How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Top five immigration stories of 2011, #4: Birthright citizenship

Photo by Victoria Bernal/Flickr (Creative Commons)


The political battle over birthright citizenship exploded almost a year ago, when a series of states began introducing bills seeking to cut off the children born to undocumented immigrants from automatic U.S. citizenship.

The United States, like most countries in the Americas but unlike many European nations, has had a longstanding practice of jus soli citizenship, meaning citizenship is granted to those born on U.S. soil (jus soli is Latin for "right of the soil). Other nations, such as Germany, abide by versions of jus sanguinis (Latin for “right of blood”) citizenship, which there is granted only to children of citizens and/or legal residents.

The notion of barring the children of undocumented immigrants from receiving U.S. citizenship had long lingered on the more extreme fringes of the immigration restriction lobby. But in the anything-is-possible climate that followed the approval of Arizona's stringent SB 1070 last year, a group of like-minded state legislators banded together and, with the aid of attorneys who worked on SB 1070, created one-size-fits-all model state legislation that would distinguish between babies born to undocumented immigrants and other children when issuing state birth certificates.

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San Gabriel 'maternity tourism' operation reignites birthright citizenship debate

Photo by Qi Wei Fong/Flickr (Creative Commons)


A week after Arizona legislators voted down several immigration bills, two of them intended to force an end to automatic U.S. citizenship for children born in this country, the debate over birthright citizenship has a new epicenter. This time, it's the San Gabriel Valley.

The Pasadena Star-News reported this week that San Gabriel city officials shut down a townhouse illegally converted into a makeshift maternity ward, where investigators found several women who were Chinese nationals and their newborns. A code enforcement officer was quoted as saying that it "played a role in the maternity tourism trade which caters to wealthy Taiwanese, Chinese and Koreans."

As the news has spread, California politicians have used the incident to get back into the birthright citizenship debate. In comments posted on news sites, members of the public have also sounded off on the topic, which has been in and out of the headlines for months after federal and state legislators announced plans to introduce anti-birthright citizenship bills earlier this year.

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What killed Arizona's anti-illegal immigration bills?

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Last week, Arizona's state senate voted down five major anti-illegal immigration bills, among them two bills seeking to deny automatic U.S. citizenship to babies born to undocumented immigrants, a bill requiring hospitals to check immigration status, and an "omnibus" bill that would bar undocumented immigrants from public services.

In a state whose name has become a synonym for getting tough on illegal immigration, it's a radical shift from a year ago, when Arizona legislators were considering the stringent SB 1070 sponsored by Sen. Russell Pearce, the Republican who is now state senate president.

What happened? Since the vote late last week, there has been a good amount of analysis that attempts to answer this. Arizona's business community, already suffering from a post-SB 1070 economic boycott of the state, played a substantial role.

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Arizona back in spotlight after senate committee OKs stringent immigration bills

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Just like that, Arizona finds itself back at the epicenter of the debate over how far a state can go with immigration enforcement, with perhaps more anti-illegal immigration legislation pending than ever before. Yesterday, the state Senate Appropriations Committee approved bills proposing stringent immigration enforcement measures, including:

- Two companion bills, SB 1308 and 1309, which seek to deny U.S. citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants

- A  newly introduced "omnibus" bill, SB 1611, that among other things would bar undocumented immigrants from public housing, demand documentation for children to attend public schools, prohibit undocumented immigrants from driving or buying a car, bar them from obtaining a state marriage license, and make it more difficult for employers to hire them

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No hearing on birthright citizenship bill, but some good reads anyway

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Plans for a hearing today on an Arizona senate bill whose proponents hope to deny birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants were temporarily put off until next week, with legislators giving priority to a tax-cut bill.

Perhaps to coincide with the hearing that didn't take place, several news outlets today featured pieces on birthright citizenship and the 14th Amendment, which as now interpreted guarantees it as a constitutional right. Here are a few of today's related reads:

CNN had a couple of essays, one written by Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana who recently introduced a federal anti-birthright citizenship bill. He wrote:

I don't believe that the 14th Amendment to our Constitution grants birthright citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. In fact, all we have to do is use history as our guide. It reminds us that this amendment was specifically designed to address the horrible injustice of slavery -- not to grant citizenship to children of people living in our country illegally.

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