The Story of Us

Politicians hedge their bets. The idea is to appear bold, but not reckless. Say that you’re worried about Muslims, who are American citizens living in Minneapolis and Denver and all over, becoming radicalized and doing awful things, but don’t call for locking them up in concentration camps and throwing away the key. We did that with over one hundred thousand loyal Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. Everyone but Ann Coulter thinks that was a mistake – those were our people – they were us. It’s the same with ISIS – we need to take the fight to them and wipe them out, but no one is calling for sending a half a million or more troops to the Middle East for another eight years or more to get the job done. It’s best to say take the fight to them and wipe them out, as a general principal. We should project strength. Leave it at that. Avoid saying what you’d actually do. Just say the other guy isn’t doing it right, because he’s weak. Hedge your bets. That’s what politicians do.

Donald Trump doesn’t get it. He’s not a politician. He’s never held elective office. He’s never worked in government, or with government. He knows nothing about being careful, which means he doesn’t differentiate between the bold and the reckless. Perhaps he doesn’t know the difference between the two, or thinks there shouldn’t be one – that this is a false distinction – and now he has taken a fringe position sometimes offered on the ant-immigrant right, one that was always for show, and run with it. He didn’t seem to know that calling for the end of “birthright citizenship” was how you fired up the base, while all the time knowing doing that is next to impossible. It’s like saying we should take the fight to ISIS and wipe them out. It was just something you said.

Trump didn’t get it. It seems like a fine idea to him. Let’s do it. We have to do it – and now, with him running away from all the other Republican candidates in the field, he’s jammed them all. Is it a good idea? If so, say so, flat out. Don’t hide. Don’t hedge – the Republican base is looking at you. Was that all bullshit?

Trump has just created a new litmus test for them all, as MSNBC’s Amanda Sakuma explains here:

Calls to end so-called “birthright citizenship” blew up within hours after Trump released his first detailed policy proposal since spouting blanket accusations about drug dealers and rapists coming to the U.S. from Mexico. Candidates who had previously supported banning automatic citizenship to any person born in the U.S. clamored to prove they came up with the idea first. Others are now being pressed to publicly address an issue traditionally left in the fringe.

There’s a reason for that:

Since the end of the Civil War, anyone born on U.S. soil has been granted full rights and formal recognition as American citizens. It has been a constitutional right for generations, reinforcing our nation’s legacy as one founded by immigrants and solidifying immigration as a key component of the American Dream.

What Trump is proposing is somewhat remarkable. Experts widely believe that eliminating birthright citizenship would require, at least to some degree, changing the Constitution. Two-thirds of both houses of Congress would need to sign onto the plan. Then three-fourths of state legislatures would need to ratify changes to the 14th Amendment. It’s a lengthy process with countless hurdles along the way, not to mention one carrying profound implications in changing an amendment that granted the first steps toward equal rights and dignity for freed slaves.

“A constitutional amendment is an extraordinary political act to pull off – even for Donald Trump,” said Michael Fix, president of the Migration Policy Institute.

So what? For the others it was time to put up or shut up, so they put up:

“We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal tweeted Monday.

“I am not a big fan of the idea that you come and have a child, you are automatically a citizen,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell on Monday.

Gov. Scott Walker, who used to be relatively moderate on the issue but has since tacked far to the right on legal immigration, told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt on Monday that he too would consider banning birthright citizenship. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum wrote in an op-ed in May that he considers birthright citizenship to be an unnecessary “enticement” for illegal immigration. “Only children born on American soil where at least one parent is a citizen or resident aliens is automatically a U.S. citizen,” he wrote.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul even introduced a resolution in 2011 to amend the Constitution, requiring that citizenship be limited to those with at least one parent who is either a legal citizen, a legal immigrant, or member of the armed services. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie too has said in recent months that he thinks the policy might need to be “re-examined.”

Now it’s the big issue, and Sakuma notes the irony:

President Obama’s most vocal critics often say his executive actions on immigration – allowing as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain temporarily in the U.S. – amount to executive overreach. Nearly all GOP presidential candidates have vowed to end those executive actions to varying degrees, calling the measures an assault on U.S. liberties and patently unconstitutional. But the idea that many GOP candidates are now offering up? Re-write the Constitution.

Not to worry – no one will call them on that – but Steve Benen offers this:

I remember writing about this quite a bit five years ago, when anti-immigration Tea Partiers decided the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” was a problem in need of a solution.

Jamelle Bouie wrote at the time, “It’s genuinely difficult to overstate the radicalism necessary to seek a transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was designed to ensure that slavery could never again happen in the United States and is now integral to keeping the United States free of a permanent underclass of immigrant workers. At its core, birthright citizenship gives immigrants a reason to stay and provide lasting contributions to the United States.”

That doesn’t seem to matter:

Some GOP candidates have been more explicit than others. For example, Kasie Hunt asked Scott Walker yesterday, “We should end birthright citizenship?” The Wisconsin governor replied, “Yeah, to me it’s about enforcing the laws in this country.”

