by Chris Griffin
Arizona has fallen on rough times recently and we have a lot of work to do to get past it all. In the wake of the tragic shooting in Tucson many have expressed concern about the course Arizona is on, and a need to head in a new direction. These concerns that people were feeling is an expression of the common aspirations and frustrations that most people share in Arizona.
While these feelings may have been brought more out into the open following the shooting in Tucson, they are feelings that go way beyond that tragic event. Anger, frustration, anxiety and disappointment are both real and at a high point in Arizona, and most residents are ready to move in a new direction.
However, some politicians in Arizona did not get the memo; or rather they completely ignored it. Instead of answering our calls for a more humane, civil and respectful discourse in Arizona, various politicians in Arizona have decided to fan the flames of hate and anger – proposing not one, but four Bills (House Bill 2561, House Bill 2562, Senate Bill 1309, and Senate Bill 1308) meant to be an attack on the 14th Amendment and children born to non-citizen parents. Specifically these bills target the first clause of the 14th Amendment, which states, “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.”
With these Bills, politicians in Arizona and potentially some other states are attempting to use state-level lawmaking as a platform for backhanded political activism. Rather than conducting the duties they were elected for, they want to join white nationalists, anti-immigrant groups like Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in an effort to change the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
What they hope to change is a common sense notion of birthright citizenship that has existed for over a century with a previous Supreme Court decision, United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898).
In the case of Arizona, politicians like State Senator Russell Pearce (currently the target of a recall effort sponsored by several groups in Arizona) have already stated publicly that this law is written for the Supreme Court. Knowing that the law is likely to be ruled unconstitutional, Pearce and others, with the support and guidance of FAIR and CIS, are hoping that this law will make it all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge that long standing common sense interpretation we have today. In fact, Pearce is arrogant enough to believe that this is a virtual guarantee, stating also that he predicts a 5-4 victory in the Supreme Court (measuring simply along ideological lines, not Constitutional principles).
The reality, however, is that this law will likely be a complete waste of time and will eventually join other bad laws in the landfill of ignorance and idiocy. According to a recent article in the Arizona Republic for January 27, 2011, previous attempts to pass a similar law have completely failed.
In 2007, an initiative called the Birthright Citizenship Alignment Act that would have required hospitals to check the citizenship of the parents of newborns failed to make the ballot. In 2008, former state Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, proposed asking voters to change the way the state issues birth certificates. Birth certificates would have still been given to children of illegal immigrants, but the certificates would have stated “that the child was born to parents who were not in this country legally and that the child is not eligible for benefits that require United States citizenship.”
Pearce, a state representative at the time, was one of the sponsors. The bill was never given a committee hearing.
As the article shows, those previous attempts didn’t even come close to passing. However, this does not necessarily mean that a Bill challenging birthright citizenship would not have more success in today’s political climate. With backdoor politicking and secret deals being struck all the time, especially in a State like Arizona, it would seem that even a bill such as this one is not out of the realm of possibility.
So let’s imagine this Bill does get passed in Arizona. What will follow are immediate lawsuits challenging the Constitutionality of these laws. And given historical interpretations and precedents, it is almost inevitable that the lower courts would rule the laws unconstitutional – a reality that even its proponents seem to recognize as a no-brainer. The question then becomes if the Supreme Court would agree to hear such arguments or not. The answer is likely no. The Supreme Court only hears less than one percent of all the cases sent to them. When you add in the length of the established precedents and the wording of the 14th Amendment, it is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court would choose to hear the case let alone find in favor of Pearce and crew.
Unfortunately, what is at stake here goes way beyond wasting Arizona’s time and money. The heart of what is at stake here stems from the real target and agenda of this legislation. While Pearce and others want the public to focus on an ideological opinion of the intent of the 14th Amendment, what they are really targeting are children. When we get past all the smoke and mirrors, the truth is that they want to bring into question the status of children at the moment of their birth for the sake of limiting resources, services and care that those new born children might receive. One of the Bills’ sponsors, State Representative John Kavanagh has said that “his primary concern is not parents using their children to become citizens but the amount of money the children cost taxpayers because, as citizens, they have access to social services such as health care and welfare.” Taking it even a step further, Pearce explained in an interview that “those kids are deportable.”
Using laws to attack and criminalize children of undocumented parents is not only morally wrong; it shows a supreme lack of courage and respect for human dignity. It is a sick reminder of the tragic reality we live with in Arizona today. The level of hate, harassment and blame toward migrant families by Arizona politicians and groups like FAIR and CIS has reached an all time high, and the human consequences of this continues to be a harsh wake up call to the world we live in as opposed to the world we want to live in.Christopher Griffin is an activist with the Arizona Repeal Coalition with a background in Political Science and Sociology.