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Guest opinion

Birthright madness: Anti-immigrant sentiment at fever pitch

Well it's happening again in Arizona. State Sen. Russell Pearce and his side-kick, Rep. John Kavanaugh are getting ready to unveil their newest assault on undocumented immigrants, this time with a bill designed to eliminate birthright citizenship. Their method? Special birth certificates.

As was reported in the Arizona Republic:

For years, Arizona lawmakers have targeted illegal immigrants. In their next session, legislators will focus on the children of illegal immigrants.

Two prominent lawmakers want to change the way those children are granted citizenship. The pair plan to introduce legislation that targets the children, possibly by adding notation on their state birth certificates that would identify them as children of illegal immigrants.

Pearce and Kavanaugh are making their move due to an overwhelming confidence in the anti-immigrant sentiment that has reached a fever pitch in this state. They are certain this will ensure their bill's passage in the Republican dominated Senate and House of Representatives and be followed by an enthusiastic signing by Gov. Brewer, who is also riding high in the polls due to SB 1070 (even after a debate performance that would have made Richard Nixon cringe).

Of course the inevitable result of such a bill, if signed into law, will be yet another lawsuit against the state by the US Department of Justice—which will the third one in a very short period of time. It used to be rare for the DOJ to sue states but Arizona is working very hard to prove itself the exception to the rule.

Again and again, be it SB 1070's preemption of federal authority in immigration policy or the state community colleges requiring immigrant employees to jump through hoops that aren't set up for citizens, Arizona is leading the pack in showing the country just how much a state can discriminate against Latinos. The current investigation of human rights abuses by obstructionist Sheriff Joe Arpaio is yet another example of how Arizona is keeping itself squarely in Eric Holder's crosshairs.

Pearce and his cohorts actually welcome a lawsuit because they are supremely confident that American-born children of undocumented immigrants were never meant to be protected by the citizenship clause of 14th Amendment. They also believe that this stunning revelation will be greeted with enthusiasm by the justices of the Supreme Court when it finally and inevitably falls into their laps.

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The first part of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment pertaining to birthright citizenship clearly states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The last I heard, undocumented immigrants and their US born babies have to obey the laws of this country and if they commit a crime they are subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States. The only people in this country who are not subject to our jurisdiction are diplomats and occupying enemy armies (Note: illegal immigrants do not qualify as an "occupying enemy armies", no matter what Russell Pearce may tell you).

Another anti-birthright premise is that the 14th Amendment was never intended to include children of undocumented people. The arguments are long and varied but most contain some version of the game I call "Let's reconstruct history and hope everybody believes us".

An excellent explanation of the real history of birthright citizenship was recently published in another article in the Arizona Republic:

The 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution after the Civil War mainly to ensure citizenship for Blacks but also to establish a broad principle of American nationality, said Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University and an expert on the Reconstruction era. Prior to the Civil War, there were no clear national guidelines for U.S. citizenship. During the debates over birthright citizenship, at least one Senate opponent asked if it would make U.S. citizens of the children of Chinese and Gypsies. The answer was "Undoubtedly."

Or another way to put it is: What part of "ALL persons born or naturalized in the United States" don't you understand? The elegant simplicity of those words, crafted over one hundred and forty-two years ago, speak for themselves.

How about we stop beating around the bush. What are the real motives behind Pearce, Kavanaugh, and all the other Republicans who are agitating to eliminate birthright citizenship? They tell us this is a magic cure for illegal immigration, which it most certainly is not. The hyped reports of "birth tourism" were found to be yet another overblown right wing fantasy cooked up by anti-immigration groups. It's been shown that stripping citizenship will actually increase the number of undocumented people in this country. As for the "terror baby" thing… well, don't even go there.

I believe the real underlying issue here is fear of the changing demographics of our state and by taking away citizenship perhaps the ruling majority can delay or stall an upcoming majority of Latinos. You see, all those birthright citizens tend to vote someday… and usually not for the party that tried to deny them any legal standing in the country they grew up in.

There have been several attempts over the years to challenge birthright citizenship in the courts. All have failed. Of course the alternative to court challenges is amending our constitution.

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But the people who brought you the distasteful words "Anchor Baby" know that the chances of success with that plan are equivalent to a snowball's successful journey through hell. Instead they're hoping another presentation to the Supremes will somehow produce a different outcome. Kind of like the definition of insanity.

