Romney Eyeing End to Birthright Citizenship

Jul 22, 2007 4:17pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis Reports: Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney backs an end to the policy known as chain migration but he has not yet reached a conclusion on the more controversial question of whether the United States should end birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal immigrants.

"On the birthright citizenship issue, we’re still looking at it," Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told ABC News.

Earlier this year, Romney said he was studying whether birthright citizenship could be ended legislatively — as some of his supporters believe — or whether it would take an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Asked Sunday if he had reached a conclusion on birthright citizenship, Romney avoided answering the question and instead offered his thoughts on chain migration.

"My view is that we should not have a policy in our immigration structure that says that if a child is born here to illegal immigrants then, by right, the entire family is brought in based upon that child’s citizenship," Romney told ABC News. "That does not require a change in law either constitutionally or through other means and can be adopted through policy."

At present, all babies born in the United States — except those born to enemy aliens in wartime or the children of foreign diplomats — enjoy American citizenship under the Supreme Court’s long-standing interpretation of the 14th Amendment. The amendment provides: "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."

While most constitutional scholars think ending birthright citizenship would require a constitutional amendment, the opposite viewpoint has credibility in conservative legal circles.

Pepperdine Law professor Douglas Kmiec told ABC News earlier this year that there is a "better than plausible argument" that Congress has authority under Sec. 5 of the 14th Amendment to end birthright citizenship through legislation.

"It is my study of the matter," said Kmiec, "that those who wrote the 14th amendment intended those words ("the jurisdiction thereof") to mean not owing allegiance to anybody else — that is, subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States, not simply to the laws of the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the court."

Kmiec, who served as a constitutional legal counsel to former Presidents Reagan and Bush, said that someone who enters the U.S. illegally, and has not renounced the citizenship of the country from which he or she has emigrated, is not subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States.

One of Romney’s most outspoken supporters on Capitol Hill — Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. — shares Kmiec’s assessment that Congress likely has the power to end birthright citizenship through legislation.

The Georgia Republican adds that he would like to see Congress take that step regardless of whether it required a constitutional amendment.

I would be "pleased to know that he would stand strong against that and eliminate birthright citizenship," Gingrey told ABC News in February.

Romney spoke with ABC News about his immigration views following a Sunday speech to the Republican National Hispanic Assembly in Washington, D.C.

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