U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants are not the same as those born to legal permanent residents or citizens, an area Georgia lawmaker says.
"They are not the same and should not be treated the same," said U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., who is a co-sponsor of the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009. "I don't think it's right, I think it's unfair to our citizens and our permanent legal residents who have come to this country the right way."
The U.S. Constitution grants citizenship to anyone born in America, no matter if the child's parents are citizens or illegal residents. But some citizens and lawmakers across the nation, including Georgia, say that provision should be reviewed if not repealed.
"I believe only individuals whose parents were legally in the United States should be given the privilege of American citizenship," U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., wrote in an e-mail.
Some who work with the Hispanic community, the group with the largest share of illegal immigrants, say the issue should go beyond politics.
"It's a way to punish and penalize the immigrant, and the way they do it is by punishing their children," said Dr. Pablo Perez, an internal medicine specialist and member of the Latin American Community Alliance in Dalton, Ga.
"It's a discriminatory and inhumane way to treat defenseless children who deserve all the benefits that come with being born in U.S. soil," Perez said.
The Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009 would only grant birthright citizenship for children with at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident or an alien serving in the military.
Similar bills have been introduced at least since the 1990s and by former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal since at least 2005.
Some lawmakers say the bill is not about changing the Constitution, but about clarifying the interpretation of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment.
Robert Blitt, associate professor of law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, said the amendment had a specific intention.
"The drafters of the 14th Amendment were really talking about preventing citizenship to people that had allegiance elsewhere, (like) diplomats or people who were bound by other law, like Native Americans or enemy aliens," Blitt said.
And reinterpreting or amending the Constitution can lead to many issues, including human rights, he said.
"What kind of paperwork and bureaucratic process are you going to force people and families to go through in documenting or proving to whatever satisfactory level is set?" he asked.
There's also "a possibility of putting children who end up here and know nothing but the experience of living here with the prospect of having to be sent to (somewhere) that they have never been to or know nothing about. It's very daunting," he said.
Some opposed to birthright citizenship say illegal immigrants deliberately bear "anchor babies" so their parents can eventually legalize their status.
"Automatic birthright citizenship serves as a magnet to illegal immigration and opens the door to billions of U.S. tax dollars in social services going to illegal immigration," wrote U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga.
A U.S. citizen can only petition for a parent who lives abroad after reaching adulthood, according to local immigration attorney Terry Olsen. But parents who entered the country illegally will not be able to gain authorization to live in the United States, he said.
Gingrey doesn't think the Birthright bill has a chance to pass this year, but he said that, because of the recession and high unemployment rates, "the time is getting nearer in which we will deal with it," he said.
The United States is not the only country grappling with this issue. Israel moved Sunday to deport the children of hundreds of migrant workers. Under Israeli law, the children are not automatically granted residency status.