Arizona May Finally Be Ready to “Take a Time Out” on Immigrant Bashing

Senate rejects Russell Pearce's birthright citizenship ban, as CEOs tell legislature to move on from immigration enforcement.

By Julianne Hing Mar 18, 2011

Arizona legislators finally gave the state’s immigrant community something to celebrate when the state Senate rejected five anti-immigrant bills, including a pair that would have denied citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants. Arizona was expected to lead a multi-state effort to roll back birthright citizenship, but now some other state will have to lead the charge.

"It’s time for us to take a timeout," said Republican Sen. John McComish, the AP reported. "It’s something that the people don’t want us to be focusing on."

Yesterday [on 3/17], Arizona Senate Republicans split over SB 1308 and 1309, the two birthright citizenship bills that attempted to create a new two-tiered state citizenship. Those born to undocumented immigrants would have received one kind of birth certificate and those born to at least one permanent resident or naturalized citizen would have gotten their own birth certificates. The second bill would have attempted to create a state compact declaring cooperation on the issue, which other states would have had to sign onto and then would have required congressional approval.

Right-wing advocates of the birthright citizenship bills were explicit about their intention to pass the bills in order to trigger a Supreme Court review of the 14th Amendment. Immigrant rights groups have argued both bills violate long-held interpretations of the Constitution

"The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens," Senate President Russell Pearce told the Washington Times. "[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."

"If we get the correct court decision … we will not be dispensing citizenship like a door prize," Arizona state Rep. Kavanagh told Colorlines when he filed the House version of the bill. "Especially not for those whose parents snuck into this country illegally through the back door."

The other bills that were shot down on Thursday were SB 1405, which sought to require hospital workers to ask for someone’s papers before they delivered non-emergency health care, and SB 1407, which would have required schools gather immigration data on their students. SB 1611, an omnibus bill, would bar undocumented youth from attending public schools and would forbid undocumented immigrant families from accessing public benefits of any kind. People would have had to show their papers before they could buy or register a car and would be barred from enrolling in a community college.

"These are major wins for the fight for a better Arizona," said Jennifer Allen, executive director of the border human rights organization Border Action Network. 

Business vs. Pearce

Last night’s vote was a strong rebuke to Pearce, who was the most visible Arizona legislator calling for birthright citizenship rollbacks. Pearce has staked his political career on anti-immigrant enforcement measures, and was one of the architects of SB 1070, which was the harshest anti-immigration measure of its kind when it became law last April. SB 1070 required law enforcement officers to detain and investigate the immigration status of anyone they had "reasonable suspicion" to believe was undocumented while they were enforcing other laws. It is currently being challenged by the federal government.

In the run-up to last night’s Senate vote, the birthright citizenship bills were repeatedly held back in committee and shuffled around the back channels of the legislature as the Republican-controlled Senate struggled to find enough votes for their anti-immigrant attacks. Immigrant rights advocates said that even SB 1611, the omnibus immigration bill that combined several legislators’ immigration-related proposals, was a sign of desperation.

Legislators were clearly listening to the protests of the business community. This week the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, together with 60 CEOs from Arizona-based businesses, delivered a letter to Pearce urging him to reconsider his anti-immigrant attacks.

The list of signers included W. Douglas Parker, chairman and CEO of U.S. Airways; Philip Francis, chairman of PetSmart; and Linda Hunt, president and CEO of CEO, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Stephen Rizley, senior vice president of Cox Communications.

Also on the list? Robert Delgado, president and CEO of Hensley Beverage Company. That would be the Hensley Beverage Company founded by Cindy McCain’s family. Hensley was one of the targets of the boycott that immigrant rights organizations called for in the wake of SB 1070. An economic impact analysis released by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress last year found that boycotts cost the state $140 million in lost convention business alone.

"It is an undeniable fact that each of our companies and our employees were impacted by the boycotts and the coincident negative image," wrote the business executives.

"These bills are a waste of our time, our money and our resources," said Border Action Network’s Allen. "It’s time for our legislators to focus on making Arizona strong, and to implement the real solutions for our state and our children’s futures: health care, jobs, education and public safety."

Read the business leaders’ letter in full below.

Dear President Pearce,

Thank you for your willingness to serve Arizona as a Member of the Arizona State Senate. We, like you, are concerned about the challenges facing our State, particularly the need to address our structural deficit and insure an economic environment that attracts and retains high quality jobs.

While we recognize the desire for states like Arizona to fill the leadership vacuum left by federal inaction on immigration, we strongly believe it is unwise for the Legislature to pass any additional immigration legislation, including any measures leaving the determination of citizenship to the state.

We agree with you that our borders must be protected first, and now. We also believe that market-driven immigration policies can and should be developed by the federal government that will sustain America’s status as a magnet for the world’s most talented and hard-working people and preserve our ability to compete in the global economy.

If the Legislature believes it is worthwhile to debate the question of citizenship, we believe that debate is best held in the U.S. Congress. Already, Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky have introduced legislation aimed at amending the 14th Amendment to deny ‘birthright citizenship’ to those born to individuals living in the U.S. illegally. Iowa Rep. Steve King has introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House.

