SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he is leaning toward backing a repeal of the 14th Amendment that grants citizenship to children born to foreign parents in the U.S.
"I'm not ready to come out and say absolutely, I'm foursquare behind it. I'd like to hear the pros and cons of the debate," the governor said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Channel 7. "But if, in fact, it's incentifying people to make illegal behavior — in other words, 'I'm going to break the law for the reward of having a child born in America' — that's probably the wrong incentive."
Herbert said he welcomed the ongoing debate over amending the U.S. Constitution to take away automatic citizenship for those children. He said the issue was "festering" and needed to be resolved.
"I think there's an issue whether that's a carrot, whether there's an incentive for people to cross the borders and have children here," he said, describing the amendment as originally written to ensure slaves born in the country could be considered citizens.
Asked if he was leaning toward supporting the constitutional change, Herbert said, "Yeah, I would be."
Herbert surprised people on both sides of the immigration debate with his statement. Both sides said he seems to be making it because of election-year pressure from the conservative right wing of his party.
Herbert's rival in November's special gubernatorial election, Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, said he does not support repealing the 14th Amendment.
"I don't think the issue is whether it's an incentive or not," Corroon said. "The issue is whether our federal government is doing what it should be doing to stop illegal immigration, and to tighten the borders and make sure our system works. That's the issue. The federal government is failing in that area."
Michael Clara, president of the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly, which was formed in 1991 to help the GOP make inroads with Latinos, said, "I think (Herbert) is just pandering to those on the right wing of the party, and it's unfortunate."
Clara added, "I think he's suffering from historical amnesia. It was Republicans who implemented the 14th Amendment, at the time so that children of freed slaves could be U.S. citizens. But since then, the Supreme Court has upheld it as a means to grant citizenship to anyone born here."
Meanwhile, Eli Cawley, chairman of the anti-illegal immigration Utah Minuteman Project, said, "To tell you the truth, I'm shocked he did that, given how fiercely he pandered to the other side at his immigration roundtable. I believe he is taking this stand because he's getting incredible pressure from the conservative base here in Utah."
Still, Cawley supports the move — even though he'd rather have Congress make changes by statute instead of amending the Constitution. "If you took away the ability of illegal aliens to drop their anchor babies and then take our resources and benefits, that would be a major move to take away the magnet that brought them here," he said.