year?