AP -- U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, a Republican candidate for governor of Georgia, has proposed changing the long-standing federal policy that automatically grants citizenship to any baby born on U.S. soil, a move opposed by immigrant rights advocates.
Supporters of Deal's proposal say "birthright citizenship" encourages illegal immigration and makes enforcement of immigration laws more difficult. Opponents say the proposed law wouldn't solve the illegal immigration problem and goes against this country's traditions of welcoming immigrants.
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.
Deal and his supporters say the 14th Amendment wording was never meant to automatically give citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants.
"This is a sensible, overdue measure that closes a clause that was never meant to be a loophole," said Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which seeks tighter immigration restrictions.
Under Deal's proposal, babies born in the U.S. would automatically have citizenship only if at least one of their parents is a U.S. citizen or national, a legal permanent resident of the U.S., or actively serving in the U.S. military.
Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the Immigrants Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said the proposed law "is not cognizant with the American spirit."
"We would stand in strong opposition to this bill as it's in fundamental contradiction to our nation's long history of welcoming immigrants and bestowing inalienable rights" on all people born here, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, she said.
Supporters of the bill say automatic citizenship provides an incentive for women to risk coming to the country illegally. They call U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants "anchor babies" because, when they become adults, the children can sponsor their parents for legal permanent residency.
"Coming into the country for the express purpose of having a child in order to anchor that child and yourself is, in effect, gaming the system," Dane said.
Lisa Navarrete, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, said the proposed law wouldn't stem illegal immigration and would make the problem worse because not only would illegal immigrants be undocumented, their American-born children would be too.
"The worst part of it is you end up with potentially millions of children who are stateless, who were born here and have no ties to any other country, yet they're not considered citizens or part of the United States," she said.
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that favors restricting immigration, said the policy of granting automatic citizenship to people born here is "out of sync with the modern world." He and Deal said that the U.S. is one of the few wealthy industrialized nations that still allows birthright citizenship.
Deal, who has submitted his bill to the House Judiciary Committee, said he's not optimistic about it becoming law this year unless it is tacked onto another bill.
"I think the current makeup of the Congress is such that this will never get a hearing and will never be an issue that we get a chance to vote on," he said. "But I think it's important to keep the issues that are part of the immigration problem alive."