Thankfully, the Arizona state Senate rejected five major immigration bills this week. This was a victory for Constitution-lovers everywhere because several provisions of these bills stood in direct conflict with the 14th Amendment to the federal constitution and with precedent-setting Supreme Court decisions.
Senate Bills 1308 and 1309 would have re-interpreted the birthright citizenship guarantee of the 14th amendment. The amendment declares that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the States wherein they reside.” It is the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” in the 14th Amendment that is claimed to be open to interpretation. Those who maintain that the amendment is being read too broadly believe that it should not apply to the children of those who are here illegally because they are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. But I go with those who argue that the reason this wording was included in the amendment was simply to exclude the children of diplomats and ambassadors.
Arizona Senate Bill 1407 would have required school districts to collect data on the number of undocumented immigrants enrolled in their district. This bill goes against a precedent set in the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe. In this case, the Court ruled that a Texas state law that denied funding for the education of the children of illegal immigrants was unconstitutional. This bill would have made it harder for illegal immigrants to attend school and would not have been constitutional by the standards set by the Plyler case.
Senate Bill 1405 would have required hospital workers to check the status of immigrants and alert authorities if someone was here illegally. The last bill to get rejected was Senate Bill 1611. This banned illegal immigrants from doing a large number of things. These include receiving public benefits, attending a state university or community college and getting a driver’s license.
Arizona has been through a lot these past few months as it has become the focus of the nation’s immigration debate. Perhaps the defeat of these bills will put some of these arguments to rest.
Andrew Hedlund is a senior at Arizona State University and a 2011 Peter Jennings Project Collegiate Fellow.