PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — An attempt to challenge automatic U.S. citizenship for children born in the country of illegal immigrants was rejected Monday by a South Dakota legislative panel.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 8-5 to kill the bill after opponents said it attempted to solve the problem the wrong way and would violate rights guaranteed by the South Dakota Constitution.
The bill called for South Dakota to join a compact with other states in an attempt to require that a child born in the U.S. qualify as a citizen only if at least one parent is a U.S. citizen or a legal immigrant. States in the compact would issue different birth certificates for those who are citizens and those who are not, but such compacts would have to be approved by Congress.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls, said the bill was intended to prompt Congress to propose a change in the 14th Amendment, which now guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the country. He said Congress could propose a constitutional amendment preventing citizenship for any baby without at least one parent who is a citizen or legal immigrant.
Steele said many people enter the U.S. illegally to give birth so their babies will be citizens.
"Our system is being abused, and this state compact is a method to correct this abuse," Steele said.
However, lawyers said provisions in the state Constitution guarantee equal treatment for citizens and resident aliens and prohibit granting rights only to certain classes of people.
Tom Barnett, executive director of the State Bar of South Dakota, said Steele's bill would be unconstitutional, but the Legislature could approve a resolution urging Congress to propose a constitutional amendment on citizenship.
Sister Myra Remily, of Aberdeen, representing the Presentation Sisters, said the organization of nuns opposes the bill because it would create a class of people with fewer rights than others. Children of illegal immigrants would belong to no country and would be punished because of their parents' actions, she said.
"Remember the innocent children," Remily said.
Sam Ellingson, program coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that all children born in the U.S. are citizens regardless of their parents' status. A state legislature cannot decide which people are citizens, she said.
Steele said South Dakota needs to deal with the issue of illegal immigrants because they can cause expensive problems. One illegal immigrant convicted of murder has been sentenced to life in prison, which could cost the state up to $750,000 if he lives 50 years behind bars, he said.
Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, said his wife is a legal immigrant and he supports people who enter the U.S. legally. However, the Legislature should not support illegal immigrants, he said.
"It is not my job under the Constitution to aid and abet these people," Nelson said.Tags: