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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.

By Suzy Khimm  |  August 27, 2010; 1:08 PM ET
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Could Graham be punishing the administration for bringing up immigration reform while they were working with him on climate change legislation?

Posted by: jduptonma | August 27, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

The other 'problem' that seems to go unmentioned is that Republicans will chew their own arm off before they will shake hands with a Democrat over anything. That being the case, what kind of 'negotiating' does anyone (with a rational & sane mind) think could come of this? I'll tell you what I think....Nothing. Nothing at all is exactly what Republicans want as they see that as their election manna.

Posted by: kindness1 | August 27, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

jduptonma, I think it's much more likely that after being the only Republican to be at the bargaining table on immigration reform and a climate change bill which both fell through, Graham was worried that he was looking too moderate in the eyes of the more conservative members of the party/tea party. I think his proposal was something he saw as an easy way to earn a few conserva-points without any risk that it would actually happen. Plus, he'd get a lot of credit from his leadership for helping to whip up the base before the election.

As for the substance...Well, in order to get comprehensive reform to deal with a pragmatic problem we only have to give up one of the bedrock principles of the country; that all who are born here are citizens.

Posted by: MosBen | August 27, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

"A method to his madness."


Lindsay Graham is just another Party of No Flip Flopping dumbo.

For the Record:
The Mass Exodus of Good Hard Working Immigrants which began in mid 2007 in advance of the upcoming E-verify Law and I.C.E. Deportation/Incarceration Programs is what caused the Forclosure Crisis in America.

The Decission to Deport All un-documented Immigrant after allowing them to become part of us for nearly thirty years, has left States like Arizona Economically Devastated, with approx: 30 to 40% less Population/Tax Base,yet the same size of State and Federal Government Services, and State Budget Shortfalls.
The vacated dwellings have made Arizona 30 to 40% overbuilt, completely halting Construction and growth.
This has cost millions of Americans thier jobs.

The Hard Labor that these Good Immigrants gladly did for America was the Foundation/Backbone of our Total Economy!

This Hard Labor supports all other American jobs!

Janaury 2008 = The Start of the E-verify Law, and the I.C.E. Program.

January 2008 = The Start of "The Worst Recession in U.S. History."

This is No Co-incidence, this is our I.C.E.'d Economy!

A very wise 1840's French Historian said:
"America is great because it is good, when it ceases to be good, it ceases to be great."

Deporting Good hard working Parents away from their Families, and even their "Legal" Citizen Children, can not be considered as "Good" in any Country in the World!

For those in the G.O.P. suggesting changing our Constitutional Amendment Rights to enable them to Deport our own American Children, all I can say is I hope your maker grants you a little "Amnesty"!

To: Liberty.

Posted by: nicholsdaves | August 28, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

It is not the 14th amendment that is at fault. Most American citizens today are the descendants of foreign immigrants. Many of their grandparents never became citizens, but their children became citizens at birth because of the 14th Amendment. The system has worked well for more than a century.

We have laws in place to deal with illegal immigrants. What we need to do is enforce our current laws, protect our boarders and institute an intelligent Guest Worker Program. That would provide the temporary labor force that many of our businesses rely on, as well as eliminate most of the criminals and terrorists that everyone fears. It would also deter the pregnant illegal’s that sneak under our fences in order to have their children here.

Hard working individuals that wish to migrate to the United from any location, and do so legally, will establish families here; that is human nature. Children of those families will become citizens under the 14th Amendment, just like the rest of US. It is not the American way to single out one group of people and legislate against them.

The entire world has recognized America as the Great Melting Pot for decades. That ethnic diversity has made US a strong and resilient nation. Do we really want to change a law that has worked so well in the past, when there is no sound moral reason to do so.

Posted by: friar1944 | August 30, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

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