Legislators in more than a dozen states across the nation are launching an effort to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants, with Arizona to be ground zero.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said Tuesday the failure of Congress to “clarify’’ the 14th Amendment makes it necessary for states to take the lead.
Pearce said the details of exactly what form that will take have not yet been finalized. But he told Capitol Media Services one place the states can make themselves heard is through legislation to deny birth certificates — the necessary precursor of proof of citizenship — to children of those not in the country legally.
Lydia Guzman, president of Somos America, an immigrants rights group, said the measure, if it is signed into law, will wind up in court.
“Expect plenty of lawsuits. Expect plenty of legal fees in this,’’ she said. “This is nothing but a political ploy for political posturing.’’
Pearce said he’s not concerned.
“We know we’ll be sued,’’ he said. “We’ll be sued on no matter what you do by the left who continue to refuse to accept the laws of this land or the rights of lawful, legal citizens of this country.’’
In fact, Pearce said, that’s exactly what he wants. He said courts that have ruled on the issue in the past got it wrong in determining that citizenship can be a matter of the geography of birth. More to the point, Pearce said he is convinced that a new lawsuit will have a different result.
“With this Supreme Court, we’ll win that battle,’’ he said, saying that’s why those who want citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants want to kill the legislation before it ever gets on the books. “They know I have a 5-4 states’ rights court.’’
Separately, Pearce also told Capitol Media Services he is weighing whether to require proof of legal presence in this country before a child can be enrolled in public schools at state expense, a direct challenge to a separate Supreme Court ruling which makes such a requirement illegal.
At this point, Pearce said, there are lawmakers in 14 states who also unveiled their own plans on Tuesday for similar legislation.
The effort comes on the heels of a study by the Pew Hispanic Center estimating that about one out of every 15 children in the United States was born to a family in which at least one parent is in this country illegally.
While there are no specific figures for Arizona, researcher Jeff Passell said this state is home to about 4.2 percent of all the illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Using that as a rough estimate, it translates to more than 214,000 Arizona children from birth through age 17 who have at least one illegal-immigrant parent, with an estimated 170,000 born in this country.
Central to the debate is the constitutional amendment adopted just after the U.S. Civil War. It says that anyone born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen of both the U.S. and the state where the person lives.
Courts have interpreted that to mean citizenship is granted to those born in the U.S. regardless of whether one or both parents had no legal right to be here.
Pearce said the courts got it wrong.
He said the amendment requires not just birth in the United States but also that the person is “subject to the jurisdiction’’ of this country, a phrase he said does not apply to people here illegally.
But Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, has argued that it is Pearce who is misreading the Constitution. She said visitors, legal or otherwise, are subject to U.S. jurisdiction, just as a foreigner who commits a crime here can be prosecuted in Arizona courts.
Gov. Jan Brewer, who would have to sign any change in the law, sidestepped repeated questions Tuesday about the issue.
“I have not heard all the debate in regards to that,’’ she said, saying she wants to see the issue considered. Brewer said any comment she would have is “based on speculation’’ of exactly what would be in the measure.
“It’s hypothetical,’’ the governor said. “I can’t make an answer based on your questions.’’
The governor acknowledged Arizona already is in court defending the legality of two other immigration-related laws, one on the 2007 measure allowing states to punish companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers, and the other over this year’s legislation designed to give police more power to question and detain suspected illegal immigrants. Brewer said she “is always concerned’’ when measures lead to court battles.
“No one wants to be in court,’’ she said. “No one wants to be fighting with the federal government.’’
Any law restricting who gets a birth certificate is likely to be opposed by the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association. The organization opposed the similar plan from 2008 amid concerns about putting its facilities, which actually issue birth certificates, in a law enforcement role and eroding trust with patients.