Talk about jumping the shark. Republican Corporation Commission candidate Barry Wong's unsavory suggestion that undocumented immigrants be denied utilities in Arizona almost immediately received near-universal condemnation, after the Republic reported the story yesterday.
Arizona Chamber of Commerce President Glenn Hamer called the proposal "a new low in our state's immigration debate." Various columnists and bloggers, along with immigration lawyers and advocates rushed to condemn it as inhumane.
Even right-wing radio host Bruce St. James, a regular illegal immigrant-basher on his KTAR morning show, apologetically told his audience that Wong's proposal left him "queasy" and made references to the sort of ethnic cleansing that occurred in the former Yugoslavia. (Some of his callers, however, thought Wong's idea was a grand one.)
But Wong's plan to deny electricity (as well as other services) to brown folks sans docs stinks for another reason. As Wong notes on his campaign Web site, he is the child of immigrant parents who left China for economic and personal freedom here in the United States.
Indeed, Wong is an American-born citizen, whose birthright citizenship might possibly be in jeopardy were he delivered into a world where neo-Nazi-hugging state Senator Russell Pearce had his way. Pearce wants to challenge the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment guarantee of citizenship to those born on American soil.
Pearce and his reactionary cohorts vilify defenseless children in this category as "anchor babies." For them, citizenship is not an automatic result of being born here, though the U.S. Constitution states otherwise, save for exceptions such as the offspring of foreign diplomats.
Ironically, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the concept of birthright citizenship in the case of the United States vs. Wong Kim Ark (1898). Wong Kim Ark was born in America of Chinese parents, and when he traveled to China and returned, the government sought to exclude him under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which at the time suspended Chinese immigration into this country.
The court ruled that Wong Kim Ark was a citizen under the 14th Amendment, even though his parents were not. The Constitution trumped the racist laws of the time. A precedent was set that courts have followed for over one hundred years.
And yet now -- in a move of profound political cynicism -- Barry Wong has thrown in his lot with the very people who would overthrow this precedent.
Interestingly, on numerous occasions, Wong, a lifelong Phoenician and former Arizona state representative, has commented on his family's immigrant tale of struggle and triumph.
Speaking to the Republic in 2006, he stated, "My grandfather first arrived in San Francisco in the 1920s. He came to Phoenix to help out at his cousin Henry's grocery store. He saved enough for his own store and to bring the rest of the family. I was born here."
In another interview that same year, he acknowledged that his American citizenship was an accident of fate.
"I could be tending a rice paddy with a water buffalo or tilling a farm," he said.
A historical survey of Phoenix's Asian-American community -- a survey Wong's family's story was part of -- makes it clear that the Chinese were the Mexicans of their day.
"The Chinese," the study observes, "played an integral part in developing the unsettled interior of the country while forced to live and work in a restrictive environment shaped by discrimination and segregation. They performed the hardest work for the lowest pay and possessed virtually no legal rights or protections. With the prevalent racist attitudes of the time, American society considered the Chinese, with their obviously different physical appearance and unfamiliar language and customs, inferior and unwelcome."
Later, while detailing how in the 1890s white businessmen forced a move of what was then the site of Phoenix's first Chinatown, the study states, "Chinese immigrants could not own property and had no protection from eviction from their leased buildings."
In Wong's mean-spirited plan we see the echo of his own ethnicity's past and the discrimination Chinese have endured in America.
How sad and shameful for Mr. Wong. Even if he should again become a Corporation Commissioner, as he was in the past, the stain of his grotesque proposal will always cling to him.
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