My Ambivalence - Let Me Show You It

Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Last night before bed, I was reading the August 1st edition of Newsweek. There was an article in there about how Lindsey Graham and other political figures have decided to push for a change to the U.S. Constitution to deny citizenship to babies born on U.S. soil who do not have at least one parent who are legal residents or citizens.

My ambivalence on this matter is legion.

The first source of my unease is the fact that I take the Constitution very seriously. I spent the first half of my adult life with the understanding that I would die to protect the ideals it represents, and that oath has permeated every aspect of my self-image and my values. So when someone pops up and says, "Hey! Let's amend the Constitution to keep those brown folks from dropping their anchor babies here and sucking up our entitlement money!", I tend to narrow my eyes and put the burden of proof on those who want the change. And that burden is heavy. VERY heavy. Aside from the fact that the U.S. Constitution defines the law by which all others are judged in this country, it also has an enormous significance as an historical document. Changing it should never be taken lightly.

The second issue I have with this suggestion is that is seems more than a little mean-spirited, for a variety of reasons.

This smacks of punishing the child for the sins of the parents. Yes, the parent or parents came here illegally. Yes, they should have followed the appropriate process to gain legal residency if they wanted to live here. Yes, they're gaming the system to a certain degree by having a baby that is entitled to U.S. citizenship while they themselves are here illegally. But I have a hard time believing they're doing these things because it's convenient. For the most part, I believe these people are making these choices because they want their families to have better lives and see the United States as the location where they can achieve that goal. Punishing these people unto the Nth generation because their ancestors couldn't get a Visa seems a bit disproportionate, and smacks of the "Fuck you, I've got mine" mentality that permeated the health care debate.

Additionally, I feel like enshrining such an attitude in our Constitution is very, well, unAmerican. If we, as a nation, have a set of values by which we live, I don't think they're personified by telling families who want to engage in American life as fully fledged and participating citizens to get fucked and get lost.

And yet...and yet.

Illegal immigration is a problem in this country, and it needs to be addressed, sooner rather than later. While our tradition of allowing a constant stream of immigration into the U.S. has kept our culture and our economy vibrant, it needs to be regulated and managed in a way that benefits both the country as a whole and those who wish to join us. I don't think we should lose our damn minds and attempt to seal the border against the influx of unskilled labor - a quick comparison of the results of our immigration reality compared to that of European countries pretty much tells the tale of how that would work out. Nor do I think we should throw open the boarders indiscriminately singing "come on down!" with no regard to the skills of those who want to come and the needs of the communities they would join. 

I haven't entirely made up my mind about this proposed Constitutional Amendment. I lean towards "no," simply because I tend towards conservatism when it comes to changing the U.S. Constitution, and I believe we can address the issue with administrative law or enforcement activities. The proposed Amendment smacks of a zero-sum game to me, but we'll see how it plays out.

26 comments:

Steve Buchheit said...

If it was a real concern, I'd say sure, let's have a discussion. In this case, however, I'm pretty well convinced it pandering, and pandering to an ideal that shouldn't be given credence.

So, yeah, show me just how "horrible" the situation is. Give me numbers and facts and then we'll discuss it. Until then, the proponents are whipping up racial fears for nothing more than trying to harvest votes.

We have enough real problems to worry about to waste time and bandwidth on imaginary problems.

Rachael said...

My best friend is actually married to someone that immigrated to the country legally. Last week she said something that really struck me. Basically, she thinks illegal immigration is a problem, but in light of just how much money it cost for them to get her husband into the country legally (thousands of dollars and a lawyer) she can really empathize with why so many people simply can't do it and feel like they have no choice. There needs to be major reform and simplification of the system; I'm of the opinion that would do so much more than spending kajillions of dollars putting armed guards on the border or something.

mom in northern said...

The Australian policy is worth a looky lou…

mom in northern said...

PS...they do have the added advantage of being land locked...

The Mechanicky Gal said...

I'm with Steve. It's just whipping up a furor to get everyone onboard with the "We're being INVADED!" fear.
I have a neighbor that recently became legal. It wasn't fun living in fear all those years she was illegal.

Eric said...

The Amendment that Graham et al. want to change doesn't just enshrine the tradition expressed in "The New Colossus," the poem at the base of the Statue Of Liberty; it's original purpose and essence was to make Americans out of those who had been brought to this nation in chains and forced to build the country at the wrong end of the whip, recently freed from servitude by the bloodiest war in our history.

