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A nation’s spirit uprooted by conservative focus on “anchor babies”

The 14th amendment, established in 1868 as a major gain from the Civil War, united a nation that was once half-slave and half-free. Today, some Republicans wish to revisit the debate of 1868 and revoke its notion of birthright citizenship in order to help prevent undocumented immigration. Instead of focusing on reforming the immigration system, these Republicans focus on punishing immigrants and Americans alike by altering an amendment that continues to carry so much of our national spirit.

The 14th amendment grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States”. It also forbids states from denying anyone “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or “denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has led the proposal to debate the amendment, arguing that it induces undocumented immigration and the desire to have a baby to claim citizenship, calling such a baby by the derogatory term, “anchor baby.” Arizona’s Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, the architect of SB 1070, agrees. He said,

“When [the 14th Amendment] was ratified in 1868, the amendment had to do with African-Americans; it had nothing to do with aliens. It’s got to be fixed.”

Anti-immigration activists often claim that their real concern is to prevent law-breaking. But the Washington Post puts it best,

Revoking birthright citizenship would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ – arriving, not across a border, but crying in a [U.S.] hospital. A whole class of people would grow up knowing they are hunted aliens, through no fault of their own. This cannot be called the rule of law. It would be viciousness and prejudice on a grand scale.

Even Lou Dobbs, known for an anti-immigration stance in many respects, spoke out against changing the 14th amendment.

I believe that the 14th amendment – particularly in its due process and equal protection clause – is so important; it lays the entire foundation for the Bill of Rights being applied.

Defenders of the amendment say altering it would weaken a fundamental American value while doing little to deter immigration. In fact, immigration activists say that birthright citizenship is not even a significant driver of immigration, because a child has to reach age 21 to petition for permanent legal residency for his or her parents.

In even more charged reasoning, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) warned that birthright citizenship was a national security issue – involving a diabolical 30-year-long plot by some very patient terrorists. He said,

I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby… And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.

If birthright citizenship was revoked on the premise of fearing terrorists, our nation would embark on an even uglier journey of racial profiling. Moreover, on a practical level, revoking the 14th Amendment would affect those Americans who “look immigrant”, leading to an ugly ladder of bureaucracy to  prove citizenship.

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) has gone even further and said we should deport existing natural-born citizen children if their parents are illegal immigrants. This retroactive stripping of citizenship is completely unconstitutional.

We simply cannot afford what we’re doing right now. We’re not being mean. We’re just saying it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen.

The solution – to criminalize millions of babies who are born in this country is unacceptable. Denying these babies the 14th Amendment is the same as denying African-American slaves the 14th Amendment 150 years ago. Abolishing the birthright to citizenship is a movement not about the legality of immigrants, but about the stripping away of human rights.

The real anachronism standing here is these senators who want to take us back to the times before the Civil War. When the president of FAIR said, “We should not allow language from 1868 enslave our thinking…in the 21st Century,” Masao Suzuki, writer for Fight Back News Service, urges us to respond by saying, “We are not going to be enslaved ever again.”

Graham’s notion to debate the 14th amendment had a mixed reception even from groups that back tougher enforcement of the nation’s border restriction. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for one, supports stronger enforcement and, yet, refuses to endorse Graham’s suggestion. Instead, he suggested looking into reports of businesses that help immigrants arrange to have babies in the U.S. in order to win their children U.S. citizenship. Many Democrats also refuse to endorse Graham’s suggestion, but they resist stronger enforcement as a solution, stressing the urgency for comprehensive immigration reform. While President Obama’s push for immigration reform is considered dead, some Democrats are pushing for a scaled-back bill to move this fall.

Given the controversial nature of Graham’s proposal, successfully amending the Constitution would be considered unlikely. Many understand that the 14th Amendment made the Constitution what it is today: a document that guarantees the equal rights of all Americans and to which individuals and groups who feel they are being denied equality can appeal. As the 19th-century Republican editor George William Curtis wrote how it was part of a process that changed the U.S. government from one “for white men” to one “for mankind.” Since the Reconstruction era, the amendment had not stopped short of protecting African-Americans. Those who lived during the civil rights era had sought its protection, as well. Even today, the Supreme Court has used it to expand the rights of aggrieved Americans, as it did in Lawrence v. Texas, which in 2003 overturned a state law criminalizing homosexual acts.

Birthright citizenship has continued to protect all sorts of people outside the legacy of slavery, thereby rejecting any claim that it is anachronistic and requires amending.

Obama announces decision to send 1200 troops to the border

In the run-up to the November elections, the White House seems to be succumbing to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement, border security and deportations, rather than fix the broken immigration system.

So it was no surprise to hear the President’s decision to send 1200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border between the Unites States and Mexico. The White House also called for an additional $500 million to fund “increased agents, investigators, and prosecutors, as part of a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons, and money.” The move is being compared to a “scaled down version” of President Bush’s decision to send 6,000 troops to the border from 2006 to 2008. Common to both cases, the idea is that rather than enforce immigration law, the additional troops take over support issues so that more U.S. Border Patrol agents are free to handle law enforcement. According to the Associated Press, the troops will work on-

…intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, analysis and training, and support efforts to block drug trafficking. They will temporarily supplement border patrol agents until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border.

