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“Some Americans Should Not Have Equal Rights?”: The Racist Roots Of The GOP’s Favorite New Immigration Plan

The year 1866 was an alarming one for xenophobes: Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, declaring “all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power…to be citizens of the United States.” Though explicitly intended to grant citizenship to African-Americans, who’d been denied it by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1857 Dred Scott case, wouldn’t the law also “have the effect of naturalizing the children of Chinese and Gypsies born in this country?” wondered Pennsylvania Senator Edgar Cowan. “Undoubtedly,” responded Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois. When President Andrew Johnson vetoed the act, he too raised the specter of the Chinese and “the people called Gypsies.”

Congress overrode the veto, and went on to enshrine the principle of birthright citizenship in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Needless to say, fears about the children of the gypsies proved unfounded. Yet the idea that people with certain types of parents should be denied citizenship—and the associated rights—persisted. Late in the nineteenth century the government tried to withhold citizenship from the children of Chinese immigrants, but was rebuffed by the Supreme Court. Native Americans weren’t considered citizens until 1924. These days the target is Latino immigrants and their children. And thanks to Donald Trump, the nativist argument against birthright citizenship has moved from a sideline item to a centerpiece in the Republican primary.

In a set of immigration policies released Sunday, Trump called for an end to birthright citizenship, which he described as “the biggest magnet for illegal immigration.” Trump’s invocation of the fictitious “anchor baby” phenomenon isn’t particularly original. But what’s striking is that his implausible call for reinterpreting or rescinding the 14th Amendment has been taken up by so many of his competitors in the Republican field, including Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, and Rand Paul. Chris Christie said recently that birthright citizenship should be “reexamined.” The much shorter list of those not in favor includes John Kasich (who previously advocated for revoking birthright citizenship), Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio, who stated that he is “open to exploring ways of not allowing people who are coming here deliberately for that purpose to acquire citizenship.”

The issue of birthright citizenship resurfaces every so often in Congress, but it’s never gotten much traction. Most recently Louisiana Senator David Vitter warned of the “exploding phenomenon” of “birth tourism,” and in March proposed to limit citizenship to those who have at least one parent with a green card or who’ve served in the military. Though bids like Vitter’s are more demagogic than actionable, some US-born children with undocumented parents already face hurdles related to their citizenship rights. Texas, for instance, recently began refusing to issue birth certificates to parents who use a photo ID from the Mexican Consulate as their only form of identification.

Kelefa Sanneh points out that, bluster aside, Trump is actually forcing a substantive policy debate. The substance is extreme: Walker, for instance, once supported comprehensive reform legislation that including labor rights and a pathway to legal status; now he is “absolutely” in favor of ending birthright citizenship. (So are 63 percent of Republicans, according to a 2010 Fox News poll.) While the GOP was once wondering whether Romney’s promotion of “self deportation” went too far, now candidates are pandering to the base’s racial anxieties with talk of undoing what historian Eric Foner characterizes as one of the Republican Party’s own “historic achievements.”

The irony is that doing so would dramatically increase the number of undocumented people living in the United States. (As has the militarization of the border.) Denying birthright citizenship to children with undocumented parents would bring the population of unauthorized people to as many as 24 million by 2050, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The result, according to MPI, would be the creation of “an underclass of unauthorized immigrants who, through no fault of their own, would be forced to live in the margins of US society.” In other words, undermining the 14th Amendment won’t solve the (nonexistent) problem of “birth tourism.” It would, however, do what the denial of citizenship has done since the era of Dred Scott: strip civil rights from a racialized group, facilitating their exploitation.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, August 19, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | 14th Amendment, Birthright Citizenship, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Sinvergüenza”: Trump, Bush Don’t Care That ‘Anchor Baby’ Isn’t ‘Politically Correct’

The idea that pregnant women are crossing the Mexican border in droves in an effort to make their babies American citizens is mostly untrue, so it’s fitting that this week’s debate over the so-called problem has already morphed into a less substantial dispute over the term “anchor babies.” Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and several other GOP candidates used the term this week, prompting objections from those who say it’s a slur. “Children are widely seen as innocent and pure … yet there is an unspoken racial element there, for children of color are all too often pictured as criminals or welfare cheats in training,” Ian Haney López, author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, told NBC News.

Unsurprisingly, the man who kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists has no problem with the term. At a press conference on Wednesday, Donald Trump snapped at a reporter who said it’s offensive. “You mean it’s not politically correct, and yet everybody uses it?” he said. “I’ll use the word ‘anchor baby.'”

Also unsurprisingly, Bobby Jindal was quick to side with Trump in the controversy du jour. He told Fox News on Thursday that people are “too politically correct” and “too easily offended,” adding, “The real issue here — yeah, I’m happy to use the term — but the reality is the real issue here is we need to secure our border.”

Jeb Bush also doubled down on his decision to take a slightly more Trump-esque tone. On Thursday, Bush got testy when a reporter asked if he regrets referring to “anchor babies” in a radio interview on Wednesday. “No, I didn’t. I don’t! I don’t, regret it!” Bush said. “Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I’ll use it. Don’t yell at me behind my ear, though.” He dismissed the suggested phrase “children born of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.” as too clunky and noted that he merely said they’re “commonly referred to” as “anchor babies.” “I didn’t use it as my own language,” Bush said.

