Birthright citizenship has been a bedrock principle of American civic society since Reconstruction. But it is steadily gaining opponents among the 2016 GOP contenders. Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, and Bobby Jindal have called for an end to automatic citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants; Chris Christie and Scott Walker have voiced their own doubts; and it’s a central element of Donald Trump’s new immigration plan.
The Fourteenth Amendment, for its part, is clear on the scope of birthright citizenship: “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.” Redefining the Citizenship Clause, either by legislation or by constitutional amendment, seems all but impossible today. “The only thing a politician could promise that would be harder would be, say, promising to build a giant, hundreds-of-miles-long wall and getting another country to pay for it,” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump drily notes. But like the proposed Great Wall of Mexico, feasibility may not be the point. It’s all about getting votes.
The last constitutional amendment used to resolve a political controversy was the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933, which reversed prohibition. Constitutional amendments since then have reformed either presidential election and succession procedures (the Twenty-second, Twenty-third, and Twenty-fifth) or elections themselves (the Twenty-fourth and Twenty- sixth). The Twenty-seventh and most-recently ratified amendment, which addresses congressional pay, lay dormant for over 200 years before a college student revived interest in it.