- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — A proposal to change long-standing federal policy and deny citizenship to babies born to illegal aliens on U.S. soil ran aground this month in Congress, but it is sure to resurface and kindle bitter debate even if it fails to become law.

The Constitution’s 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, provides for “birthright citizenship.”

Section 1 of that amendment, drafted with freed slaves in mind, says: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

Some conservatives in Congress, as well as advocacy groups seeking to crack down on illegal immigration, say the amendment has been misapplied over the years and that it was never intended to grant citizenship automatically to babies of illegal aliens. They contend that federal legislation, rather than a difficult-to-achieve constitutional amendment, would be sufficient to end birthright citizenship.

With more than 70 co-sponsors, Rep. Nathan Deal, Georgia Republican, tried to include a revocation of birthright citizenship in an immigration bill passed by the House earlier this month. Republican House leaders did not let the proposal come to a vote.

“Most Americans feel it doesn’t make any sense for people to come into the country illegally, give birth and have a new U.S. citizen,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which backs Mr. Deal’s proposal. “But the advocates for illegal immigrants will make a fuss; they’ll claim you’re punishing the children, and I suspect the leadership doesn’t want to deal with that.”

Mr. Deal has said he will continue pushing the issue. He describes birthright citizenship as “a huge magnet” attracting illegal aliens.

He cited estimates — challenged by immigrant advocates — that roughly 10 percent of births in the United States, or close to 400,000 a year, are babies born to illegal aliens.

“It’s an issue that we are very concerned about,” said Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy organization that opposes any effort to revoke birthright citizenship.

“This was always seen in the past as some extreme, wacko proposal that never goes anywhere,” she said. “But these so-called wacko proposals are becoming more and more mainstream. It’s becoming more acceptable to have a discussion about it.”

Alvaro Huerta of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said his organization opposes Mr. Deal’s proposal and is girding for a battle for public opinion.

“This is red meat for conservatives,” he said. “We need to do a better job of educating people why it’s wrong.”

A survey last month by Rasmussen Reports, a nonpartisan public opinion research firm, showed that 49 percent of Americans favor ending birthright citizenship and 41 percent favor keeping it. The margin of error was four percentage points.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, a leading proponent of tougher measures to stop illegal immigration, thinks public opinion could shift further in favor of Mr. Deal’s measure.

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