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.
State lawmakers’ coalition: //www.statelegislatorsforlegalimmigration.com
Copy of U.S. Constitution: //www.archives.gov/
Read the model legislation unveiled Wednesday, Jan. 5.
Remarks by Michael Hethmon, a supporter of the birthright legislation and attorney for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, at the Press Conference where the draft model legislation was made public:
I want to thank Rep. Metcalfe, Senator Pearce and Rep. Terrill for asking me to participate in the State Legislators for Legal Immigration working group on 14th Amendment citizenship, whose activities are being reported to you today. As an advocate on legal aspects of immigration for the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the organized immigration reform movement in general, I would like to share why this collaboration has been among the most challenging and intellectually rewarding in my career.
Benjamin Franklin is said to have told an enquirer at the Constitutional Convention, who asked what system of government the Framers were creating, that it was to be “a republic, madam — if you can keep it.” The point is that there has never been a moment in our history that we have not been concerned as a people with the sustainability of the American experience. Citizenship, if seen as a bundle of legal rights and privileges, is the most valuable single asset for the vast majority of Americans. That is so in part because of the exceptional character of American citizenship, which is unique in human history.
Citizenship and nationality law and population policy are the two universal components of immigration policy. As a leading society in human and social development, the native-born American population stabilized at a sustainable level almost a generation ago. Our demographic momentum has since been driven by immigration. Yet immigration levels have been set not by national consensus, but through the lawless and destructive anarchy of illegal invasion and settlement.
Americans for the last century have assumed that their elected representatives, and not foreign interests, decided who should join our society as immigrants, and on what terms. The Supreme Court determined, late in the 19th century, that the children of legal immigrants granted domicile in our land were citizens under the 14th Amendment. During the great American immigration moratorium from the First World War until 1965, both legal and illegal immigration remained at healthy sustainable levels. But in 1965, chain migration became the law of the land, and the practical control of immigration policy shifted from the broad consensus of citizens to the nepotistic special interests of the most recent arrivals on our shores. With an exploding world population on a shrinking globe, demand to immigrate to America became unquenchable. And from an obscure and de facto bureaucratic practice, the automatic grant of citizenship to children born to illegal alien parents on U.S. soil has become a constitutional crisis and existential threat.
The national institutions that were intended to lead the nation in the plenary field of immigration, the Congress and the Supreme Court, have been dangerously passive in this field. The anger and frustration of the electorate, who recognize the Achilles heel that illegal immigration represents to our society and the future of our children, has become unavoidable at the state and local levels.
Given the narrower scope of state authority in the field of immigration, it was a great challenge to develop the models for state action being presented today. As journalists, you may have already been hearing from members of the immigration bar, and the globalists of various stripes, who claim that any change from existing practice is impossible. I would simply note that very many of those voices also are sympathetic to anti-majoritarian ideologies which hold that citizenship itself has become obsolete.
While, as will be explained, the two models on display focus on the relatively obscure legal status of state citizenship, they are necessary steps to restore the original sustainable view of national citizenship through birth. In my view, the grand strategy is to secure recognition that state and federal citizenship are founded on the same principles of allegiance and mutual consent, and to thereby build a momentum of advocacy that will, through the democratic process, oblige our Congress to ultimately act in the national interest.