Lawmakers in at least 14 states announced Tuesday they are working on legislation to deny U.S. citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants, although they weren't specific about how they plan to do it.
Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce said he and the lawmakers have a working draft of their model legislation and have consulted constitutional scholars to change the 14th Amendment and deny automatic citizenship.
"This is a battle of epic proportions," Pearce said Tuesday during a news conference at the Arizona Capitol. "We've allowed the hijacking of the 14th Amendment."
Pearce declined to say how the legislation will differ from similar measures that have been introduced in each two-year congressional session since 2005. None of them made it out of committee.
He and another Arizona lawmaker did argue that wording in the amendment that guarantees citizenship to people born in the U.S. who are "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country does not apply to the children of illegal immigrants because such families don't owe sole allegiance to the U.S.
Carlos Galindo-Elvira, vice president of Valle del Sol, a Phoenix group that provides social services to community members and advocates for immigrants, said the part of the amendment Pearce is contending clearly was meant for children of foreign diplomats who are born in the U.S.
Pearce's "interpretation is being used to qualify his argument to legitimize bullying babies," he said.
The efforts by Pearce and the other lawmakers come amid calls to change the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment. Supporters cite costs to taxpayers for services provided to illegal immigrants and their children.
Constitutional changes require approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress, an impossibility now because Democrats have the majority in both houses and most oppose such a measure. Even if Republicans gain power in November and legislation is passed, an amendment would still need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the founder of a national group of legislators critical of illegal immigration, said the 14th Amendment "greatly incentives foreign invaders to violate our border and our laws." He had a news conference Tuesday in Harrisburg, Pa., on the multistate endeavor.
The effort could run afoul of the language in the 14th Amendment and lead to a court battle over the constitutionality of the law. But Metcalfe said providing birthright citizenship to children of illegal immigrants is an "ongoing distortion and twisting" of the amendment.
Metcalfe's office said lawmakers in at least 12 other states besides Arizona and Pennsylvania said they were making their own announcements about working on the citizenship legislation. Those other states: Alabama, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.
Pearce was the main sponsor of a tough new Arizona law that would require police enforcing other laws to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the U.S. illegally. It was to go into effect this summer, but a judge put on hold key provisions pending the resolution of a legal challenge.
Pearce also was the chief sponsor of a 2007 state law targeting employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the 2010 law and who is championing the state's legal defense of it against a court challenge mounted by the U.S. Justice Department, was noncommittal when asked whether lawmakers should approve legislation on citizenship.
However, Brewer said she was "always concerned" by the possibility of involving the state in a court fight. "No one wants to be in court. No one wants to be fighting the federal government," she said.