Ballot proposal reins in birthright citizenship
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 4, 2007


Yvonne Wingett

A proposed initiative for the November ballot would ask Arizona voters if they want to end the long-standing policy of birthright citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants, but critics question whether it's constitutional.

A key provision of the proposal also would require hospitals to check the citizenship of the parents of newborns.

Della A. Montgomery filed the initiative, "Birthright Citizenship Alignment Act," with the Secretary of State's Office on Friday. The proposal appears to be aimed at illegal immigration; she did not immediately return a call for comment.

"The State of Arizona shall register no birth certificate or record issued to any child born to parents who are subject to a foreign Power, who do not owe direct and immediate allegiance to the United States," states language on the initiative application.

As elected officials grapple with ways to solve illegal immigration, some Republican members of Congress have proposed ending the policy of birthright citizenship, which is rooted in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They believe birthright citizenship encourages illegal immigration and jeopardizes national security.

Proposals in Congress, though, have gone nowhere, lacking votes and the political will to amend the Constitution.

Those who favor ending birthright citizenship believe they can use legislation to accomplish their goal without amending the Constitution. Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, a leading legislative critic of illegal immigration, says he plans similar but separate legislation to take the issue to voters.

The constitutional provision was enacted after the Civil War and was meant to apply to former slaves, Pearce said. "It has nothing to do with aliens," he said.

Most legal experts believe ending birthright citizenship would require a change to the Constitution, and it would be difficult to muster enough support to do so, said Evelyn Cruz, director of the Immigration Law & Policy Clinic at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.

"It's understandable that the states have a desire to deal with the issue, but they cannot bypass federalism," Cruz said. "If they are born in the United States, they are United States citizens, period, and every U.S. citizen has the right to their birth certificate."

Supporters of the proposed initiative would need to submit signatures of at least 153,365 voters by July 3 to qualify the measure for the ballot, while legislative approval alone would be enough to put a referendum being drafted by Pearce on the ballot.

The measure would generally ban issuance of birth certificates to children of non-citizens. But it also would permit a certificate to be issued to a child whose mother is a foreign citizen and whose father is a U.S. citizen if the father formally acknowledges parentage and agrees in writing to financially support the child until adulthood.

The initiative also would require that hospitals submit "certified documentation of the parents' United States legal status" to local registrars with birth certificates for newborns. Cruz said that hospitals could run into privacy issues by checking the citizenship of parents. The court would have to examine whether a person's right to protect their identity outweighs the right of the state to collect such information, she said.

Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association officials did not immediately return a call for comment.

Pearce said he has no involvement with the initiative campaign other than to twice speak on the phone with the applicant, Della Montgomery, to review her proposed wording.

"I helped tweak it a little bit," he said. "What she gave me looked pretty good."

It doesn't sound good to Roberto Reveles, a longtime activist and immediate past president of grassroots group Somos America, best known for organizing the massive pro-immigration demonstrations last year.

"We have set loose a campaign of hysteria that is extremist beyond my comprehension," he said. "The moral leadership of this state has failed to confront these daily attacks against the humanity of people who are caught up in the broken-down system of immigration."

Includes information from Associated Press reporter Paul Davenport. Reach the reporter at 602-444-4712 or yvonne