WASHINGTON— In a move certain to escalate the legal tug of war over illegal immigration, state lawmakers from across the country announced Wednesday that they were launching a united effort to prevent the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to all children born in the United States, from applying to children of undocumented immigrants.
State lawmakers from Arizona, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Georgia and other states said they were taking aim at birthright citizenship and seeking to return the interpretation of the 14th Amendment to what they described as the original intent of its creators.
Several state legislatures are expected to introduce bills within weeks that would set the groundwork for such a reinterpretation. Proponents, almost all of whom are Republican, said their strategy is explicitly designed to draw legal challenges and to have the Supreme Court ultimately decide whether the 14th Amendment should apply only to children with at least one parent who is a permanent resident or a citizen.
Civil rights groups denounced the move and said it was motivated by thinly disguised racism against Hispanic immigrants. They also said that Supreme Court precedents had already made clear for more than a century that the 14th Amendment applied to all children born in the United States, regardless of whether their parents were legal immigrants.
About 340,000 children were born in the United States to undocumented immigrants in 2008, according to a study released in August by the Pew Hispanic Center. Thousands of children born to tourists and foreign students could also be denied citizenship if the 14th Amendment were reinterpreted.
The move is the latest example of states testing the boundaries of federal control over immigration law. Proponents said they were not usurping control from the federal government but acting in self-defense against what one termed an "illegal alien invasion."
"The federal government's inability to protect our borders has turned every state into a border state," said Republican Oklahoma state Rep. Randy Terrill.