PHOENIX -- Lawmakers in Arizona are proposing a bill that challenges automatic U.S. citizenship for children of illegal immigrants, their latest foray into the national debate over illegal immigration.
Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, who filed the Arizona plan Thursday, said the goal isn't to get every state in the nation to enact such a law, but rather to bring the dispute to the courts in hopes of reducing the costs associated with granting automatic citizenship.
"The result of that is they immediately acquire the right to full benefits, everything from welfare to cheese, which increases the costs to the states," Kavanagh said. "And beyond that, it's irresponsible and foolish to bestow citizenship based upon one's GPS location at birth."
The proposal comes after Arizona last year enacted one of the nation's toughest local laws targeting illegal immigration.
This is the second time this year that lawmakers in a state have targeted the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the U.S.
A similar proposal was filed last week in the Indiana General Assembly by Republican Rep. Eric Koch. Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who is leading the effort to get the measure considered across the country, said he hopes that lawmakers in 10 to 15 states will file similar proposals this year.
Supporters of the proposal argue that the wording of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to people born in the U.S. who are "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country, doesn't apply to the children of illegal immigrants because such families don't owe sole allegiance to the U.S.
Opponents say the proposal is mean-spirited toward immigrants, won't make a dent in the state's immigration woes, and will be declared unconstitutional by the courts.
The proposal aims to get a court to rule that a child born in the U.S. is a citizen only if either parent is a U.S. citizen or a legal immigrant.
An accompanying proposal is an interstate compact that defines who is a U.S. citizen and asks states to issue separate birth certificates for those who are U.S. citizens and those who are not. Such a compact would have to be approved by Congress, but they do not require the president's signature.
Democratic Rep. Daniel Patterson of Tucson, an opponent of the bill, said the measure will result in lawsuits and distract the state from focusing on improvements to its hard-hit economy. And, Patterson said, it won't do anything to repair Arizona's image.
"Bills like this that really aren't going to go anywhere," Patterson said, "they are really only going to end up in court and drive up litigation costs and give us more of a bad reputation as kind of a crazy state that I don't think that most of the people in this state agree with. It's just a waste of time."
Republican Sen. Ron Gould, who proposed a similar bill in the Senate, rejected criticism that the measure is mean-spirited or racist, as some opponents have charged.
"You can call me a racist all day. It's not a racist issue, it's a legal issue," Gould said. "I don't care whether they are from Scotland and they are here illegally or whether they are from Mexico and are here illegally. If they are illegal, they don't deserve to be here."
Gov. Jan Brewer, who rose to national prominence after signing Arizona's new immigration law last spring, hasn't taken a position on the 14th Amendment legislation.
"It's certainly an issue that we are following and something that deserves to be studied, but she is not offering a position yet," said Matt Benson, a spokesman for the Republican governor.
Some legal scholars have predicted that the proposal will be struck down by the courts.
Kevin Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Davis who specializes in immigration law, said the 14th Amendment is a settled area of law.
"I don't see how a state can curtail something guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It's very unlikely that that any effort to curtail birthright citizenship can prevail in the courts," Johnson said.
Republican Sen. John McComish of Phoenix voiced reservations about the bill, saying Arizona has spent enough time and energy trying to confront its immigration woes.
Last year, lawmakers passed a bill to draw local police deeper into the fight against illegal immigration. The most controversial parts of that law were put on hold by a federal judge. In previous years, the state has passed laws denying government benefits to illegal immigrants, denying bail to immigrants arrested for serious crimes, and creating the state crime of immigration smuggling.
"There is some evidence that our preoccupation with these issues has hurt our tourism industry in particular," McComish said.