DES MOINES, Iowa—Marco Rubio, who is running for president thanks to birthright citizenship, says he is open to the idea of ending it for children who were born in the United States to foreign parents.
“I’m not in favor of repealing the 14th Amendment,” Rubio said during a Tuesday news conference at the rain-soaked Iowa State Fair. “But I am open to exploring ways of not allowing people who are coming here deliberately for that purpose to acquire citizenship.”
Birthright citizenship has become a hot topic on the Republican campaign trail thanks to celebrity businessman Donald Trump. On Sunday, he put out an immigration plan that calls for ending automatic citizenship to anyone born in the United States, which is guaranteed by the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
It was unclear whether Rubio was referring specifically to children whose parents are in this country illegally, or also to children born to parents here on temporary visas. Rubio ignored several follow-up questions on the topic.
Rubio’s answer also highlights how far the first-term senator from Florida has moved on immigration as he shifted his focus to a presidential run. As a state House member a decade ago, Rubio supported in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. Just two years ago, Rubio was among a bipartisan group of U.S. senators who successfully pushed through an immigration overhaul that included a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people who are in this country illegally.
But after getting hammered by the conservative wing of his party following Senate approval of the bill, Rubio quickly backed away from it, and now says that any changes to immigration policy must be done piecemeal, must start with enhanced border security, and must put a premium on “merit” and “skills” among those hoping to enter the U.S.
The new, harder line on immigration can sometimes conflict with the optimistic life story he sells on the campaign trail. On Tuesday, for instance, he told a fair audience: “I want this to remain a country where parents can do for their children what my parents did for me.”
But, as Marco Rubio tells is, Mario and Oriales Rubio were economic migrants who came to this country in 1956 with little education and little or no English, making it unclear whether either would have had the technical skills or expertise Rubio says the immigration system should reward.
Neither of his parents was a citizen at the time of Rubio’s birth in 1971 in Miami. They did not become naturalized until 1975.
“The Trump effect has reached the entire Republican Party,” Cristina Jimenez Moreta, executive director of the pro-immigration group United We Dream. “I think it’s absurd, and I think it’s very hypocritical for Marco Rubio, who is the child of Cuban immigrants, and who benefited from birthright citizenship.”
Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP polls in recent months has moved immigration back to the top of the hot-button list for Republicans. Other candidates have weighed in on Trump’s birthright citizenship repeal plan, as well. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky have voiced support for the idea (although Walker subsequently seemed to backtrack somewhat).
Others point out that the provision is in the Constitution, making it exceedingly difficult to repeal or modify.
The specific sentence, in fact, opens the 14th Amendment: “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.” It was among three amendments ratified immediately after the Civil War to guarantee that former slaves would henceforth be seen as full citizens. To modify it would require another constitutional amendment, which takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress as well as approval by three-fourths of the 50 state legislatures.
Campaigning in South Carolina, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he did not support revoking it. “Look, this is a constitutionally protected right,” he told reporters. “To suggest that people born in this country aren’t United States citizens, and they don’t have this in the Constitution, I just reject out of hand.”