A method to Lindsey Graham's birthright citizenship madness?
By Suzy Khimm
Sen. Lindsey Graham helped push this summer's immigration debate to a new level of hysteria when he reignited the crusade against "birthright citizenship" -- an old hobbyhorse of the anti-immigration movement. His abrupt swerve to the right seemed puzzling: After all, it was only a few months ago that Graham was the only Senate Republican willing to sit down with Democrats to hammer out on a comprehensive immigration reform plan.
But some observers are now arguing that Graham's cheerleading on 14th Amendment repeal was actually a strategic move to bring more Republicans to the table to negotiate a comprehensive overhaul. The Wonk Room's Andrea Nill flags a quote from Republican political consultant Ana Navarro, who discusses Graham's birthright citizenship push in a recent Politico story:
While many believe McCain is a lost cause on reform, GOP strategist Ana Navarro hasn’t written off one of the senator’s closest allies, Graham, who rolled out a reform proposal with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in March that included a path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. ...
“There is a logic to his madness,” said Navarro, who fled Nicaragua at age 8 during the Sandinista revolution. “What he was trying to do is put something in the pot, to sweeten the pot so he could attract some of the right wing to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration
The problem with this argument is that Graham's push for 14th Amendment repeal has extremely little credibility -- even among conservative advocates for tighter immigration restrictions. As Dave Weigel reported, some
of the biggest anti-immigration groups were dismissive of Graham's gambit, dismissing it as pure posturing, given how utterly difficult it is to amend the constitution. "I don't know anyone who thinks we could try the amendment first and win," Roy Beck, president of restrictionist group NumbersUSA, told Weigel shortly after Graham revived the issue. In other words, even if Graham were to propose birthright citizenship reform as part of a bigger immigration overhaul, few would see it as a legitimate bargaining chip.
That's not to say that Graham is a lost cause when it comes to immigration reform. But it's becoming increasingly clear that embracing ideas that have riled up the right flank of the immigration debate isn't going to persuade more Republicans to work on a comprehensive bill -- Graham or otherwise. The Democrats buckled to Republican demands for ramped up border enforcement, passing a $600 million bill funded by a huge hike in visa fees. But the GOP doesn't seem to be any more willing to come to the table to reform the other major parts of the legal and illegal immigration system that are badly broken.
Both parties have shifted to the right on the issue in Washington, and both will need to shift back to the center if progress on comprehensive immigration reform is to be made any time soon. Basically, the entire tone of the debate needs to change, moving away from demagoguery and toward the issues that are really at stake when it comes to the country's long-term immigration strategy. The way that the U.S. handles the issue will be key to determining the country's future productivity, the income of its workers and its place in the global economy. And putting immigration reform in such starkly economic terms seems like a more persuasive way to court moderate Republicans than any politically polarizing pot-sweetener.
Suzy Khimm is a political reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones.
August 27, 2010; 1:08 PM ET
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