Michael Gerson perfectly sums up what’s wrong with Lindsay Graham’s head-spinning reversal on immigration. First is the hypocrisy:
After years of being a lonely voice of Republican sanity on immigration, Graham has decided to embrace the supreme symbol of nativism — changing the Fourteenth Amendment to restrict American citizenship. He has either taken leave of his senses or of his principles. … It’s called self-serving cynicism.
Gerson then explains what is wrong with Graham’s idea. Of course, Americans can amend their Constitution, provided they meet the steep requirements for doing so (designed to fend off just this type of ill-advised proposal). But, as Gerson notes, this is a horrid idea when it comes to birthright citizenship:
The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the Dred Scott decision, which said that citizenship could be granted or denied by political caprice. They purposely chose an objective standard of citizenship — birth — that was not subject to politics. Reconstruction leaders established a firm, sound principle: To be an American citizen, you don’t have to please a majority, you just have to be born here.
It is not simply a bad Constitutional move; it is quite frankly offensive. Forget the Constitution for a moment. Is this the sort of society we want? As Gerson notes, Graham’s lunacy “would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital. A whole class of people would grow up knowing they are hunted aliens, through no fault of their own. … It would be viciousness and prejudice on a grand scale.”
Graham’s naked opportunism (with Arlen Specter exiting him, Graham can become top dog in that department) and general unpopularity (the two are related) will no doubt prevent his suggestion from going anywhere. But Gerson reminds us that we should not focus merely on what we might legally do to control immigration; we need to start talking more about what we should and shouldn’t do if we are to keep our souls and our reputation as the most generous, welcoming, and decent people on the planet.