EDITOR'S NOTE: Arizona politicians introduced bills this week to deny citizenship to infants born on U.S. soil to undocumented parents. A constitutional battle is brewing.
PHOENIX, Ariz.— A baby born in Arizona to two undocumented parents would have a birth certificate that indicates he is not a U.S. citizen under new legislation introduced in Arizona’s State Capitol on Thursday.
The bills (identical in House and Senate versions, HB 2561/SB 1308 and HB 2562/SB1309) will certainly be challenged in federal court and are already steering a polarizing debate in a state known across the nation as a laboratory for anti-illegal-immigrant policies.
The bills introduced in the State Senate by Ron Gould and in the House by John Kavanagh, both Republicans, were crafted with the help of Kansas attorney Kris Kobach, recently elected Kansas Secretary of State. He also helped draft SB 1070, the law making it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant.
Bills HB 2561/SB 1308 would only affect children born after its enactment. They would define what it means to be a U.S. citizen under Arizona law by requiring that at least one parent be an American citizen or legal permanent U.S. resident and is "subject to the jurisdiction" of the U.S. law.
That choice of words is significant. "Subject to the jurisdiction" echoes the language of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that proponents of the Arizona legislation and similar bills in other states hope to challenge. The historic interpretation of that phrasing is that babies born on U.S. soil are eligible for citizenship.
But the authors of the Arizona bills contend that undocumented immigrants are not "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country, so their children cannot automatically become citizens.
In addition, HB 2562/SB1309 would require Arizona to generate separate birth certificates for children designated as Arizona citizens under the other law and those who are not citizens. Further, this legislation instructs the state to ask Congress to allow Arizona to forge agreements with other states recognizing each other’s citizenship birth certificates.
“It’s an absurd policy to grant citizenship based on GPS location at the time of birth, particularly when we are rewarding people with citizenship like a dog price, many who come in the back door,” said Kavanagh.
The legislators' goal is not to sanction children but to push for a reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court, he said. At least 14 other states could be introducing similar legislation.
The 14th Amendment states, “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.” It was ratified in 1868 and intended to make sure that children of freed slaves were granted U.S. citizenship.
Pro-immigrant activists in Arizona held a number of press conferences to denounce the bill, stating it would create a system of apartheid in the state, making these children second-class citizens.
“This is an attempt to scare people and confuse them,” said Lydia Guzmán, president of Somos America, a pro-immigrant rights coalition. She noted that this is part of a strategy to get people in the state to self-deport.
Rosie Villegas, director of Voces por la Vida, an anti-abortion group working with immigrant women, said the goal of the legislation is to “deport babies,” and it may cost lives.
Many women may decide to go without health services or get an abortion because of this, said Villegas, who has encountered several cases of women that made that decision in the past out of fear.
“A thing that really surprises me is how can we say that we are pro-life when we are promoting bills that will make that many women won’t have their children,” she said in reference to one of the legislation's supporters, State Sen. Russell Pearce, who supports an anti-abortion agenda.
Proponents of the legislation say the state would save millions if the laws on birthright citizenship were to change by not having to spend money on education and social services for these children. This would also be a deterrent for undocumented immigrants to come in the future.
“I don’t know why are they saying that children are costing the economy. I pay my house taxes, my food. We are always paying,“ said Bertha, an undocumented mother. “This is just creating a climate of hate towards Latinos.
The real costs that are affecting Arizona are the number of lawsuits related to anti-illegal immigration approved in the state like SB 1070, said activist Salvador Reza from the PUENTE movement.
“This divisive legislation is appalling and shameful,” said Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network’s in a press release.
“Our legislature already dragged our state’s name through the mud with SB 1070 and by driving our economy and services into the ground. They need to stop with these divisive, counter-productive and uncivil attacks on Arizonans and our nation as a whole.”
Phoenix civil rights attorney Steve Montoya said the legislation is doomed to failure and won’t likely be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said the language of the 14th Amendment clearly applies to the children of undocumented immigrants.
“It’s a loser of a case,” Montoya said. “Moreover, the taxpayers of Arizona don’t have the money to fight this lawsuit. We need to pay our teachers, we need to pay our firefighters and our policemen and not pay lawyers to fight this law.”
Kavanagh said that if the Supreme Court doesn’t take the case, they’ll push for Congress to legislate on the issue.
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