House Republicans are looking closely at ending birthright citizenship and building a barrier along the entire U.S.-Mexico border as they search for solutions to illegal immigration.
A task force of party leaders and members active on immigration has met since the summer to try to figure out where consensus exists, and several participants said those two ideas have floated to the top of the list of possibilities to be included either in an immigration-enforcement bill later this year or in a later comprehensive immigration overhaul.
“There is a general agreement about the fact that citizenship in this country should not be bestowed on people who are the children of folks who come into this country illegally,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, who is participating in the “unity dinners,” the group of Republicans trying to find consensus on immigration.
Birthright citizenship, or what critics call “anchor babies,” means that any child born on U.S. soil is granted citizenship, with exceptions for foreign diplomats. That attracts illegal aliens, who have children in the United States; those children later can sponsor their parents for legal immigration.
Most lawmakers had avoided the issue, fearing that change would require a constitutional amendment—the 14th Amendment reads in part: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”
But several Republicans said recent studies suggest otherwise.
“There’s been recent scholarship that says we can do it by statute, and we ought to try,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who usually finds himself on the opposite side of immigration issues from Mr. Tancredo.
“How in the world can you explain that’s a good policy to have? It simply doesn’t promote respect for the rule of law,” Mr. Flake said.
Several lawmakers said the U.S. and Mexico are the only major Western countries to have birthright citizenship. Most European countries have moved away from birthright citizenship in recent decades.
Meanwhile, the idea of a fence or other barrier also is gaining support.
At this week’s “unity dinner,” House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said he supports a barrier system of fences in some places and electronic surveillance or vehicle barriers in others, one participant said.