MIAMI (AP) – The debate over a controversial proposal to end the automatic granting of citizenship to children of people in the U.S. illegally is a distraction from what the nation really needs to do to stem the tide of illegal immigration, several Republican presidential candidates said Sunday.
On the television network news talk shows, the GOP hopefuls said enforcing U.S. immigration laws would resolve the problem of "birthright citizenship" without having to go through what they see as an impractical effort to end it with a constitutional amendment.
Every campaign, candidates "hold up some bright, shiny object_'Oh, let's talk about birthright citizenship,'" Carly Fiorina said on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''Let us focus our political energies on doing what the government is responsible for doing, secure the border, and fix the legal immigration system."
The former Hewlett-Packard CEO said the federal government cannot keep track of foreign visitors who overstay visas and has failed at putting into place a system for employers to verify the legal status of prospective workers.
Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who opposes amending the Constitution over birthright citizenship, echoed Fiorina. He said the issue is "an applause line."
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"Let's talk about the things that we can fix and fix simply without having to amend the Constitution," said Christie.
Native-born children of immigrants_even those living illegally in the U.S._have been automatically considered American citizens since the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868. Donald Trump further roiled the waters of the Republican campaign when he called for repealing the amendment.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has gone back and forth on amending the Constitution over birthright citizenship, told ABC's "This Week" that he's against any such repeal.
"Any discussion that goes beyond securing the border and enforcing the laws are things that should be a red flag to voters out there, who for years have heard lip service from politicians and are understandably angry because those politicians haven't been committed to following through on those promises."
The call to secure the border as a first priority is a familiar one in the GOP field. It has at times become a way to avoid taking a stand on more contentious immigration issues, such as whether the millions of people in the country illegally should be offered a path to citizenship or at least legal status.
Dr. Ben Carson, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," dismissed the idea that the controversial use of the term "anchor baby"— a child born in the United States to parents in the country illegally_was a racial slur. "It's silly political correctness," he said.
"Everybody knows what we are talking about," said Carson, who is black. "We need to talk about the actual issue, and stop getting pulled off into the weeds, and saying, you can use this term, you can't use that term."
Carson said last week that "if somebody comes here for the purpose of having a baby, so that they have an anchor baby, we should keep that family together and send them back where they come from."
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said enforcing existing immigration laws would solve the problem without having to amend the Constitution, a process he said would take years to accomplish.
Indeed, the odds of repealing the amendment's citizenship clause would be steep, requiring the votes of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and support from three-fourths of the nation's state legislatures.
Republicans in Congress have repeatedly failed since 2011 to pass bills aimed at ending "birthright citizenship." Some conservatives believe that the granting of citizenship in such cases could be changed without amending the Constitution.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich last week spoke in favor of leaving the constitutional protection in place.
Bush supports greater enforcement to stop pregnant women from crossing the border to have their children in the U.S., but says people born in the United States should be U.S. citizens.