Lawmakers want to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants
PHOENIX -- Legislators in more than a dozen states across the nation are launching efforts to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants, with Arizona to be ground zero.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said Tuesday the failure of Congress to statutorily "clarify' the 14th Amendment which guarantees citizenship to those born in this country makes it necessary for states to take the lead.
Pearce, the author of two other Arizona laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration, said details have not yet been finalized. But he told Capitol Media Services one place Arizona can make its views heard would be to deny state-issued birth certificates -- the necessary precursor of proof of citizenship -- to children of those not in the country legally.
Lydia Guzman, president of Somos America, an immigrants rights group, said any such measure will wind up in court.
"Expect plenty of lawsuits. Expect plenty of legal fees in this,' she said. "This is nothing but a political ploy for political posturing.'
Pearce said he's not concerned.
"We'll be sued on no matter what you do by the Left who continue to refuse to accept the laws of this land or the rights of lawful, legal citizens of this country,' he said. In fact, Pearce said a legal challenge is exactly what he wants.
He said courts which have ruled in the past that citizenship can be a matter of the geography of birth have gotten it wrong. More to the point, Pearce said he believes a new lawsuit challenging an Arizona law on citizenship will have a different result.
"With this Supreme Court, we'll win that battle,' he said, saying that's why those who want citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants want to kill the legislation before it ever gets on the books. "They know I have a 5-4 states' rights court.'
Pearce said he also is weighing whether to require proof of legal presence in this country before a child can be enrolled in public schools at state expense. That, too, is a direct challenge to a different Supreme Court ruling which makes such a requirement illegal.
He said lawmakers in 13 states also unveiled their own plans on Tuesday to pursue legislation.
"You can't have laws that say you can't enter, you can't remain here in violation of federal law, but then provide inducements for you to break those laws,' Pearce said. Providing automatic U.S. citizenship to children born in this country to people who are not citizens, he said, is one such inducement.
Some details are lacking at this point.
One is whether a child would have to have both parents be U.S. citizens to get that right or whether a single parent would qualify. Pearce said, though, any change would be prospective only and not seek to revoke the citizenship of any child of illegal immigrants already born.
The effort comes on the heels of a Pew Hispanic Center study estimating that about one out of every 15 children in the United States was born to a family in which at least one parent is in this country illegally. While there are no specific state-by-state figures, extrapolation of other data suggests there are an estimated 170,000 "anchor babies' in Arizona.
Pearce said they're called that because once someone is a U.S. citizen he or she can sponsor other family members to come to this country legally. "It's become a culture of corruption,' he said.
Central to the legal fight is the constitutional amendment adopted just after the Civil War which says anyone born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen of both the U.S. and the state where the person lives. That was aimed to provide legal protection to blacks born as slaves.
Courts have since interpreted that to entitle someone to claim citizenship regardless of the legal status of one or both parents.
Pearce, however, said the judges ignored language requiring not just birth in the United States but also that the person is "subject to the jurisdiction' of this country. He said, for example, that's what kept Native Americans from voting for nearly a century after the amendment even though there was no question where they were born, as they were considered citizens of sovereign government. That same logic, he said, applies to people who are not citizens, whether here legally as visitors or otherwise.
But Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, has said foreigners are to U.S. jurisdiction: With the exception of diplomats, someone who commits a crime here can be prosecuted in Arizona courts.
Pearce said there are companies who offer "birthing packages' designed for pregnant women so they come to the United States to have their babies. Pressed for specifics, Pearce said two web sites where he saw that information "have been pulled down.'
Gov. Jan Brewer sidestepped repeated questions Tuesday about her views.
"I have not heard all the debate in regards to that,' she said, saying she wants to see the issue considered. Brewer said any comment she would have is "based on speculation' of exactly what would be in the measure.
"It's hypothetical,' the governor said. "I can't make an answer based on your questions.'
The governor acknowledged Arizona already is in court defending the legality of two other Pearce-crafted immigration laws: a 2007 measure allowing states to punish companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers, and this year's legislation designed to give police more power to question and detain suspected illegal immigrants.
"No one wants to be in court,' she said. "No one wants to be fighting with the federal government.'
Pearce said it is a fight worth fighting, no matter what the legal bills. He put the cost of illegal immigration on Arizona taxpayers at $2.7 billion a year "just to medicate, educate and incarcerate.'