For the far-right governor, it would appear there’s some confusion about whether the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution counts as a “law in this country.” Where are the constitutional conservatives when we need them?

Of course there are those who hedge:

There’s a second group of GOP candidates, led by Chris Christie, who say they’re open to changing birthright citizenship, though they’ve haven’t specifically rejected the current policy itself. Carly Fiorina, for example, said yesterday, “We should talk about what it would take to get it changed.”

That would be quite a conversation, indeed. Opponents of birthright citizenship haven’t endorsed a specific action plan, per se, but their choices appear to be limited to (a) amending the Constitution, which would be practically impossible on an issue like this; or (b) passing a law in conflict with the 14th Amendment, and finding far-right judges willing to go along.

Trump has created a mess for these folks:

The fact that this debate is even happening at all should be depressing for Republican officials. The 14th Amendment has stood as a pillar of American law for nearly 150 years. Repeatedly, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the principle of birthright citizenship – if you’re born in the United States, you’re a citizen of the United States – because the Constitution simply doesn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room.

But as Republican politics has become more radical, opposition to the principle has moved from the fringe to Congress to the presidential campaign trail.

This probably isn’t what the authors of the RNC 2012 autopsy had in mind after Mitt Romney earned 27% of the Latino vote in the last presidential election. As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes noted late yesterday, “If you’re the Democrats, it’s hard to imagine a better turn of events than the GOP primary becoming a bidding war over ending birthright citizenship.”

That’s because this is complicated, as the Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund notes here:

About 350,000 children were born in the United States in 2009 who had at least one parent who was an undocumented immigrant, according to the Pew Research Center. They accounted for about 8 percent of all babies born here that year. Yet many of them likely had one parent who was either a citizen or an immigrant living here legally. Trump’s plan does not specify exactly which babies would be denied citizenship.

In 2010, according to Pew, there were a total of 4.5 million people who had been born in the United States to parents who were undocumented immigrants. Trump’s plan does not specify whether their citizenship will be revoked.

This has implications:

The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute has projected that by 2050, ending birthright citizenship for future children would increase the undocumented population to 16 million if citizenship were denied to children whose parents are both here illegally. The figure would increase to 25 million if citizenship were denied to the offspring of at least one unauthorized immigrant. With no change in law, the unauthorized population would remain steady at around 11 million.

This is asking for trouble:

“I think that’s really a recipe for social disaster in the coming generation. We’ve seen this in Europe for example,” said Hiroshi Motomura, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles. “What you have are large disaffected populations.”

Ending birthright citizenship would have some unexpected consequences, Motomura noted. Millions of young Americans would be unable to work legally, reducing the labor force and the overall strength of the economy.

Additionally, many babies could be born without citizenship in any country if the laws of their parents’ native country didn’t extend citizenship to them. It is hard to know how many would fall into this category.

That is a problem. What do you do with an infant you must deport when no other country will take the kid – put the kid on a raft and tell the kid to learn personal responsibility and tell the kid about the virtues of rugged individualism and entrepreneurship, and shove the raft on into the waves? Someone should ask Donald Trump about that.

This is about just who we are – the story of us – and NPR has a useful primer on how we got here:

The issue of citizenship was brought into focus by a Supreme Court ruling in 1857 that essentially declared that blacks – even the daughters and sons of freed slaves – were not U.S. citizens.

In 1868, the U.S. ratified the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The first sentence reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

That language made it clear the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott case was overturned and that black Americans would enjoy U.S. citizenship.

We freed the slaves, but the idea that we’d have a permanent underclass of not-quite-citizens made them pretty much like slaves. That wouldn’t do, but that had other implications:

There’s one key clause in that sentence from the 14th Amendment – “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” – that left wiggle room for interpretation.

As a Congressional Research Service report from 2010 puts it, what that clause means has been the subject of great debate. Did it mean that the children born to Chinese immigrants – who were once under law not permitted to become naturalized citizens – conferred birthright citizenship? Did it include Native Americans born on sovereign reservations?

All those questions were eventually settled in the 1898 Supreme Court case United States v. Wong Kim Ark.

Essentially, the court said the common law concept of jus soli should be applied to the 14th Amendment.

That’s the issue – jus soli – the common law concept that where you’re born is what matters – versus jus sanguinis – where who you are born to matters – and there were things to work out:

As for Native Americans, the court ruled that the amendment did not confer birthright citizenship to those born on reservations, because they are not technically subject to U.S. jurisdiction. As Congressional Research Service reports, the Nationality Act of 1940 “finally and unambiguously declared all Native Americans born in the United States to be U.S. citizens.”

That wasn’t so long ago, and there’s this:

As University of California, San Diego sociologist John Skrentny told NPR in 2010, the U.S. is an anomaly in the world when it comes to this issue. Most of the rest of the world, for example, gives people citizenship based on a concept known as jus sanguinis – literally “by right of blood.”

“The idea there is that the nation, the people are bonded together through ancestry,” Skrentny said. “The other notion of nationhood is generally understood as a civic notion of nationhood. And this is the idea that folks are bonded together by where they are, by locality and by the ideas that they might share. And that’s what we have in the United States. There are folks who say that, you know, to be an American is to embrace an idea.”

