by Alia Beard Rau – Feb. 23, 2011
The Arizona Republic
The nation’s immigration battle returned to the state Capitol on Tuesday as a key legislative committee passed two major bills that could significantly impact illegal immigrants living in Arizona.
The Senate Appropriations Committee became the first state legislative committee in the nation to pass a package of bills intended to challenge the practice of granting citizenship to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants.
It also approved an “omnibus” bill that would prevent undocumented children from attending school, prohibit illegal immigrants from driving or buying a vehicle and deny illegal immigrants the ability to obtain a marriage license in Arizona.
Hundreds of protesters and supporters gathered outside the chambers Tuesday while dozens waited late into the night to speak to lawmakers.
Late Tuesday, the committee had still not heard two remaining immigration-related bills, including one that would force hospitals to ask about citizenship status at some point during admission or treatment.
The bills before the Senate Appropriations Committee would alter citizenship for children born in the United States to non-citizens, prevent undocumented children from attending school, prohibit illegal immigrants from driving or purchasing a vehicle and force hospitals to ask about citizenship before providing medical care.
Late Tuesday, the committee advanced two of the bills, becoming the first state legislative committee in the nation to pass legislation intended to challenge the practice of granting citizenship to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants.
Committee members voted 8-5 to approve a controversial package of bills, which would challenge the 14th Amendment interpretation about citizenship.
Senate Bill 1308 seeks permission from Congress to set up a system in which states can create separate birth certificates for children who meet a new definition of a citizen and those who do not. SB 1309 creates that new definition of citizen, defining children as citizens of Arizona and the U.S. if at least one of their parents was either a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent U.S. resident.
The two bills now go to a vote of the full Senate.
The immigration bills — some of which were added to the agenda at the last minute — were sent to this committee by Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, because its Republican members are the Senate’s most conservative.
But the committee is the first step in a long process, and the bills’ ultimate fate is unclear. They still need the support of a majority of the full Senate, a House committee and the full House before reaching the governor or becoming law.
Public surveys indicate many Arizonans support increased efforts to combat illegal immigration, and many political experts say Brewer’s decision to sign another immigration bill, Senate Bill 1070, helped keep her in office and elect many of the conservative lawmakers now supporting this new crop of bills.
But Democrats and some more moderate Republicans say the bills distract from the state’s efforts to attract jobs and restore the economy.
“We recognize the concern that individuals have in Arizona about the undocumented-worker problem and the costs to the state government,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson. “But if jobs are our focus, if the economy and turning our economy around in Arizona is what’s critical, these immigration bills don’t do it. They hurt our image.”
The legislative sponsors of the birthright-citizenship bills have said the goal is to get the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, the primary sponsor of the Senate bills aimed at challenging the interpretation of the 14th Amendment, said at least one parent of all children born in Arizona would have to prove their legal status under the bill.
“It won’t be any more difficult than their parents proving they are eligible to vote in Arizona,” Gould said.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, disagreed, saying the bill may deny citizenship to children born to parents who both have dual citizenship and owe allegiance to the U.S. and a foreign country.
Brenda Rascon, a Mesa resident and biology doctoral student, spoke against the bill.
“I reject your policies, which I find rationally and morally insulting,” she said. “Do not undermine the Constitution.”
Valerie Roller, Republican chairwoman of Legislative District 14 in Phoenix, supported the bill.
“We should never give away something as valuable as our American citizenship cheaply,” she said.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce opposed the bills, saying the matter needs to be addressed at the federal level.
“I don’t think anyone can make the argument that Arizona is the right place to discuss the meaning of the 14th Amendment,” Arizona Chamber CEO Glenn Hamer said. “This will put Arizona through another trial and hurt innocent businesspeople who are just trying to get ahead.”
Gould accused Hamer’s organization of being “open border because you like cheap labor.”
Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, was the only Republican to vote no on the pair of bills. He said he doesn’t believe the dozen or so other states considering similar bills will actually pass them, leaving Arizona standing alone again, referring to Arizona’s tough immigration measure, Senate Bill 1070.
“This is not a conversation about what the intent was of a conversation that happened over 200 years ago,” Crandall said. “This is a vote about whether we are going to be the first and only state to have two birth certificates.”
Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, voted for the bill, asking how long Arizona should wait for the federal government to take up the issue before giving up and trying to fix the issue itself.
Senate Bill 1611, which Pearce introduced about 24 hours before the hearing, passed on a 7-6 vote. Among other things, the “omnibus” bill would make it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive in Arizona, require proof of citizenship to enroll in K-12 public or private schools as well as community colleges and universities, and ban illegal immigrants from buying a vehicle.
Pearce said his bill does not contain new ideas but strengthens existing laws.
“It tightens up the laws and makes sure illegal is illegal,” Pearce said. “This is about protection of the taxpayer.”
Sinema objected, saying the bill includes 16 substantive changes, many of which are similar to bills Pearce has unsuccessfully proposed in prior years.
Crandall voted against the measure, saying he was concerned about the bill’s effect on tourism.
“This is not what we stand for,” he said. “We don’t want people to fly in for a big golf tournament or auto auction and have to bring their birth certificate. I think we’re better than this.”
Committee Chairman Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, voted for the measure.
“We need to have the moral courage to deal with this issue when there’s a vacuum at the federal level,” he said.
However, Biggs also said he had concerns about some of the language and would work with Pearce to address those issues.
Gov. Jan Brewer on Tuesday said she had not yet read the bill and declined to say whether she would support it.
“I’ll be watching and listening and learning as it moves through the process,” Brewer said.