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Latino community reacts to efforts against birthright citizenship

By Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
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Latinos targeted, again?
  • A group of state legislators say the 14th Amendment has been misapplied
  • They want to interpret it to mean that children of unauthorized immigrants can't be citizens
  • Many Latinos say they see it as a part of anti-immigrant politics

(CNN) -- Alejandro Lopez, the son of Mexican immigrants who was born and grew up in Texas, says he's very concerned about the new movement to change the interpretation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"I feel it's a waste of time, money, and it just doesn't make any sense," Lopez said.

A group of state legislators opposed to illegal immigration is proposing a legislative "fix" that would prevent children of illegal immigrants from being citizens.

The coalition calls itself State Legislators for Legal Migration and the group says it represents 40 states. Members say the 14th Amendment has been wrongly applied to so-called "anchor babies," or children of undocumented immigrants.

Immigration foes target baby citizens

Legislators supporting this initiative say they're not trying to change the Constitution. They would instead pass legislation that interprets the 14th Amendment in a way that excludes children of unauthorized immigrants from claiming birthright citizenship. They also proposed a state compact that would create two kinds of birth certificates: one for babies of legal citizens and another for children of parents with an unauthorized status.

But Lopez, a 44-year-old former farm worker, says the movement "is really targeted against Latinos," much like recent immigration initiatives such as Arizona law SB1070.

"We have to think about separating families and now we have this that is going to be going on," he said.

Across the nation, many Hispanic Americans say children should not be punished for the actions of their parents.

"I don't think that's right. If they're born here, I think they should be considered American," said Yvonne Vega, who lives in New York.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 70% of children of undocumented immigrants are U.S. citizens by birth. And the number of children with at least one parent with unauthorized status grew from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008.

Maria Duarte, a 23-year-old graduate student at Georgia State University, says those spearheading the movement are alienating the Latino voting bloc.

"As a taxpayer, as a Latino voter, and as a daughter of a naturalized citizen, I think they're just playing political gamesmanship. It's unrealistic, it's unpractical, I think it's a waste of time and money," said the Chicago native, whose parents emigrated from Durango, Mexico.

Jerry Gonzalez, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, a Hispanic advocacy group, said the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment has been firmly established in multiple Supreme Court cases.

"It's unambiguous: any person born on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen, period. What part of that don't you understand?" Gonzalez said. "It's in black and white in the constitution and the 14th Amendment, so why are we looking and working towards interpreting that into something that it's not?"

Gonzalez also says that those spearheading the movement are politically motivated.

"Here we have anti-immigrant politicians using the Constitution, going to extreme measures to alter the Constitution and the meaning of the Constitution to benefit their short-term political gains," Gonzalez said.

An estimated 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in the United States in 2008 were the offspring of unauthorized immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center, which came to this conclusion after analyzing the most recent Census Bureau data. Based on those statistics, the Center estimates that 7% of those younger than age 18 in this country are the children of unauthorized immigrants.