Arizona birthright bill 'may violate constitution'


Los Angeles

The state of Arizona is returning to the front line of the simmering debate over immigration after local politicians unveiled a plan to scrap the law requiring all children born on American soil to be classified as US citizens.

Declaring war on so-called "anchor babies", the author of the controversial legislation, Republican John Kavanagh, said he believed it to be "irresponsible and foolish to bestow citizenship based upon one's GPS location at birth".

Under his bill, authorities will in future issue one of two forms of birth certificate to a newborn baby. The offspring of legal immigrants and existing citizens will get one declaring them to be a bona fide American. Anyone else will get a different certificate, which makes it impossible to access public services. That will stop the parents of "anchor babies" from being able to "immediately acquire the right to full benefits, everything from welfare to cheese", Mr Kavanagh said, adding that the current citizenship law "increases the costs to the states" of illegal immigration.

His initiative has strong support in Arizona's conservative legislature, which last year passed America's toughest anti-immigration law. It required police to stop and question anyone they thought might be in the US illegally, but was later scrapped after courts found it would encourage racial profiling.

Although almost all illegal aliens in Arizona are Latino, Mr Kavanagh's supporters were quick to dispute allegations of playing the race card yesterday, saying the new law is designed to deter all illegal aliens, regardless of their skin colour. "You can call me a racist all day. It's not a racist issue, it's a legal issue," said Republican state senator Ron Gould. "I don't care whether they are from Scotland and they are here illegally or whether they are from Mexico and are here illegally. If they are illegal, they don't deserve to be here."

Experts nonetheless believe Mr Kavanagh's bill will fall foul of a court challenge. It appears to violate the 14th amendment of the US Constitution, which ensures that freed slaves were not exiled and guarantees citizenship to "all persons born or naturalised in the United States".

The irony of a right-wing Republican endorsed by the "Tea Party" movement – which is supposed to hold the Constitution as sacrosanct – writing a law which violates one of that Constitution's key principles has not been lost on Mr Kavanagh's critics. "They are going to end up in court and drive up litigation costs and give us more of a bad reputation as kind of a crazy state," Democrat Daniel Patterson of Tucson said.

The move nonetheless comes at a time when birthright citizenship is becoming a hot topic across the nation, where an estimated 11 million people are currently living illegally. A similar bill to Mr Kavanagh's was recently introduced by Republicans in Indiana. Other ones are being prepared by the party's representatives in Pennsylvania and roughly a dozen other states.

In Arizona it plays into a particularly heated debate. Although the number of illegal immigrants in the state has declined during the recession, to about 600,000, voters have recently elected a string of right-wing representatives accused of using the issue as a political football.

The most prominent is police officer Joe Arpaio, who styles himself as "America's toughest Sheriff" and presides over an area that includes Phoenix. This week he launched one of his periodic "sweeps" of the city, in which officers scoured the Hispanic community for illegal immigrants. Twenty-two were arrested in the first 24 hours.

In a surreal twist, Mr Arpaio's officers were assisted by a newly formed "Illegal Immigration Enforcement Posse" made up of civilians who volunteer their free time to the cause of harassing immigrants. Among their number was Steven Seagal, the film star, whose wife, Erdenetuya, is from Mongolia.

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