ATLANTA (AP) — A key Georgia lawmaker said Wednesday the state should consider legislation that could keep the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States from being granted automatic citizenship.
State Sen. Jack Murphy, co-chair of a legislative committee on immigration, was one of a group of state legislators from around the country who met in Washington on Wednesday to discuss a plan to challenge automatic citizenship for infants born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants.
"The anchor baby loophole has grown to such large proportions that our state and our nation can no longer afford to ignore it," Murphy, a Republican from Cumming, said in a statement. "Members of our committee must begin to look at legislation that will close these loopholes in Georgia and protect our citizens."
Seen for years as a fringe issue, challenging automatic citizenship has recently gained momentum among GOP lawmakers at the state and national levels. With conservatives gaining seats in November in many statehouses around the country, tough illegal immigration measures are expected to be introduced as state legislatures convene this year.
The term "anchor baby" refers to children born in the U.S. to at least one illegal immigrant parent. Immigrant rights and civil liberties groups say the term is offensive and have blasted the state legislators' plan. Such children don't provide their parents immunity from deportation, but once they turn 21 they can petition for their parents to receive green cards.
"We do hope that the Georgia lawmakers would stand up and reject this blatantly unconstitutional and discriminatory attempt because it clearly subverts the Constitution and would basically create a caste system," said Azadeh Shahshahani of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
The lawmakers who met in Washington are part of a group called State Legislators for Legal Immigration, founded by Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl D. Metcalfe. The group's website said those in attendance Wednesday included state legislators from Arizona, South Carolina and Oklahoma.
The lawmakers said their plan would not lead to the deportation of children born to illegal immigrants in the U.S. They said their ambition is to get the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether the 14th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees citizenship to such children.
The lawmakers want states to adopt a bill that would bestow state citizenship on people who meet the state's definition of a U.S. citizen and are state residents. They also want states to agree to a compact that defines who is eligible for U.S. citizenship.
The lawmakers say Congress must approve the compact but it does not require the president's signature.
Automatic citizenship is enshrined in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which 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." That provision, ratified in 1868, was drafted with freed slaves in mind.
Challengers say the 14th Amendment wording was never meant to automatically confer citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants.
As a member of Congress, Georgia Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, who takes office Monday, was an early and repeated sponsor of legislation that would deny automatic citizenship to the children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants.