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Illegal immigration: Can states win fight against 'birthright citizenship'?

Several state lawmakers want to make 'birthright citizenship' – the guarantee that all children born in the US are citizens – the next front against illegal immigration. It could be a tough battle.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / January 7, 2011

Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas, seen here on Aug. 10, 2010, has said that birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants 'comes from a misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment.' Several state lawmakers are trying to force Congress to take up the issue.

Drew Angerer/AP/File

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Los Angeles

As Arizona's controversial illegal immigration law remains stuck in legal limbo, a group of lawmakers from five states has pledged to launch another offensive against illegal immigration that, legal experts say, could run afoul of the Constitution.

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Earlier this week, state legislators from Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina said they were beginning a push to have as many states as possible pass measures that to deny citizenship rights to children born in the United States to illegal immigrants.

Most legal experts agree that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees citizenship to any person born in the US, regardless of parentage. But these lawmakers seek to follow in the steps of the Arizona immigration law, which ignited a national conversation on illegal immigration even though it could be declared unconstitutional by the courts. Similarly, the lawmakers hope to create a public groundswell against "birthright citizenship," forcing Congress to act.

“We are here to send a very public message to Congress,” said Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) at a press conference Tuesday. “We want to bring an end to the illegal-alien invasion that is having such a negative impact on our states.”

Targeting birthright citizenship has clear economic and political appeal – "economic, since every state is facing severe budget shortfalls, [and] political, since birthplace citizenship does not require consent, and therefore does not demand complete, political allegiance to the US," says Catherine Wilson, an immigration specialist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

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