Party for Socialism and Liberation editorial:
On Jan. 5., anti-immigrant lawmakers from across the country held a press conference in Washington, D.C., announcing new legislation in 14 states aimed at undermining birthright citizenship.
The same racist Arizona lawmakers who authored SB 1070 are introducing a bill that would issue a different type of birth certificate to the children of undocumented immigrants. The Arizona bill would also create a separate definition of “state citizen,” which they then hope to use to deny education and health services to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Using science-fiction language that would be funny were it not so hideously racist, these demagogues claim “illegal alien invaders” have come with a strategy to give birth to “anchor babies,” who will allow them to receive citizenship rights and other benefits later on. Even on its face, the claim is ridiculous. U.S.-born children cannot petition on behalf of their parents until they turn 21 years old, and even then most parents would have to leave the country for another 10 years. Undocumented immigrants do not have children as part of a 31-year plan; they have children for the same reasons every other family does.
Birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution under the 14th Amendment. It was passed after the Civil War to overturn the Black Codes used by southern states to virtually re-enslave freed African Americans. It was worded and designed specifically to make citizenship and other civil rights a matter of federal protection. It provided the legal framework for the Civil Rights movement to overthrow Jim Crow segregation a century later.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Pennsylvania, leader of the State Legislators for Legal Immigration, intends to flip this history on its head, while claiming to “love the Fourteenth Amendment.” According to Metcalfe, national citizenship derives from state citizenship, and state governments should be able to determine citizenship rights. African Americans have heard this before and know where it leads.
The bigots claim, ridiculously, that the language of the 14th Amendment does not apply to undocumented immigrants because they remain “subject to the jurisdiction” of their home countries. Wrapping their fascistic arguments in the American flag, they insist that the intent of the 14th Amendment was only to cover those who have sworn allegiance” to the United States. By definition, they say, children “born to foreign invaders” cannot qualify.
The racist demagogues behind this campaign know that higher courts will challenge, and likely strike down, such flagrantly unconstitutional bills.
Their aim is to turn the eyes of the country away from Wall Street’s crisis and instead scapegoat the country’s most vulnerable population. The same politicians who want to cut social spending, oppose universal health care and privatize public education have now turned around and blamed immigrants for inadequate social services. What hypocrisy!
More broadly, their strategy is to make the most odious ideas part of “respectable” political discourse.
The anti-immigrant movement considers the termination of birthright citizenship the “holy grail” of their cause. Looking at the demographic trends, they understand it as the only way to preserve a majority white country.
These fascist currents in U.S. politics seek to explain the decline of U.S. workers’ living standards, and the overall decline of the U.S. Empire, in barely-veiled racist terms. They attack “multi-culturalism” as the disease that has crippled the country, and compare immigrants to foreign parasites who must be cleansed from the nation’s body.
The reviling attack on birthright citizenship has been facilitated by the Democrats’ flimsy defense of immigrant rights. All too often, Democratic politicians make the pragmatic argument that “it’s just not realistic” to “round up” over 12 million undocumented immigrants.
By accepting the logic of the anti-immigrant racists—that there is an “immigration problem”—they have left the door wide open to the current attacks on birthright citizenship.
Immigrant communities should be defended as a matter of basic human dignity, because of their enormous contribution to society, to counter the extreme exploitation they face, and to destroy the two-tier labor force that only benefits the capitalist class. In fact, we believe all workers should have the same political, social and economic rights, regardless of birthplace.
So how can birthright citizenship be defended?
1. Put the immigrant rights movement back into the streets! The anti-immigrant bigots have been emboldened by the fact that the Democrats refused to pursue immigration reform as they promised. It was their promises that convinced many immigrant groups to stop protesting. We gain nothing by sitting on our hands. It’s time to march!
2. Take the movement into non-immigrant communities. Introduce resolutions in your labor unions, student groups, tenant’s and block associations defending birthright citizenship. African Americans have a particularly vital role to play based on their historic struggle against disenfranchisement. This is time to build unity with the immigrant community, based around the demand “Hands Off the 14th Amendment!”
3. Confront bigotry—be clear that birthright citizenship is not open for debate. While we must patiently explain this issue to workers who have been duped by the anti-immigrant campaign, the ruling class politicians spearheading this campaign need to be confronted, not asked “clarifying questions.” A group of activists disrupted the bigots’ Jan. 5 press conference in Washington—follow their example!