Arizona Proposes to Deny Citizenship to US-born Children of Undocumented Immigrants

June 16, 2010

Just in time for the summer, Arizona is introducing a new term to mainstream vernacular: “anchor babies.” 

Sure, the term conjures up images of tots in little sailor caps, playfully dumping sand on each other and trying to maneuver little plastic boats through makeshift moats. But on the political scene, “anchor babies” is a term that could not be farther from the image of a happy toddler in the sun. It’s used to refer to children of undocumented imnmigrants who were born in the US -- children who are seen as “legal weights” holding the "illegal" parents in America.

Riding on the momentum of Senate Bill 1070, Arizona Republicans, led by state senator Russell Pearce (pictured above), are planning to introduce a bill this fall that would deny citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants who were born in the US. A TIME article published last week says that “While [Senate Bill 1070] essentially requires of-age migrants to have the proper citizenship paperwork, the potential ‘anchor baby’ bill blocks the next generation from ever being able to obtain it. The idea is to make the citizenship process so difficult that illegal immigrants pull up the anchor and leave.”

I’m not saying that undocumented immigration is not a problem, but there are many things wrong with this proposal. Let’s take a look back in American history.

After the Civil War, the citizenship status of freed slaves who were born in the U.S. was uncertain. The 14th Amendment answered the conundrum by providing citizenship for freed slaves and gave the federal government control over citizenship. The amendment states that “All persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” The last time I checked, Arizona is a state, and kids born in the US are citizens.

Sure, you can argue that this amendment was passed in 1868, and so the times have changed and so forth. But you know what, the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) was adopted in 1791, and you can make the same argument that times have changed and this amendment is no longer pertinent. So where’s the great rush to change the Second Amendment, and any other amendment that appear outdated?

The debate over birthright citizenship has come up before, especially in light of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese laborers from entering the country and denied naturalization to immigrants who were already present. (The act was eventually overturned in 1943.)

During this period under the Chinese Exclusion Act, the case of United States V. Wong Kim Ark appeared before the Supreme Court in 1898 to determine if a person born in the US to foreign parents was, in fact, an American citizen. Wong was born in San Francisco to parents who couldn’t obtain citizenship because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. After travelling to China, Wong was denied entry back into the US under the premise that he was not a citizen because his parents weren’t. The Supreme Court upheld the Fourteenth Amendment on a 6-2 ruling saying that “a child born in the United States, of parents of foreign descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the foreign power, but have a permanent domicile and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the foreign power, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States, by virtue of the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.”

Basically, the Supreme Court was like, “Born in America = Born with American rights.” Furthermore, the decision held that the Constitution overrides all Congressional acts. Just because the Chinese were legally excluded from entering the country or becoming naturalized didn’t mean that Chinese babies born in the US were exempt from having Constitutional rights. So in this case, even if the Arizona bill passes, the Constitution would still have the ultimate say in the matter.

Immigration reform is an issue that requires serious thought and discussion; it’s not something that can be fixed by a slapdash attempt to override the Constitution. Regardless of your political leanings, trampling over a Constitutional amendment to suit one party’s political ambitions is a dangerous precedent to set. Time and time again in our history, we’ve turned to the Constitution to make sure that people’s rights would not be shucked left and right by the hot political trend of the moment. Arizona Republicans talk about “taking back America” -- well, what’s more American than upholding the Constitution?

Do you think the proposal against anchor babies sinks or swims? Sound off.


Other reading:

Arizona bill would deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants




I think this is a great idea and will definitely end the huge surge of illegal immigrants coming here to have babies and to live off welfare (my tax money).  Go AZ Go! - From NJ


What is happening in America now is called chaos. The government must sort out this mess and Arizona Immigration Law is a first step.     

Arizona Go!!!


Share your thoughts -


State citizenship is not that same as Federal citizenship, and the rights of a US citizen are not necessarily the same as those of a State citizen.  Two examples spring to mind quite readily: the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  DCists and Puerto Ricans are US citizens, certainly; but where is their franchise?  Where is their representation in Congress?  You see: US citizenship as defined by the 14th Amendment is *NOT* the same as Arizona State citizenship, as defined by the Arizona Constitution.  To an extent, this article is correct: Arizona can no more deny US citizenship to these children born in Arizona (undeniably part of the Union since 1912) than California could deny it during the closing years of the 19th Century.  But the article wrongly conflates the two varying definitions of "citizenship."  It is certainly within Arizona's constitutional powers (under the Federal Constitution and under its own) to define who may vote for State government and who may vote for State Representation in Congress.  As for the Presidential election, well - even Arizona cannot deny these non-Arizonan, US Citizens the right to vote in that one.

