Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce (R), the sponsor of SB-1070 who was recently elected state Senate president, has pushed and authored a series of other lesser-known immigration laws in his state. One of those was Proposition 300 — a referendum approved by Arizona voters in November 2006 which forces undocumented Arizonans to pay out-of-state tuition and bars them from receiving financial aid.
Recently, two undocumented students confronted Pearce and asked him if he believed they should be punished for the sins of their fathers. In response, Pearce — a lawmaker — told the students that he “doesn’t make the law”:
DREAMer: What do you think about you should not be punished for the sins of your father? — Because it wasn’t our choice to come here…
PEARCE: I understand, but blame your father. I agree with you. Shame on him.
DREAMer: Okay, do you believe that we should not be punished for that though?
PEARCE: Well, that’s not the issue. I don’t make the law. I will enforce the law. It’s illegal under federal law. All it is is a codification of the law. I will enforce it.
DREAMer: But the 14th amendment — that is the law, and you want it to change…
PEARCE: No it’s not! You can pervert the Constitution all you like. Doesn’t work well. I’m not gonna listen to this garbage.
Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio often defends his draconian immigration tactics by pointing out that he doesn’t “make” the laws. However, Pearce does. His bills don’t codify federal law, but rather redefine the laws themselves. It’s true that Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) prohibits states from “providing a postsecondary education benefit to an alien not lawfully present unless any citizen or national is eligible for such benefit.” However, it doesn’t bar states from providing in-state tuition to undocumented students — a practice that the state of California implements. Pearce also erroneously claimed that “it’s illegal [for undocumented immigrants] to attend higher ed under federal law.”
Pearce is trying to “reinterpret” the 14th amendment to prevent the American-born children of undocumented immigrants from receiving U.S citizenship upon birth. As part of this new legislative project, Pearce has also toyed with the idea of charging undocumented children tuition if they receive a public elementary or high school education in Arizona. This proposal is clearly in conflict with federal law and the Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision, which determined that all children, regardless of immigration status, are guaranteed access to public education from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Besides the fact the Pearce does make the law, his response is also interesting in relation to his faith. Pearce is a “devout Mormon.” Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that the “sins of parents cannot be answered upon the heads of their children.” The Book of Mormon also states that “little children” are “not capable of committing sin.”
Yet the laws that Pearce authors cast a wide net that seeks to punish undocumented men, women, and children alike. SB-1070 begins with the proclamation that “attrition through enforcement” is “the public policy of all state and local government.” In other words, the law’s purpose is to make life so miserable for all undocumented immigrants that they choose to self-deport. Meanwhile, the federal government has a policy of focusing its limited resources on pursuing undocumented immigrants who are violent criminals.