Archive for August 8, 2010
Iowans Won't be Distracted by this Anchor Baby Talk
by Paul Deaton
was 'a mistake' to allow American-born children of illegal immigrants
to become citizens automatically…. We can’t just have people swimming
across the river having children here — that’s chaos,' said Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC).”
First it was second amendment remedies and now some say there are issues with the 14th amendment of the U. S. Constitution. It seems that much of what underlies our basic assumptions about what it means to be an American citizen are under attack from the right wing of the Republican party this election cycle. While the 14th amendment discussion, in the context of immigration reform, may gain some traction, it is unfortunate that we will spend a news cycle or two distracted from what is important to society to deal with this red herring.
The 14th amendment fracas gained recent media attention when Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said on Fox News that “it was 'a mistake' to allow American-born children of illegal immigrants to become citizens automatically…. We can’t just have people swimming across the river having children here — that’s chaos,” said Graham. While minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “I am not aware of anybody who has come out in favor of altering the 14th Amendment,” some in his party would make a change to prevent undocumented immigrants from coming to our country to have children that are automatically citizens.
The 14th amendment was a product of the reconstruction era after the civil war. In it, Congress overruled the 1857 Dred Scott Decision. In Dred Scott, the United States Supreme Court ruled “that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants—whether or not they were slaves—were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States. It also held that the United States Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories. The Court also ruled that because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Lastly, the Court ruled that slaves—as chattel or private property—could not be taken away from their owners without due process.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 had already granted U.S. citizenship to all persons born in the United States. The framers of the Fourteenth Amendment added this principle into the Constitution to prevent the Supreme Court from ruling the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to be unconstitutional for lack of congressional authority to enact such a law or a future Congress from altering it by a mere majority vote. It seems unlikely that the 111th Congress, or even the 112th will take this matter up, but the right wing is making noise about it to distract us from the vacuity of their “no” position on most work progressives are trying to accomplish.
There was a reunion of some of the author's grade school classmates this weekend. Along with other things, we studied the Dred Scott decision together. Later, my father took me to the plaque that marked where Dred Scott lived in Davenport, Iowa while his master worked at Fort Armstrong (now the Rock Island Arsenal). This living in Iowa was a key part of Scott's arguments to the courts when he sued for his freedom. Regrettable, the Supreme Court decided he was chattel and had no rights. The visit with my father made history personal.
Last weekend, while door knocking for Democrats in my neighborhood, I saw a crew of workers roofing a neighbor's home. I counted 14 on the roof and in less than a day, the old roof was removed, the new one installed and the site cleaned up. My roof will soon need replacing, so I sought out the foreman and commented on his large crew. He said, “two called off this morning from too much tequila last night.” We went to my house where he measured the roof and provided a quote.
And there it was, my wondering how many of the roofers might be undocumented, assuming that some were. The assumption, a prejudice born in my Midwestern upbringing, that because people look a certain way, they fit into social categories. Until we can learn to deal with our prejudices, it makes no sense to modify the constitution, worried that anchor babies might steal our jobs and our freedom. There is room for all of us in the United States and we could all do some work on our prejudices.
Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail Paul