The American Bar Association passed a resolution Tuesday urging the U.S. Congress to reject any changes to the Constitution that would eliminate automatic citizenship for anyone born in the United States.
About 400 members of the attorneys association, which is holding its annual meeting in Toronto, passed the resolution in a voice vote.
Some Republican lawmakers have called for legislation to repeal birthright citizenship and have proposed a constitutional amendment.
Outgoing American Bar Association President Stephen Zack said in an interview that racism is underlying the call to change the constitution. Zack, the first ABA president of Hispanic origin, said it was an important statement by the American Bar Association that the U.S. Constitution must be respected.
"This is something that should be avoided at all costs," Zack said. "Certain issues are not really about what the words are about, but what the underlying concerns are about."
The ABA debated the issue last week ahead of Tuesday's vote.
John Eastman, a conservative law professor at Chapman University in Orange, California, argued that it's an open question whether the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment allows for citizenship for anyone born in the U.S. and said it's time for the U.S. Congress to clarify the issue.
Eastman challenged a claim before the Supreme Court that Yaser Esam Hamdi, who was seized by U.S. troops on the Afghanistan battlefield in 2001, was a citizen because he was born in Louisiana while his Saudi parents were in the U.S. on a temporary work visa.
Eastman called it odd that a man who had little connection to the U.S. could be considered a U.S. citizen. The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Hamdi had the right to use U.S. courts to challenge his detention.
Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is based in Los Angeles, said the Latino community is most at issue in discussions about citizenship by birth and said it's hard not to see that the reinvigorated debate is really about opposition to demographic changes.
Saenz said the issue is closely tied to the efforts by some states, such as Arizona, to limit immigration.