This op-ed by Randy Borntager, Political Director of People For the American Way, was originally published at The Huffington Post.
After the vast majority of Republicans voted to shut down the Department of Homeland Security to oppose President Obama's immigration actions, and with Republicans blocking any hope of real immigration reform this Congress, it seems the anti-immigrant movement has instead decided to refocus its efforts on revoking the constitutional right to birthright citizenship.
Earlier this week, Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana decided to introduce a birthright citizenship amendment to the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. The amendment so far has just one cosponsor -- Sen. David Perdue of Georgia -- and it's unlikely that it will be included in the final bill, but this decision to tack an unconstitutional, anti-immigrant measure onto an important bill shows the priorities of Sen. Vitter and the Republican Party.
Sen. Vitter claims that his birthright citizenship amendment would help curb the issue of "birth tourism," recently in the news surrounding Chinese mothers coming to California -- often committing crimes in the process -- so their children can be born in the U.S. It would seem more sensible to tackle this issue through targeting the middlemen who NBC reports "pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars tax-free," and the visa, tax, and marriage fraud that are often a key part of "birth tourism." Instead, Sen. Vitter and the many Republicans who support ending birthright citizenship are trying to use the issue as cover for their attacks on immigrants and attempts to revoke a core constitutional right.
The flaws of the conservative attacks on birthright citizenship have been well documented. First, it's blatantly unconstitutional. It's clear that the drafters of the 14th Amendment intended it to guarantee citizenship to everyone born in the U.S. The only exception -- in the words of one of the amendment drafter's, Sen. Jacob Howard -- is for people "who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States," as they are not, as the 14th Amendment requires, "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States. Conservatives from Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush adviser, to the anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs have viewed attempts to undermine birthright citizenship as unconstitutional.
It's also a terrible idea. Gerson wrote, "Anti-immigration activists often claim that their real concern is to prevent law breaking, not to exclude Hispanics. But revoking birthright citizenship would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into 'criminals'--arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital." The Migration Policy Institute also found that rather than decreasing the number of undocumented immigrants in America, as birthright citizenship activists claim, revoking the right would "likely increase dramatically" the number of people in the country without authorization, leading to the "establishment of a permanent class of unauthorized persons."
Sen. Vitter is not the only Republican promoting anti-immigrant bills instead of trying for real, bipartisan solutions on immigration. In January of this year, Rep. Steve King of Iowa re-introduced a bill aiming to repeal birthright citizenship. Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Rep. Mike Coffman, and Rep. Joe Heck have all backed plans to revoke birthright citizenship in the past.
We need immigration reform. From improving the economy while reducing the deficit to ensuring that DREAMers and their families can live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation, the benefits are endless. Not only have Republicans blocked comprehensive immigration reform when it had a real chance of passing, they're now trying yet again to bring up unconstitutional bills to drive their point home. That's not what responsible governing looks like, and for a party that says they're trying to attract more Latino support, they're certainly not shy about attacking immigrants for short-term political gain.
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As we’re dealing with the refugee crisis on the southern border, right-wing elected officials have amped up their inappropriate, inflammatory rhetoric to dehumanize immigrants and attack immigration reform:
Of course, elected extremists aren’t the only ones making outrageous statements:
The Right Wing's inflammatory rhetoric distorts the reality of the crisis, causing more conflict and damage.
Earlier this year, Senators David Vitter and Rand Paul introduced a constitutional amendment to eliminate one of the key advancements in liberty in American history: the citizenship provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, a necessary reform that was made possible only at the horrendous cost of four years of bloody war. Correcting the mistakes of the past, Americans guaranteed the promises of liberty and equality available for all who were born here. The senators' proposed constitutional amendment was a shameful statement that those who adopted the Fourteenth Amendment had made a mistake.
