Republican leaders are calling for hearings to repeal parts of the 14th Amendment that, critics say, provide a pathway to immigration reform.

The cornerstone of American civil liberties, the amendment was adopted in 1868 after the Civil War and guaranteed citizenship to anyone born in the United States, including newly emancipated slaves.

The GOP has taken issue with birthright citizenship in recent weeks as talks about illegal immigrants continue to heat up during the midterm election season.

According to the Associated Press, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supports hearings on the 14th Amendment. So do Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said, “birthright citizenship is a mistake.”

“I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen,” Sessions told the AP.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said that he supports bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, but was concerned by Republicans’ actions. “I am deeply troubled that anyone would attack the 14th Amendment to our Constitution—fundamental principles that have been at the core of our identity and security as one united people for more than a century,” he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano agreed, and at a White House press briefing on August 13 said any talks of amending the constitution to remove birthright citizenship are “just wrong.”

Dr. Annette Palmer, chair of the History Department at Morgan State University said the GOP is specifically targeting Hispanics, but that the implications of repealing the 14th Amendment extend farther than just illegal immigrants.

“If we start taking back citizenship we are going to have to take it back from a lot of people in the South,” she said. Not only did the 14th Amendment give Blacks their citizenship, it also allowed the repatriation of rebels who fought against the Union during the Civil War.

“It’s not practical,” said Palmer. “I suppose we have to pay attention to this, but it’s a lot of rhetoric.”
Under the Constitution an amendment may be proposed either by Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures.  The proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution after it has been ratified by three-fourths of the states.