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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.

The idea of denying citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants remains popular with right-wing voters, and so there will always be some conservative Republican willing to use it a chew toy for the sake of a few votes. They even go so far as trying to construct elaborate arguments to get around the obvious unconstitutionality of such a change.

It helps if you were sleeping in high school civics when the teacher covered 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. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

That wording is pretty cut and dried. Opponents of birthright citizenship sometimes argue that illegal immigrants aren’t “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. But their U.S.-born children are, and that’s what the amendment refers to.

It’s also the law of the land, which makes it all the more curious that a crowd that claims to cherish the concept of law and order would be, when it suits their purposes, so quick to ignore it.

The truth is, there are no anchor babies. The real anchor is a job, the kind gladly provided by U.S. employers who thumb their noses at federal law prohibiting the hiring of illegal immigrants.

Arizona lawmakers could go after that group, and it might actually make a dent in the illegal immigration problem. But what fun would that be? Employers have the resources and voting privileges to fight back. Tangling with them comes at a price.

By comparison, the target they have in mind now is child’s play.

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