Why Are So Many Conservatives Backing a Radical Immigration Solution?

Mike Huckabee is showing some political courage:

Former Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee says he is against changing the 14th Amendment to remove birthright citizenship.

Now, there’s a dose of conservative common sense. It is rather strange to see so many conservatives blithely suggesting a major Constitutional revision for a problem that stems from the failure of the federal government to carry out its duties under existing law.

Michael Gerson provides some historical perspective on the meaning and intention of the 14th Amendment:

The amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This is not the only place in the Constitution where birth is decisive. Any “natural born citizen” who meets age and residency requirements can be elected president.

Critics of birthright citizenship are in revolt against the plain meaning of words. They sometimes assert that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” must exclude illegal immigrants. It doesn’t. Undocumented immigrants and their children are fully subject to American laws. The idea of “jurisdiction” had a specific meaning in the congressional debate surrounding approval of the 14th Amendment. “The language was designed,” says historian Garrett Epps, “to exclude two and only two groups: (1) children of diplomats accredited to the United States and (2) members of Indian tribes who maintained quasi-sovereign status under federal Indian law.”

As Gerson points out, it’s not as if this topic was ignored:

During the debate over the 14th Amendment, Sen. Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania complained that birthright citizenship would include Gypsies, “who pay no taxes; who never perform military service; who do nothing, in fact, which becomes the citizen.” Others objected that the children of Chinese laborers would be covered. Supporters of the 14th Amendment conceded both cases — and defended them.

Of course, we can amend the Constitution. But conservatives should at least be honest: this would be a radical change, not simply an effort to fill in some missing gap in our Constitutional structure. Nor should conservatives underestimate the possibility that once the 14th Amendment is put into play, liberal interest groups would seek to expand and extend the amendment in a number of ways that conservatives would certainly find objectionable. The prospect of a Constitutional free-for-all should alarm sober conservatives.

We’ll see how far the discussion goes and who else has the nerve, from a conservative perspective, to resist an extreme solution to what is a rather simple problem. Rather than take a meat cleaver to the Constitution, why not get the federal government to do its job?