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When did Lindsey Graham change his mind on immigration?


In April, I defended Lindsey Graham when he threatened to abandon climate change if Harry Reid moved on immigration first. Graham's tactic seemed extreme, but I understood his position. As one of the GOP's most prominent supporters of immigration reform, he would be unwittingly conscripted into a strategy that meant to split Republicans from Latinos and wouldn't end in a bill. In fact, Graham made a convincing case to me in a subsequent interview that engaging immigration this year would make a comprehensive bill less likely. "If you bring up immigration in this climate, you'll divide the country further," he said. "You'll get a huge vote for border security and interior enforcement, but when it comes to pathway to citizenship, you'll break down big-time."

How then to explain Graham's announcement -- on Fox News, no less -- that he's stepping into the immigration issue with a proposal that's much more divisive, and much more dangerous? “I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here," he said. "Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake. ... We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child's automatically not a citizen."

Putting aside the cruelty of the position, which penalizes children for the sins of their parents, this is certainly "bringing up immigration." And indeed, it's trying to use birthright citizenship as a wedge issue against the Democrats. Worse, it centers the conversation on illegal immigration rather than the immigration system. That's a much more toxic, and much less productive, conversation.

An e-mail to Graham's office for comment was not returned.

Photo credit: By Alex Brandon/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  July 30, 2010; 3:01 PM ET
Categories:  Immigration  
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It's interesting to note that the President isn't involved (at all) in the Amendment process: a supermajority of Congress -- or 2/3rds of the state legislatures -- may adopt a resolution which becomes effective upon ratification by 3/4 of the states. So, if 3/4 of the state legislatures simply draft an amendment and include the appropriate plea for convention, the Amendment becomes the law of the land regardless of what the President or Congress or the federal Courts might wish.

Is there a handy map showing the immigration viewpoints of the various state legislatures?

Posted by: rmgregory | July 30, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Seems both parties are looking to energize their bases using the immigration issue. It also seems that the Democrats have a higher ceiling in doing so, as the Republicans' are already motivated to turn out. If Obama were to convince Hispanic voters that he was willing to move on immigration policy--as the leaked USCIS memo indicates he is--then would that not present a bigger net gain than would ubermotivating an already enervated Republican base?

Posted by: konokwee | July 30, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

"Putting aside the cruelty of the position, which penalizes children for the sins of their parents"

How does that work? Not conferring instant citizenship on children born within our borders to illegal immigrants is cruelty, or punishing children for the sins of the parents, how?

How many other countries confer instant citizenship on children born to illegal immigrants, just because they managed to get across the border in time? That's technically a research question, but I don't know and am honestly curious.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 30, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Frankly if we're going to get rid of Amendments, I'd start with the 2nd. 'Bout time, I say.

Posted by: leoklein | July 30, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

RUMORS OF AMNESTY---Could bring impoverished millions more from Mexico, Latin America and every corner of the world sweeping towards the border.
Call your Senator or Congressman and demand --NO AMNESTY OF ANY KIND.

Posted by: infinity555 | July 30, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

As I commented back in April, Ezra, Lindsey Graham was playing you like a violin, just as Olympia Snowe and Paul Ryan had done. When will you ever learn?

Posted by: scarlota | July 30, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse


Wikipedia has a list of nations that recognize jus soli (birthright citizenship), which can be found here:

Posted by: QuiteAlarmed | July 30, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Graham changed his position on immigration about some anti-immigrant organizations threatened to "out" him if he didn't come their way. What a coward.

Posted by: CyberPost | July 30, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: CyberPost | July 30, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Lindsay Graham changed his position the instant it appeared he might have to back up his bipartisan rhetoric with actual support for the bills he allegedly supports. And since it's more important to deny Obama any wins than to actually help America, the Republicans won't even allow a vote on the bill.

Same thing happened with climate change and health care reform. Republican "willingness to work with the other side" is an illusion that vanishes the instant said legislation might become a legislative victory for Democrats and Obama.

Posted by: lol-lol | July 30, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Its not cruel to deny birthright citizenship. It may be a good idea, or it may be a bad idea, but it's not cruel. That's a silly assertion which reveals partisanship, not careful thinking. Also, just because Ezra and the beltway crowd feel the initial focus should be on the "immigration system" rather than illegal immigration that doesn't make it so, but it is a rather not so clever way to avoid dealing with illegal immigration yet again. If Ezra and the dems were oh so noble in their honest desire to formulate optimal immigration policy, then they would certainly be willing to take the necessary steps to enforce the old policy prior to that debate as a show of good faith. But, they are too busy spending billions trying to "pacify" Afghanistan while wringing their hand at the daunting prospects of controlling our own borders.

