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Sen. Lindsey Graham on Wednesday argued that any changes to the 14th Amendment should come as part of comprehensive immigration reform next year.

The South Carolina Republican touched off a fierce debate this week when he suggested Congress needs to address the amendment, which automatically confers citizenship to children of illegal immigrants who are born in the country.

Although some conservatives have suggested the issue be dealt with on its own, Graham argued it should be part of a broader set of reforms, such biometric identification cards, to control future waves of illegal immigration.

For more than a century, the 14th Amendment has been interpreted to confer citizenship to anyone born in the United States, regardless of his or her parents’ legal status. But in the last several weeks, a series of news reports highlighting travel agencies specializing in helping pregnant women receive visas to travel to the U.S. and subsequently give birth has increased public scrutiny of the amendment.

Graham, who has been at the center of immigration talks for more than a year, argued that changing the nation’s citizenship rules may be the only way to persuade conservatives and the broader public to back comprehensive reform next year.

Including citizenship reforms could “get political support from Democrats and Republicans … and the American people [who] are skeptical of solutions that don’t address the obvious problems,” Graham said.

Graham maintains that although President Ronald Reagan’s amnesty plan in the 1980s dealt with the “first wave of illegal immigration,” Congress must now not only deal with the “second wave,” or the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country now, but also a future “third wave.”

For Graham, changes to the 14th Amendment would be part of a set of forward-looking changes that would remove “incentives for illegally entering” the country and would not punish those already here.

“You don’t want to strip people of their citizenship,” he said. “That’s not the goal. The goal is to get people right with law” while reducing future illegal immigration.

Graham said he understands that some view changes to the 14th Amendment as anti-immigrant. “It’s always been associated with people on the right who don’t really want to fix things,” Graham said.

But he insists he’s willing to work on finding a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s illegal immigrants, so long as the other problems with the nation’s immigration laws are addressed. “I’m willing to do the hard things on the 12 million … [but] you’ve got to be willing to solve the problem.”

As part of that, Graham argued that comprehensive reform should include both the changes to citizenship laws, favored by the right, and biometric identification cards, which conservatives dislike.

Graham argued that the cards, which he characterized as nothing more than “your Social Security card with some biometric data in it,” could be used not only by employers to verify a person’s status but also to end the chances of law enforcement using racial profiling to identify illegal immigrants.

“I’d have one. … Then they wouldn’t have to ask people for their papers when they stop them,” he said.

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