Boehner Targets ‘Anchor Babies,’ McConnell Highlights ‘Birth Tourism’

August 09, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

House Minority Leader John Boehner entered the 14th Amendment fray Sunday, telling “Meet the Press” Sunday that granting automatic citizenship to babies born in the U.S. is “an incentive for illegal immigrants to come here.” He did not say whether he would back a change, but argued birthright citizenship draws illegal immigrants to the country and burdens schools.

Boehner was far from the first Republican to weigh in on the possibility of hearings on the 14th Amendment. But his choice to frame the issue broadly diverges from efforts by other Republican leaders to focus on “birth tourism,” or companies that exploit U.S. citizenship laws by charging large fees to help women travel to the U.S. to have their children. As Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift reported, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is attempting to reframe his party’s 14th Amendment talk around these companies instead of focusing on illegal immigrants who have children in the U.S.

The distinction is important: While the idea of “anchor babies” has been hotly contested, claims of “birth tourism” are backed up by a Washington Post article. The idea of “birth tourism” is also less racially charged, Clift notes while discussing other Republicans’ statements on the 14th Amendment:

They’re aiming their divisive rhetoric at the babies born to illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, who are already in the country and whose children are American citizens, thanks to the 14th Amendment. It is the latest iteration of the anti-Hispanic sentiment that has gotten the GOP into political trouble in California and elsewhere with this fastest-growing segment of the population. It also speaks volumes about what the GOP thinks of its prospects for getting African-American votes, since the 14th Amendment is sacrosanct to them.

The Republican National Committee has been careful to discuss the 14th Amendment in terms of “birth tourism” rather than children of illegal immigrants. RNC spokesman Doug Heye told Talking Points Memo that “holding hearings on the potential abuse of birthright citizenship – as documented by the Washington Post is perfectly reasonable.”