So why do we care whether Lindsay Graham is acting in good faith towards a good policy solution, its not as if anybody else is at this point.

Posted by: mrnegative | July 30, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Vote he out, like McCain, he can not be trusted.

Posted by: mlimberg | July 30, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Give a Republican the benefit of the doubt, get skrewed over. Hope you learned your lesson!

Posted by: AZProgressive | July 30, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Removing birthright citizenship might not seem cruel but only if you ignore the reality of our current immigration situation. The reality is that there are nearly 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in this country. No one is seriously considering deporting all of these people. Not only would mass deportation be administratively impractical, but the impact on our economy from losing approximately 5 percent of its work force would extraordinarily traumatic.

In light of that reality, removing birthright citizenship would definitely be cruel. Those 11 million unauthorized immigrants will have children who will grow up in our culture exactly the same as children born of citizens. Those children have not violated any laws, and they did not make the decision to travel here illegally. By removing birthright citizenship, we would confine them to a subculture and deny them the rights of citizenship, solely due to circumstances of their birth, which were beyond their control. That would definitely be cruel.

Not only would removing birthright citizenship be cruel, it would also be fundamentally un-American. At this point, denying birthright citizenship would effectively create a hereditary lower caste within our culture. It is fundamental to our belief system that the rewards people receive from society should be based on the work they do and not on the circumstances of their births. If you don't believe in that, then you don't believe in America.

Posted by: QuiteAlarmed | July 30, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Lindsay has it right...for a change. It is time to take America back. Bush & Oabma have failed miserably in controling the border & we are paying a price for their failure! Grow a pair, America!


Posted by: my4653 | July 30, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't know about D.C. party politics, and I think Lindsey Graham is just another political crook, BUT an amendment to change the current law is long, long, overdue.

I see no cruelty involved, unless you define cruelty as: protecting our borders and protecting our nation's right to define who can have citizenship.

Why should we automatically grant US citizenship to those who are merely born here, of non-citizen parents? These people might have no political loyalty to the US, but they can afford a plane flight or clandestine trip across the border? Example:

If a non-citizen wants to become a US citizen, there is LEGAL process already in place for earning the right of naturalized citizenship.
If this process is inconvenient for some people, it is nevertheless not "cruel" to enforce these laws and require these people to follow the laws.

Posted by: terryh1 | July 30, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand the "cruelty" argument either. You're saying its cruel because, since we really don't plan to address the resident illegal alien issue, we would end up with more illegal residents and it would somehow be "cruel" to recognize them as such?

Even more than that though, I resent the fact that people like Ezra discard the option out of hand. In what kind of universe does it make sense to talk about "comprehensive" reform then refuse to even discuss something that might help rationalize our immigration policy over long term.

The sob stories about tearing families with anchor babies apart resonate with everyone...which is exactly why we need to consider what can be done to put at end to at least that possibility.

Posted by: Athena_news | July 30, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Athena: I just don't get it. Liberals dismiss viable options they don't like out of hand. What I despise are journalists like Ezra who make it seem Graham's position is "out there". A recent poll showed a majority of Americans to the tune of 60% support this type of amendment. Do they know the Constitution can be amended?

Posted by: cleancut77 | July 30, 2010 10:02 PM | Report abuse

Athena: I just don't get it. Liberals dismiss viable options they don't like out of hand. What I despise are journalists like Ezra who make it seem Graham's position is "out there". A recent poll showed a majority of Americans to the tune of 60% support this type of amendment. Do they know the Constitution can be amended?

Posted by: cleancut77 | July 30, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

The grandfather rule would enable all people born here to remain American citizens. What has happened to Senator Graham?

So now you want a law so that all future people born in the US will not be a citizen? Get off your butt and change the constitution so that Arizona can help the Federal authority without being unconstitutional. Fix the damn border to at least cut down on people crossing the border then having babies. Have a little faith in the process.

Posted by: peskyspole | July 30, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

"Not only would removing birthright citizenship be cruel, it would also be fundamentally un-American." - QuiteAlarmed

Ummm... you do realize don't you, that you sound like someone at a tea-party rally. They're usually the ones telling us how "real" Americans think.

I disagree with your position on this. That does not make me heartless, un-American, or even "right-wing". It just means that I'm a thinking person who has come to the conclusion that a child's relationship with his parents assumes primacy over a government. If the parents are are not legal residents the US has no real business to claim a child.

