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Regarding Birthright Citizenship, What Is It About the U.S. Constitution That Nativists Don't Understand?

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Of all the un-American schemes to pop from the cranium of neo-Nazi-hugging state Senator Russell Pearce, his plot to deprive American-born children of birthright citizenship, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, is clearly the most despicable.

Pearce has been pushing to subvert the citizenship clause of the Constitution's 14th Amendment for years now. In 2008, long before he made international headlines by bullying Senate Bill 1070 through the Arizona Legislature, he proposed the nefarious idea along with a number of other Nuremberg-type laws.


The Bird

One such proposal would have denied marriage certificates to couples unable to prove their American citizenship. In Russell Pearce's vision of an apartheid America, only American citizens would be able to marry American citizens.

Maybe that'll be next on the agenda, after Pearce, riding his plan to deny birth certificates to American-citizen children unless at least one parent is a citizen, wins a seat in the next session of the Legislature.

With Arizona's body politic so riddled with hatred and intolerance, such a bill probably will end up on Governor Jan Brewer's desk, and as she's drunk so deeply of Pearce's poisoned home brew, she's certain to sign it. (Sorry, Democrats, I'm not delusional enough to think that gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Terry Goddard will pull out a win against Brewer in November.)

Never mind that in signing such a bill, Brewer would once more plunge the state into a torrent of vilification and outrage that would make the boycotts and protests surrounding SB 1070 seem like a birdbath by comparison.

The law would be as unconstitutional as a Communist dictatorship, would be doomed in the courts, and would involve a costly and protracted legal battle.

But Brewer — whose highest educational accomplishment is a certification in radiology — is just dumb enough to let her pandering to the nativists overrule any flicker of common sense she might possess.

Unfortunately, things have gotten far worse than just this sad Sand Land state of affairs.

The Grand Old Party, the party of President Abraham Lincoln, the very party that conceived the 14th Amendment in the aftermath of the Civil War as part of the foundation of a new America, has imbibed Pearce's nativist hooch.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants hearings on the 14th Amendment, and GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina would like to propose a constitutional amendment to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the border to "drop a child." You know, like a dog, or Graham's mom.

Our own Senator John McCain stared into this abyss, suggesting that he might go for 14th Amendment hearings, too. Then, he stepped back. He now says he wants to stay focused on "securing the border."

The real local traitor to the Constitution is Jon Kyl, our pseudo-intellectual junior senator. He jumped aboard the doomed skiff to oblivion on national TV, telling CBS' Face the Nation that he first suggested the idea of 14th Amendment hearings.

"The question is, if both parents are here illegally, should there be a reward for their illegal behavior?" he wondered on the show.

This, from a guy who once worked across the aisle in the Senate on "comprehensive immigration reform," a phrase now more reviled in Republican circles than "child molestation."

If Kyl were up for re-election, you could argue that he's taken up Mexican-bashing for political gain. But Kyl doesn't have to worry about that 'til 2012, when — who knows? — he may be pimping himself as a moderate again on immigration.

For now, however, he is slime personified. There's no idiot politician I'd like to smack upside the skull more. More even than Russell Pearce. And that tells you something.


Fortunately for some Republicans, Pearce's loathsome notion of restricting citizenship to those born to at least one American parent is not being proposed retroactively.

That, by the way, would be unconstitutional, too — but never let the U.S. Constitution get in the way of a racist concept, right?

Among those who would be affected if this war on immigrant children were applied retroactively, would be a rising Republican star, Louisiana Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, whose parents came to this country from India on student visas, according to the New York Times.

Since being outed as an "anchor baby" in an opinion piece published on the Web site of the Service Employees International Union, Jindal's flacks have countered that Jindal's mom was actually a permanent resident. But that wouldn't cut it in Pearce's bizarro world.

Recently, the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center reported "4 million U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrant parents resided in this country in 2009."

Based on U.S Census Bureau stats, the center found that 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies delivered in the United States in 2008 alone were what nativists objectify as "anchor babies."

