WASHINGTON – Stepping into the Republican fray on immigration, Rick Santorum called Thursday for ending so-called "birthright citizenship," cutting back legal immigration by 25 percent and deporting immigrants illegally living in the U.S.
"No one, no one, is above the law in America – that includes presidents, justices, and yes, immigrants," the former Pennsylvania Senator said in a speech to reporters at the National Press Club.
Asked about splitting up undocumented parents from children who are citizens, Santorum said parents who come to the country illegally are responsible for that outcome.
"They've broken the law ... there are consequences to breaking the law," Santorum said. "We're not separating them arbitrarily – we're separating them because they did something."
He compared parents who come to the country illegally to someone who robs a bank to feed his family, saying he feels bad for that dire situation, but it is still a illegal. "They put their children in that situation and they should have to deal with the consequences, just like any other American who breaks the law."
Speaking in Washington before a trip Iowa, Santorum also blasted Planned Parenthood and touched on his lagging poll numbers, but mostly spoke on immigration, the issue that has vaulted to the forefront of the GOP presidential debate in the wake of Donald Trump's recently unveiled immigration plan.
Santorum, saying he has been discussing the issue for months, said he favors ending the practice of granting citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. (though that would require a change to the Constitution), and as president would beef up U.S. border security with "hundreds of miles of new wall," more manpower and technology, withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities and end President Obama's executive actions shielding millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. He said he would also press Mexico to get tougher at its border.
He blamed immigration for stagnant U.S. wages, saying immigrants are competing for the same low-skill jobs that Americans without college degrees need. He called for cutting immigration by a quarter by ending the visa lottery and ending "chain migration" that allows legal residents to bring family members to the U.S.
"Immigration can be a very good thing," Santorum said. "But as with anything, there can also be much of a good thing."
Trump's stand on immigration has pulled many Republicans along with him – particularly when it comes to "birthright" citizenship and border security – but has worried some in the GOP that fear alienating Hispanic voters. Democrats have already begun using the citizenship issue in attack ads.
Asked about the more than 11 million immigrants already in the U.S. illegally, Santorum said he would have individuals removed as they are discovered.
"It would be a rather easy systematic way of going through that process of again just simple enforcing the law of the country," he said.
In a question-and-answer session, Santorum also lashed out at Planned Parenthood over the recent videos raising sharp questions about the group's practices. He downplayed concerns that slashing the organization's funding would reduce access to contraception and lead to more abortions.
"I don't think there's any numbers out there that suggest access to birth control leads to," fewer abortions, he said. "I'm not concerned about the link between contraception and abortion."
Citing the videos made by an anti-abortion group, he said "it's hard to make the argument these aren't human beings when they're harvesting human organs."
Santorum, in his second run for president, is stuck in the back of the vast GOP pack, according to polls. Asked what would signal to him that it was time to give up, he cited an old adage about pornography: "you know it when you see it."
"Right now I feel very comfortable going out there, articulating a strong positive vision for America," he said.