Washington (AP) - A group of Republican state lawmakers said Wednesday they hope to trigger a Supreme Court review of the Constitution's 14th Amendment or force Congress to take action with legislation they've drafted targeting automatic citizenship granted to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.
The lawmakers said the legislative proposals they want states to adopt won't lead to deportations. They unveiled their proposals during a National Press Club news conference that occasionally turned raucous when protesters in the audience shouted criticisms and supporters of the lawmakers tried to outshout and remove the protesters.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe said the proposals are a "calculated, strategic step" to force the issue into the courts.
"We want to have our day in court," said Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh. "All we're asking for is for these bills to prompt the Supreme Court to re-evaluate what we believe is an erroneous interpretation of the 14th Amendment."
Or, possibly they will make Congress consider tackling the issue, Kavanagh said.
Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, called the efforts an assault on the Constitution.
The news conference coincided with the opening day of the 112th Congress, in which Republicans have control of the House and Democrats have a slimmer majority in the Senate than they had last session. Democrats failed to approve any immigration reform legislation last session while they controlled both chambers.
The citizenship proposals are an attempt by the lawmakers to avoid trying to alter the Constitution, which is more difficult. They are part of an attempt by some states to have a greater role in enforcing immigration laws, following the lead of Arizona, which passed a controversial law last year giving police greater powers to question people about their citizenship or legal status.
The lawmakers argued that eliminating automatic citizenship for children of illegal immigrants removes an incentive for people to come to the U.S. without permission. Kris Kobach, newly elected Kansas secretary of state and a Republican, said under the lawmakers' proposals "no one is deported."
Lawmakers portrayed their states as under siege of an "illegal alien invasion" and, when protestors criticized them, responded that they are standing up for victims of crime committed by illegal immigrants. They regularly referred to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants as "anchor babies," a term considered derogatory by some people.
South Carolina state Sen. Danny Verdin linked the efforts of the lawmakers to those who fought for slaves and their children to be recognized as citizens, which led to the 14th Amendment.
The lawmakers, members of State Legislators for Legal Immigration, are proposing two measures:
--A bill that would allow states to bestow state citizenship on their residents and U.S.-born citizens who meet the state's definition of a U.S. citizen. Under the draft bill, a person would have to be the child of at least one parent who owes no allegiance to a foreign sovereignty or is a child without citizenship or nationality in any foreign country. A legal permanent resident would be considered a person without allegiance to a foreign sovereignty, according to the draft proposal.
--An interstate compact that similarly defines who is a U.S. citizen. The agreement asks states to issue separate birth certificates for those who are U.S. citizens and those who are not. Interstate compacts are used frequently by states for numerous issues such as water rights agreements. They must be approved by Congress, but they do not require the president's signature to have the force of law.
Nicholas Farber, policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said a compact faces a tough road to becoming final because it must be approved by the state legislative bodies of two or more states and signed by the states' governors, then receive House and Senate approval.
"With the makeup of Congress now, that is a high hurdle," Farber said.
The proposals drew quick opposition from immigration advocates and civil rights and civil liberties groups. Saenz said the notion of state citizenship was completely rejected through the Civil War.
Critics said the proposals will require all citizens to show they are descendants of people who entered the country legally and punish babies for the behavior of their parents.
The state lawmakers said they don't know how many states would be willing to adopt their proposals. Metcalfe predicted 18 to 20, at least.