In a move to deny birthright citizenship to babies born in the U.S. of undocumented parents, a group of Republican state lawmakers announced Wednesday in Washington they intend to introduce such measures in their state legislatures. They want to fight all the way to the Supreme Court and revive the concept of "state citizenship."
However immigrant rights supporters and a coalition of civil rights groups say it is an assault on the Constitution and motivated by racism because it specifically targets Latinos. They argue any attempt to deny citizenship to U.S.-born children is inflammatory, impractical, divisive, immoral and in fact un-American.
The Republicans say legislators in about 40 states are signing up to learn how to join an expected court battle over "reinterpreting" the 14th Amendment - which grants citizenship to all children born on American soil. They expect about 20 states to introduce such anti-birthright measures including Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nebraska, Alabama, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.
Meanwhile last week Republican leaders in at least half a dozen states said they plan to propose anti-immigrant bills, following the lead of Arizona. That state passed a controversial law last year, SB 1070, granting police the authority to question people about their immigration status based on a "reasonable suspicion" that the person was undocumented. Georgia and South Carolina along with most of the states mentioned above plan to introduce similar bills to Arizona's. (Central provisions of the Arizona law have been stayed by a federal judge, acting on a lawsuit filed by the Obama administration.)
The reality is the immigrant rights movement is on the defensive right now, said Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah in Salt Lake City, an immigrant advocacy group.
"There is a deep resentment growing in the Latino community toward Republican lawmakers," he said. "The issue is obviously a huge concern. Immigrants don't feel safe anymore. There's a lot of mistrust."
The Republican anti-immigrant drive reflects their view that they are threatened by the growing population of Latinos, said Yapias.
But the Republicans are "playing with fire," he said. "In the long term they will eventually pay the price politically."
According to recent Census numbers Latinos are the fastest-growing minority population in the country. They are also the fastest-growing minority voter bloc and are a major political force, as shown in recent elections.
He said the economic crisis has already been especially hard for immigrants when it comes to jobs, and enacting anti-immigrant laws only makes life more difficult for them.
Utah is a state dominated by Republicans but leaders from business, law enforcement, several churches and the Latino community there have formed a coalition and issued a compact urging state leaders to use compassion on immigration issues.
Yapias said the compact calls for immigration issues to be handled at the federal level not the state level. It also aims to keep immigrant families united and sees them as a valuable asset in the community.
Yapias said it's important to recognize that not all Republicans are anti-immigrant or anti-Latino. There are compassionate Republicans out there, he said, and immigrant rights advocates have to find ways to work with them in order to pass immigration reform. "Democrats can't do it alone, so we in the Latino community have to bring Republicans to our camp," he said.
Although the Obama administration supports an overhaul of immigration laws the president and Democrats in Congress have been unsuccessful in gaining Republican support. The 112th Congress was sworn in this week and the likelihood of passing immigration reform is dimmer due to the GOP takeover in the House.
Yapias says he's hopeful that in 2012 Democrats will take back the House and control both chambers of Congress again. "And one day we will look back and know all of this was worth the fight," he said.
Photo: PW/Pepe Lozano