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Illegal immigrants represent 8 percent of U.S. births

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About one of every 13 children born in the United States in 2008 were offspring of illegal-immigrant parents — and became U.S. citizens automatically by being born on U.S. soil, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

That may be of special interest in Utah because of a now-infamous list of 1,300 alleged illegal immigrants that was recently compiled and distributed publicly by two rogue state workers. That list dealt almost exclusively with families that included illegal immigrant parents and U.S.-citizen children.

Of the 1,112 people on "the list" whose names clearly came from state databases, all lived in a home where a U.S. citizen also lives, according to state officials. Most households had applied for food, health or welfare assistance for the U.S.-citizen children there. Illegal immigrants do not qualify for such benefits.

The Pew Hispanic Center, using Census Bureau survey data, estimated that 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in America in 2008, or 8 percent, had illegal-immigrant parents.

It said only about 4 percent of the nation's adult population are illegal immigrants. "But because they are relatively young and have high birthrates, their children make up a larger share of both the newborn population (8 percent) and the child population (7 percent of those younger than age 18) in this country."

The report states that in total, illegal immigrant parents have an estimated 4 million U.S.-born children who are citizens, and 1.1 children born abroad before the families came to America. That means that four-fifths of the children of illegal immigrants are U.S. citizens.

The study comes after leading Republicans in Congress have in recent weeks joined a push by the right wing to amend the Constitution to stop "birthright citizenship."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, has said he supports holding hearings on the 14th Amendment right, although he emphasized that Washington's immigration focus should remain on border security.

Others who have questioned or challenged such automatic citizenship recently include Arizona's Sen. John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential nominee; Arizona's Sen. Jon Kyl, the Senate Republican whip; Alabama's Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a leading negotiator on immigration legislation.

"I'm not sure exactly what the drafters of the (14th) amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen," Sessions said recently.

Legal experts say repealing the citizenship right can be done only through a constitutional amendment. The most common method to amend it requires approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com