The "anchor baby" slur is a misnomer for a lot of reasons. A U.S.-born kid would have to wait 'til he or she turned 21 to sponsor Mom or Dad for legal residence. Until then, Ma and Pa could still be booted from the country.

Numerous studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of undocumented people arrive in the United States illegally for economic reasons, not to have children.

A better life was certainly the motivating factor for Jose Renteria's mom. She came to California from Mexico to work in the fields. Eventually, she met Renteria's dad, who was also undocumented, in Los Angeles.

Renteria was born there in 1984. His parents later took advantage of the 1986 Amnesty signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. His mom moved to Phoenix and owns a beauty parlor here.

I met Renteria while he was working as a security guard at New Times. Though he was popular among the staff and was a model employee, he wasn't at New Times for long.

That's because he'd signed up for the Army, specifically to be in the infantry. He flew out for training at Fort Benning, Georgia, a few weeks ago. He told me that he actually was looking forward to the possibility of getting deployed to Afghanistan.

This, after he'd already done three tours of duty as a U.S. Marine in Iraq.

I went to a goodbye party for Renteria at the home where he was staying on the west side. He showed me his Marine dress blues with their combat ribbons, his yearbooks for his tours of duty, and his record of release from the Marines.

He told me about seeing combat in Iraq during his first deployment, where he patrolled Fallujah as an assault vehicle crewman.

"We had to shoot people," he told me solemnly. "Yes, we did have to kill. It was their asses or ours. It's one of those things I don't like to talk about."

Why was Renteria re-enlisting after serving this country far more than most people, myself included?

Renteria said he enjoys soldiering. Also, he found little in Arizona for him, with its down economy.

I asked him about Pearce's drive to end birthright citizenship, about the fact that he would not be a citizen under its provisions, were they operative in the 1980s.

"It's not right," he shrugged. "But I can't do anything about it."

Think of all the soldiers, cops, firemen, and teachers who are citizens of this country by birth but whose parents would not meet Pearce's dictates.

Now, imagine them and patriots like Renteria multiplied thousands of times, and then tell me why we need to end more than 100 years of constitutional law and U.S. Supreme Court precedent.


There are a number of outright lies surrounding the 14th Amendment's citizenship clause, which reads, "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."

One lie is that the United States is the only country on the planet that has birthright citizenship. Wrong again, wingnuts. More than 30 nations have some form of it.

Another canard is that the original intent of the amendment's framers in 1868 was to only cover newly freed slaves.

I contacted Garrett Epps, constitutional scholar and author of Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post Civil War America. He scoffed at this prevarication.

"There's an ancient Greek word for that," he said recalling the quip of a priest he once knew. "[It's called] bullshit."

Epps explained that the framers debated the amendment's impact on the children of Chinese laborers and gypsies.

Their children, too, would benefit from the citizenship clause, U.S. senators argued at the time.

"The debates make it clear they were talking about aliens as well as slaves," Epps told me.

As for the phrase "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof," which has been misconstrued by "anchor baby" haters to relate to children of the undocumented, Epps pointed out that this language basically blocked two groups of people from becoming citizens by birth: those kids born to diplomats, and certain classes of American Indians, under the law as it existed in the 1800s.

See, illegal immigrants are subject to the jurisdiction of the laws of the United States. They can be arrested, tried, sentenced, and sued, just like everyone else.

The U.S. Supreme Court pretty much decided this issue in 1898 with the case United States vs. Wong Kim Ark. In it, the court determined that Wong Kim Ark was a citizen by birth on American soil, regardless of the fact that his parents were subjects of the Chinese emperor.

According to Epps, to nullify birthright citizenship, either the Supreme Court must undo more than a century of legal precedent, or Congress must pass an amendment altering the citizenship clause.

The second is nearly impossible, seeing that a constitutional amendment has to receive the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

As for the first possibility, Epps doesn't believe the Supreme Court will overturn Wong Kim Ark, which is clearly what Russell Pearce longs for.

"I don't see that happening," said Epps. "I see, in the interim, a lot of people scoring cheap political points. And a lot of damage being done to this country as a democracy."

Indeed, thanks to Pearce and lickspittles like Kyl, much of that damage already has been done.

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