Immigration fight: Bill to end 'birthright citizenship' advances in Arizona

A Senate panel on Tuesday gave a nod to a set of bills that deny 'birthright citizenship' to children born to illegal immigrants in Arizona. Other measures to continue the state's illegal immigration crackdown are also moving ahead.

Jack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Immigrant parents march at the Arizona Capitol in support of birthright citizenship Monday, February 7.

Arizona lawmakers aren't finished yet in their push to make life more difficult for people living in the state illegally. Less than a year after passing a tough immigration law that prompted protests, boycotts, and a federal lawsuit, they are advancing an array of new measures to crack down even harder on illegal immigration – with some of the proposals just as likely to attract legal and civic resistance.

In a challenge to US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, a Senate panel in the Republican-controlled state legislature late Tuesday gave the green light to two companion bills that would deny automatic US citizenship, sometimes called "birthright citizenship," to children born to illegal immigrants.

Other measures that are moving ahead would make it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive, would require schools to ask for proof of legal status from students, and would force employers to comply with E-Verify, a federal program that screens worker eligibility. Lawmakers here also are considering whether hospital personnel should check if patients are in the country legally.

Could you pass a US citizenship test?

“If we’re going to stop this invasion – and it is an invasion – you’re going to have to stop rewarding people for breaking those laws,” Senate President Russell Pearce told the Senate Appropriations Committee considering his sweeping omnibus bill that includes the student and E-Verify measures.

State Democrats say the legislation takes time away from the work lawmakers should focus on: strengthening the economy and creating jobs for Arizonans.

Mr. Pearce, the force behind the state law (Senate Bill 1070) that gave local and state police more power to question people they suspect are in the country illegally, says he feels it’s his obligation “to protect the citizens of the state.”

Tuesday's action was the initial step in a lengthy process, and the birthright citizenship bills and the omnibus bill passed in committee still must get support from the full Senate and the House. Gov. Jan Brewer (R), an advocate of last year’s law that remains tied up in court, has yet to weigh in on these latest efforts to attack illegal immigration, but hundreds of Arizonans converged at the state Capitol to make their views known.

"I reject your policies, which I find rationally and morally insulting," Phoenix-area resident Brenda Rascon told legislators. "Do not undermine the Constitution."

Business leaders who had taken no stance on SB 1070 also spoke out against the citizenship measure, which would require at least one parent to be in the state legally for a child to be considered American.

“The concern is that this is going to put Arizona through another trial, and it’s going to hurt innocent business people” and keep conventions out of state, says Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. Congress, not the state legislature, is the proper venue to take up the citizenship question, Mr. Hamer says.

But the measure's chief sponsor, state Sen. Ron Gould, noted that proving citizenship in the state would be no more difficult that proving eligibility to vote.

Valerie Roller, GOP chairwoman of Legislative District 14, also spoke in favor of the citizenship reform. "We should never give away something as valuable as our American citizenship cheaply," she said.

Of the myriad bills aimed at illegal immigrants that are advancing out of committees, the citizenship legislation may face the most obstacles. Even some Republicans may be uncomfortable with the notion of inciting a constitutional legal challenge that could prove costly, says Jennifer Allen, leader of a Tucson human-rights group, Border Action Network.

Could you pass a US citizenship test?

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