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Arizona Bill Would Create Second-Class Citizenship for US-Born Children of Undocumented Immigrants

“I don’t know why are they saying that children are costing the economy. I pay my house taxes, my food. We are always paying. This is just creating a climate of hate."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Arizona politicians introduced bills last week to deny citizenship to infants born on U.S. soil to undocumented parents. A constitutional battle is brewing.

A baby born in Arizona to two undocumented parents would have a birth certificate that indicates he is not a U.S. citizen under new legislation introduced in Arizona’s State Capitol on Thursday.

The bills (identical in House and Senate versions, HB 2561/SB 1308 and HB 2562/SB1309) will certainly be challenged in federal court and are already steering a polarizing debate in a state known across the nation as a laboratory for anti-illegal-immigrant policies.

The bills introduced in the State Senate by Ron Gould and in the House by John Kavanagh, both Republicans, were crafted with the help of Kansas attorney Kris Kobach, recently elected Kansas Secretary of State. He also helped draft SB 1070, the law making it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant.

Bills HB 2561/SB 1308 would only affect children born after its enactment. They would define what it means to be a U.S. citizen under Arizona law by requiring that at least one parent be an American citizen or legal permanent U.S. resident and is "subject to the jurisdiction" of the U.S. law.

That choice of words is significant. "Subject to the jurisdiction" echoes the language of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that proponents of the Arizona legislation and similar bills in other states hope to challenge. The historic interpretation of that phrasing is that babies born on U.S. soil are eligible for citizenship.

But the authors of the Arizona bills contend that undocumented immigrants are not "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country, so their children cannot automatically become citizens.

In addition, HB 2562/SB1309 would require Arizona to generate separate birth certificates for children designated as Arizona citizens under the other law and those who are not citizens. Further, this legislation instructs the state to ask Congress to allow Arizona to forge agreements with other states recognizing each other’s citizenship birth certificates.

“It’s an absurd policy to grant citizenship based on GPS location at the time of birth, particularly when we are rewarding people with citizenship like a dog price, many who come in the back door,” said Kavanagh.

The legislators' goal is not to sanction children but to push for a reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court, he said. At least 14 other states could be introducing similar legislation.

The 14th Amendment 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.” It was ratified in 1868 and intended to make sure that children of freed slaves were granted U.S. citizenship.

Pro-immigrant activists in Arizona held a number of press conferences to denounce the bill, stating it would create a system of apartheid in the state, making these children second-class citizens.

“This is an attempt to scare people and confuse them,” said Lydia Guzmán, president of Somos America, a pro-immigrant rights coalition. She noted that this is part of a strategy to get people in the state to self-deport.

Rosie Villegas, director of Voces por la Vida, an anti-abortion group working with immigrant women, said the goal of the legislation is to “deport babies,” and it may cost lives.

Many women may decide to go without health services or get an abortion because of this, said Villegas, who has encountered several cases of women that made that decision in the past out of fear.