In a frenzy of xenophobia the Radical Republican has been talking up the idea of changing the 14th Amendment or so-called birthright citizenship. The argument is that there are thousands and thousands of late term unauthorized immigrants coming here to have their children. The children born here are citizens and this is either a) a plan for the parents to get to stay in the United States or b) future terrorist agents (this last one is so risible that only in the age of Faux News and Talk Radio could it get any play at all).

As with the 51Park Islamic Community Center they see this as a good wedge issue to whip up their fear addicted base and get them out the polls. This might seem like a new tactic, but like all Radical Republican ideas it is just a case of everything old is new again. The Congress has had hearings on the issue, way back in the mists of time, in 1995 and 1997, just after Radical Republicans had taken control of the Congress. Scott Wong over at Politico brought this to light.

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Let’s jump in the way back machine and take a look at what the arguments were in the Halcyon days of economic boom and impeachment hearings. Back then Rep. Brian Bilbray of California sponsored the “Citizenship Reform Act of 1997” his primary argument was the same we hear today that there is an inherent unfairness to authorized immigrants that the children of unauthorized immigrants are given citizenship along with those whose parents came here through official channels.

This is an argument based on a zero sum or scarcity view of U.S. citizenship. That somehow extending the rights and responsibilities of citizenship to more people dilutes the value of all others. It is ludicrous on its face. Just as with full marriage rights for gay citizens, extending the number of people who are citizens does nothing to diminish my citizenship. It is because this part of the Radical Right’s point is so weak that they always extend it to talk about the amount of money spent on services. They like this argument because it plays into another pillar of the their ideology that the rich should not pay more in taxes and so there is a limited amount of services to go around.

Rep. Bilbray made the case that birthright citizenship could be changed by statute instead of a Constitutional Amendment because Section 5 of the Amendment says

“The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

This is a nice bit of jujitsu, taking a section that is designed to give the Congress the power to enforce the Amendment and arguing that it can be used to subvert the clear language of the very same Amendment. If you are a little rusty on the 14th Amendment, here is what Section 1 says:

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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It is very clear and plain that all persons who are born hear and are subject to the laws of the United States are citizens. Section 5 authorizes legislation to enforce those words, not to weaken the protections they provide.

The Republicans did not have it all their own way back then. Rep Melvin Watt let them have it with this statement:

Let me, first of all, take issue with one thing that Mr. Bilbray said and one thing that the chairman implied. This notion that because there are some problems and costs associated with the Constitution, we ought to be doing something in violation of the Constitution, is just one that I cannot accept. I mean, there are problems and costs associated with just about every single provision of the U.S. Constitution. There are clearly problems associated with the first amendment and the second amendment, and the third amendment, and the fourth. I mean, you just go on and on and on. So, you know, the notion that there is some obligation to respond because there are problems and costs associated with honoring the Constitution is just one that I can’t down.

Second, the notion that the chairman advanced and that Mr. Bilbray advanced in his statement, or at least implied, that the rest of the nations of the world are moving in some direction, and, therefore, world opinion is on your side of this issue, simply is not persuasive, in my opinion. Our Constitution is not subject to world opinion. And if it is, then the way to make it subject to world opinion is to change the Constitution, not to just go and pass a statute that clearly flies in the face of the Constitution.

It went on for more than five hours in this vein, the forces of restriction and reaction arguing that we should change a provision that has served us well for more than 100 years, at that time, should be changed because there were unauthorized immigrants coming here and their children were becoming citizens.

This is what the Radical Republicans would like to see played out again in Congress this session or in the near future. They believe that xenophobia and the dire economic straights that they caused and help to perpetuate through obstructionism will be a political winner for them.

One thing that I believe would be different is the tone. The Republicans of the 1990’s were far from the radicalized ones of today. There was no talk back then of terrorist anchor babies, or maternity tourism. Rep. Bilbray and his witnesses were all going out of their way to be measured and moderate in their tone. Is there anyone that thinks the likes of Rep. Louis Gohmert will be as measured in his tone now?

This is an non-issue issue. Just like most of the things that induce heartburn in the Radical Right birthright citizenship is not a problem that needs a solution. The problem they are trying to address is large number of U.S. residents and workers who are not here officially. It is a problem; there is no doubt about that. The large community of unauthorized immigrants is one that can be easily abused. That weakens work place protections for all workers. The thing is that the business wing of the Radical Republicans wants those workers, they want the cheap labor that can not and will not complain if they are not treated as citizen workers are. So instead of going after the real problem of employment of unauthorized workers, they go after the children, who happen to be their fellow citizens.

Ending birthright citizenship would do exactly nothing to limit unauthorized immigration. For all that they paint a picture of pregnant women lining up to come across the boarder to have a child who is a citizen, that is not what drive unauthorized immigration. Holding hearings on this issue is just a way to blow a huge dog whistle of bigotry for their base. They can point to it and say “We know your worried about those horrible brown people, we’re working on it” without actually getting anything done.

Even if the Congress passed such a bill, just like in the 1990’s there is exactly zero chance that the Democratic President will sign it. This, like the 51Park Community Center is all designed to fire up a base that does not like “them dammed foreigners” and needs to be frightened to get out to the voting booth.

A lot of prominent Democrats have been towers of Jell-O on the issue of 51Park (Gov Dean, I am looking straight at you, and wondering what the frak you’re thinking) lets hope that the Leadership in the House and Senate stand tall on not giving the Radical Republicans a platform to spout more xenophobic nonsense.

The floor is yours.

Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for

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