Babies are apparently the new threat to the Constitution.
The 14th Amendment isn't one most of us think a lot about. The First Amendment gets a lot of play for free speech and religion reasons. The right loves the Second Amendment because it deals with their beloved guns. And we're all familiar from our favorite cop shows with the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
But I'm betting that until recently, most Americans weren't focused on the 14th Amendment. Some know it relates to the crazy notions of due process and equal protection (yes, I did enjoy my Con Law class in law school). But now the conservative right thinks it's found a way to strip those pesky "anchor babies" -- children born in the U.S. to non-U.S. citizens -- of their Constitutional right to American citizenship.
On its face, some think that's a good idea to get a better handle on immigration issues. I say it's just racism in disguise.
Section One of the 14th Amendment was passed to ensure that all slaves (read: black people) were granted citizenship after the Civil War, and 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.
It was necessary to amend the Constitution to create and protect people of a particular skin color. Now, while no one is talking specifically about race, it's clear that the movement to change the 14th Amendment is about people who come in all shades of brown.
The good news for millions of children is that the Constitution can't be changed just by passing a law or the whim of a few powerful lawmakers. (The Founding Fathers knew what they were doing on that front.) The whole constitutional amendment process is difficult at best even when there's popular support. Exhibit A on that front is what happened to the extremely popular Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
But many on the right claim that the word "all" in the 14th Amendment's language doesn't really mean "all" and that it should be "interpreted" to mean only those who are born to people who are here legally. I know sometimes we like to debate the meaning of simple words like "is" and "all," but is this argument really coming from the same bunch of people who lecture us at every turn that the Constitution must, MUST they say, be read and enforced only by the plain language of the document and not someone's interpretation?
Attention conservatives -- you can't have it both ways.
While at least one Canadian mother I know hasn't been treated well when trying to cross our border, I'd be pretty shocked if people like GOP Senators Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader John Boehner started popular protests to keep those from Toronto or Montreal from popping into the U.S. in their eighth month of pregnancy. Nor do I foresee them dispatching border patrols to stop the reported increase in Chinese mothers coming here on pregnancy vacays to obtain citizenship for their children.
Yes, we have immigration issues in America, but let's be honest about all this. The sudden outcry of Republicans to kick out children born here to immigrants without papers is about race and class and fear. These children are already American citizens and there are those who want to strip citizenship from small children so they can feel good about kicking out whole families and say, "Hey, they were never really Americans, so no harm, no foul!"
This is about creating the illusion that the GOP has a handle on fixing our immigration system and about instilling fear among voters that if we allow brown children to stay -- Who. Were. Already. Citizens. -- their families will stay too, and then who knows what happens to our country and our economy.
As the mother of a Chinese-American daughter, don't think it doesn't send chills down my spine about who the uber-right might want to kick out next. I knew I might one day be thankful that we got our daughter's Certificate of Citizenship right after her adoption and didn't choose to just rely on her passport as evidence of being American. Because if some decide out of fear to take citizenship away from one class of children, it's not that much of a stretch to imagine a world where it could happen to the rest of us.
Those advocating it know that an amendment to the Constitution that would change the meaning of the word "all" isn't going to happen -- it's just their way of ginning up a lot of race-based and economic angst in time for the mid-term elections.
Turning brown babies into criminals? That's an interesting family value that has not-so-subtle racial overtones from the people who talk so fondly about family values.
You can read Joanne's political commentary every week here at Speaker of the House. She also likes to write about how motherhood influences her views of the world at several other sites, including her place, PunditMom.
Image via Paul Sapiano/peasap/Flickr