Since the White House announcement hit the headlines yesterday, it has received criticism from both sides of the debate. Those in favor of harsher enforcement have deemed it “insufficient”. Republicans such as John McCain and Sen. Russell Pearce, author of the controversial Arizona bill SB1070, have critiqued it saying that 1200 troops without the authority to enforce the law will do little to secure the borders. Advocates of immigration reform have denounced the President’s decision as political pandering that simply pays lip service to the issue without attempting to solve it. Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum said the move is a waste of resources-

Deploying additional National Guard without a clear strategy to end arms or drug smuggling is a response to tired talking points. Without true immigration reform, the political theater will continue and billions will continue to be wasted on misguided border security measures.

Organizations and elected officials representing border communities from San Diego to Brownsville have drafted a letter to the Obama Administration and federal legislators strongly opposing the decision to send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. These communities feel that the decision is  motivated solely by political motives, rather than based on the needs of those at the border. The letter reads-

“While DC politicians like to paint the border as a war zone, the reality is that it is one of the safest areas of the country. Crime is down. Even immigration flows are down. The only emergency here is a political one,” said Pedro Rios, with the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, one of the signatories of the letter. However, the militarization of the border is not without consequences for the communities who live there. Economies are choked by inefficient border crossings, civil rights are pushed aside, and quality of life is seriously diminished. It is time to rethink our border policy.  Increasing the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border does not enhance our national security, but in fact undermines it by mis-allocating resources. Humane border policies would focus quality law enforcement resources on real threats in the region, while protecting the rights and well-being of border residents.

On the one hand President Obama has repeatedly mentioned the need for bipartisan immigration reform that focuses on keeping families together through a humane, but workable solution, and his criticism of Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law was clear on that front. On the other hand, all actions that have been taken by the Obama administration around immigration have involved increased enforcement including the expansion of 287g and the Secure Communities programs, the highest investment on border security to date, and an all time record in detention and deportations.

Today, the Senate is about to vote on amendments to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, which if passed, will increase immigration detention, enforcement and border security. Amongst these are amendments introduced by Sen. John McCain  and Sen. Jon Kyl which call for the deployment of an additional 6,000 troops and additional funding for Operation Streamline at the border. In the wake of the recent White House announcement, it is imperative that we urge the Senate not to increase detention and border enforcement, and instead, focus on restoring fairness and justice to the immigration system. Call your Senator today before it’s too late.

Photo courtesy of LA Times.

POLL: Do you agree with President Obama's decision to send more troops to the border?

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Condemnation of Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill goes national

Tonight, Arizona’s future hangs in the balance as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decides whether to sign SB 1070, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in recent memory, into law. The bill will be forwarded to the Governor’s desk this evening and could ostensibly be signed into law by midnight tonight.

Ironically titled the “Safe Neighborhoods Bill”, the bill makes it mandatory for state and local police to stop anyone based on a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, effectively mandating racial profiling and creating panic across communities. Immigration law is within the domain of the federal government, not local police, but the bill is egregious even in its application of due process, allowing for the arrest of people without a warrant including day laborers and those who hire them. It also makes it mandatory for local towns and cities to share information with the Department of Homeland Security and any citizen can press charges against local administrations who they believe are not be enforcing the law.

If passed into law SB 1070 will have enormous repercussions on the United States. Already, a senator in Ohio is looking for a co-sponsor to introduce a similar bill, and similar movements are expected across many states. Condemnation of the bill has reached massive proportions and a cohesive movement of immigration groups, agriculture, labor, police foundations and civil rights groups is emerging.

It started with Congressman Luis Gutierrez  calling on President Obama denouncing the Obama administration’s silence on the bill. Condemning deportations that have reached 1000 a day, half of which are originating in Ohio, he said-

Giving police such a broad mandate to arrest and book people “suspected” of looking a certain way isn’t just an invitation to racial profiling, it’s like waving a green flag and saying “gentlemen start your engines”… If we allow police-state tactics in Arizona to continue, the level of basic community security will erode and civil unrest could escalate. The President must act now to diffuse the Arizona panic and take control of a deteriorating situation that could become a national crisis.

The media reacted almost immediately. In a heated exchange with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, Alfredo Gutierrez, editor of the La Frontera Times, criticized the SB 1070 bill for taking immigration law enforcement away from the federal Government, referring to it as a “civil libertarian’s nightmare…You don’t have to throw out civil liberties because you have a major issue.”

Vigils, rallies and press conferences against the bill are reaching a fevered pitch. Advocacy groups across the country, such as Amnesty International, Reform Immigration For America, NDLON, and the National Immigration Forum are joining groups in Arizona including the Border Action Network, the Puente Movement and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in denouncing the bill. A group of people are fasting until the bill is vetoed. PSA’s and two hotlines have been introduced to educate people about the bill and dispel some of the fear and panic created by its introduction in communities. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) is organizing a press conference outside the Department of Homeland Security HQ in D.C. to call on Assistant Secretary John Morton to denounce the bill, coming on the heels of demands by civil rights groups to end the 287(g) and other programs that mandate local and state police to enforce federal immigration law. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is taking legal action against the bill if signed into law, arguing that it violates due process and Supreme Court precedents, urging Governor Brewer to recognize that-

… This law is an open invitation to racial discrimination, community discord, and naked clash between state and federal government. The law’s constitutional flaws will inevitably attract costly legal challenges, to the detriment of all Arizona.

Take urgent action today and ensure that Gov. Brewer vetoes SB 1070.

Photo courtesy of www.altoarizona.com

POLL: Do you think Governor Brewer should veto SB 1070?

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