“From the depths of my heart, I look at someone like Jeb Bush, who really should know better and that all I can think of is the Spanish term, sinvergüenza, which means somebody who is completely without shame to attack children this way,” Representative Linda Sanchez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told NBC News.

As the New York Times recently noted, “anchor baby” isn’t the only derogatory term making a comeback in the 2016 race. During the 2013 immigration debate there was a push for media outlets and politicians to stop using the “I-word,” yet there was a question about “illegals” in the first GOP debate, and the preferred term “undocumented immigrants” has not caught on with Republicans.

Still, not everyone is embracing “anchor baby.” When asked about the issue in a CNBC interview published Thursday, Marco Rubio took the opportunity to show he’s more compassionate than his rivals on the immigration issue. “Well, these are 13 million — those are human beings,” he said. “And ultimately, they are people. They are not just statistics. They are human beings with stories.”

 

By: Margaret Hartmann, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, August 21, 2015

August 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Immigrants, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“An Anti-Immigrant Police-State”: The GOP’s Crazy Birthright Citizenship Debate Could Have Real Consequences

A droll Politico headline earlier this week nicely summed up the state of bemusement and incomprehension surrounding the Republican Party’s revived fixation with ending birthright citizenship.

“Trump to O’Reilly: 14th Amendment is unconstitutional.”

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly grilled Trump on Tuesday, based on the widely shared premise that ending birthright citizenship would require changing the Constitution to excise or edit the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment. That sentence 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.”

Republicans are racing to catch up with Trump, creating a fresh consensus among the party’s presidential candidates that birthright citizenship is bad, and a presumption among most critics and reporters that these candidates believe the Constitution is flawed, and should perhaps be changed.

Neither of these presumptions necessarily describes anti-birthright candidates. Many Republican presidential hopefuls share the belief that giving the children of immigrants citizenship automatically is bad. In less abstract terms, they’re affirming an unfounded nativist anxiety that birthright citizenship creates an incentive for child-bearing immigrants to stream across the border and secure all the benefits of citizenship, including welfare, for their offspring—what conservatives derisively refer to as “anchor babies.” But they disagree among themselves over how to address the problem. And because the point of contention is so politically toxic—a dramatic shift to the right relative to the also-toxic Republican primary consensus in 2012—the candidates have little interest in explaining their personal theories of how the imaginary “anchor baby” crisis should be resolved.

All of the possibilities are equally crazy.

Under the status quo, the children of undocumented immigrants are conferred citizenship by the Fourteenth Amendment. If you believe this is bad, and that we should be willing to tolerate a permanent, minority underclass of stateless noncitizens, you can address it in three ways: by changing the Constitution, by stepping up enforcement so dramatically so that all unauthorized immigrants are expelled before they give birth, or by getting courts to reinterpret the Constitution as it is currently written.

In general, the Republicans who want to change the subject from birthright citizenship to literally anything else pay lip service to the issue. But they insist, for better or worse, that citizenship is a constitutional right of the children of immigrants, and that the Constitution is not going to change. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are in this category. Both intimate that they oppose automatic citizenship for the children of people without any documentation who are trying to game the Fourteenth Amendment, but argue that the right is enshrined, and it isn’t going away.

Perhaps intentionally, they are blinding themselves to the other strategies. In a statement to reporters earlier this week, Scott Walker’s spokeswoman explained how he would tackle the issue. “We have to enforce the laws, keep people from coming here illegally, enforce e-verify to stop the jobs magnet and by addressing the root problems we will end the birthright citizenship problem.” If there were no undocumented immigrants in the country, then birthright citizenship would become a mere abstraction. Without touching the Constitution, Walker suggests he would use a draconian enforcement regime to effectively moot the birthright clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This is almost certainly not feasible, but it lays down a marker for immigration enforcement on the rightmost conceptual end of the policy debate—promising to deport immigrants at such an intense clip that vanishingly few will remain in the country long enough to give birth.

Trump’s goal is even more ambitious. He supports a Walker-like anti-immigrant police-state, too, but argues that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t say what it appears to say. A popular argument on the fringes of conservative legal thought holds that the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment—and of the term “jurisdiction” in particular—precludes the notion that it should create a right to citizenship for the children of non-citizen immigrants. Trump has bought into it. He’s not a fan of amending the Constitution, as he told O’Reilly, because “It’s a long process, and I think it would take too long. I’d much rather find out whether or not anchor babies are citizens because a lot of people don’t think they are.” This flies in the face of a century and a half of law. It was the source of O’Reilly’s confusion, and of the tongue-in-cheek Politico headline. To test the theory, a conservative state government could pass a law stripping citizenship benefits from children of immigrants, and defend it in court. This would be easy to laugh off in a different milieu, but in a world where scores of federal judges and three or four conservative Supreme Court justices are willing to vouchsafe plainly absurd and self-serving conservative legal arguments, it is alarming. Especially if you consider the possibility that a Republican candidate wins the presidency on an anti-birthright platform, and obtains the power to nominate nativists to the federal bench.

These views are so extreme that they’re often dismissed as harmless campaign trail pandering. Since the Constitution isn’t going to be amended anytime soon, at least not for this purpose, most reporters don’t take the anti-birthright frenzy as much more than a garden variety Republican primary spectacle. That’s a big error. GOP candidates are telling us how they would use levers at their disposal to antagonize immigrants, and we should be listening.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, August 21, 2015

August 22, 2015 Posted by | Birthright Citizenship, GOP Base, Immigrants | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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