Citizenship and the 14th Amendment

J. Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center has a great piece up in The Huffington Post today about attempts at the state level to deny citizenship to children born on U.S. soil to undocumented immigrants.

The key part links the rhetoric of those who would seek to rewrite the 14th Amendment with the rhetoric of those who tried to block the amendment from being ratified over 100 years ago:

Derided as “anchor babies” and even “terror babies,” the children of today’s undocumented immigrants are under attack by a coalition of state lawmakers backed by the nativist lobby. These lawmakers, under the umbrella of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), claim that birthright citizenship was never intended to and should not apply to these children. They recently announced a campaign to enact a series of state laws that would try to remove this citizenship right – in effect, rewriting the 14th Amendment.

They’ve raised the specter of “hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens … crossing the U.S. borders to give birth or exploit their child.” SLLI founder Daryl Metcalfe, a Pennsylvania lawmaker, warned of an “invasion” of immigrants responsible for “identity theft, property theft, drug running, human trafficking, sexual assaults, murder, increased gang activity, terrorism and … many other clear and present dangers.”

We’ve heard it all before.

When the 14th Amendment was debated in Congress in 1866, there was no shortage of angst over the fact that it would apply to the children of immigrants who were not U.S. citizens. In language remarkably similar in tone to that employed by today’s nativists, Sen. Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania warned that birthright citizenship could result in “a flood of immigration of the Mongol race.” Millions of Chinese might pour unimpeded into California, where they could quickly outnumber – and outcompete – native Americans. Thieving, swindling, trespassing Gypsies could overrun the country, and “people from Borneo, man-eaters or cannibals, if you please” would be given free rein to wreak their havoc in our country.

America is changing very very fast. And that freaks some people out.

But backdoor attempts to rewrite the Constitution – particularly such a central part of it, long decided – is simply wrong.

Cohen’s entire piece is worth reading in full.