Populist pandering

There’s no question that many Americans are frustrated by the fact that children of illegal immigrants are citizens of this country simply because they were born within our borders, even if their parents broke the law to get to this country.

Russell Pearce, a Republican state senator from Mesa, Ariz., wants to change that, at least as far as Arizona is concerned. As news stories Wednesday reported, he is talking of sponsoring legislation that would deny U.S. citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

Trouble is the U.S. Constitution has something to say about that. The body of the Constitution refers to “all natural born citizens,” and the Fourteenth Amendment leaves no doubt about who is included in that reference: All persons born or naturalized in the United States ... are citizens of the United States.” There is no exception for people whose parents arrived here illegally.

Further, the amendment declares: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges of citizens of the United States.”

So much for Pearce’s latest legislative proposal. It won’t withstand constitutional scrutiny, and he very likely knows that.

Pearce is also a sponsor of the new Arizona immigration law whose constitutionality is also under attack. But at least there is room for debate about whether that measure passes constitutional muster. Given the clear wording of the Fourteenth Amendment, there is no question about Pearce’s latest suggestion.

Pearce appears to be engaging in the worst form of populist pandering — tapping into the illegal-immigrant fears of a substantial portion of the Arizona populace and appearing to take action in response to those fears. But he is talking of introducing a constitutional nullity, legislation that will be dead on arrival.

Until the 14th Amendment is repealed and another constitutional amendment adopted that unambiguously states children of illegal immigrants born on U.S. soil aren’t “natural born citizens,” their citizenship can’t be taken from them.


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