Posted by: Athena_news | July 31, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

Ezra is surprised that Lucy took away the football again?

Posted by: gdcassidy1 | July 31, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

The easy answer is to expand legal immigration beyond 700,000 and lower the minimum wage.

Posted by: staticvars | July 31, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who thinks that the terminology "anchor babies" or instant citizenship birthright, is not a welfare "racket" clearly does not live in any border states? Pregnant females who make it across the Rio Grand and just in time to deliver their babies arriving at the county hospital ready to give birth. Then as an outpatient and the tiny anchors' birth certificate papers in hand issued by a county recorder they can then line-up at the welfare office. With official paper in hand makes the babies or babies eligible for a host of government entitlements intended for real Americans and legal residents with a green card. Benefits applied for is, Medicaid, WIC, food stamps, free schooling, free breakfast and lunch at school, section8 housing, etc.All are extorted burdens forced on taxpayers by the IRS. Immediately they apply for free health care, for the child being born and the $4.000 dollars comes out of the public treasury for the birth.

Of course, the benefits are spent by the illegal alien parents, who also hope that having even more offspring, so their are even more de facto citizens will aid them in thei chance to avoid deportation. Before any illegal parent (s) reach the border or arrive at an airport terminus, they are all well acquainted with the free distribution of benefits by other non-citizens who came before them. This unfair loophole allows illegal aliens to steal US citizenship for their kids and we need to put an end to it. The entire family needs to be sent home and stop this massive drain on state and federal financial resources. FAIR estimates there are currently more than 425,000 children born to illegal aliens each year. This figure is based on the crude birth rate of the total foreign-born population (33 births per 1000) and the size of the illegal alien population (13 million in 2008). In 1994, California paid for 74,987 deliveries to illegal alien mothers, at a total cost of $215.2 million (an average of $2,842 per delivery). Illegal alien mothers accounted for 36 percent of all Medi-Cal funded births in California that year and now count substantially more than half. Learn more about illegal immigration at NumbersUSA. Read about the corruption in Washington and state assemblies around the country at Judicial Watch.

Posted by: infinity555 | July 31, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Illegal immigration is an organized invasion for conquest (Viz. "The National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry," Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, United States Catholic Conference, No. 199-7), by the same institution yet to be brought to justice for financing the rise of Hitler (re: Vatican banker Rockefeller/Knight of Malta Prescott Bush/Fritz Thyssen), and committing the Holocaust (Viz. "A Moral Reckoning," Goldhagen).

Arise sovereign Americans! Awake!

Posted by: iamerican | August 1, 2010 3:58 AM | Report abuse

Simply another race hustler, imho.
People like Ezra are the same ones who laud other countries and point to them in an effort to show how wanting this country is.
Do some research, Ezra. You'll find VERY few other countries grant citizenship simply for being born within their borders.

Additional research on your part would also show that the 14th Amendment was never intended to create birthright citizenship.

Simply put, most Americans and legal immigrants are simply tired of these worn out, mindless arguments from the left.
We know the truth and we're not buying your spin.

Posted by: PortWine | August 1, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

"Do some research, Ezra. You'll find VERY few other countries grant citizenship simply for being born within their borders." -- PortWine

Most of the industrialized immigration magnets changed their policies 25+ years ago.

"Simply put, most Americans and legal immigrants are simply tired of these worn out, mindless arguments from the left."

Quite honestly, I don't know that this a left/right issue. I suspect that it's as much a an issue of class.

The overeducated, talking heads in Washington don't send their children to schools where funds for anything but the most basic instruction of the majority have been drained in favor of "English Learners". They don't compete for jobs where being able to speak to illegal workers on the job is considered a job requirement. And they don't visit public agencies such as the courts system to witness first-hand the millions being poured into communicating with immigrants. The pudits can feel superior to those who are affected daily by their misplaced concerns.

From what I can gather, Ezra seems to think that the objective of Immigration Reform should be to focus on the "hard working immigrants who are just trying the support their families" rather than actually coming to an understanding of what kind of policy would be best for the country now. They don't want to examine the impact of the current immigration policies - legal and illegal -- have on actual citizens and the fabric of the society. They don't want to make hard choices for the future of the country; they want is instant "feel good".

Posted by: Athena_news | August 1, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

The Roman Catholic Church is the front-and-center of the right-wing (Viz. "The History of the French Revolution," Carlyle).

