Is Arizona Attack on Birthright Citizenship Going To Succeed?


In the past few weeks, I’ve given a breakdown of several Arizona bills that would block the right to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants in that state. I’ve also pointed out some of the flaws of the bills and how they could potentially impact the children of US citizens as well as the undocumented.

Today I’ll examine whether these bills have a chance to pass, and how the bills will affect the national immigration debate.

The latest national Gallup poll on the subject of birthright citizenship in general shows 44 percent support denying citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants and 54 percent oppose it.

If you support the 14th Amendment, this might sound reassuring, until you remember that birthright citizenship has existed unchallenged for nearly a century and a half, and that it is enshrined in the Constitution. It is difficult to think of any other constitutional provision of such long-standing duration that is under as much attack these days.

And, to depress you further, let us also remember that the attack only began in earnest a year ago.

For people like me, who listen to the right-wing talk shows and watch Fox News regularly, the shifting wind of public opinion could not be more ominous. Anti-immigrant talkers, once content to rail against the public benefits going to the US-citizen children of undocumented immigrants – who the talkers refer to as “anchor babies” – now darkly imply that these children have questionable loyalty. In fact, all four Arizona bills on the subject raise the issue of loyalty to a foreign power as a primary concern in the legislation.

Last year was also the year that the “Anchor Baby” was metastasized into the existential threat of the “Terror Baby.” The specter of Times Square being bombed by suicide jihadists on Big Wheel trikes may be laughable to most of my readers, but it provoked real fear in Fox Nation.

The experience we had with Arizona immigration demagoguery in 2010 should give us all pause in thinking about the political possibilities of bills aimed at depriving birthright citizenship.

Remember when SB 1070 was first introduced? Lawyers with even a modicum of constitutional knowledge knew that it would not stand up in the courts. Talking heads, even those on the moderate right, dismissed the bill as a bit of desert wackiness. And comedians had a field day with the “dry fascism” of a “show me your papers” law.

Then the polls came out showing that 60 percent of Americans and 70 percent of Arizonans supported the bill, even if they knew in their hearts that it would never go into effect.

The power of the legislation was not in its ability to drive undocumented immigrants from the state; it was in its utility to win elections for conservatives throughout Arizona. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the genius of SB 1070 was not in its poorly drafted legalese. It was in its utility at mobilizing conservative voters.

The tea party knows that extremist laws may not stand constitutional muster, but they succeed by clearly placing the political Right on the side of the white voting majority in states like Arizona.

These bills are not legislation in the proper sense. They are Tea Party manifestoes and ideological battle flags designed to play upon the fears of the white majority and to rally the fearful to battle.

Image courtesy of Andrew Huff via Flickr.

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