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Arizona back in spotlight after senate committee OKs stringent immigration bills

Photo by Patrick Dockens/Flickr (Creative Commons)

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

- SB 1405, a bill that would require hospitals to check the immigration status of patients

The omnibus bill is reminiscent, if on a grander scale, of California's Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative that was approved but later failed to make it through a court challenge. The bill was introduced earlier this week by Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, the sponsor of Arizona's similarly stringent SB 1070. That anti-illegal immigration measure, signed into law and partly enacted last year, would empower local police to check for immigration status, one of several provisions of the law that remain hung up in federal court.

The birthright citizenship legislation was championed by Pearce but officially sponsored by state Sen. Ron Gould. SB 1308 would seek permission from Congress to set up a system that would issue different birth certificates for children of undocumented immigrants and children defined as "citizens" of Arizona; SB 1309 would establish the definition of a state citizen, with at least one of the child's parents a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. It is based on model legislation unveiled by a national coalition of conservative state legislators last month, drafted with the intent of forcing a Supreme Court review of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which as now interpreted allows automatic citizenship for all born on U.S. soil.

The hospital bill introduced by state Sen. Steve Smith, of which Pearce is also a co-sponsor, would require hospitals to confirm a prospective nonemergency patient's immigration status prior to admission; if it's determined the person is in the United States illegally, immigration officials would have to be notified.

The bills approved in committee last night have yet to go before the full state senate for a vote. If eventually signed into law, all are expected to face legal challenges.