Aug 062010

I have not and will not make a habit of this, but today’s New York Times editorial is, I believe, important enough to be posted here in its entirety. I hope you will read it in its entirety.

Xenophobia: Fear-Mongering for American Votes

Leading Republicans have gotten chilly toward the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to people born in the United States. Senators Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl have been suggesting that the country should take a look at it, re-examine it, think it over, hold hearings. They seem worried that maybe we got something wrong nearly 150 years ago, after fighting the Civil War, freeing enslaved Africans and declaring that they and their descendants were not property or partial persons, but free and full Americans.

As statements of core values go, the 14th Amendment is a keeper. It decreed, belatedly, that citizenship is not a question of race, color, beliefs, wealth, political status or bloodline. It cannot fall prey to political whims or debates over who is worthy to be an American. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” it says, “are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

People like Mr. Sessions, who pride themselves on getting the Constitution just right (on, say, guns), are finding this language too confusing. “I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the amendment had in mind,” said Mr. Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, “but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen.”

It’s true that air travel was not a big focus in 1868, but this is not about a horde of pregnant jet-setting Brazilians, if, indeed, such a thing even exists. The targets are Mexicans, and the other mostly Spanish-speaking people who are the subjects of a spurious campaign against “anchor babies” — children of illegal immigrants supposedly brought forth to invade and occupy.

Usually alarms about scary foreign infants are made by one-note zealots like Tom Tancredo of Colorado. But it’s a bipartisan temptation. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who berated Republicans this week about abandoning their principles over birthright citizenship, did so himself in a 1993 bill for which he later apologized.

Thankfully, the Constitution is sturdy. The birthright-deniers will not easily rewrite it or legislate around it. More than a century of jurisprudence stands against their claim that the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” (an exception for diplomats’ children and members of sovereign Indian tribes) also alienates undocumented children.

The proponents of changing the 14th Amendment also would have to acknowledge the big-government colossus that new rules would require, burdening all parents to prove their children’s status. New battalions of attorneys would gain full employment to fight over thousands of newborns rendered stateless each year, an instant, permanent underclass. Then there’s the obsolescence of all those civics texts, old movies, patriotic picture books and red-white-and-blue songs.

The United States has never had a neat, painless way to add newcomers. But our most shameful moments have involved the exclusion of groups, often those that do our hardest labor: Indians, African-Americans, Chinese, Irish, Italians, Catholics, Jews, Poles, Japanese-Americans, Hispanics. America has stood proudest when it dared to stretch the definition of who “we” are.

As a result, this is still the most welcoming country for immigrants. A few politicians chumming for votes in an off-year election cannot be allowed to destroy that.

Fear-mongering by our Republicans is, of course, nothing new. They do it every time an election comes around. Remember 9/11, gay marriage, attacks on Christmas (and Christianity in general), etc., etc.?

Our Republicans are just a barrel of fun, aren’t they?

P.S. Also worthy of your time: Eugene Robinson’s column in today’s Washington Post… “A judge’s mighty arguments for marriage equality.”