Why Is the Right So Afraid of Babies?

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

discrimination, human rights, immigration, in the news, politics


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nonmember avatar SKL

Jeanne et al, the Constitution used to say the government could not assess an income tax, and a few other things that no longer apply. That is what the process of amending the Constitution is all about. Several times the Constitution has been amended, either to change the law or to clarify the original intent of it. That is what I advocate. I do not advocate pretenting that the Constitution contains something it does not contain (e.g., the right to an abortion), but going through legal means to fix something that was not the intent then AND is not the desire of the American public now.

ethan... ethans_momma06

1) YES, some illegal immigrants use an 'anchor' baby to circumvent immigration laws. That, is just fact. That fact needs to be fixed as they are circumventing immigration laws which is illegal. Just ask anyone who has tried to immigrate legally through marriage. 2) It's great that you are trying to play off the racist card but, really? That is just ignorant. While an overwhelming majority of illegals do cross over the Mexican border, I have yet to hear anyone say they are the ONLY illegals, or that any action taken against illegal immigration should only be focused on those of Hispanic descent. The biggest immigration problem is the border, not people overstaying their visa's. Biggest problem needs to be tackled first however that doesn't o.k. the white Canadians from sneaking over either, or the Europeans from overstaing their visas either. Saying anchor baby does not mean that A) All anchor babies are hispanic, or B) that every illegal immigrant will try to have an anchor baby.


ethan... ethans_momma06


Your article is pretty laughable. This debate would go so much further if people stopped trying to take potshots at each other. 'The Right Is Afraid Of Babies' is untrue and detrimental to the actual discussion.  The thing is, non-citizens are coming here, some with the purpose of having a baby to circumvent LAWS and that is actually detrimental to the citizens of this country, even the ones brought in that way. The constitution is meant to protect the citizens and when it is found to be flawed in that light then it is time to be amended. Just like it was done with the 14th amendment and again, now.

BTW I actually know quite a few people who have anchor babies. Some with intention, some on accident (came, got married to another immigrant, got pregnant, overstayed their visa and BAM! Now they can stay). Funnily enough the majority were not 'brown' babies.

nonmember avatar SKL

As for "sticking to the point," what a laugh. You are the one who is trying to confuse the "point" by making it about race instead of law. You are the one who brought up your kid, who is NOT an anchor baby. If you think this whole debate has anything to do with the amount of melanin in your child's skin, or the fact that her birth parents are not US citizens, you are the one who is having considerable trouble sticking to the point.

nonmember avatar SKL

Another thing. People might not be so angry about this little "snafu" of coming here without papers and having your baby here, if it weren't for the demands that are then made on our system - both by the legal and the illegal members of the groups that do this. I know of many immigrants from Europe as well as Latin America who are experts on the US welfare system before they ever land. Pretty soon they are all set up, collecting this and that benefit when they have never paid a dime in US tax. One of my ex-employees, who is working toward her legal status but is harboring close relatives who are illegals, has done all kinds of things to manipulate the system so she can qualify for benefits that others with the same income would never think to apply for. So here I am, paying the taxes that are going toward her free medical benefits, etc., etc. While I pay thousands for less-comprehensive benefits for myself and my kids. And she's at the doctor more than I have ever been. Plus, she has a "business" that has "losses" which shelter her from paying taxes. I mean, come on. You expect me to be happy about that?

leahm... leahmbennett

okay...heres the deal...its not the babies fault that their parents are not law abiding and have entered the country illegally. However, the parents of these children have nothing. Why is it everyone elses responsibilty to take care of their child/children? When these children get older they will have to "take care" of thier parents. Who wouldnt want to come to a country where you are givin everything for free when you break the law? As soon as an illegal immigrant walks into a government facility for help they should be arrested and sent back to their country. The thing is, is that even though the child may be legal because of their birth status the persons responsible for the child are not!

nonmember avatar CarlChicago

If "all" in the 14A means "all" (and I agree), then PunditMom, what does "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" mean?

Would you be happy, or even satisfied if we undertook historical analysis to determine what the framers of the 14th Amendment intended, and what the public of the Republic understood at the time, regarding "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?"

Perhaps you would not be happy with the outcome, but would you at least be satisfied?

nonmember avatar Ali V

If you're a conservative republican, and believe in strict construction of the constitution, then I'm not sure how you can now argue with a portion of the constitution that you don't like without looking profoundly hypocritical.

I hate the term anchor babies. The idea of "dropping" babies is so completely dehumanizing.

nonmember avatar SKL

Ali V, based on that argument, the 14th Amendment shouldn't exist in the first place. In fact, the way I was taught, the 14th Amendment was added because the intent of the previous couple of Amendments was being circumvented by a literal reading therof.

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