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Thursday, Feb 24, 2011, 7:53 am

Weekly Diaspora: Sweeping AZ Immigration Bills Target Undocumented Children

By Catherine Traywick, Media Consortium blogger
By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Proclamation Ceremony

The Arizona state Senate moved forward with two controversial measures this week that threaten to marginalize undocumented youth to an unprecedented degree.

An anti-birthright citizenship bill, which initially failed to muster the votes necessary to proceed, was finally approved Tuesday after Senate President Russell Pearce (R) shrewdly reassigned it to a “friendlier” committee. SB 1309 is now headed to the Rules Committee, where it is, again, expected to pass. The bill seeks to deny automatic citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented persons—an effort that, if successful, would effectively create a self-perpetuating underclass of stateless children.

Proponents argue that the bill would discourage unauthorized immigration by taking away a chief incentive, but the measure has more ominous implications. It would render generations of U.S.-born undocumented children vulnerable to a variety of discriminations—their rights to education, employment and a breadth of social services repeatedly contested, if not altogether denied.

Arizona Senate to vote on sweeping omnibus immigration bill

And, as if the prospect of that future isn’t bleak enough, the Arizona state Senate is considering another bill that would, essentially, force similar outcomes on undocumented youth living in Arizona today. Valeria Fernández at New American Media reports that the measure would, among other provisions, “ban undocumented students from accessing higher education; require proof of legal status to attend K-12 schools; and require hospitals to inquire about the immigration status of their patients.”

Like SB 1309, the success of Pearce’s omnibus bill is the product of some artful maneuvering on the part of the senate president. After watching several of his party’s anti-immigration measures flounder in recent weeks, Pearce devised the omnibus bill—hobbling it together over the weekend from the tattered remains of several failed immigration measures. He introduced it Monday, tardily and to the surprise of his fellow senators, according to Colorlines.com’s Julianne Hing. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill on Wednesday—though not without considerable debate and dissent—and it is already headed to the floor for a vote.

Notwithstanding the measure’s swift progress, many opponents believe Pearce’s legislative chicanery is a sign of weakness. Hing writes:

Immigrant rights activists say the maneuver is proof of Pearce’s desperation. “It is clear he does not have the votes to do what he wanted the way he wanted,” said Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state senator who heads the immigrant rights group Somos America. “Pearce has clearly staked his reputation on the 14th amendment bills, but now he’s found himself on the defensive. […] It’s proof that we’re being effective,” Gutierrez said.

Both SB 1309, the citizenship bill, and SB 1622, the omnibus measure, tread dangerously close to unconstitutionality. While the former attempts to reinterpret the 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause—which has, for 130 years, guaranteed the right to citizenship at birth—the latter threatens to violate its Equal Protection Clause—which, as upheld by the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe, grants all children the right to a public education. As such, the bills would likely face myriad legal challenges if passed, much the same as SB 1070.

While the bills are shocking in their breadth and pernicious in their potential for marginalizing scores of unauthorized immigrants, even under current law undocumented youth must contend with a number of barriers to education, employment and stability.

Undocumented college graduates mired in immigration limbo

As Liane Membis notes at Campus Progress, countless undocumented students graduate from college straddled with debt, burdened by the constant threat of deportation, and unable to obtain gainful—or even legal employment—due to their immigration status. Membis relates the story of Teresa Serrano, an accomplished, civically minded, 2010 Yale University graduate whose undocumented status now inhibits her from pursuing her chosen career:

“What I felt on graduation day was different—something more severe,” she said. “I had spent the past four years at this elite institution, compartmentalizing a painful truth, and I knew that when I graduated I would be confronted with my harsh reality yet again.” […] She left New Haven and returned to her home in Texas. Now her daily routine consists of nine-to-five job shifts at fast food restaurants and laundromats, the advantages of her Yale degree negated by her undocumented status.

The DREAM Act, a federal bill that would have created a path to legalization for certain undocumented college students, could have changed Serrano’s life. But after its defeat last November, and given the high improbability that any sort of comprehensive immigration reform will progress this year, her career ambitions are necessarily eclipsed by the simple goal of remaining in the United States.

Undocumented LGBT youth bear double burden

Still other undocumented youth fare worse—among them, a growing population of homeless LGBT immigrants. At Feet in 2 Worlds, Von Diaz reports that roughly half of New York City’s homeless youth identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender while 15 percent were born outside of the United States. Moreover, between 10 and 20 percent of residents at two homeless shelters in 2010 were LGBT immigrants. Many of them were turned out onto the streets by intolerant families and must now routinely contend with threats and vulnerabilities owing to their youth, sexual identities, and undocumented status.

Juan Valdez, a 21-year-old gay immigrant from the Dominican Republic, tells his story below:

Note that the future imagined by Pearce and his anti-immigrant cohorts is one in which the daily injustices endured by Teresa Serrano and Juan Valdez are not only the norm, but evidence of a job well done.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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