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Ariz. Lawmakers Don't Vote On Citizenship Bill

PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona lawmaker who proposed a challenge to automatic U.S. citizenship for children of illegal immigrants called off a scheduled vote on his measure Monday because he didn't have enough votes to get it out of committee.

But Republican Sen. Ron Gould of Lake Havasu City said he doesn't believe his bill is dead. Calling off a vote in committee doesn't prevent lawmakers from bringing up their proposals for a vote again.

Gould hopes the measure would prompt a court interpretation on an element of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to people born in the U.S. who are "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country. Supporters of the bill the amendment doesn't apply to the children of illegal immigrants because such families don't owe sole allegiance to the U.S.

The bill's sponsors say the goal is to force a court to rule that a child born in the U.S. is a citizen only if either parent is a U.S. citizen or a legal immigrant. Similar proposals have been introduced by lawmakers in Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and South Dakota. The South Dakota measure was rejected by a committee Monday.

An accompanying proposal is an interstate compact that defines who is a U.S. citizen and asks states to issue separate birth certificates for those who are U.S. citizens and those who are not. Such a compact would have to be approved by Congress, but they do not require the president's signature.

Opponents of the bill - and constitutional scholars - predict such state efforts will be declared unconstitutional. Opponents say the proposal is mean-spirited toward immigrants and won't make a dent in the state's immigration woes.

The Arizona Senate judiciary committee heard three hours of testimony from legal scholars, immigrant rights activists and business lobbyists on Monday.

"Even though this law may not affect me, it will affect the people around me," said Heidi Portugal, a 12-year-old who said she is a U.S. citizen but that her parents aren't.

Two Democratic lawmakers and one Republican legislator raised skeptical questions about the bill.

"I want to know what allegiance means," said Republican Rep. Adam Driggs of Phoenix, an attorney who has expertise in immigration law. Driggs, who described himself as a conservative Republican, expressed skepticism about how the proposal would be carried out by state government.

John Eastman, professor at Chapman University's law school in Orange, Calif., said automatic citizenship remains an open question for the U.S. Supreme Court. He believes this proposal would provide a chance for court to say that merely being born in the United States doesn't entitle a person citizenship. "The Supreme Court has never decided this issue," Eastman said.

Immigrant rights advocate Sal Reza, an opponent of the bill, said many children would be left in limbo if the measure were enacted and enforced. "Do the right thing: Become human beings," Reza told lawmakers.

Last year, lawmakers passed a bill to draw local police deeper into the fight against illegal immigration. The most controversial parts of that law were put on hold by a federal judge.

In previous years, the state has passed laws denying government benefits to illegal immigrants, denying bail to immigrants arrested for serious crimes, and creating the state crime of immigration smuggling.