The leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Tuesday attacked Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's call for ending automatic citizenship for children born to immigrants living illegally in the U.S., saying the idea "plays on our worst fears and resentments."
"Some in public life — notably, but not only, Donald Trump — have called for an end to birthright citizenship," Archbishop Charles Chaput said in remarks prepared for a church forum that was part of the run-up of activities to a visit later this month by Pope Francis. "This is a profoundly bad idea."
The archbishop said he hoped immigration would be a key part of the discussions during the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the pope's appearance during the closing weekend.
The pope has decried what he has called the "inhuman" conditions facing migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and encouraged frontier communities to not judge people by stereotypes but rather welcome migrants and work to end discrimination.
Without at first mentioning Trump by name, Chaput began his remarks by declaring: "At least one of our presidential candidates has already made the national immigration debate ugly with a great deal of belligerent bombast."
Trump has proposed the mass deportation of millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, as well as their American-born children. He also supports building a wall along the border.
"They're illegal," he said of the children.
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U.S.-born children of all immigrants, including those living in the U.S. illegally, have been automatically considered American citizens since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment in 1868. Repeal of the citizenship clause would require the votes of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and support from three-fourths of the nation's state legislatures. Some conservatives, however, believe that the granting of citizenship to children of immigrants in the U.S. illegally could be changed without amending the Constitution.
Chaput, whose archdiocese has about 1.4 million parishioners, urged Congress to give those living in the U.S. illegally "an honest, attainable chance at citizenship."
He also said the nation should stop detaining young mothers with children who are fleeing violence in Central America.
"These families pose no threat to anyone," he said. "Detaining them is inhumane."
Birthright citizenship is not only a constitutional right, it also ensures that children don't become stateless or part of a chronic underclass, he said.
Of Trump's call to end it, he said: "It plays on our worst fears and resentments. And it undermines one of the pillars of the American founding and national identity."
He also directed some criticism at the Democratic administration, noting the deportation rate had hit a record under President Barack Obama.
"This brutally affects immigrant families — especially those with children who are U.S. citizens," he said.