LOS ANGELES – Birthright citizenship is the right in which babies born in the United States, even to parents in the country illegally, automatically become American citizens.
Critics call them anchor babies, and say the laws should be changed to prevent automatic citizenship that could, in the end, reward illegal immigrants.
Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Trace Gallagher.
"By granting the child citizenship, that child then is able, down the road, as he becomes an adult, to legally make the parents citizens of this country as well," said Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga.
Now, a bill sponsored by Deal is gaining support in Congress. It would deny automatic citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants.
"The idea that somebody could come here, five minutes later give birth and have a brand new United States citizen is simply something that most people in their gut feel is wrong," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman at the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
"It would be just wrong for us to deny such a basic right to just this population," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA.
Critics of the plan also warn that denying birthright citizenship to illegal immigrants could result in a divided culture such as the one that was demonstrated so vividly in the recent wave of arsons and vandalism in France.
The 14th Amendment states, in part, that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the U.S." Backers of birthright policy say changing the way that clause is interpreted would be unconstitutional and un-American.
"It goes against a tradition of really integrating immigrants into our society in order to unify us as a nation, and what it actually does, it further marginalizes a whole community," Salas said.
Deal says supporters are missing the meaning of the phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof," which he argues excludes anyone in the United States in violation of the law — like illegal immigrants.
"If you look at the original debate of that amendment in the Congress, it was obviously not intended to give carte blanche birthright citizenship to anyone who happened to be born on American soil," Deal said.
Provisions to drop automatic citizenship are also part of several other immigration reform plans circulating on Capitol Hill, and the idea is gaining public support. A recent poll shows 49 percent of Americans oppose automatic citizenship for everyone born on U.S. soil with only 41 percent in favor.