U.S. News

State lawmakers target children of illegal immigrants

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - State lawmakers launched a controversial drive on Wednesday to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, a move that angered some Hispanics.

Lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Georgia and Arizona unveiled at a press conference a legal model they said would be pushed by state legislators 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 all parents to prove their citizenship status before they can receive a birth certificate for their baby.

“I’ve long considered birthright citizenship to be the holy grail of the illegal immigration debate,” Oklahoma Republican state legislator 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 where the new plan was announced was interrupted by protesters who criticized the legislators as racist, causing a scuffle between supporters and protesters.

President Barack Obama came to power 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 headway because of Republican opposition.

In the waning days of the last Congress, Democrats still holding majority power tried to pass a law creating a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants.

The so-called “Dream Act” giving legal status to illegal immigrants brought to the United States before age 16 was dealt a death blow on December 18 by Senate Republicans, who said it would reward illegal activity.

Republicans took majority control of the House of Representatives on Wednesday and are expected to focus on tougher enforcement of the border and limits on immigration rather than measures to allow more migrants.

The immediate plan of the Republican state legislators is to encourage states to adopt either a bill or a state compact which would either force a review by the Supreme Court or encourage Congress to pass legislation to enforce their proposals.

The drive to remove citizenship from children of immigrants born in the U.S. is sponsored by individual lawmakers and not necessarily approved by the state legislatures.

The plan was slammed 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.

Hispanics now account for about 15 percent of the U.S. population. Their numbers are projected to nearly triple, to 132.8 million by 2050, when nearly 1 in 3 U.S. residents will be Latino, according to a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau study.

Reporting by Wendell Marsh, writing by Tim Gaynor, editing by Greg McCune