There is an even more disturbing aspect of the Pearce-Kavanaugh bill-in-the-works, the part where birth certificates get marked to indicate the parents of the baby are "illegal". I liken this to the days when babies born in the South had their birth certificates marked "Negro" if they were thought to have any African American heritage, or even a drop of African blood — the "one drop rule."

This was during a time when being black automatically assigned you to second class citizen status, doomed to live under Jim Crow or as a target of the Klan. Is marking the birth certificates of babies of undocumented parents any different, or just a new way to make a person less than equal because of their parentage? Of course this raises an issue with yet another part of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, the part that states: "…nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

I really have to wonder if the Pearce and Kavanaugh think this strategy even goes far enough. Is it sufficient to simply mark the birth certificate? Perhaps a tiny numbered tattoo on the baby's arm might be better…

And I shudder to think how many people might actually think that's a good idea.

Amy is an Arizona resident whose passion about human rights has evolved into activism since the passage of SB 1070. She’s originally from Maine, where she was part of the tourism industry for over 20 years. Her writings have appeared in the Tucson Sentinel, Truthout, and Open Salon. Her full-time work is as a volunteer and clinic director at a nonprofit free clinic she co-founded in downtown Phoenix.

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2 comments on this story

Sep 16, 2010, 11:06 pm
-1 +0

Illegals do not owe allegiance to this Country. They are criminals breaking both Federal and State laws coming into the United States, and staying in the States. They have no rights under the 14th, and it should be made to show that.

Sep 14, 2010, 5:07 pm
-1 +0

I think the current reading of the citizenship clause is grammatically incorrect, and this has led to all the confusion concerning the author’s intent. 

For if the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” was intended as claimed to qualify the opening line “All persons born or naturalized in the United States,” why did Sen. Howard, the author, enclose the phrase between a pair of commas?

And, for that matter, why are the enclosing commas omitted in what is similarly claimed as a qualifier—“and not subject to a foreign power”—in the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that the same 39th Congress enacted (and the same Committee on Style of both Houses edited) just two months earlier?

More importantly, why did Sen. Doolittle in his remarks during the debate ADD the words “all persons” in quoting the “language” Sen. Howard used, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” to read “all persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States”?

“But, sir, the Senator has drawn me off from the immediate question before the Senate. The immediate question is whether the language which he [Sen. Howard, the author] uses, ‘all persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States,’ includes these Indians. I maintain that it does.”

By enclosing the phrase, “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” within commas, Sen. Howard is conveying the intention that the phrase was NOT intended to act as a qualifier, but as the SECOND of a COMPOUND subject, joined to the FIRST (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States”) by the conjunction “and.”

Placing the first comma before “and” enabled Sen. Howard to avail of the grammatical device of an ELLIPTICAL, allowing him to OMIT the REPEATED noun phrase, “all persons,” in the second subject—to be understood rather than to be stated—inferable from the same noun phrase, “All persons,” in the first subject it is joined to.

In fine, Sen. Howard intended the clause to be read as:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and [all persons] subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and [citizens] of the State wherein they reside.”

Note the other elliptical—the repeated second object “citizens”—Sen. Howard likewise omitted.

Take note too that this reading Sen. Doolittle quoted as “the language” Sen. Howard used—“All persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” is GENERIC, with no time or territorial constraint, and was evidently intended to apply to persons either AT BIRTH (children of US citizens born abroad) or AFTER BIRTH (naturalization of natives in ceded territory), consistent with Sen. Howard’s sponsorship speech:

“This amendment which I have offered … will include every other class of persons. It settles the great question of citizenship and removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States.”

Evidently, Sen. Howard achieved what he intended, since this still-unrecognized elliptical undoubtedly:

- “include[s] every other class of persons”
-“settles the great question of citizenship”
-“removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States”

And, confident of its all-embracing reach, Sen. Howard during the debate later added:

“We desired to put this question of citizenship … beyond the legislative power.”

But does the current reading of the clause satisfy fully the author’s declared objectives in drafting a comprehensive definition of what constitutes citizenship of the United States?

NOTE: Link to Congressional Globe citizenship clause Senate debate (pp. 2890-97)

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“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

— 14th Amendment