TAKING ON ‘ANCHOR BABIES’….Slowly but surely, the conservative drive to deny citizenship to babies born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents is generating widespread media attention. Whereas the proposal was initially fascinating only to conservative news outlets, now even the AP is covering the story.

With more than 70 co-sponsors, Georgia Republican Rep. Nathan Deal tried to include a revocation of birthright citizenship in an immigration bill passed by the House in mid-December. GOP House leaders did not let the proposal come to a vote.

“Most Americans feel it doesn’t make any sense for people to come into the country illegally, give birth and have a new U.S. citizen,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which backs Deal’s proposal. “But the advocates for illegal immigrants will make a fuss; they’ll claim you’re punishing the children, and I suspect the leadership doesn’t want to deal with that.”

At least as far as political analysis goes, this sounds about right. GOP leaders saw no upside to holding a vote on this, but the fact that 77 House Republicans — about a third of the House GOP caucus — were willing to put their names on the idea suggests ending “birthright citizenship” is a measure that’s catching on in conservative circles.

In a practical sense, this fight over what some on the right call “anchor babies” seems like a lost cause. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution says that those “born?in the United States” are “citizens of the United States.” For that matter, the Supreme Court ruled in 1898 that a baby born in San Francisco to Chinese immigrants was legally a U.S. citizen, even though federal law at the time denied citizenship to people from China. The court said birth in the United States constituted “a sufficient and complete right to citizenship.” House Republicans may think a provision in an immigration bill can get around all of this, but I’m not sure what they’re basing their confidence on.

I’m also intrigued by the underlying point advocates for ending birthright citizenship are making with their proposal. Under existing law, children of illegal immigrants can sponsor their parents for legal permanent residency once they become adults. For lawmakers like Tom Tancredo, this means couples have an incentive to get into the U.S. illegally in order to have a baby, who can then help them establish residency nearly two decades later.

Does anyone know how often this actually happens? I can appreciate long-term thinking, but realistically, how many families are sneaking into the country to give birth in 2005 as part of a residency plan for 2023?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.