Janet Napolitano: Amending 14th Amendment "Just Wrong"

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivers remarks on the Obama administration's efforts to reform the U.S. immigration system, Friday, Nov. 13, 2009, at the Center for American Progress in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The Obama administration today blasted for Republicans for bringing up the possibility of changing the 14th Amendment while refusing to take part in a discussion about comprehensive immigration reform legislation with Democrats.

"Any talk about amending the Constitution is just wrong," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said with respect to the immigration debate. Napolitano added she was "surprised, to say the least," that Republicans were raising the idea before coming to the table to talk about amending immigration statutes.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called GOP interest in changing the amendment "rich in its irony [and] wrong in its approach."

"It is always interesting that those that have with steadfast fidelity talked about not tampering with our Constitution have now swerved to pick the 14th Amendment as the best place to address comprehensive immigration reform," he said.

He added that the 14th Amendment enshrines equal protection and due process -- "two things that don't need to be tampered with."

Republicans in recent weeks have said Congress should reconsider the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship for anyone born in the United States, regardless of their parents' immigration status. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), once a backer of comprehensive immigration reform, said last month that "birthright citizenship is a mistake" and that he may introduce a constitutional amendment to change the rules. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and other Republicans have advocated for congressional hearings on the issue of birthright citizenship.

At the same time, comprehensive immigration reform, which President Obama has called a priority, has lost steam in Washington. Some lawmakers have said the federal government should first focus on securing the border before taking up broader immigration reforms.

Napolitano touted the $600 million border security bill Mr. Obama signed into law today as "one of the many tools in the toolbox we have constructed along the border." She emphasized that even before the president signed the bill, the administration had already devoted more resources to the southwest border than at any point in American history.

She said that "the goal post just keeps moving" with respect to securing the border but that the administration has placed sufficient resources there and will continue to do so.

Border security "should not be used anymore to preclude discussions about immigration reform," Napolitano said. "They should not be sequential; they should go together."

Mr. Obama has invited both Democrats and Republicans to address immigration reform, but "only Congress can pass a bill," she said. "The president can advocate, he can implore, he can provide ideas... he an give a major address... but only Congress can pass a bill."

Both Napolitano and Gibbs said progress on the issue depended on the cooperation of Republicans.

"It can't only be done by Democrats," Napolitano said.

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