Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
A recent editorial cartoon in the Arizona Daily Star depicted a tiny, portly, balding man in a suit feverishly kicking the shoe of a very tall and stately-looking Uncle Sam. The tiny man (labeled “state legislatures”) was screaming, “Take that. And that. And that!”
With the multiple anti-federal government — and anti-local government– bills proposed this winter by the Arizona Legislature, the cartoon was a fitting scenario for the mess our state is in, but to be true to our state legislature’s antics, it should have included another frame showing the tiny, angry man kicking a child (labeled “local government”.)
Two recent editorials– one in the Arizona Daily Star and one in the Tucson Weekly— reveal what a sham our state government is on the topic of immigration and birthright citizenship.
AZ immigration bills are temper tantrums, not policy in the February 10 Star, takes on the anchor baby bill that State Senate President Russell Pearce is trying to push through the legislature. [Emphasis added.]
[Denying automatic citizenship to children born in the US of undocumented parents (AKA anchor babies] would respond to a “problem” that exists largely in their fevered imaginations: armies of pregnant Mexican women waddling across the desert to give birth to infants who, having been born in the U.S.A., automatically enjoy the benefits of American citizenship and can confer the same upon their families.
And here, it is important to establish a few things.
The first is that even if immigrant women were coming here to give birth to so-called anchor babies – a claim Politifact.org rates dubious at best – the fact is that under existing law, such children can’t sponsor their parents for citizenship until they turn 21. Even then, the parents must return home for 10 years before applying.
The second is that what Arizona lawmakers are doing is the very definition of political self-gratification. States do not define citizenship. The federal government does.
The third is that any law Arizona does pass would be unlikely to survive its first court challenge. The 14th Amendment clearly defines a citizen as person “born or naturalized” in the United States. Any attempt to tamper with that amendment should alarm all Americans but particularly African-Americans, given that it is the 14th Amendment, along with the 13th and 15th, that anchored our citizenship and provided the legal basis for Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. [Those pesky facts!]
The most striking thing about the Arizona proposals – and CNN reports that 40 other states are weighing similar measures – is their shrill incoherence. It is worth noting that this is the 25th anniversary of an immigration amnesty signed into law by none other than President Ronald Reagan.
That this icon of conservatism would, like Bush, find himself so strikingly out of step with his followers today testifies eloquently to how strident and nonsensical this debate has become. Rather than offer workable solutions, lawmakers are outlawing ethnic studies classes, requiring Latinos to carry papers like Jews in prewar Germany, decrying anchor babies and rousing the rabble in their xenophobic righteousness.
This is not statesmanship. It is not serious policymaking. It is a temper tantrum, the incoherent bawling of those who see fundamental demographic change coming and like it not one bit.
In There’s a big lie at the heart of the attack on birthright citizenship, in the February 10 Weekly, author Michael Bryan (of Blog for Arizona fame) uses more pesky facts and legal precedence to dispute the nativists’ claim that the 14th amendment “established” birthright citizenship. [Emphasis added.]
Birthright citizenship was not established by the 14th Amendment, but by long and continuous common law practice since before this nation’s founding.
Birthright citizenship has deep roots in American and colonial English jurisprudence, extending back to Calvin’s Case of 1608. Birthright citizenship is the common-law rule of jus soli (the law of the soil), which has been the common law rule of citizenship in America since we were English colonies, and then continuously throughout our nation’s entire 235-year history.
The only exceptions have been that the children of foreign diplomats, the children of members of invading armies and, following the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision of 1857, persons of African descent were not automatically citizens. The only reason the 14th Amendment was passed was to overturn that terrible U.S. Supreme Court precedent—not to “establish” birthright citizenship in general, but only to clarify that birthright citizenship would also apply to the children of slaves, former slaves and those of African descent.
Anyone born on American soil since before our country was even a country was, and always has been, a citizen, either of the United States, or, before independence, of England. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment (adopted in 1868) merely restated the existing common law of birthright citizenship; they did not create the rule. The intent of both the legislation and the amendment was to make it clear that Dred Scott was overturned.
What the “anchor baby” activists want is not to “clarify” any “mistaken” interpretation of the 14th Amendment, but to use the lie that the 14th Amendment “established” birthright citizenship in order to overturn nearly 400 years of continuous common-law practice in America and deny citizenship to innocent children born of parents of whom they disapprove…
Every child born on American soil, save for diplomats and members of occupying armies, is an American. That is now, and always has been, United States law. That law cannot be changed by merely reinterpreting the Immigration and Nationality Act’s legislative enactment of the 14th Amendment, because the 14th Amendment did not “establish” birthright citizenship any more than Newton “established” gravity.
As Hitler and Goebbels recognized, to lie effectively, you must tell a big lie. Only a lie so complete and audacious that the people cannot believe that you would dare tell it, were it not true, can succeed in re-making reality. The nativist and racist inheritors of that legacy here in America have certainly embraced the central importance of the big lie to successful propaganda operations. Don’t let them get away with it.