Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he would support rewriting the 14th Amendment to eliminate automatic citizenship for the U.S.-born children of people in the country illegally.
"If it is in fact incentifying people to have illegal behavior, to break laws to have the reward of a child born in America, that is probably the wrong incentive," Herbert said.
Pressed on whether he personally is inclined to support the change Herbert said, "Yeah, I would be."
The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868 and designed to grant citizenship to freed black slaves, but for more than a century it has also been understood to grant citizenship to children born in the United States.
There is now an effort to change that, with conservative lawmakers and anti-illegal immigration groups arguing that the lure of citizenship for U.S.-born infants is enticing people to cross the border illegally.
Republican Senate candidate Mike Lee is among those who have called for eliminating so-called "birthright citizenship," although he believes it can be done by law, without amending the Constitution.
Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif, is sponsoring legislation HR1868 that would rescind the birthright citizenship, arguing that those here illegally are not "subject to the laws" as the amendment states. There would be an exception for children of undocumented immigrants who are military veterans.
Herbert's Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, said the 14th Amendment should be left alone.
"Anybody who is born in this country should be able to receive the rights of citizenship in the state of Utah and in the United States," Corroon said. He said if the federal government would enforce the law and patrol the border, the citizenship of the immigrant children would not be an issue.
A report this month from the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C., estimated that 8 percent of the 4.3 million children born in the United States in 2008 about 340,000 in all had at least one parent who was an undocumented immigrant. In all, 4 million children have at least one parent who is in the country illegally.
It is unknown exactly how many undocumented immigrants live in Utah. Some estimates put the number as high as 110,000, but a study in December by an economist at the University of Utah estimated the number was fewer than 56,000.
Cherilyn Eagar, of the Utah United Coalition, a group of conservative activists opposed to illegal immigration, said the birthright citizenship is an issue that creates burdens for all Americans.
"It's a universal problem of people who emigrate to this nation," Eagar said. "At the time [the amendment passed], it probably was not foreseen to be used for the children of those who are here illegally. I think there is a need to revise it."
Herbert said it is a discussion worth having.
"I think there is an issue of whether that is a carrot that is an incentive for people to cross the border and have children here as a way to become citizens quicker than people who are queued up in line," Herbert said. "I think there's merit in having the debate." Â
What the 14th Amendment says
"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."