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'Bid to end birthright citizenship can trouble Romney'

March 12, 2012 19:49 IST

A raging debate in poll bound United States over efforts by some conservative Republicans to end birthright citizenship -- which guarantees US citizenship to most American-born babies -- has created a ruffle, especially after presidential candidate Mitt Romney's adviser Kris Kobach on immigration issues backed the proposal.

Margaret Stock, the author of the report 'The Cost to America and Americans of Ending Birthright Citizenship,' in slamming this effort by conservative Republicans, has said that if such a proposal is enacted, "it would call into question whether (former Massachusetts Governor and GOP presidential front-runner) Mitt Romney himself is eligible for the presidency," since his father George Romney was born in Mexico while his parents were living in a Mormon commune in that country.

Stock said, "This study is quite timely because recently an advisor to presidential candidate Mitt Romney on immigration issues, announced his vocal support for a proposal to change or reinterpret the 14th Amendment.

"Now we still don't know what Mr Romney's position is on these issues, but interestingly, at least one of the proposals to change the 14th Amendment would call into question whether Romney himself is eligible for the presidency."

Stock said in a teleconference, "So, the implications of this study are clearly, what happens if Romney's advisor gets his way and birth in the United States is no longer enough to make one a citizen of the United States?"

She noted that advocates of such change besides Romney's advisor have proposed a variety of ways to change the 14th Amendment and its meaning and while one obvious one is a constitutional amendment, "they've also proposed a statutory change and an inter-state compact in which individual states, with individually passed legislation, would attempt to change the 14th Amendment's meaning and then they would work together as a group to try to get that passed."

Reiterating the implications of such a change, Stock said the "unsavoury side effects from changing the 14th Amendment," would "potentially call into question the citizenship of children of dual citizens -- such as Mitt Romney."

Thus, she warned that "the bottom line is that people should be extremely cautious about moving in this direction. Ordinary Americans would be hurt the most by changing the current rules."

Stock said it would be "an extremely costly proposal, even to those who have absolutely no problems proving their status. They will still have to go through the drill of proving it at great expense."

Linda Chavez, an influential conservative syndicated columnist and chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, who also participated in the teleconference, argued that besides the questions of cost-benefit analyses, such a change would have "grave implications for politics and particularly for conservatism."

"It is my view that the conservative movement by questioning the idea of birthright citizenship, is a real detriment to the growth of conservatism in America," she said.

Chavez, who was the highest ranking woman in President Reagan's White House and served as Secretary of Labour in the George H W Bush administration and was the first Latina ever nominated to the cabinet, asserted that "the idea that we would create a class of new illegal aliens, really to me questions the sincerity of people who say that illegal immigration and the presence of some of these people in the US, is the greatest concern, because this would create thousands of new illegal aliens."

"But more importantly, it really does set us apart -- who we are as a people and as a nation," she said, and argued that such proposals "would be in my view a tremendous step backwards. It would interfere with the ideals of the nation, both in terms of its impact on politics and be disastrous, because it would alienate one of the largest demographics which we have, the Hispanics."

Another influential conservative voice, Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform and the creator of the Tax Payer Protection Plan signed by over 279 members of the US Congress, mostly Republicans, who have pledged never to vote for any legislation to raise taxes, said this proposals "solves no problem and in fact, it creates all sorts of problems and costs to Americans.

Norquist, one of the most powerful conservative and Republican strategists, who does not belong to the right wing of the GOP but to the centre, said this kind of proposal would apart from the taxes and legal costs, cause much concern among the skilled foreign workers in the country legally because it would raise "all sorts of uncertainty."

"They will have to pay a great deal of money to make sure there was no uncertainty and that of course becomes something that people will litigate, and when you add all these kinds of costs to people being born in the United States, the kind of political barrier between someone being born here and being a US citizen," he said.

"Whether or not you are allowed to work in the US or not, and you'd have to show all kinds of documentation and this would be standing between you and a job,' he added.

Norquist cast doubt whether this effort to end birthright citizenship would come to pass but said "having the threat of it is a political game that some people are playing."

Both Chavez and Norquist agreed that such a proposal is enacted would also lead to racial profiling and warned that "it really is counterproductive."

Chavez said, "There is a widespread misunderstanding and ignorance on the subject that suggests that people come here illegally to have children to then have a right to come here -- about the benefit of having children who are then US citizens and this nasty charge of anchor babies being thrown around a lot."

Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, which brought out this report, said, this kind of a proposal if it were to become law would "obviously harm a lot of people who come here to work as skilled immigrants for example."

"There are millions of these folks in the United States. They are here legally and their children wouldn't have any status at all," if the birthright citizenship is ended, he said.

Stock said if you are a professor at a college in the US on a J-1 visa (which is a university exchange program visa) or on a H-1B or L intra-company transferee visa "and you have a baby in America, your baby wouldn't have any status in the United States."

Chavez said, "This would really create a whole new group of stateless people and many of whom would not be eligible for citizenship in the country of origin of their parents. So, this could be such a nightmare that one cannot imagine."

"Every election year, these kinds of issues, they get raised to court just a segment of the voting population," she argued. "It's becoming a political wedge issue."

Chavez slammed anti-immigrant organisations like the Federal of American Immigration Reform and the Immigration Study Group "that constantly push this and certainly there is an effort in the states to push these laws and they are actually having some success there."

Thus, she reiterated that "it's becoming a wedge political issue and it's just unfortunate that it is also being considered at the federal level and that there are many supporters of bills like this at the federal level."

Chavez continued to declare that it "is a clear affront to the ideals of the nation."

Image: US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to workers and supporters at Thompson Tractor in Birmingham

Photograph: Marvin Gentry/Reuters

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC