State Lawmakers Seek Court Fight Over ‘Birthright Citizenship’

By Matt Cover | January 6, 2011 | 9:57 AM EST

( – The movement to prevent the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants from automatically becoming American citizens is gaining steam.

At the federal level, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would end automatic citizenship for the children of illegal aliens. And at the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday, a group of state lawmakers announced their intention to do the same thing.

The state lawmakers said they hope to spark a legal battle over the “misapplication” of the 14th Amendment, particularly the portion that reads: “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.”

The group State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) introduced both a model bill and a state compact that – if adopted – would most likely trigger a constitutional challenge.

Arizona State Rep. John Kavanagh (R) – an SLLI member – said the group’s goal is to legally eliminate birthright or automatic citizenship for anyone born in the U.S.A. “We want to have our day in court,” Kavanagh said at the press conference.

The model bill – to be introduced in a number of state legislatures in coming weeks -- says automatic citizenship applies only to children who have at least one parent who is either a U.S. citizen, national or legal immigrant.

“According to the 14th Amendment, the primary requirements for U.S. citizenship are dependent on total allegiance to America, not mere physical geography,” SLLI founder Daryl Metcalfe (R-Pa.) said in a press release Wednesday. “The purpose of this model legislation is to restore the original intent of the 14th Amendment, which is currently being misapplied and is encouraging illegal aliens to cross (the border) and cost American taxpayers $113 billion annually.”

Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor and Kansas secretary of state-elect, said the bill was written with a lawsuit in mind.

“The bill also anticipates that there will be litigation on this subject,” Kobach said at a press conference in Washington where the model bill was unveiled on Wednesday. “The bill sets up a very clear question…. What do the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ mean?”

State compacts, which are permitted under Article I of the Constitution, allow states to agree among themselves on matters of policy. Because they set policy for more than one state, state compacts must be approved by Congress.

The model state compact presented by SLLC would have each member state add a line item to its birth records indicating whether a newborn is a “natural born” citizen. It defines that term the same way the model bill does -- as someone born to a person who is either a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

“[The state compact] has no effect until Congress approves it, so it is a slightly different animal than the bill,” Kobach explained.

Kobach said the combination of birthright legislation and the state compact would accomplish three goals: “It restores the original meaning of the 14th Amendment; it reinvigorates the concept of state citizenship recognized in the United States Constitution; and it offers Congress the opportunity to exercise its responsibility – in response to the state compact – to uphold the Constitution of the United States and define the terms of the Constitution of the United States in accordance with its responsibilities.”

SLLI includes lawmakers from 40 states who have pledged to introduce either the bill or the compact and to push for passage in their respective states.