Valeria Fernández, New America Media
In Arizona, state Senator. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa a longtime crusader against illegal immigration whose legislative efforts include the controversial SB 1070, announced the 14-state campaign at a press conference on Tuesday. He said he plans to introduce an Arizona bill revoking the right of children born in the United States to have automatic U.S. citizenship, regardless of their parents’ status, at the new legislative session that begins in January.
This is not the first time that Pearce has supported repealing “birthright citizenship,” which courts have ruled is guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. In 2008, when he was a state representative, he backed a bill by then-state Senator Karen Johnson to deny birth certificates to the children of undocumented immigrants.
That bill never got a hearing. But the passage of SB 1070, which has gained notoriety as the toughest anti-immigrant law in the country for its efforts to criminalize undocumented immigrants, has catapulted Pearce into the national spotlight and given momentum to his broader agenda.
Pearce wouldn’t detail specific provisions of his proposed bill, but did clarify that it wouldn’t be retroactive. If it were, two-thirds of the children born in Arizona would loose their citizenship.
The Arizona lawmaker is joining forces with Kansas attorney and law professor Kris Kobach, who was involved in the drafting of SB 1070 and is running for Kansas secretary of state on the GOP ticket. At least 41 other politicians across the country have signed onto the “State Legislators for Legal Immigration” coalition that plans to introduce similar legislation in at least in 14 states.
Pearce didn’t hide the fact that the coalition’s ultimate goal is to force the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the birthright-citizenship issue.
At the heart of Pearce’s argument is the original intent of the Citizenship Clause in the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868, after the Civil War.
According to the clause, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the States Wherein they reside.” The clause was designed in part to overrule the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857, which held that blacks could not be citizens of the United States.
But Pearce and his supporters argue that Senator Howard M. Jacob, the Michigan Republican who authored the Citizenship Clause, did not intend for it to apply to the children of undocumented immigrants.
At the Tuesday press conference, Pearce quoted Jacob as stating that the amendment wouldn’t grant citizenship to “persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.”
“What we have here is a misapplication,” Pearce declared. “We cannot ignore the damage that comes and the costs to the taxpayers.” The proponents’ main argument for challenging the birthright clause is that it would the costs for government programs and services that now are provided to the U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents.
At another press conference in Harrisburg, Penn., state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the founder of a national group of legislators critical of illegal immigration, said the 14th Amendment “greatly incentives foreign invaders to violate our border and our laws,” the Huffington Post reported.
In addition to Arizona and Pennsylvania, similar bills could also be introduced in Alabama, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.
Legal experts say that persuading the Supreme Court to reinterpret the birthright clause is a long shot, but would probably stand a better chance of success than attempting to amend the Constitution itself, since that requires a two-thirds vote of the states.
The concept behind the bill worries immigrant advocates.
“If you are denied a birth certificate, you’ll be in a no man land,” said Carlos Galindo-Elvira, vice president of philanthropic and community relations at Valle del Sol, a Phoenix nonprofit that provides mental health and other services to Latino families and children.
He said SB 1070 and a slew of other anti-immigration Arizona laws have already had a detrimental impact on health care access for U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. A new bill challenging the very concept of birthright citizenship could make things even worse, Galindo-Elvira said.
Local immigration activists were quick to criticize Pearce’s latest initiative and briefly interrupted the press conference in protest.
“This [new bill] does nothing to prevent or slow the flow of immigration,” declared Lydia Guzman, president of the Somos America coalition.