What a difference a few weeks can make. Just last month, the papers were filled with stories about the amazing feats of DREAM Act students, whose commitment and love for this country is boundless, even as they risk deportation in order to tell their stories. This week, the papers are filled with stories of vicious state legislators who want to turn back the clock on civil rights by stopping “an invasion of illegal aliens” through an end to birthright citizenship. Where the DREAM Act movement is about hope and opportunity, this ugly new attempt to change the Fourteenth Amendment is about hate and deprivation.
It’s tempting to look at these latest developments and conclude that the DREAM Act and all other efforts to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality are dead in the water. Obviously, fighting back against negative, punitive, anti-immigrant legislation will have to be a priority, making it more difficult to advance positive change. And the numbers in the House and Senate will make it difficult to advance good legislative policy. But it would be a mistake to count out the millions of people who have come to believe in the need for comprehensive immigration reform over the last few years.
And, frankly, the bold new moves by immigration restrictionists are likely to backfire precisely because they are so bold. When proposals to end birthright citizenship, which have long circulated in the House of Representatives, were easily dismissed as fringe elements of the anti-immigration movement, no one paid much attention to the implications. But when national leaders—starting with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and his “dropping babies” comments earlier this year—began calling for a roll back to the Fourteenth Amendment, they unleashed a torrent of right-wing, anti-immigrant sentiment that has made an awful lot of people stand up and take notice.
Elected officials who propose tinkering with the Constitution as a way to end illegal immigration have shown their hand. They would happily undermine decades of civil rights legislation in order to change our immigration policies, which kind of makes you wonder if this is about immigration at all. Civil rights leaders, many of whom long ago recognized the links between immigration policy and civil rights, have been blunt and unsparing in their critique of these proposals.
Americans for Constitutional Citizenship, a new civil and human rights group formed to counter the hatred embedded in these new state initiatives to end birthright citizenship, called Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) recent efforts futile and divisive in a recent statement:
Instead of debating the substantive issues at stake for our country, Rep. King has put forth a divisive and futile piece of paper that has no place being considered in the U.S. Congress. Even more disturbing is that on the same day that the House of Representatives was honoring the dignity of our Constitution by reading it on the floor, Rep. King was busy undermining it for political grandstanding. We will continue to stand for American values and oppose these frivolous political attacks on the core principles of our great democracy.
If there was ever a doubt that people were using immigrants as a scapegoat for our nation’s ills, the audacity of the anti-Fourteenth Amendment crowd has put this to rest forever. And if you think people were energized to work for immigration reform as a consequence of DREAM Act, just wait and see what happens as more and more Americans realize that immigration affects every single one of us. These attempts to roll back the Constitution are part of the bandwagon of bad ideas that have emerged in the face of a broken immigration system. As the anti-immigrant proposals become bolder and more ridiculous, more and more people will reject them and will see that the Emperor—or in this case, the State Legislator—have no clothes.
Photo by iwcblogger.