State lawmakers launched a drive Wednesday to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, a move that rights groups and Hispanic activists slammed as impractical and mean-spirited.
Lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Georgia and Arizona unveiled a legal model they said would be pushed in up to 40 states to deny birthright citizenship to children of illegal immigrants -- a right anchored in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
The proposed legislation would require that all birth certificates note the citizenship or immigration status of the parents, including whether they are in the country legally.
The lawmakers hope such a law would provoke lawsuits and force a review of the 14th Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress.
Previous attempts by states to regulate immigration have met with legal challenges on grounds they interfere with the federal government's responsibility over the issue.
"I've long considered birthright citizenship to be the holy Grail of the illegal immigration debate," Oklahoma Republican state Representative Randy Terrill said in a statement.
"It has created a perverse incentive for foreign nationals to break U.S. law and proven to be a policy disaster for our Republic," he added.
The news conference in Washington where the plan was announced was interrupted by protesters who criticized the legislators as racist, causing a scuffle between supporters and protesters.
President Barack Obama took office two years ago promising an immigration overhaul, including tighter security at the border with Mexico and a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. He made no major headway and Republicans who won a sweeping victory in midterm elections are promising to get tough on immigration.
The 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof," was adopted in 1868 after the U.S. Civil War to ensure citizenship for former African-American slaves.
The state lawmakers' proposal was criticized by civil rights groups, immigration reform and Hispanic activists, who called the proposal "inflammatory, impractical and immoral."
"These approaches would throw hospitals, families, and society into chaos, requiring the government to come into every delivery room to determine the paternity of the child and the status of his or her parents," said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.
"This is clearly an attack on the Fourteenth Amendment," said senior policy analyst Michele Waslin at the Immigration Policy Center, adding it "is clearly against the fundamental ideas that America is based on and it's very mean-spirited."
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