Birthright citizenship looms as next immigration battle
NOGALES, Ariz. —Of the 50 or so women bused to this border town on a recent morning to be deported back to Mexico, Inez Vasquez, eight months pregnant, stood out.
“All I want is a better life,” she said after the Border Patrol discovered her hiding in the bushes on the Arizona side of the border with her husband, her young son and her very pronounced abdomen.
The next big immigration battle looming centers on illegal immigrants’ offspring, who are granted automatic citizenship like all other babies born on U.S. soil. Arguing for an end to the policy, which is rooted in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, immigration hard-liners describe a wave of migrants like Vasquez stepping across the border in the advanced stages of pregnancy to have what are dismissively called “anchor babies.”
Still, Arizona — whose law granting the police the power to detain illegal immigrants is tied up in the courts — may again take the lead in what is essentially an effort to redefine what it means to be an American. This time, though, Arizona lawmakers intend to join with legislators from several other states to force the issue before the Supreme Court.
This coalition of lawmakers will unveil its specific plans Wednesday in Washington, but people involved in drafting the legislation say they have decided against the painstaking process of amending the Constitution. Since the federal government decides who is to be deemed a citizen, the lawmakers are considering instead a move to create two kinds of birth certificates in their states, one for the children of citizens and another for the children of illegal immigrants.
The theory is that this could spark a flurry of lawsuits that might resolve the legal conflict in their favor. Most scholars of the Constitution consider the states’ effort to restrict birth certificates patently unconstitutional.
“This is political theater, not a serious effort to create a legal test,” said Gabriel J. Chin, a law professor at the University of Arizona.
Despite being called “anchor babies,” the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States cannot actually prevent deportation of their parents. It is not until they reach the age of 21 that the children are able to file paperwork to sponsor their parents for legal immigration status.
In April, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., one of those pushing for congressional action on the citizenship issue, stirred controversy when he suggested that children born in the United States to illegal immigrants should be deported with their parents until the birthright citizenship policy was changed.
“And we’re not being mean,” Hunter told a Tea Party rally in Southern California. “We’re just saying it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen.”
Immigrant advocates say intolerance is driving the measure.
“They call themselves patriots, but they pick and choose which parts of the Constitution they support,” said Lydia Guzman, a Latino activist in Phoenix. “They’re fear-mongerers. They’re clowns.”