About one out of every 15 children in the United States was born to a family where at least one parent is in this country illegally, according to a new report Wednesday.
And four out of five of those 5.1 million children -- including 340,000 born in just 2008 -- are citizens because they were born in the United States, the Pew Hispanic Center concluded. That, according to some, makes them ``anchor babies'' for their illegal parents.
The figures, which the organization calculated based on 2009 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, are the best estimates to date of the scope of the issue which has resulted in calls to amend the U.S. Constitution to deny automatic citizenship to children solely by virtue of their birth within this country.
That percentage of children of illegal immigrant may be increasing.
The overall figure is about 6.8 percent of all children 17 and younger who have at least one illegal immigrant parent. But Pew Hispanic figures that 7.9 percent of all births during 2008 -- that 340,000 figure -- were offspring of "unauthorized'' immigrants.
Researchers peg the number of illegal immigrants in the United States at something slightly in excess of 4 percent of the total population.
"But because they are relatively young and have high birth rates, their children make up a much larger share of the newborn population and the child population in this country,'' the report states.
The report does not say how many of those 5.1 million children of illegal immigrants are in Arizona.
But Jeff Passel, the senior demographer at Pew Hispanic Center, pointed to an earlier study which concluded that Arizona has about 4.2 percent of the total illegal immigrants in the entire country.
Using that as a rough estimate, that translates to more than 214,000 children from birth through age 17 in the state where at least one parent is not here legally. And, based on the Pew figures nationwide, about 170,000 of these would be considered "anchor babies'' born in this country.
That also tracks with estimates in previous Pew reports which show that up to 110,000 children in Arizona public schools were born in this country into families where one or both parents are undocumented, with possibly 65,000 more school children who are themselves illegal immigrants.
The numbers will figure in the debate over the future of the 14th Amendment.
It states that children born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of both this country and the state where they reside. Courts have interpreted that to entitle citizenship to those born in the United States regardless of whether one or both parents had no legal right to be here.
Some foes, including Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, argue those rulings are flawed.
He noted that the amendment makes its provisions conditional on the children being "subject to the jurisdiction'' of this country. Pearce said courts, citing that language, concluded for years that did not entitle Native Americans to citizenship.
"There's no doubt where they were born,'' he said.
It was only after Congress specifically altered the law regarding citizenship for Indians that the situation changed.
Pearce is weighing whether to have Arizona bring a new challenge to those court rulings.
That would take the form of a state law denying birth certificates to children born in Arizona unless they could show at least one parent is in this country legally. That likely would provoke a lawsuit.
But Pearce said a simpler course would be to have the issue handled at the federal level.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is pushing to amend the Constitution to spell out that mere birth within U.S. borders does not entitle someone to citizenship. That process, though, is cumbersome, requiring either a constitutional convention or ratification of any change approved by two-thirds of the U.S. House and Senate by three-fourths of all state legislatures.
Pearce, however, said that's not necessary.
"Congress could fix it tomorrow,'' he said. "All it needs is clarification.''
He pointed out that the 14th Amendment, which also deals with issues of voting rights and who can hold office, also spells out that Congress "shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.''
"So they put it in there in case there was some abuse, or something misunderstood,'' Pearce said.
Applicable language of 14th Amendment
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.