Opponents of Illegal Immigration Target Birthright Citizenship

VIDEO: State Reps. Target Birthright Citizenship
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A coalition of 14 conservative state legislators unveiled a plan today aimed at preventing children born on U.S. soil to illegal immigrant parents from becoming citizens at birth.

But instead of proposing a change to the Constitution, which has established birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment, the lawmakers advocated that states pass individual laws limiting citizenship to children who have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen.

"We're announcing a change to state laws that each state could adopt that will move us in the direction of insuring that the 14th Amendment is applied correctly," Pennsylvania State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who founded the coalition, told ABC News.

Metcalfe said he's alarmed by the burgeoning size and cost of America's illegal immigrant population, estimated at 11 million, and whose offspring in the United States would be able to sponsor their parents and relatives for legal residency. The children are sometimes referred to as "anchor babies."

"It's an issue that must be addressed by Congress, and in the absence of Congress' action it's important that we at the state level join together to deliver a very sound, strong message that they need to uphold and defend the Constitution," he said.

Supporters of the proposal acknowledged it would have little practical effect but hoped it would trigger broader debate and legal challenges and ultimately force Congress and the Supreme Court to reexamine the definition of U.S. citizenship.

The bills would "revive the concept of state citizenship," said Kansas Secretary of State-elect and law professor Kris Kobach, "something the framers referred to in the original Constitution."

"This is simply the definition of citizenship for state purposes. This does not change legal entitlements to anything," he said, suggesting that barring action by Congress or the courts immigrants' children would still be considered U.S. citizens by the federal government.

But the coalition also released the text of a state compact, or proposal to Congress, that would restrict conditions for natural born citizenship nationwide. If the document were to be adopted by Congress, it would assume the full force of federal law without requiring the president's signature.

The move by the State Legislators for Legal Immigration is the latest salvo in the political battle over illegal immigration and follows intense legal debate over Arizona's new immigration enforcement law, SB 1070, which more than a dozen other states have since attempted to copy.

Metcalfe and a group of conservative Constitutional scholars who helped draft the state-level plan said they believe their legislation will pass muster in the courts because of a careful interpretation of the text of the 14th Amendment.

The amendment, enacted after the Civil War to grant citizenship to descendants of slaves, reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."

"Just because you're born on American soil did not mean that you were granted American citizenship automatically," Metcalfe said. "You had to be under the 'jurisdiction thereof,' including that geographic location. 'Jurisdiction thereof' was meant and was directly correlated to having an allegiance to our country by the parents."

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