PHOENIX >> Legislation that would require proof of U.S. birth from presidential candidates is intersecting in Arizona with the question of whether U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants are entitled to automatic citizenship.
The proposed legislation on documentation requirements for candidates asks for information on the citizenship of a candidate’s parents. Tea party backers said Wednesday they believe people are only natural-born citizens if their parents are citizens.
"The term ‘natural-born’ has nothing to do" with location of birth, said Jeff Lichter of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party.
A Senate committee on Wednesday endorsed the bill after deleting the provision on citizenship of a candidate’s parents, but it remains in a version approved Tuesday by a House panel.
President Barack Obama’s name was hardly mentioned during either committee hearing, but Democratic Rep. Eric Meyer of Paradise Valley said it’s apparent the issue "still stems in some way from the last election."
Hawaii officials have certified that Obama was born in that state, but "birthers" have demanded proof, asserting that Obama could have been born in his father’s home country, Kenya. Obama’s mother was an American citizen.
"Clearly this bill is not an attempt to deal with the current president other than to say that anyone running for president must meet the constitutional requirements," said Rep. Carl Seel, R-Anthem.
The candidate qualifications bill would authorize Arizona’s secretary of state to keep a presidential candidate off the state’s ballot if the candidate or party doesn’t provide required information on the candidate’s eligibility.
Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor, said there’s an emerging thread in legislation on presidential candidates’ qualifications "that somebody who is a dual citizen at birth is ineligible for the presidency."
However, Spiro said, "there’s no evidence that an individual has to be born to U.S. citizens to be eligible for the presidency."
The notion that a presidential candidate’s parents must have been American citizens when the candidate was born troubled Sen. Frank Antenori, chairman of the Senate Government Reform Committee. The Tucson Republican said that would mean his American-born father, an Army veteran and the son of legal immigrants from Italy, couldn’t run.
Last week, the state Senate rejected illegal immigration bills that included measures intended to produce a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on who is entitled to U.S. citizenship at birth under the 14th Amendment. Supporters argue that the amendment doesn’t apply to the children of illegal immigrants because such families don’t owe sole allegiance to the U.S.
"The law of the land is very clear. The question we’ve been facing … is whether we want to reset the definition of natural-born citizen," said Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. "I would submit we did (decide) that last week."
Sinema, of Phoenix, said as many as eight prior American presidents wouldn’t have been eligible for that office because they had one or more noncitizen parents.
Arizona legislators supporting the legislation said there are valid questions on presidential qualifications dating back to Mexico-born George Romney’s 1968 presidential candidacy.
"This is a situation that I think needs to be finally put to bed, finally have the accounting somewhere, and if we start it, it may roll up to the federal level," said Rep. Steve Urie, R-Gilbert.
Previous Arizona bills on proof of presidential candidates’ U.S. birth died earlier in the legislation session, but supporters are reviving the issue with broader versions.
They’ve added a provision to require that all candidates for public offices in Arizona provide an affidavit and "necessary documents to show" that they meet the qualifications.
"It’s essential that as candidates running for office that we bring back the integrity to the office and that we show that we qualify to serve in the position that we’re running for," said Republican Rep. Judy Burges of Skull Valley.