GOP Playing with Dynamite on 'Anchor Baby' Issue

Republican lawmakers in Arizona may be getting ready to foolishly rush in where Republicans in Congress fear to tread and declare war on so-called “anchor babies.”

Apparently uninterested in picking on someone his own size, Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce is expected to introduce a bill this fall that would deny state-issued birth certificates to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. These are the so-called “anchor babies” that nativists and others on the right have, for more than a decade, been obsessed with trying to marginalize.

Why the obsession? It’s because U.S. citizenship acts as a protective cloak over these children and prevents those on the far right from doing what they’d really like to do: Deport them along with their illegal immigrant parents. Strip away the cloak, and it’s bon voyage. You know a movement is morally bankrupt when one of its goals is to find new and creative ways to deport U.S. citizens.

It’s an ugly and punitive crusade that reared its head in Congress more than a decade ago, and never went anywhere -- not because Democrats stopped it but because conservatives worked to undermine it for the good of the Republican Party.

In the late 1990s, the member of Congress leading the fight against “birthright citizenship” was Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA). The San Diego-area congressman proposed a bill to limit the privilege to the children of U.S. citizens. The legislation went nowhere. Bilbray’s fellow Republicans rightly cringed at the idea of visiting the sins of the parents onto the children.

The same was true for another failed attempt by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA), who, in 2005, proposed a bill that explicitly denied citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. The bill didn’t go anywhere either, in part because not enough Republicans would agree to give it a hearing.

One prominent Republican who opposed the idea was James Sensenbrenner, then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the author of a sweeping piece of enforcement legislation called “The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Immigration Control Act of 2005.” When some of his fellow Republicans tried to insert that kind of language into his bill, he was careful to keep it out.

There was a time when Republicans knew better than to handle radioactive material. I miss those days. Times have changed.