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Russell Pearce, the Arizona state senator who wrote the state's controversial immigration measure, is calling for "a battle of epic proportions" to deny automatic citizenship to babies born in the United States.
He and 13 other state lawmakers are collecting support from legislators to challenge the current interpretation of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.
"We've allowed the hijacking of the 14th Amendment," the Mesa Republican said Tuesday during a news conference at the Arizona Capitol.
Pearce declined to say how the legislation will differ from similar measures that have been introduced in each two-year congressional session since 2005. None of them made it out of committee.
He and another Arizona lawmaker argue that wording in the amendment that guarantees citizenship to people born in the U.S. who are "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country does not apply to the children of illegal immigrants, because such families don't owe sole allegiance to the U.S.
The efforts by Pearce and the other lawmakers come amid calls to change the 14th Amendment. There are two ways to change the Constitution and both are difficult.
One requires approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress. The other, which has never been used, requires two-thirds of state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention. Either would need ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.
Paul Bender, a constitutional law professor at Arizona State University, said if the lawmakers focus their argument on the "subject to jurisdiction" wording, they won't get very far because the founders only meant it to apply to the children of foreign diplomats born in the U.S.
The 14th Amendment "could have easily have said you're a citizen if you owe your allegiance, but our Constitution doesn't say that," he said. "It says if you're born here, and you're not a diplomat's child, then you become a citizen, and that's the way its been for 100 years."
Carlos Galindo-Elvira, vice president of Valle del Sol, a Phoenix group that provides social services to community members and advocates for immigrants, said Pearce's interpretation of the amendment is an effort to "legitimize bullying babies."
Galindo-Elvira also questioned why lawmakers would focus on this issue rather than the country's economic woes and high unemployment rate. "All it does is split the country," he said.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the founder of a national group of legislators critical of illegal immigration, said the 14th Amendment "greatly incentives foreign invaders to violate our border and our laws." He had a news conference Tuesday in Harrisburg, Pa., on the multistate endeavor.
Providing birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants is an "ongoing distortion and twisting" of the amendment, Metcalfe said.
His office said lawmakers in at least 12 other states besides Arizona and Pennsylvania said they were making their own announcements about working on the citizenship legislation. Those other states: Alabama, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.
Pearce was the main sponsor of a tough new Arizona law that would require police enforcing other laws to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the U.S. illegally. It was to go into effect this summer, but a judge put on hold key provisions pending the resolution of a legal challenge.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.