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Weekly Diaspora: Arizona vs. 'anchor babies'

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After commanding the world's attention in 2010 with its cavalier stance on immigration, the Arizona state legislature is threatening -- once again -- to dominate national immigration discourse and policy.

This week, Arizona state Senator and Senate President-Elect Russell Pearce (R) spoke candidly with CNN's Jessica Yellin about his plans to introduce a birthright citizenship bill in Arizona this coming January -- a move likely to be echoed in the impending Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Invoking the hysterical "anchor baby" hype that dominated some right-wing circles earlier this year, Pearce intends to pass state legislation denying automatic (or "birthright") citizenship to the the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Though birthright citizenship is constitutionally mandated under the 14th amendment and protected by Supreme Court precedent, it has nevertheless become a rallying cry for number of extremely anti-immigrant Republicans.

And while Pearce pushes the measure in Arizona, an influx of Republican U.S. representatives headed by Steve King (R-IA), the incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees immigration, will likely attempt to push a similar bill through Congress, according to Valeria Fernández at New America Media.

The plan, Fernández notes, is to take the contentious issue all the way to the (largely conservative) Supreme Court. But even if the issue makes it that far, it's unlikely that the court would rule in its favor. This issue has reached the Supreme Court twice before (United States v. Wong Kim Arkin in 1898 and Pyler v. Doe in 1982) and in both cases the court maintained that birthright citizenship is constitutionally guaranteed.

Arizona: A model police state

As Pearce pushes the envelope on contentious immigration legislation in 2011, a flock of lawmakers from other states are scrambling to imitate his 2010 trailblazer, SB 1070 -- the controversial immigration law currently being challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice and a host of public interest organizations. Luke Johnson at the Washington Independent reports that legislators from 25 states are planning to introduce SB 1070 copycat bills next year. While the individual bills vary in scope and detail, they abide by the gist of SB 1070 -- criminalizing "illegal" immigrants, empowering or requiring law enforcement to ascertain and share the immigration status of individuals based on scant (or no) evidence, etc. Immigrant rights groups are concerned that the copycat bills would lead to racial profiling and the unlawful detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants without criminal records.

While few, if any, of the proposed measures are likely to pass unchallenged, the immense control Republicans now wield over state legislatures is cause for concern -- as is the apparently immense influence Arizona lawmakers wield over their conservative neighbors.

Courtesy of the Washington Independent, here's a breakdown of the states proposing copycat measures, and the likely outcomes:

Most likely to pass: Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina
Maybe: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia
Less Likely: Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island

Arizona's ethnic studies ban goes into effect

Meanwhile, at the national level, the GOP plans to build support for its hard-line immigration agenda by propagating the fallacious notion that "illegal"immigrants steal American jobs and thus weaken the economy, according to Suzy Khimm at Mother Jones.

Accordingly, incoming House Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) hopes to expand the E-Verify program -- a controversial, federally-managed electronic system that allows employers to check the immigration status of potential employees. The program is supposed to drive down undocumented immigration by helping employers identify and then avoid hiring undocumented immigrants, but it has taken heat lately after a study suggested it was inaccurate 50 per cent of the time.

Again, the fate of this immigration initiative could be shaped by what happens in Arizona, where an employer sanctions law requiring businesses to enroll in E-Verify has been challenged by the United States Chamber of Commerce. The case was heard before the Supreme Court earlier this month, with the federal government challenging the law on many of the same grounds upon which it is challenging SB 1070 -- chiefly that it preempts federal law. If the court rules against the employer sanctions law, the ruling could present serious implications for the proposed expansion of E-Verify which, while voluntary, is already unpopular with businesses concerned about the program's cost and accuracy.

Arizona remains centre stage in immigration debate

In 2010, Arizona legislators dominated the national immigration debate. As evidenced by Sarah Kate Kramer's recap of the year in immigration at Feet in 2 Worlds, immigration discourse and policy across the national centered on several key events in Arizona. Most notably, Arizona made history by passing SB 1070 and a host of other controversial bills including bans on ethnic studies and equal opportunity programs. A campaigning Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) reinvented himself -- from an immigrant sympathizer and DREAM Act supporter to a hard-line immigration hawk who just wants to "complete the danged fence."

Perhaps the most powerful discourse- and policy-shaping tools wielded by Arizona officials, however, were simply lies. In March, public mania over border violence peaked after Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever erroneously claimed that Arizona rancher Robert N. Krentz Jr. was shot dead by an undocumented immigrant. Then, in June, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer made the outrageous (and widely disproven) claim that law enforcement agencies had found beheaded corpses in the Arizona desert.

Through the crafting of draconian immigration laws and the unabashed spread of misinformation, the Arizona legislature cast itself as a major player in the national immigration debate this year. Having done so, it looms as a a powerful force to be reckoned with in the next.

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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