The Right of Citizenship?

Amendment XIV

Section 1: All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and 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.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. Ratified July 9, 1868. Citizenship has been a birthright in the United States for over two centuries. It was ratified as absolute into the U.S. Constitution in 1868, and has been an unquestioned pillar of American society ever since. Apparently until now, that is.

If two United States Congressmen from San Diego have their way, the right of citizenship will no longer be bestowed upon those born within U.S. borders or in U.S. territories. And if they have their way, the children born of immigrants in the country illegally will effectively retroactively have their citizenship revoked and be deported along with their parents.

This past weekend, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) spoke at a Tea Party gathering in Ramona, CA, a more rural community in East San Diego County. Hunter was asked whether he thought that U.S. born children of illegal immigrants should be deported along with their parents. Hunter: “I would have to, yes. And let me tell you why. You can say, ‘You are a mean guy. That’s not a humanitarian thing to do.’ We simply cannot afford what we’re doing right now. We just can’t afford it. California is going under. We’re not being mean. We’re just saying, ‘It takes more than just walking across the border to become an American citizen.’ It’s within our souls.”

Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), when asked about Hunter’s comments, agreed, telling the North County Times that “if the parents are deported, their U.S.-born children should go with them unless the parents can find a legal resident guardian who can take care of the kids.”

So much for Republican “family values.” What Hunter and Bilbray want everyone to believe, and what the supporters of the Arizona anti-immigration law seem to imply, is that all immigrants are criminals. They’re here to cheat our system, steal from us, and murder our citizens. They don’t belong in our country, period. The image they want to leave you with is that anyone of a darker complexion that might come from another country should be treated as suspicious because it is assumed they’re here to do you or your property harm; they are a drain on our system and a threat to our way of life.

What they don’t tell you, and what they don’t want you to know, is that the overwhelming majority of immigrants—legal and illegal alike—are good, decent, hard-working people simply looking to make a better life for themselves and their families. They don’t want you to know that they pay their taxes (and in the case of illegal workers, without getting any of the benefits that most taxpayers are entitled to), that they are active in their church communities, that their children excel in school.

My brother is an attorney. When he was in law school, he worked on a case where a family that had been here in California illegally faced deportation. The parents came here dirt poor with their two children. The father worked in the fields as a picker for several years, before finding a job at a McDonald’s where he used root through the dumpster to find food to feed his family. He eventually found a job cleaning a school. In the country illegally, he was forced to use someone else’s social security number in order to get on the payroll. He paid his taxes, but received no benefits. He was a hard worker and well liked, and as such he was promoted several times. He also volunteered his time to clean his church, eventually being asked to lead a crew of 20 to clean various churches around the area.

His wife found a job washing dishes in a cafeteria near a prison, and worked her way up through the ranks. She was eventually promoted to store manager. They were both active in their church and were very generous in donating their time to various charities.

They brought with them two children, the oldest of whom was four when they arrived in the U.S. He became the Valedictorian of his high school class with a 4.0+ GPA, was a football star, an Eagle Scout, active in various church charities……Upon graduation from high school, unable to obtain financing for college due to his immigration status, he was forced to take a job washing dishes in a restaurant while attending junior college when he could afford it.

Their second child was also an excellent student. In addition to her church charity work, while still in high school, she started her own charity to clothe the poor in the Bay Area.

A third child was born here in the United States, and thus was afforded automatic citizenship. He too became an honors student, a Boy Scout, and by the age of 12 was designing websites and writing basic computer programs in his spare time. He had aspirations of becoming an officer in the United States Air Force.

Tired of living a lie and in constant fear, desperate to find a way to normalize their immigration status, they were convinced by an attorney that he could help them, but only if they turned themselves in to the INS. They were immediately placed into deportation proceedings while the attorney, who had taken $15,000 from the family, walked away from the case.

Their cause was taken up on a pro bono basis by a group of immigration attorneys along with several law students, including my brother. They immediately filed for a Cancellation of Removal, arguing that by deporting the parents, they would also be forced to deport the youngest child, a U.S. citizen (which cannot legally be done). They had no relatives, no family in the U.S., so there was no one to look after the youngest had the family been separated. So in effect, they would be deporting a U.S. citizen.

The youngest (by this time a young teenager) did not speak or read Spanish well at all. Had he been forced to attend a Mexican school, he would have been set back several years. His grades would plummet (remember, he was an honors student), he would suffer the severe psychological and emotional damage of having been ripped out of his own culture. In his anguish and frustration, this incredibly bright young man, a model citizen and certain future leader, would most assuredly become a delinquent. “When he grew up and came back to the U.S., as is his right, he would likely become a burden to society.”

During the short trial, the white, southern born and bred, ex-warden judge heard testimony from the town mayor, the boy’s teachers, the Boy Scout leaders, and a child psychologist. After four hours of proceedings, the judge was ready to issue his ruling.

As a result of the trial, the parents were issued green cards, and after five years, were eligible to apply for citizenship themselves. The two older children, however, were left without legal status.

There are many, many other stories similar to this one.  These are the stories that the “Nativists” like Duncan Hunter, Brian Bilbray, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, FAIR, and others of their ilk don’t want you to know about. They don’t want you to find out that they contribute to society and are not the pocks Conservatives tirelessly scream about.

What our country needs is real immigration reform. We need to provide an avenue for the good and decent people who want to be a part of our society to normalize their immigration status and work toward becoming U.S. citizens. We need to streamline the process for legal immigration, including extensive background checks, so that desperate people no longer have to risk everything in order to come to our country. We do need to tighten our borders and strengthen our border security to keep the parasites—the drug dealers, the gun runners, the career criminals—out of our country. And we also need Mexico to do its part and improve conditions in their society so that so many people no longer feel the need to abandon their own country in favor of ours.

What we don’t need is for our politicians to wave the Constitution around when it suits them, but to completely eschew it when it becomes an inconvenience. You can’t have it both ways; either you’re for Constitutional rights or you’re not. If we start allowing U.S. citizens to be deported, then where will it end? Where do you draw the line? And what’s to stop that line from getting moved farther and farther back to the point where any citizen can be denied his or her rights on the whim of a person with power?

What we are witnessing now is the rebirth of McCarthyism, where the mere suspicion of illegal status (i.e. Latino) is enough to have a person detained. Heretics incite the fear of the Great Immigrant Invasion, where our laws and our very existence are being threatened into oblivion! Where the next step is to require them to wear some sort of identifying mark at all times. Where they can be harassed for any reason at any time, and segregated into ghettos. Where walking the streets while different is a crime.

We now live in a time when brown is the new black.

Besides, as John Wayne said: “Who are you calling alien, pilgrim?”

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3 comments so far

  1. Lee Van Ham on

    Thank you, Andy, for the excellent opinion piece and blog on immigration that appeared in SDNN. VERY helpful, rational communication. Needed.

  2. Sara on

    Just agreeing with Lee Van Ham – thanks for your piece!

  3. Andy on

    Thanks to all!


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