Even though both senators had also (falsely) claimed that the Fourteenth Amendment did not confer citizenship on people born here to undocumented immigrants, their introduction of a constitutional amendment suggested a recognition that writing millions of Americans out of the Constitution would effect a fundamental change in our nation's character.
However, as Andrea Nill reports in Think Progress, Vitter and Paul have managed to take their hostility toward millions of Latinos to the next level:
This week, the two senators addressed the legislative dissonance by introducing a bill that's essentially a carbon copy of Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) birthright citizenship proposal in the House. Vitter and Paul, along with Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), say their legislation "requires the federal government to limit automatic citizenship to children born to at least one parent who is a citizen, legal resident, or member of the military."
Yet, rather than seeking two thirds of Congress and three-fourths of all the states to amend the Constitution, they now simply seek to redefine it by amending the Immigration and Nationality Act. ...
Since it’s highly unlikely their proposal will get very far, it raises the question of what Vitter and Paul’s goals really are. It’s one thing to argue in favor of a constitutional amendment. The arguments behind it are still beyond questionable, but at least they are based on a general agreement that the 14th amendment has been rightly interpreted throughout the past century. When people start arguing that the Constitution has been misread for over 150 years, it undercuts the legitimacy of the millions of Latino and Asian citizens who at some point in their family tree had citizenship conferred to them through an immigrant family member who came to the U.S. during periods when most foreign residents lacked formal “legal” status. Given the fact that Vitter and Paul waged two of the most blatantly racist campaigns last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly what they’re trying to accomplish.
As we have reported, legislative efforts to exclude millions of people who were born here from the rights of citizenship are flatly inconsistent with the Fourteenth Amendment's plain text and its history, buttressed by over a century of case law.
As the Right revs up its efforts to discredit and defund Planned Parenthood, it’s important to remember its last attempt to bring down a national organization through sheer force of repeated falsehoods.
ACORN, which at its height was the largest anti-poverty organization in the country and registered hundreds of thousands of new voters, became a political pariah in the 2008 elections after right-wing organizations and politicians hyped up charges that individual ACORN employees had made up names on voter registration forms and a video by now-renowned prankster James O’Keefe purported to show ACORN employees cooperating with criminals. The problem was, of course, that these allegations were either over-hyped or just plain false. O’Keefe’s video was found to be heavily edited and misleading. The handful of ACORN employees who filled voter registration forms with false names did so to cheat ACORN out of their paychecks, and never had any plan to commit voter fraud. The Government Accountability Office found that ACORN had not misused federal money. But by then, the organization had lost its federal funding and disbanded.
Now, ACORN has been cleared of another one of the charges levied against it, voter fraud in Connecticut. The Connecticut Post reports:
Following a two-year probe, state investigators have cleared the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now of charges of voter fraud brought by Republican registrars in Bridgeport and Stamford.
"The evidence does not provide a sufficient basis to determine that Connecticut ACORN had an institutional or systematic role in designing and implementing a scheme or strategy to fraudulently register or enroll electors ... prior to the November 2, 2008 election," read the recent report from the Elections Enforcement Commission.
The commission's investigation took a close look at the nuts and bolts of ACORN's operation, including copies of thousands of voter registration applications.
ACORN paid workers, who were screened using prior employment records, a flat $8 an hour to canvass neighborhoods and register voters, regardless of how many completed cards were handed in at the end of a shift. Workers had to initial each card they collected and supervisors reviewed batches of completed cards to determine if they surpassed a threshold of 30 percent deficient.
Because ACORN under state law was required to turn in all cards to registrars, the organization would identify at the top those identified as defective -- an effort to avoid the very complaints filed by Borges and Corelli.
Although charges against ACORN keep on being dismissed, the damage against the organization and the people it served has been huge. And the efforts to slam the organization are continuing—just this week Sen. David Vitter introduced the “Protect Taxpayers from ACORN Act.” We need to make sure that this sort of political takedown—where lies are repeated as the truth until it doesn’t matter anymore— doesn’t happen again.