Arizona’s lawmakers and citizens are right to be concerned about illegal immigration. But we must acknowledge that when Arizona goes it alone on this issue, unintended consequences inevitably occur. Last year, boycotts were called against our state’s business community, adversely impacting our already-struggling economy and costing us jobs. Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding. "Sales outside of the state declined. Even a business which merely had ‘Arizona’ in its name felt the effects of the boycotts, compelling them to launch an educational campaign about their company’s roots in Brooklyn. It is an undeniable fact that each of our companies and our employees were impacted by the boycotts and the coincident negative image.

Tourism, one of our state’s largest industries and employment centers, also suffered from negative perceptions after the passage of SB 1070. The fact Gov. Brewer directed $250,000 to repairing Arizona’s reputation strongly suggests these efforts – whether fair or unfair – are harmful to our image.

Let us be clear: Our dissension with legislative action on the state level does not translate to our being ‘pro-illegal immigration.’ To the contrary, we believe Congress must address border security, identity theft, sound and implementable employment verification systems and policies and the creation of a meaningful guest worker program. Therefore, we urge the Legislature to redirect its energy by joining us in pressing the federal government for meaningful immigration reform. Together, we can get results.


  1. Drew Brown, managing director, DMB Associates Inc.
  2. Philip Francis, executive chairman, PetSmart Inc.
  3. Ronald Butler, Arizona managing partner, Ernst & Young
  4. W. Douglas Parker, chairman, president, CEO, US Airways Group
  5. Ronald Brown, president, Atrium Holding Co.
  6. Richard Dozer, chairman, GenSpring Family Offices
  7. Stephen Rizley. senior VP, GM, Cox Communications
  8. Daniel Connor, president, CEO, Blood Systems
  9. John Graham, president, Sunbelt Holdings
  10. Peter Fine, president, CEO, Banner Health
  11. Craig Phelps, provost, A.T. Still University
  12. Jeff Whiteman, president, CEO, Empire Southwest
  13. Thomas Sadvary, president, CEO, Scottsdale Healthcare
  14. William Coats, CEO, Leona Group
  15. Herman Chanen, chairman, CEO, Chanen Corp.
  16. Lee Hanley, chairman, CEO, Vestar Development Co.
  17. William Schubert, chairman, Kitchell Corp.
  18. Jon Pettibone, managing partner, Quarles & Brady
  19. Paul Dykstra, chairman, president, CEO, Viad Corp.
  20. David Bruno, vice chairman, managing director, DHR International
  21. Marty Laurel, vice president, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona
  22. James Gentile, president, CEO, Research Corp for Science Adv.
  23. Roger Vogel, chairman, president, CEO, Vante Medical Technologies
  24. Michael Duran, vice president, chief development officer, TMC Healthcare/TMC Fund
  25. F. Michael Geddes, chairman, president, Geddes and Co.
  26. Bruce Beach, CEO, BeachFleischman PC and chairman, SALC
  27. J. Doug Pruitt, chairman, CEO, Sundt Construction
  28. Brian Johnson, managing director, Lowes Ventana Canyon
  29. Peter Likins, president emeritus, University of Arizona
  30. Robert Delgado, president, CEO, Hensley Beverage Co.
  31. Michael Kennedy, president, Gallagher & Kennedy
  32. Bruce Dusenberry, president, Horizon Moving Systems
  33. Robert Underwood, CEO, Underwood Brothers Inc.
  34. Shelly Esque, VP, legal/corporate affairs, Intel Corp.
  35. Denise Resnik, president, Denise Resnik & Associates
  36. Vince Roig, chairman, CEO, Helios Foundation
  37. Constance Perez, CEO, Adreima
  38. Susan Williams, president, HR Choice
  39. Kevin Sandler, president, CEO, ExhibitOne Corp.
  40. Debbie Johnson, president, CEO, Arizona Hotel & Lodging Associaton
  41. Jim Click Jr., president, Jim Click Automotive Team
  42. David Cohen, executive VP, BeachFleishman PC
  43. Donald Pitt, president, Campus Research Corp.
  44. Alan Klein, chairman, Southern Arizona Lodging & Resort Association
  45. Michael Kasser, president, Holualoa Cos.
  46. Linda Hunt, area president, CHW Arizona, and president, CEO, St. Joseph’s Hospital
  47. John Zidich, CEO, publisher, Arizona Republic
  48. Howard Fleischmann, owner, Community Tire & Auto Repair
  49. Nancy Stone, president, ILX Resorts
  50. Janice Cox, retired CEO, Carondelet Foundation
  51. Don Budinger, chairman, Rodel Foundations
  52. David Anderson, president, Off Madison Avenue
  53. Steven Wheeler, chairman, Greater Phoenix Chamber
  54. Bill Calloway, plant manager, Nestle-Purina
  55. J.R. Murray, chairman, Flagstaff Forty
  56. Kenneth Lamneck
  57. Frances Merryman
  58. Reginald Ballantyne III, senior corporate officer, Vanguard Health Systems
  59. Gerrit van Huisstede, regional president, Wells Fargo Bank
  60. Earl Petznick Jr., president and CEO, Northside Hay Co.