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Ted Cruz: Birthright citizenship "doesn't make sense"

Last Updated Aug 23, 2015 12:10 PM EDT

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wants to put an end to birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, proposing an amendment to the Constitution if necessary.

"I think birthright citizenship as a policy matter doesn't make sense," Cruz said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." "We have right now upwards of 12 million people living here illegally. It doesn't make any sense that our law automatically grants citizenship to their children because what it does is it incentivizes additional illegal immigration."

The issue of nullifying birthright citizenship, while long in the sights of Republican legislators, recently took off in the 2016 policy debates when billionaire Donald Trump proposed to do away with it as part of his comprehensive immigration plan. Trump added last week that he didn't believe "anchor babies" were actually citizens -- and the crowded Republican field rushed to weigh in.

The Supreme Court has long held that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees those born on U.S. soil American citizenship. The Amendment states: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."

Yet some constitutional scholars, according to Cruz, say that Congress could simply "pass a law defining what the words in the 14th Amendment 'subject to the jurisdiction' means." But in order to assure the repeal of birthright citizenship, the Texas senator also proposed wholly amending the Constitution, saying "we should change the law."

"My view, there's a good faith argument on both sides," Cruz said. "We should pursue whichever one is effective but as a policy matter, we should change the law."

The first priority of his campaign, however, is to secure the border, because "any change in birthright citizenship, be it a statute or a constitutional amendment, will take many, many years." Cruz touted legislation he had introduced in the Senate to triple the border patrol force, adding that he was "very glad to see that Donald Trump agrees with that proposal."

The Texas Republican, who held a summit for conservative Christians while he was in Iowa, also addressed what he called the "threats to religious liberty" from progressives.

"A lot of folks in the media, they belittle the threats to religious liberty," Cruz said. "They say they're not real. They're made up. This rally is all about putting names and faces and people to the persecution."