The lead sponsor of Arizona’s tough immigration law passed in April said he will pursue a new law that would restrict children of illegal immigrants born in the United States from obtaining citizenship — and his opposition is taking notice.
“I intend to push for an Arizona bill that would refuse to accept or issue a birth certificate that recognizes citizenship to those born to illegal aliens, unless one parent is a citizen,” wrote Arizona Republican Sen. Russell Pearce in an e-mail to supporters in April. Pearce proposed similar bills restricting the practice in Arizona twice before, but both attempts were voted down in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Although the fresh attempt would not reach the Arizona Senate floor for months, opponents of Pearce’s policy said they are ready to fight it from the start and are not taking any chances.
“We will definitely challenge if it does get passed,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “It is clearly unconstitutional, discriminatory and it fuels this anti-immigrant agenda. That really is not what our state needs now,” she said.
Pearce, who has introduced more than 80 immigration bills to the Arizona House and Senate since 2005, reiterated his ambition to push a new state immigration bill last week in an interview with Time magazine. Referring to children born of illegal immigrants as “anchor babies,” he said that those in the country without legal status had “hijacked” the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants citizenship to those born within the borders of the United States.
Pearce has been a long-time critic of the modern interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. His website, RussellPearce.com, contains an entire section on the issue in which he makes the case for why the original authors of the amendment never would have extended the right to illegal immigrants.
“The United States did not limit immigration in 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified,” Pearce’s website reads. “Granting of automatic citizenship to children of illegal alien mothers is a recent and totally inadvertent and unforeseen result of the amendment and the Reconstructionist period in which [the Fourteenth Amendment] was ratified.”
But that’s a real stretch, legal experts said, and it will be difficult for drafters of a bill to write it in a way that does not run afoul of the Constitution.
Tucson immigration attorney John Messing said that although the proposal is still in the theoretical stages, he was skeptical that anyone could write a law like the one Pearse proposed that would not run into problems with the Fourteenth Amendment.
“As a general proposition any restriction on the eligibility for citizenship is governed by the Fourteenth Amendment and any restriction would appear to run counter to it,” he said, specifying that he would need to see a bill to offer a full analysis. “But it’s hard for me to imagine a proposal that wouldn’t create some kind of conflict.”
Ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War in 1868, the amendment reads, “All persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
While Pearce’s proposal is popular—58 percent of Americans support the idea according to a recent Rasmussen poll—he faces tough criticism from local policymakers. Democratic Arizona State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a fierce opponent to the immigration law passed in April, says Pearce is moving to draft a bill that is in direct violation of 1868 amendment.
“It’s blatantly unconstitutional,” said Sinema, who was a constitutional lawyer before her election to the Arizona House. “The Fourteenth Amendment soundly grants the right of citizenship to children born on American soil.”
Unlike Arizona’s most recent bill, AB1070, Sinema says Pearse’s new proposal won’t pass muster.
“There’s no way this would ever go into effect, and he knows it,” she said.