Many states are doing urgent business: jobs, the economy, broken budgets. Arizona’s legislators are trying to give government new powers to strip away individual rights, to extend immigration enforcement into schools, public housing, hospitals and doctor’s offices.
Arizona made itself ground zero for a new nativism last year with a radical policing law that encouraged racial profiling and declared the mass expulsion of undocumented immigrants to be official state policy. This led to boycotts, slumping tourism and convention business, and lawsuits, including one by the Obama administration. Yet Arizona’s current legislative session is overstuffed with nativist bills, several of which passed through committee on Tuesday in an “omnibus” measure.
A bill to chop up the 14th Amendment to deny citizenship to children born in Arizona to undocumented mothers. A bill requiring hospitals to check every patient’s citizenship status, turning doctors and nurses into the immigration police. A bill to deny education to undocumented children by requiring proof of citizenship to enroll in any public or private school. A bill to criminalize driving by illegal immigrants, and to evict them from public housing. This will fix nothing, and do real harm.
The birthright citizenship bill interprets the 14th Amendment in a way no federal court or Congress ever has. The state would issue a different type of birth certificate to babies whose parents lack papers. It’s a nonexistent problem; women are not sneaking over the border to have babies who — when they turn 21 — may be able to sponsor them for green cards. The plan will not drive away illegal immigrants, but it would turn generations of young Americans into deportable criminals.
The Supreme Court has ruled that undocumented children have a right to primary education, because the country is not served by perpetuating an illiterate underclass. And yet Arizona’s elected leaders persist in their assault on that principle. The bills’ sponsors don’t seem to care about the damage they do. They are bent on inflaming the anxieties in a changing country, even when crime is down in border cities and immigration has tapered off. New Census data shows America’s population growing more slowly than it has since the 1930s — another era of rampant bigotry and racial scapegoating.
We hope the angry Arizonans, and the rest of the country, will soon return to their values. Citizenship by birth and assimilation of newcomers are central to the American experiment. All that separates our newest immigrants from previous waves is the lack of a working system to assimilate them.