PHOENIX - Legislators in more than a dozen states across the nation are launching efforts to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants, with Arizona to be ground zero.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said Tuesday that the failure of Congress to statutorily "clarify" the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to those born in this country, makes it necessary for states to take the lead.
Pearce, the author of two other Arizona laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration, said details have not yet been finalized. But he said one place Arizona can make its views heard would be to deny state-issued 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 any such measure 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'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," he said. In fact, Pearce said a legal challenge is exactly what he wants.
He said courts that have ruled in the past that citizenship can be a matter of the geography of birth have gotten it wrong. He said he believes a new lawsuit challenging an Arizona law on citizenship 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."
Pearce said he also is weighing whether to require proof of legal presence in this country before a child can be enrolled in public schools at state expense. That, too, is a direct challenge to a different Supreme Court ruling that makes such a requirement illegal.
He said lawmakers in 13 states unveiled their own plans on Tuesday to pursue legislation.
"You can't have laws that say you can't enter; you can't remain here in violation of federal law, but then provide inducements … to break those laws," Pearce said. Providing automatic U.S. citizenship to children born in this country to people who are not citizens, he said, is one such inducement.
Some details are lacking. One is whether a child would have to have both parents be U.S. citizens to get that right or whether a single parent would qualify. Pearce said, though, any change would be prospective only and would not seek to revoke the citizenship of any child of illegal immigrants already born.
Central to the legal fight is the constitutional amendment adopted just after the Civil War that says anyone born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen of both the U.S. and the state where the person lives. That was aimed to provide legal protection to blacks born as slaves. Courts have since interpreted that to entitle someone to claim citizenship regardless of the legal status of one or both parents.
Pearce said the judges ignored language requiring not just birth in the United States but also that the parent is "subject to the jurisdiction" of this country.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, has argued that foreigners are subject to U.S. jurisdiction: With the exception of diplomats, someone who commits a crime here can be prosecuted in Arizona courts.
Pearce said there are companies that offer "birthing packages" designed for pregnant women so they can come to the United States to have their babies. Pressed for specifics, Pearce said two websites where he saw that information "have been pulled down."
Gov. Jan Brewer sidestepped repeated questions Tuesday about her views, saying any comment she would have is "based on speculation" of exactly what would be in the measure.