TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Republican candidate Kris Kobach on Wednesday echoed President Donald Trump’s assertion that Trump can deny U.S. citizenship to babies born to parents living in the country illegally, intensifying a focus on immigration in the final days of a close Kansas governor’s race.
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, is Trump’s biggest political ally in the state and has advised the White House on homeland security issues. He also has made pursuing tough state measures against illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign for governor.
But in backing Trump on whether the president can end birthright citizenship without an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Kobach broke with some fellow Republicans, including U.S House Speaker Paul Ryan. Like Trump, Kobach contradicted legal experts who see the issue as long-settled and clear under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
“That’s one of the interesting things about birthright citizenship. There are many people who are under the misimpression that the 14th Amendment commands it,” Kobach said during a Fox News television interview . “It doesn’t.”
He added that Congress could end birthright citizenship or, “The president could do it through a regulation.”
Kobach is in a toss-up race with Democrat Laura Kelly, a veteran state senator from Topeka. She has argued that combating illegal immigration requires comprehensive legislation from Congress and that Kobach’s get-tough approach would damage the state’s economy, particularly in western Kansas and when it comes to agriculture.
Kelly’s campaign declined Wednesday to comment on Kobach’s comments. But Ethan Corson, the Kansas Democratic Party’s executive director said: “As Republicans like Paul Ryan and legal scholars from across the political spectrum have stated, the president obviously has no authority to alter the Constitution by executive order.”
Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist, said Kobach needs his conservative base to turn out to defeat Kelly. He said raising birthright citizenship as an issue after it’s remained relatively neglected represents “a fresher angle” on immigration issues.
“If you want to kick life into some kind of advertising, whether you’re selling a candidate or toothpaste, having a fresh angle is sometimes good to reignite interest and engagement,” Miller said. “Kobach also likes to push the envelope on a lot of things.”
The 14th Amendment begins: “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.”
Kobach, an attorney and former law school professor, argued Wednesday on “Fox & Friends” that immigrants living in the country illegally are not under U.S. jurisdiction, allowing Trump or Congress to deny their U.S-born children automatic citizenship. But a move in line with that thinking would likely spark a legal challenge.
States ratified the 14th Amendment after the Civil War to secure U.S. citizenship for newly freed black slaves. It later was used to guarantee citizenship to all babies born on U.S. soil after court challenges, including one that led to an 1898 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump said in an interview Tuesday that he wants to end birthright citizenship and could do so with an executive order. Ryan responded in a radio interview, saying: “Well you obviously cannot do that.” That drew a tweeted rebuke from the president.
Trump’s comments also were an issue in a debate Tuesday between Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder and Democratic challenger Sharice Davids in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, where immigration has been a major issue. Trump, who narrowly lost the Kansas City-area district in 2016, has endorsed Yoder, the chairman of a House subcommittee on homeland security.
During the debate, neither candidate said directly whether they would support an effort by Congress to end birthright citizenship, though Davids said an executive order by Trump would “violate our Constitution.”
When asked after the debate about ending birthright citizenship, Yoder told reporters that if the U.S. secured its borders adequately, “That’s not an issue then.”
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