Arizona took a public-relations punch to the gut after passing the nation’s toughest anti-illegal-immigration law earlier this year, but anyone who thinks (or hopes) the state Legislature will lower its profile on the border-security issue in 2011 likely will be disappointed.
The state is positioned like never before to expand its efforts to combat illegal immigration. The November election saw Republican Jan Brewer elected to a second term as governor, largely on the strength of her decision to sign the headline-making law, while the Republican Party added to its already sizable majorities in the state House and Senate.
Most significantly of all, Russell Pearce was elected Arizona Senate president. For those who may not have heard of Mr. Pearce, let’s just say that the 63-year-old Republican from Mesa wants to crack down on illegal immigration like desert javelinas want to eat prickly-pear cactus.
“I’m not stopping until the problem is solved, and clearly the problem is not solved,” Mr. Pearce said in a telephone interview. “The cost is destroying this country, and it can no longer be ignored. I think America’s had it. I think that’s why we had the results we did in the election of 2010.”
It won’t come without a political price. Arizona was subjected to a public tongue-lashing from President Obama and all manner of boycott threats after the April passage of Senate Bill 1070, which requires police to check individuals for their immigration status after traffic stops and other detentions.
Mr. Pearce is himself routinely described by the left as a nativist, a bigot and worse. His ascension to the top Senate post was greeted by the liberal Phoenix New Times with a story that described him as “Arizona’s Pope of Prejudice.”
Even so, Mr. Pearce says he has no intention of backing down. He noted that Senate Bill 1070 has received consistently strong support in nationwide polls, to the point where other states are considering similar legislation.
“America’s on our side, so why would we retreat from doing what’s right?” he said. “We have a direct moral obligation to enforce the laws of our nation.”
First on his list is a bill to end birthright citizenship. Mr. Pearce and other lawmakers plan to unveil the measure at a Jan. 5 press conference at the National Press Club, five days before the start of the Arizona legislative session.
The idea is to make a big enough splash to catch the attention of other states that may be considering similar legislation. At least a dozen states are already expected to join Arizona in introducing legislation changing how they recognize the U.S.-born children of noncitizens.
Such legislation would present a direct challenge to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which says that “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.”
Critics counter that the amendment, one of three passed after the Civil War dealing with the status of newly freed slaves, has been erroneously expanded to include the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. That amendment overturned the prewar Dred Scott decision that neither blacks imported as slaves nor their descendants could be U.S. citizens.
“The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens,” Mr. Pearce said. “They [the sponsors] specifically said it didn’t apply to foreigners or aliens. That amendment belongs to the African-Americans of this country. It’s their amendment.”
He’s already getting pushback from the Arizona Republic, which argued in a Monday editorial that such a “wrongheaded quest” would distract from the more pressing matter of Arizona’s budget deficit.
If passed, the bill would almost certainly be subject to a legal challenge.
“No one’s looking to have the state waste time and money on something that’s clearly unconstitutional, but its sponsors are apparently going to leave us with no choice,” said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.
Lawsuits are nothing new for Mr. Pearce. He authored the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which revokes the business licenses of companies that knowingly hire illegal workers, which has been tangled up in court since it passed in 2007. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Dec. 8.
So far, Mrs. Brewer hasn’t taken a position on the repeal of birthright citizenship, but Mr. Pearce is confident she’ll come on board. As any number of Arizona pundits have pointed out, she owes him: She was trailing in the Republican primary until she signed S.B. 1070, on which he was lead Senate sponsor.
It’s also worth noting that Republicans now hold a veto-proof majority in the Arizona Senate.
“She’s been vigilant in defense of 1070, so I think she’s in our corner,” Mr. Pearce said. “She’s not committed to the 14th Amendment [proposal], but maybe she just doesn’t want to show her hand.”
Also on Mr. Pearce’s agenda is beefing up border security. Given that the Border Patrol is a federal agency, he wants to see the state step in by deploying more troops from the National Guard, the state Department of Public Safety or even citizen militias.
“Put them under the National Guard or Homeland Security so they can get proper training,” Mr. Pearce said. “Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution gives states the right to declare war. If this isn’t an invasion, I don’t know what is.”
The right to declare war is generally held by Congress as one of its enumerated powers in Article 1, Section 8. However, the later section cited by Mr. Pearce, which lists powers specifically denied to states, has one little-used caveat.
“No State shall, without the Consent of Congress … engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay,” it says.