PHOENIX - Emboldened by passage of the nation's toughest law against illegal immigration, the Arizona politician who sponsored the measure now wants to deny U.S. citizenship to children born in this country to undocumented parents.
Legal scholars laugh at Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce's proposal and warn that it would be blatantly unconstitutional, as the 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
Pearce brushes aside such concerns. And given the charged political atmosphere in Arizona, and public anger over what many regard as the federal government's failure to secure the border, some politicians think the idea has a chance of passage.
"I think the time is right," said state Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican who heads the state House Appropriations Committee. "Federal inaction is unacceptable, so the states have to start the process."
Earlier this year, the legislature set off a storm of protest around the country when it passed a bill that directs police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. The law makes it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant. It takes effect July 29 unless blocked in court.
An estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States as of January 2009, according to the Homeland Security Department. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that, as of 2008, there were 3.8 million illegal immigrants in this country whose children are U.S. citizens.
Pearce, who has yet to draft the legislation, proposes that Arizona no longer issue birth certificates unless at least one parent can prove legal status.