None but fascists wish to promote illegal immigration - that the bi-partisan, false elite "Fifth Column" faction, which financed Hitler, killed Kennedy and King, sent us to Vietnam and committed 9/11 after cheating into office Hitler's banker's grandson and JFK's assassin's son, a dry drunk, draft-dodging closet-queen - not have an American Working/Middle Class to contend for power and authority.

The remaining pro-illegal immigration element is made up of "useful idiots."

Posted by: iamerican | August 1, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

"Then as an outpatient and the tiny anchors' birth certificate papers in hand issued by a county recorder they can then line-up at the welfare office."

Well, that's not even a subtle lie. Must try harder.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | August 2, 2010 12:25 AM | Report abuse

It's a very sensible law that every other Western nation has passed. It's only controversial to the Elites of both parties. The American people(non-illegals and non-dual citizens like Klein) support it by a good majoirty.

Posted by: PeteMoylan | August 2, 2010 12:43 AM | Report abuse

We are not a nation of laws. Starting from the top. The President leads us down a road of obeying the laws we choose. Illegal aliens, Pot smoking, Speeding, etc. etc. Choose what laws you want to obey and don't worry about it. That is what our children are learning. Don't bother to change the laws...just break them as you please. Nice Job Obama. Fix the immigration system, legalize pot smoking if it really is California's largest cash crop, let the state set their own speed limits. etc. etc. Raul is down in Cuba laughing at you!

Posted by: RobMc1 | August 2, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Aside from any other points, a child born here may not be entitled to citizenship in the country of his parents. Are we really ready to allow the creation of stateless babies? Anyone born in America is entitled to American citizenship as a natural right.

Graham is either stupid or playing politics. I am so sick and tired of the racial-resentment manipulation of the GOP. It has become a party filled with nothing but hucksters and corporate shills. Sad.

Posted by: glenerian | August 2, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

The concept of "birthright citizenship" is not a liberal one, but rather a holdover from feudal times when the sovereign literally owned the loyalty of everyone born within his or her territory. It is self evident that any democratic polity has the right to limit who it admits, a right made meaningless if any woman can simply cross the border (or hop on an airplane) and give birth to an instant citizen. Even in the 19th century two wise Supreme Court justices saw that -- they were the dissenters in the Wong Kim Ark case which established birthright citizenship for children of those *legally* in the country. One of those dissenters was John Harlan, whose eloquent objection to Plessy v. Ferguson is taught as a model of tolerance. In other words, a man who stood against the racial caste system of Jim Crow also understood that the US has a right to limit immigration, and that includes limiting the granting of citizenship to those born of foreign parents who are not citizens.

Posted by: myoung21 | August 2, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

"Aside from any other points, a child born here may not be entitled to citizenship in the country of his parents. " -glenarian

Do you have any examples of "stateless" children being born in the UK, Austrialia, or other countries that do confer citizenship on children whose parents are not legal residents of the country?

Posted by: Athena_news | August 2, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

myyoung 21 wrote:
"Even in the 19th century two wise Supreme Court justices saw that -- they were the dissenters in the Wong Kim Ark case which established birthright citizenship for children of those *legally* in the country."

And 6 wise justices disagreed with Harlan, which is why jus soli is the law of the land, as affirmed in Plyer v. Doe. Attempts by some on here to rationalize it away are truly pathetic.

Posted by: dcdude1 | August 2, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Talking about changing the birthright policy is not "pathetic"; it's a thoughtful question posed by many who think that immigration policy in this country needs an overhaul -- in the truest sense.

Seven justices disgreed with the lone dissenter on Plessy vs. Ferguson. Sixty years later, a unanimous court reversed it.

Pleyer vs. Doe (which ruled that the State of Texas could not charge for the education of illegal residents) was a close (5-4) decision.

Thirty-five years later, we see school districts all over the country draining resources to provide specialized instruction to "English Learners" -- overwhelmingly children, who if not actually illegal themselves, were born to illegal residents. If you don't believe that, talk to any public school teacher in a one-on-one discussion. Whether talking about cuts in the arts, science programs, or continuing adult education, they lower their voices and refer to the money being poured into the education of illegal residents. Those who proudly label themselves liberals say that's just a choice that has to be made and mindlessly plead for more money. Why? Why shouldn't native born, working-class citizens expect better for their children?

I find it appalling that these discussions take place in whispers and that anyone who publicly objects is dismissed as "racist". It seems to me that racists in these discussion are those who lump all non-whites into one category and believe that the concerns/needs for "hard working" illegals trump ignoring the impact on working class citizens.

Posted by: Athena_news | August 2, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

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