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In Arizona, a bid to block citizenship for illegal immigrants' 'anchor babies'

Under the 14th Amendment, babies born in the United States automatically are citizens – even if their parents are illegal immigrants. Lawmakers in Arizona and other states are challenging that.

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“Unauthorized immigrants comprise slightly more than 4 percent of the adult population of the US,” Pew reported last August. “But because they are relatively young and have high birthrates, their children make up a much larger share of both the newborn population (8 percent) and the child population (7 percent of those younger than age 18) in this country.”

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“People come here to have babies,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina said on Fox News last summer. “They come here to drop a child. It’s called ‘drop and leave.’ To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen. That shouldn’t be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.”

But closing what Vitter and Paul call a “loophole” in the Fourteenth Amendment – what lawmakers in Arizona and other states are trying to force – would not be easy. Amending the US Constitution never is, and immigration is a hard-fought political and social issue involving faith groups as well as a growing Hispanic minority.

Here’s what the 14 Amendment, adopted in 1868 under Reconstruction, says:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The key phrase here may be “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Backers of the proposed restriction in Arizona and elsewhere claim that illegal immigrants are citizens of other countries and therefore not subject to US jurisdiction.

Earlier Supreme Court case

If it made it to the US Supreme Court, it wouldn’t be the first time.

In a 6-to-2 decision in 1898, the high court upheld the citizenship of Wong Kim Ark, born to Chinese parents (who could not become citizens under the Chinese Exclusion Act, subsequently repealed in 1943) in San Francisco.

Democrats in Arizona were quick to criticize the latest move on immigration by their Republican colleagues.

“Instead of focusing on jobs, the economy, and a strong future for Arizona, [the backers of the law] want to get Arizona involved in another losing lawsuit,” state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said in a statement. “Republicans should try standing up for real immigration reform instead of another political battle that solves nothing and costs money.”

Could you pass a US citizenship test? Check your knowledge.

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