Ryan says 'obviously' Trump can't end birthright citizenship

House Speaker Paul Ryan (FILE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that "obviously" President Donald Trump couldn't end the constitutional right of birthright citizenship with an executive order, while saying he agrees with the president that "unchecked illegal immigration" needs to be addressed.

Many conservatives have long called for an end to the constitutional right to citizenship for babies born in the United States. Most constitutional scholars agree with Ryan that the president cannot implement such a change unilaterally.  

"Well you obviously cannot do that," Ryan told Lexington, Kentucky, radio station WVLK-AM. "You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order."

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who once appeared open to ending birthright citizenship, dodged the issue. Another Republican, U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir, issued a statement praising Trump's attempts to tackle illegal immigration without clearly stating her position on ending birthright citizenship.

Ryan said that "as a conservative, I'm a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution and I think in this case the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process. Where we obviously totally agree with the president is getting at the root issue here, which is unchecked illegal immigration."

Trump's comments regarding the 14th Amendment came in an interview with "Axios on HBO" The amendment's citizenship clause guarantees the right of citizenship for all children born in the U.S. The amendment, ratified in 1868, nullified the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision that had held that those descended from slaves could not be citizens.

Walker, who is locked in a tight re-election battle with Tony Evers, appeared open to the idea of ending birthright citizenship when asked about it during his presidential run in 2015. Walker told a reporter then that he would not want to deport children born in the U.S. to parents who were not citizens, but when asked if birthright citizenship should end Walker said, "Yeah." Days later, Walker said he had no position on birthright citizenship "one way or the other."

Walker tried to stay away from the issue Tuesday.

"It's a federal issue, I have no authority over that whatsoever and I have my hands full focusing on the state of Wisconsin," Walker told reporters in Milwaukee. "If I was running for federal office, I'd have thoughts on it, but I'm running for state office -- to me I'm focused on the state."

Evers, the state superintendent, opposes the idea, his campaign said.

Vukmir, the Republican Senate candidate, noted in her statement that she is the daughter of Greek immigrants.

"I support birthright citizenship for individuals that are legally in our country, but illegal immigrants are taking advantage of America's generosity," Vukmir said. "I applaud President Trump's courageous leadership to fix our immigration crisis, which Senator Baldwin has failed to fix and has resulted in free education and healthcare benefits for illegal immigrants."  

Baldwin said she opposed ending birthright citizenship.

"What we really need to do is fix our broken immigration system and strengthen our border through comprehensive immigration reform," she said.

Baldwin's colleague in the Senate from Wisconsin, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, said Tuesday that the question of birthright citizenship is "a very legitimate debate" that he welcomes.

Johnson told WTMJ Radio of Milwaukee that only about 30 countries grant birthright citizenship, and that a number of major countries have repealed it "because it doesn't make sense."

"It made sense back in the 1800s, but nowadays, it probably doesn't," Johnson said. He called it "another incentive, it's another reward" for immigrants to enter the United States illegally and have a child who is automatically a U.S. citizen.
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