Respectfully submitted,

An Arizonan Citizen (also a citizen of the United States and, oddly enough, Bavaria - which, because I am not a German citizen, affords me no particular rights in Bavaria whatsoever.  Even in Bavaria, there is a clear distinction between the sovereignty of the federal government and the sovereignty of the state government to allocate privileges and responsibilities to citizens....)

Your line of thinking is why we are inundated with illegals.  The "constitution" is being used as the scape goat for freedom.  I don't think the intent of the constitution was to put us in to a defict...which is what is happening because our system is being sucked dry by the illegals who take advantage of our system by drawing from it and not contributing to it. 

Great article, Victoria!

I just want to make two comments:

First, to the author of this blog, I want  to let you know that not all Republicans in Arizona agree with Russell Pearce on this and many will draw the line here. Don't lump all Arizonans or even all Republicans from Arizona in together.

Second, to the idiot in the previous comment who said that the 14th Amendment has nothing to do with state citizenship, I suggest that you re-read the 14th Amendment:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

It says they are citizens OF THE STATE wherein they reside!

Thanks for bringing up the point that the views of Russell Pearce do not reflect the views of all Republicans or Arizonans. You're absolutely right -- it's important to keep in mind that Pearce's take on "anchor babies" may or may not be shared by his party or his constituents. It would be interesting to hear what other Arizonans think of this issue!

The proposal sinks. It is a proposal founded in xenophobia. Thank you for bringing light to this issue. 

Our recession is not occurring because of undocumented people. Unfortunately this group is our current scapegoat. If we are looking for a group of people to bear some burden of our economic shortcomings, we should give a critical look to large corporations outsourcing labor, our addiction to oil, our failing wars in the Middle East, and free trade proponents. The United States has an array of pull factors that facilitates the entry of undocmented peoples and their subsequent, devastating abuse. These are the things we should be critical of - not attempts to extend basic rights to an already marginalized, dehumanized group. 

I, by no means, like the author of this blog, believe that illegal immigration is not a problem. It certainly is. But regardless of citizenship status, all human beings deserve basic rights. Our nation does not lose out on anything by respecting the basic humanity of all human beings. We only strengthen our character and help form a national identity shaped around positive values. We are in a moment full of potential to enact positive change, but people such as the legislators in Arizona are blind to fulfilling this potential. Instead of fear ruining us, let us try to understand how we can harness the good in what is happening around us and turn it into shared prosperity and livelihood for all. 

Our nation's history has already been marred by much discrimination. Let's not allow our future to be destroyed again by similar mistakes. 

New Arizona Immigration Law continues to  Test Definitions of Freedom in the US. Latest events show that it's impossible to stop illegal immigration, it is impossible to deport 100% illegals, those are just fantasies.
Arizona's next target  'Anchor babies',  what is next?
Do you favor or oppose new law in Arizona, voice at

Thank you for this article. I wanted to speak briefly in response to commentators who insist that undocumented immigrants take advantage of U.S. resources (okay) and should subsequently be denied constitutional treatment (not okay): 1. It is no secret to any of us that moochers of the state are not limited to those without papers. You know that family friend's grandfather who receives social security without having ever worked in the U.S.? Are you suggesting we advocate to strip his citizenship rights and that of his progeny, too? Abuse of U.S. programs has nothing to do with citizenship - let's be honest. 2. And let's not forget, undocumented folks are contributing to the economy and paying taxes without representation. Plus, let's check our late capitalist consumerism and remind ourselves that there are other ways of contributing beyond capital. That is, the "work" of the racialized subject in U.S. history is not only to do tough labor at embarrassing wages - but also to manage the nation's persistent historical amnesia by affectively negotiating outsider status while simultaneosly being made villain for it. It baffles me that people who are privileged by their U.S. citizenship would have the audacity to play victim to the presence of undocumented people - especially in a forum like the Hyphen website, where presumably visitors identify with the minoritarian dynamic of racialization. It becomes politically urgent to encourage discussion from voices we might not normally hear - indeed, that the state and its overzealous followers silence. Our politics cannot be to shut doors and to spread despair. If we ostracize entire racialized peoples, it benefits no one but fascists. (And even then, who will maintain their infrastructures?) That certainly does not follow any patriotic idea of America that I stand behind. It is really great and illuminating for me that Hyphen can serve as a discussion site for controversial issues like immigration. More please. Thanks.
Here's a quote from John McCain, to Bill O'Reilly:"It's the ... drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway."