Congress is considering a major shift in the long-standing policy of granting automatic citizenship to anyone born on American soil - including children of illegal aliens.
Under the "Citizenship Reform Act," automatic or "birthright citizenship" would be granted only to children of parents who are citizens, legal aliens, or permanent residents.
Children born to parents who are in this country illegally would not be granted citizenship, nor would they be eligible for benefits such as food stamps, medical care, housing and education.
Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, California Republican and the author of the bill, said the current system is a "slap in the face" to those who must wait to enter this country legally.
"What kind of signal [do] we send as a society to the newest Americans when we reward those who break the rules by granting citizenship to their children, while we deny the same privilege to the children of those who wait to immigrate legally?" he told the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and claims.
Supporters of the measure argue that restricting automatic citizenship to individuals who enter the country legally would help curb the surge in illegal aliens.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and subcommittee chairman, said, "Smugglers are bringing pregnant women into this country to give birth so that they can bestow upon their children American citizenship." In fact, some 16 percent of all births in California annually are to illegal alien mothers.
"Isn't citizenship devalued when it is given away as a result of criminal activity?" he asked.
But the Justice Department and other opponents of the measure argue that it violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The 14th Amendment, written to guarantee citizenship to slaves and their families after the Civil War, says, "All persons born . . …