Sunday, August 8, 2010

Change the Fourteenth Amendment? Step Away from the Stupid!

I have heard a lot these days about amending the Constitution, namely the Fourteenth Amendment. These calls have come, during the midterm election year, solely from the GOP, and in particular the Republican leadership: House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senators John Kyl and John McCain of Arizona, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to name just the highest ranking, Senator Lindsey Graham. Let me say it right now: this is not just a bad idea, it is a thinly veiled cynical strategy to invent a wedge issue.

The Fourteenth Amendment is probably, when taken as a whole, the single most important amendment to the Constitution. It is among the first civil rights legislation in American history, and almost certainly the most sweeping. It forced, for the first time, the states to abide by the Bill of Rights, which the states had been free to ignore before 1868. It was written with the express intent of creating American citizens from non-citizens, which in our present day includes the children of illegal immigrants.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Fourteenth Amendment, here's the complete text:
"Section 1. 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.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."
Conservatives have waved A LOT of signs and made A LOT of in the last two years about the Constitution. Yet there appears to be a lot of consternation on the right about what they actually like about the Constitution. Some have called for a repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment - you know, where WE THE PEOPLE actually vote for our national senators. Why does the hard right hate freedom?

Now we have them clamoring to change the Fourteenth Amendment because of that pesky first sentence of Section 1. Apparently, conservatives belief it is their birthright to deny the right of citizenship as a birthright, so long as they do not approve of the parentage of such people. It's not as if one can control where their parents are living when they are born.

There is an old libel at work here. That old libel is that of the "anchor baby," as slanderous as the once popular conservative mantra against public assistance known as Cadillac-driving welfare queens who have the babies just for the money, 'cause that's where all the money is. No one has ever met one of these welfare queens, just as no one ever met an anchor baby.

No one comes to to the United States of America to have babies. They come to the United States of America for the same reason every person after Columbus came here: to build a better life for themselves and their families. And as our Founding Documents make clear, the rights enjoyed by American citizens are not bestowed by any government, but are a natural result of our Creation. So who we to deny what both the Creator and our wise fathers saw fit to set down: that everyone born here is a citizen, owing fealty to our national creed of hard work and liberty, and owed equal protection under the law.

Now let's be clear about something: Congress cannot pass a law, and the President sign that law, which would in any way alter fundamentally how an Amendment to the Constitution operates. Therefore, any call for "looking into" or "holding hearings" on changing the Fourteenth Amendment is simply balderdash, a distraction from the very real failure of the GOP to have any agenda aside from "We're not the black guy in the White House" to run on in the midterms. That's about as plain as I can say it.

In case you didn't pay attention in your civics class, to amend the Constitution or an Amendment requires whatever changes or additions to be passed by supermajorities [66%] of each house of Congress, as well as then being ratified by three-quarters of the states, or 38. California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington and Oregon, through either their Congressional representation or their state legislatures, are more than enough to prevent this from happening.

So why propose the impossible?

Furthermore, and not for nothing, but the natural born citizenship of the sitting President is still fodder for tabloids and right wing blogposts. Allegedly 1 in 4 Americans has a question about President Obama's place of birth. This mendacious narrative dovetails nicely with attacking the Democrats for not dealing with illegal immigration through changing of the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This is doubly dishonest because the GOP has a recent history of saying "No" to everything, even to matters which they had either previously backed or proposed, and this includes immigration reform.

Finally, as with all the numbskull calls to either build a wall along the Mexican border, or find and deport all the illegal immigrants, no one takes the long view. Okay, let's amend the Constitution to prevent the children of illegal immigrants from being citizens. Great. Now where are they citizens of? What if mom is from Ecuador and dad from Guatemala? What happens to a now instantaneously created permanent underclass of stateless infants? And how does the government react to any of this without growing larger and more imposing? Will mothers now have to carry documentation of their child's citizenship every time they enroll in school, go to a doctor, or a hospital? Finally, who will pay for this, or more importantly, will this pay off for us?

The short answer is "no." No one thought any of this through beyond screwing over people with brown skins. Personally, I like creating new citizens - it increases the population, and therefore the tax base, so we can all continue to enjoy the the success of our nation.

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