Calling themselves State Legislators for Legal Immigration, officials from five states offered up "model legislation to correct the monumental misapplication of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."
Speaking at a packed news conference at the National Press Club that was disrupted several times by protesters, Republican legislators from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Arizona -- ground zero in the fight over illegal immigration -- said they timed their announcement for today's opening of Congress.
"We are here to send a very public message to Congress," said Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the coalition's founder. "We want to bring an end to the illegal-alien invasion that is having such a negative impact on our states."
The lawmakers unveiled two measures they said would be introduced in at least 14 state legislatures this year to deal with what some call "anchor babies." One defines a "citizen of the state" as a person who has at least one parent who is living in the country legally. The other is a "compact" that urges Congress to redefine U.S. citizenship along the same lines.
Both measures, which if passed could cause widespread confusion by creating a patchwork of definitions of citizenship, are the handiwork of Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri law professor who also authored Arizona's strict immigration law.
By his interpretation, the 14th Amendment's reference to citizens being those "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" the United States disqualifies the children of undocumented immigrants because their parents owe no loyalty to this country.
"The primary requirements for U.S. citizenship are dependent on total allegiance to America, not mere physical geography," Metcalfe said. "The purpose of this model legislation is to restore the original intent of the 14th Amendment, which is currently being misapplied and is encouraging illegal aliens to cross and cost American taxpayers $113 billion annually, or nearly $1,117 yearly per individual taxpayer."
Most legal scholars say the jurisdiction phrase was intended to apply to the children of diplomats posted in the United States.
Metcalfe and the other lawmakers say they are not under any illusion that their proposed legislation will actually take effect if passed. Indeed, the measures are designed to draw legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and immigrant rights groups. The goal: to force the issue to come before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"This is a very calculated, strategic step on our part," Metcalfe said.
Hispanic, Asian, immigrant and civil rights groups vowed to fight back. In a conference call to announce a new coalition to defend birthright citizenship, members of Americans for Constitutional Citizenship accused the conservative legislators of trying to subvert longstanding constitutional guarantees.
If they were to succeed, said Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, they would create "two tiers of citizenship, a modern-day caste system" for the first time since the end of the Civil War.
"Every single person's citizenship would be up for grabs" and put at the mercy of government bureaucrats if the 14th Amendment is gutted, said Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.
"It's a hard to think of a more un-American proposal then to judge a baby by his parents or grandparents," he said.
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