In that context, the idea of repealing part of the Fourteenth Amendment isn't merely racist, but profoundly racist.

We are a nation of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. Even the human beings who lived in these lands before white thieves arrived from Europe crossed from Asia thousands of years ago, the earliest of immigrants to these shores. While I am a materialist and believe in what can be measured versus what one desires to be, the romantic in me cannot resist the poetry that says that if there is something essential to this continent, something spiritual that radiates out of the stones and soil, it is that those who are born here belong here.

I am not saying that immigration issues are simple--quite the contrary. And I have found recent leftist arguments that an open borders policy is a challenge to a high-wage, strong-welfare society; so while my heart favors amnesty and an easy path to legal citizenship, my head recognizes that this may not be what is best for the future of this country. But birthright citizenship is non-negotiable. It is in the Constitution not just because it is who we should be but because it was always who we were supposed to be all along.

Graham et al. are bigots and cynics (Steve is absolutely right that they are pandering and have no real drive to follow-through nor much risk of success). They are not un-American, they are anti-American; what they propose for the sake of political theatre is a country I wouldn't want to live in, and meanwhile they're no part of mine.

WendyB_09 said...

I was going to lead with are a nation of immigrants but Eric beat me to the the punch.

Matter of fact, on the paternal side our grandparents immigrated from Poland around the turn of the last century. Making our dad a 1st generation American, us second generation. They did it the right way.

I'm certainly not for a constitutinoal amendment, only beef I've ever had with the fine document that shaped our country is they didn't declare a national launguage, which is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

Besides, with an amendment, where would the line be drawn? Only babies born on US soil to one citizen parent? What about children that were kids when their parents arrived? They certainly had no say in the matter, they were raised as Americans. Even if as adults they know the parents came here illegally, other than a language tie, they have no memory of the home country they came from.

I'll add more when I get home tonight and can cite a couple examples.

John the Scientist said...

OK, you've shaken me out of my blog silence. I'm going to post about this and Eric's trollage sometime in the next day or two.

I am married to an ex-illegal immigrant, and she and I have talked this over lots of times. We've actually forged out a shared politcal viewpoint based on both of our experiences. I need to ask Eric a question in private before I post, though.

Eric said...

My trollage?

Eric said...

I should add that I've been in the process of drafting tomorrow's blog post in response to this, came back to this tab to hit refresh, and find myself accused of "trollage." "Trollage."

Excuse me?

I'm really not sure if that was a poor stab at jest or whether you were trying to piss me off, John, or whether you don't appreciate that I take this issue pretty damn seriously.

What's the question you want to ask, John? It better be worth asking.

Janiece said...

I'll let John respond on his own, Eric, but I assumed he was referring to the troll that visits your blog, rather than your behavior.

Eric said...

If that's the case, I apologize for my umbrage.

A rambling piece is scheduled to post a little after midnight Wednesday morning, by-the-by. Started as just a post-up of "The New Colossus" and turned into one of my crazy desultory philippics (to snatch a great phrase from Paul Simon).

Anne C. said...

I'm no Constitutional scholar, so correct me if I'm wrong, but don't most of the amendments GIVE rather than TAKE? (The one exception being Prohibition, which was fatally flawed.)

Stacey said...

Anne, there you go again, trying to use logic....
Janiece, I have to echo your ambivalence.
JR and I were talking about this and we both said the same thing. They want to talk about intent for the change to the amendment, but they absolutely don't want to talk about intent when it comes to gun control. That is not to say I'm coming down on one side or the other on gun control, just commenting on the irony.

John the Scientist said...

Yeah, Eric, I was referring to a certain troll under your bridge which triggered the racism topic.

Nathan said...

Oddly enough, every President since Reagan, (Rep and Dem alike), has proposed fixing Immigration policy with a sensible and essentially permissive set of regulations. They've all recognized that while it is necessary to have control over one's borders, it's also imperative that we continue admitting a wide spectrum of people into the country. None of them proposed creating harsher restrictions.

When you can find something that every President over a period of 30 years has essentially agreed on, I think their opinions are, at least, worth considering.

Graham's an ass.

And BTW, I'm pretty sure Janiece's interpretation of John's comment was the right one.

Eric said...

Oi! My bad, John, sorry 'bout that....

Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

I'd daresay that the majority of those who want to impose New Limits Against Them had ancestors who came here under pretty light and open regulations. Definitely "I've Got Mine" mentality.

Dr. Phil

Jeri said...

You know - I've always thought of myself as a libertarian, fiscal conservative & social liberal. But the more I think about my particular positions as we talk through them, the more I realize how truly left I lean.

I lean pretty decidedly toward "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." I, too, think it's part of our raison d'etre as a nation, and to deny it now in fear and penny-pinching is to close off something essential about America.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Janiece said...

I have no more ambivalence, y'all. Lindsey Graham can go fuck himself.

If you're born here, you belong here, as Eric contends.

Fathergoose said...

While I have not come down on one side or the other, I always like to keep in mind that it was an amendment to the Constitution not part of the original. I do not buy-in to the racial aspect; the ratification was a political tool as a result of Dred Scott. We have a history of bastardizing The Constitution and using it as a tool to solve political and social dilemmas as we did with the 18th, 21st and 22nd amendments. While most the discussion, that I have read, seems to focus on the “Anchor Babies” I have also heard discussion of “Birth Tourism”, wealthy people from other countries coming to the U.S. to have their children so they have citizenship. We do have a dilemma with immigration, so I think the discussion is worth having. But in all reality it’s all academic; the chances of changing the 14th amendment are very slim.

Janiece said...

Fathergoose, I'm not sure how a response to Dred Scott could be anything but racial. Can you explain why you think this?

And I have to say - the Constitution is a living document for a reason. As a beneficiary of the 19th Amendment, I have to say tat the fact that the 14th (and the 18th, 21st and 22nd) were not part of the original Bill of Rights doesn't make them less important - or less a part of the law of the land.

Fathergoose said...

Sure, I should have been clearer in my OP, let me clarify my thoughts; the 14th amendment was ratified in response to the Dred Scott, yes it was a racial issue at that time and it was a proper response. The dilemma we now face is not analogous, but still impacted by that amendment, just because some want to look at how that decision is impacting a dilemma that we have 142 years later does not make it racial.

Additionally, I never said that because it was an amendment it was less important, just identifying what you confirmed “the Constitution is a living document”.

Our thought process on this may be different, but I am hoping that it does not affect the beer you owe me!

Janiece said...

Fathergoose, thanks for clarifying. I'm not sure that I agree with your analysis, as I believe many anti-immigration radicals are motivated by race - heaven for fend them thar brown folk become the majority here in the U.S. instead of us real Americans!

::gag::

And yes, I'm still up for buying you a beer. Send me a note at hotchicksdigsmartmen at comcast dot net and we'll set up a time!

David said...

I'm not even going to get into the whole issue of immigration, since I think it has been adequately covered both here and in Eric's blog post today on the subject. But there's more afoot here. The 14th Amendment is the only place where US citizenship is defined in the Constitution, and as such the problems with repealing that section of the 14th Amendment are legion:

First, as has been pointed out, this was an attempt to enshrine the values of the 1866 Civil Rights Act into the Constitution, and if this represents a problem to some folks, well, I can live with that. Both both were explicitly aimed at overturning Dred Scott and making sure that people couldn't be denied "inalienable rights" simply because the majority decided they were unworthy. Remove those protections and there is nothing in the laws to prevent such artificial distinctions from being reimposed - once you start making value distinctions on citizenship (do we like your kind?) rather than objective ones (were you born here? Did you pass the naturalization process?) the potential for abuse is clear and inevitable.

Second, I don't know how far they want to amend that amendment (oh, the irony of the original intent purists objecting!), but Section 1 (the part that defines a citizen as someone born or naturalized here) also defines that citizen as being a citizen of not only the state in which they reside (which was the only relevant unit before the Civil War) but of the United States as well. It is this *national* citizenship that finally makes the Bill of Rights applicable to the states, and if that is repealed in this mad rush to ignorance, then there won't by any Constitutional prohibition to my state of Wisconsin establishing religion, searching without a warrant, or imposing cruel and unusual punishment.

I'll stop there.

In "Meet the Robinsons," an unremarkable kid's movie, every time the villain's plans collapse into a pile of slapstick whatever henchman he'd hired for it turns to him and says, "I don't think this plan was very well thought out."

Sometimes it's like living in your own cartoon, these days.

Janiece said...

David, my new favorite phrase is now, "mad rush to ignorance."

I love my readers...