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How is 2011 faring so far? Ethnic studies and the 14th amendment

At this moment it is very hard to focus on anything but the tragic incident that marked the beginning of this year when a man in Tucson, Arizona opened fire on a public meeting killing 6 people and gravely injuring 14 others last Saturday. While this tragedy cannot be undone, there are a number of issues around which we can hope for some positive developments in 2011.

In Arizona, the first week of 2011 saw all classes in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American ethnic studies program being declared illegal by the State of Arizona, in accordance with a state law came into effect on January 1st. Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected Attorney General, declared the program illegal on account of it allegedly teaching Latino students that are being mistreated, and encouraging the students to become activists for their race. In the capacity of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Horne had written the law challenging the ethnic studies program last year. The bill, HB 2291, was passed by the State Legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May of 2010. Defending his latest action deeming that the Tucson district’s Mexican-American program was not in compliance with state standards, (while allowing similar programs for black, Asian and Native America students to continue) Horne said that “They teach kids that they are oppressed, that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperialist power structure that wants to oppress them.” Under the law, Tucson would stand to lose 10 percent of its state education funds if the classes are not discontinued, amounts to nearly $15 million.

According to Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in Tucson schools, the debate over the ethnic studies program demonstrates the strong anti-Latino sentiment in the state, and highlights the pressing need for such programs to continue to exist, giving the students a chance to be proud of their heritage. Mr. Romero posed the question in an interview with the New York Times-

Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?

In an even deeper affront to inalienable American values, on January 5th, a coalition of legislators from over 14 states announced a plan to join together in a state compact and deny citizenship rights to the children of undocumented immigrants. The compact, clearly motivated by anti-immigrant feeling, is designed to challenge the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution which states that those born in the United States will be considered U.S. citizens, irrespective of race, class or creed. This was closely matched by Rep. Steve King’s introduction of legislation H.R. 140 before the new session of Congress, aimed to take away the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who were undocumented.

The state compact is being led by Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona, the state Senator best known for introducing the controversial and harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070 in 2010. The legislators that introduced the plan unveiled a plan that seeks to take birthright citizenship, which is a Federal issue, into state hands by establishing state citizenship laws that deny citizenship rights to those born to parents who are undocumented, and then developing a compact between the various states by which the laws are upheld in all those states. The group claims that their model state legislation aims to halt the “misapplication of the 14th amendment,” which they say is sapping taxpayers funds and attracting further immigration to the U.S. Ultimately, the goal of the coordinated state-level strategy is to force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The plan is a joint effort of anti-immigration legislators like Russell Pearce and Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, and State Legislators for Legal Immigration, an anti-immigration group of lawmakers which had representatives from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. Senator Pearce told the Washington Times-

I’m not stopping until the problem is solved, and clearly the problem is not solved. The cost is destroying this country, and it can no longer be ignored…The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens. They [the sponsors] specifically said it didn’t apply to foreigners or aliens. That amendment belongs to the African-Americans of this country. It’s their amendment.

Critics are suggesting that in fact, the proposal is completely unconstitutional and deliberately misunderstands the 14th amendment. By suggesting a two-tiered system of citizenship by which those who are born to parents who are undocumented receive different birth certificates than those who are born in the U.S. to parents who are legal residents, the compact goes against the fundamental values of the constitution. Elizabeth Wydra, writing for Politico, sums it up clearly-

The 14th Amendment, which was drafted and ratified against a backdrop of prejudice against newly freed slaves and various immigrant communities, was added to the Constitution to place the question of who should be a citizen beyond the politics and prejudices of the day. The big idea behind the 14th Amendment is that all people are born equal, and, if born in the United States, are born equal citizens — regardless of color, creed or social status. It is no exaggeration to say that the 14th Amendment is the constitutional embodiment of the Declaration of Independence and lays the foundation for the American Dream. Because of the 14th Amendment, all American citizens are equal and equally American. Whether one’s parents were rich or poor, saint or sinner, an American child will be judged by his or her own deeds.

