Four Republican lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would end automatic granting of American citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal immigrants, arguing "birthright citizenship" is an incentive for illegals to race for the U.S. border.
Reps. Steve King of Iowa, Gary Miller of California and Rob Woodall and Phil Gingrey, both of Georgia, said the current practice of extending U.S. citizenship to so-called "anchor babies" is a "misapplication" of the Constitution's 14th Amendment.
"Passage of this bill will ensure that immigration law breakers are not rewarded, will close the door to future waves of extended family chain migration, and will help to bring an end to the global 'birth tourism' industry," King said.
Miller added that granting birthright citizenship to children of illegal immigrants "rewards those that have recklessly broken our nation's immigration laws, and costs American taxpayers billions annually."
The move by the U.S. representatives coincides with legislation being introduced in several states aimed at finding a way to challenge birthright citizenship as well as crack down on illegals through other measures.
But civil liberties advocates say punishing the child for the sins of the parent does nothing to address illegal immigration, and critics of the Republican effort call it impractical, immoral and inflammatory.
"These thoughtless and unnecessary proposals take our country in the wrong direction, away from inclusion and our other core American values," Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. "The citizenship clause is a bedrock principle of civil rights and part of what makes us all Americans. Never in our nation's history have we amended the Constitution to take away someone's rights, and we should not do so now."
Automatic citizenship is enshrined in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which was read on the House floor on Thursday. The provision, ratified in 1868, was drafted with freed slaves in mind.
Several state lawmakers operating under the group State Legislators for Legal Immigration met in Washington this week to discuss a legal challenge that would force the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether the 14th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees citizenship to children born in the U.S. to illegal residents.
The lawmakers want states to adopt a bill that would bestow state citizenship on people who meet the state's definition of a U.S. citizen and are state residents. They also want states to agree to a compact that defines who is eligible for U.S. citizenship.
The lawmakers say Congress must approve the compact but it does not require the president's signature.
The House legislation would amend Section 301 of the Immigration and Nationality Act to clarify those classes of individuals born in the United States who are nationals and citizens of the United States at birth. Technically, it would not overturn the 14th Amendment, which would require three-quarters of states to ratify a joint resolution of Congress.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.