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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.

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The next section is crystal clear: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” It seems pretty obvious that our post-civil war political leaders foresaw the possibility of states devising their own citizenship criteria, and specifically forbade it.

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The Supreme Court has consistently upheld birthright citizenship, going as far back as 1898, in US v. Wong Kim Ark. This landmark case recognized a US-born son of Chinese immigrants as an American citizen.

Pearce maintains that public opinion is on his side, and he’s right. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 58 percent of Americans don’t believe that children of illegal immigrants should receive citizenship. However, this is a constitutional guarantee, not an issue to be decided by demagoguery or popular sentiment. Besides, if anything “anchors” undocumented workers to the US, it is jobs. Wouldn’t it be a better use of Arizona’s resources to go after employers that hire illegal workers?

I agree that our immigration system is broken, but Pearce’s plan is not going to fix anything. Ending birthright citizenship would create a two-tiered system of Americans, which was exactly what the 14th Amendment sought to prevent. It would increase the number of people living and working in the shadows. Ironically, Pearce was one of the driving forces behind Arizona’s infamous “Papers, please” law. His new idea would deprive people of their papers – permanently.

All reasonable Americans ought to be concerned by Arizona’s proposed legislation, as similar measures are in the works in Texas and Oklahoma. I hope that President Obama will speak out against Pearce’s plan.

On his website, Russell Pearce notes that he is “For faith, family, and freedom above all else.” But is he really? He does not appear to have faith that the Constitution means what it plainly says. He is willing to divide families with restrictive immigration policies. He has compromised the freedom of Latinos by infringing on our civil rights.

Most troubling of all, his proposal to end birthright citizenship is a threat to one of the cornerstone principles of our democracy – that all men are created equal.

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.


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