Arizona’s Plan To Create a Caste of Second-Class Citizens Across the Country


Over the past few weeks, I’ve written several comprehensive pieces about the a piece of legislation in Arizona that would end birthright citizenship for the US-born children of undocumented immigrants. But, as they say in Ron Popiel’s late-night TV ads, when it comes to Arizona’s attack on the children of immigrants, “THERE’S MORE.”

A second bill was introduced by the same group of legislators that would establish a multi-state “compact” on the issue. Under the compact, participating states would deny birth certificates to children whose parents couldn’t prove they are US citizens or lawful permanent residents. As a result, those children would be denied citizenship.

The weirdness of entering into a binding treaty arrangement among various states to determine citizenship should give every American pause. Is Arizona trying to make itself the lead state in a sub-national confederacy that decides who is and who is not a citizen?

Luckily, this move comes just in time for the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. That conflict was all about whether states got to pick who was and was not a citizen. The states lost.
Here is the language used in the bill to establish two classes of birth certificates for children born in the US:

Notwithstanding any state or federal law to the contrary, each party state shall make a distinction in the birth certificates, certifications of live birth or other birth records issued in the party states, between a person born in the party state who is born [to U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident parents] and a person who is not born [to such parents].

This means that children of the undocumented would travel through life with a second-class birth certificate, permanently identifying them and their parents as tainted. The phrase “anchor baby” will spring to the mind of every public official the birth certificate is presented to, which may well mean that it will not be presented.

All children living in the US have a right to an education under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plyler V. Doe. However, a mother who knows that her child’s birth certificate identifies the child’s parents as undocumented immigrants may well be frightened out of sending the child to school, even though the child is a US citizen under the 14th Amendment. She will fear that her child’s birth certificate will be used to turn her over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Even more practically, let us consider the problems that will be involved in the issuance of this new two-tiered system of birth certificates.

Mothers on their way to give birth will have to make sure they have their immigration papers handy, or else their child will be branded with the mark of Cain as an outlaw in the land.

Hospital workers will have to become experts on the various forms of immigration documentation used to demonstrate citizenship and permanent residence. Will they be able to distinguish between a student visa stamp, which does not qualify a person as a legal permanent resident, and a NACARA stamp in a passport, which does?

Hospital staff, already reeling under too much paperwork, will be given a new unfunded mandate to serve as immigration detectives.

A second problem will afflict the children of some US-citizen mothers just as much as it will those of immigrants. Some new mothers have serious mental and substance abuse problems. Even though their families have been citizens of this country for centuries, they may not be organized enough to maintain files with their own birth certificates, and they are unlikely to have a passport.

The children of these mothers, even though they, and their mothers, are US citizens, will also be given a second-class birth certificate that will follow them through the years. All because mom had issues.

Let’s leave the mothers aside for a moment and turn to US-citizen fathers. In a situation where the mother is here on a student visa but the father is a US citizen, the child would be a US citizen under Arizona law. But what if the father is irresponsible and doesn’t show up with his birth certificate at the hospital? The child would be issued the non-citizen birth certificate.

So, apart from the rank unconstitutionality and cruelty of the proposed birth certificate bill, practically it would result in a lot of kids being designated as undocumented who are, in fact, the children of lawful permanent residents and US citizens.

Image courtesy of Martin Deutsch via Flickr.