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Arizona’s next ugly battle: citizenship for immigrant children

The same state senator behind Arizona’s strict immigration laws is now pushing a troubling bill to ban birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.

By Raul A. Reyes / July 7, 2010

New York

As a kid, I was well acquainted with the grandeur of Arizona. Each year, during my family’s annual drive from southern California to my grandpa’s home in Texas, I would gaze out the car window at soaring desert mesas, distant mountaintops crowned with snow, and endless vistas punctuated by sagebrush and cacti. An Arizona sunset, I thought, was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

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Lately, it saddens me that the news from the Grand Canyon State is so ugly. In April, Gov. Jan Brewer signed the most stringent immigration law in the country. In May, the state banned ethnic studies in public schools and began investigating teachers with accents. Now the Arizona legislature may take aim at the children of illegal immigrants.

This fall, state Sen. Russell Pearce plans to introduce legislation that would end birthright citizenship for so-called “anchor babies.” Although the Fourteenth Amendment confers citizenship on anyone born in the US, Senator Pearce says that illegal aliens have “hijacked” the law. “There is an orchestrated effort by them to come here and have children to gain access to the great welfare state we’ve created," he told Time magazine.

Yet these kids are largely Americans. The Pew Center estimates that there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. Most of their children – 73 percent – are American-born. That’s 4 million kids, according to a 2009 Pew report. They are citizens, like you and me.

I take exception to the whole concept of “anchor babies.” It is based on the false notion that illegal immigrants have children in this country to serve as a legal “anchor” for the entire family. In fact, illegal aliens who have children here can still be deported. Elvira Arellano, who received national attention for seeking sanctuary in a Chicago church, was deported in 2007, despite having an American-born son.

Under Pearce’s proposal, Arizona would refuse to issue a birth certificate to any child without at least one parent who could prove legality. Not only is this impractical and unconstitutional, I find it abhorrent that anyone would punish children on account of their parents. Law enforcement should be more concerned with trafficking and drugs, rather than new parents and babies.

The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted in 1868 to ensure that states did not deny former slaves the full rights of citizenship. Its language is simple: “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.”