As long as the Federal government avoids enacting a comprehensive reform of the existing immigration system and dealing with an issue that is in their jurisdiction, restrictionists will continue to introduce laws that threaten the fabric of the United States. At the start of this year, as we hope that Rep. Giffords recovers her health, we must recall the values of equality, dignity and respect that are intrinsic to the strength of this country and remember that when we deny human rights to some, we jeopardize the rights of all.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

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How much “hate” lies behind SB1070?

Despite what supporters say about SB1070′s merits, it is impossible to ignore it’s blatant inclusion of measures that mandate local law enforcement to stop and question people whom they think are “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, thereby mandating racial profiling. When Arizona’s Governor Brewer was asked, “what does an undocumented person look like”, she couldn’t answer. When SB1070 co-sponsor Senator Huppenthal was asked, “what constitutes reasonable suspicion” he couldn’t answer. Some like Senator Bilbray believe that trained officers can identify undocumented people based on their clothes and shoes! For real proof, all we need to do is look towards federal immigration programs that give local police the power to enforce federal immigration law such as the 287(g) and Secure Communities to see the increase in racial profiling, with the majority of those caught guilty of either minor crimes or even U.S. citizens.

They say that the best way to understand something is to understand how it came to be. A deeper look at the people behind SB1070 throws a disturbing light on the how it came to be passed. For one, the man responsible for introducing the bill Senator Pearce has a long history with White Supremacist organizations, and is infamous for sending extreme white nationalist comments to his supporters in which he attacked the media for portraying -

A world in which every voice proclaims the equality of the races, the inerrant nature of the Jewish ‘Holocaust’ tale, the wickedness of attempting to halt the flood of non-White aliens pouring across our borders…

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow takes us one step further. The bill was created by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, one of the most active anti-immigration organizations in the country identified as a bonafide “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center after its founder John Tanton warned of a “Latin onslaught” and talked about Latinos’ “low educability”. A small taste of his views on immigration.

To govern is to populate….will the present majority peaceably hand over it’s political power to a group that is simply more fertile?…as whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?…I come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist, requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.

There’s also Kris Kobach, an attorney who works for IRLI and by association FAIR who is the main author of SB1070. While Kobach does not have overt ties with racist groups, his track record is also quite alarming. After serving as Attorney General John Ashcroft’s main immigration adviser, Kobach was responsible for drafting a number of laws that persecuted those who assisted undocumented immigrants. Following that he initiated a post 9/11 program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, that called for the monitoring of men from Arab and Muslim countries, even those who were legal residents. This program was suspended on allegations of racial profiling. Since then Kobach has become somewhat of an expert on anti-immigrant policies and has become a close aid of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Arpaio, who has hired him to train police officers in procedures in arresting suspected undocumented immigrants.

Rachel Maddow sums it all up concisely.

But no one is taking this lying down.  The ACLU, MALDEF and NILC have officially filed a legal challenge to SB1070, even as several states have shown an interest in copycat bills. Large-scale protests have occurred in Arizona and across the country protesting the bill, along with grassroots educations programs that are educating the people of Arizona on how to understand and deal with the law, if it were to come into effect. City councils like San Francisco and Washington D.C. are in talks about boycotting the state of Arizona as a sign of protest against the unconstitutional law. Government officials and police officers have come out against the bill, like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who has called the law “disgusting,””unnecessary” and “stupid.” A police officer who has served for 52 years, Dupnik refuses to enforce the law which he says is “one of the worst pieces of legislation he has ever seen.” He goes on to make the point that since there is no effective way to enforce SB1070 that does not involve racial profiling, his department could be sued for racial profiling if they enforce the law, and sued if they don’t (SB1070 allows any one to sue local departments that they believe are not effectively enforcing the law). Calling it “racist” he says-

If I tell my people to go out and look for A, B, and C, they’re going to do it. They’ll find some flimsy excuse like a tail light that’s not working as a basis for a stop, which is a bunch of baloney.

More and more people need to understand the consequences of SB1070 as an affront to liberty, equality and justice to stall the work of hate groups an thwart the white nationalist agenda. Take action now!

Photo courtesy of msnbc.msn.com