That is the story of us, a nation of immigrants. We are not bonded together through ancestry – baseball maybe – apple pie maybe – but not ancestry. That’s why we threw out the Brits in the first place. We didn’t need no stinking king. We’d handle this on our own. But we are on our own:

In 2012, the Law Library of Congress took a comprehensive look at France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the U.K. and found that none of those countries automatically give citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrant parents.

The Center for Immigration Studies, which tends to favor more restrictive immigration policies in the U.S., took a worldwide look at the issue in 2010 and found that “only 30 of the world’s 194 countries grant automatic citizenship to children born to illegal aliens.”

This is the sort of American Exceptionalism that our Republicans don’t like – we should be more like Portugal – and Heather Parton discusses their efforts:

Back when he was considered by all the smart people to be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Governor Scott Walker made a huge gaffe when he told Glenn Beck that he was not only repudiating his previous tepid support for a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, but that he now believed even legal immigration should be curbed. Rumor had it that his comment was so upsetting to the Koch brothers that they were rethinking their impending endorsement. They subsequently announced another set of auditions with their billionaire friends for later in the summer. …

When Walker made his comments, many in the GOP were shocked and objected strenuously. Sen. Orrin Hatch called it “poppycock” and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said “we want legal immigration…it’s enriched our country immeasurably. It’s who we are. It’s the fabric of our success.”

That was in April of this year and what a difference four months makes.

Things are different:

Walker is on board with the repeal of birthright citizenship as well, which is unsurprising since his immigration guru is the same senator who’s been advising Trump – the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Refugees, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Sessions has been flogging the repeal of birthright citizenship since at least 2010, when he was quoted saying, “I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the (14th) amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen.”

Sessions is a former judge so he’s been to law school and knows very well what the drafters of the 14th Amendment had in mind. It was adopted in the wake of the Civil War in order to ensure that people like Jeff Sessions and states like Alabama would not be able to deny citizenship, due process and equal protection under the law to former slaves and immigrants.

Jeff Sessions is still angry about the Civil War:

Back in 1986, Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to the federal bench, but he ran into a snag in the Senate when four DOJ lawyers testified that, as U.S. Attorney, Sessions had a bit of a problem with racism: He had told people that the NAACP and the ACLU were un-American, communist organizations, which had “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” He also said that he wished he didn’t have to prosecute civil rights cases at all. He became only the second nominee in 48 years whose nomination was killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

However, he got the last laugh in 1996, when he won a seat in the Senate for himself, and eventually landed on that very same Judiciary Committee, with many of same senators who had thwarted his dream of a federal judgeship.

Perhaps Sessions greatest revenge came last term, when he helped lead the crusade against President Obama’s nominee to head the civil rights division of the DOJ, Debo Adegbile, arguing Adegbile couldn’t be trusted because he once represented a client convicted of the 1981 murder of a police officer. In one of the most smug and sanctimonious comments in the history of the Senate, Sessions declared that his opposition was based upon the fact that the civil rights division “must protect the civil rights of all Americans” and not be used as a tool to further the political agenda of “special interest groups.”

Chutzpah doesn’t begin to describe it.

And now it’s immigration policy:

Last January, he put together a policy paper called “The Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority,” which forms the basis for Trump and Walker’s plans and will likely influence the rest of the candidates’ platforms as well.

That contained this:

We need make no apology in rejecting an extreme policy of sustained mass immigration, which the public repudiates and which the best economic evidence tells us undermines wage growth and economic mobility. Here again, the dialect operates in reverse: the “hardliners” are those who refuse even the most modest immigration controls on the heels of four decades of large-scale immigration flows (both legal and illegal), and increased pressures on working families.

Conservativism is by its nature at odds with the extreme, the untested, the ahistorical.

The last large-scale flow of legal immigration (from approximately 1880–1920) was followed by a sustained slowdown that allowed wages to rise, assimilation to occur, and the middle class to emerge.


What he doesn’t mention is that the “slowdown” was largely due to three separate periods of large scale expulsion of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. President Warren Harding ran on a platform in 1920 that included deportations, and he was a good as his word, overseeing the round up and removal of tens of thousands of people. (The KKK became involved shortly thereafter and flew the anti-immigrant banner proudly for the next 50 years.)

From 1929 to 1936, during the worst of the Great Depression, the government forcefully deported vast numbers of Mexicans and scared many more into leaving voluntarily. In 2005, the State of California passed an official “Apology Act” to those people forced to relocate to Mexico during this period, many of whom were Americans.

In the mid-1950s, the Eisenhower administration famously enacted “Operation Wetback,” which was yet another round-up and deportation program. This one was famous for snatching working people with no opportunity to tell family or collect their property, transporting them to distant destinations in Mexico – simply dumping them there with no money or prospects. Sometimes they were left in the desert to die.

So when Sessions talks about being opposed to the “ahistorical” nature of immigration reform, he’s basically saying that these past actions were all good and he thinks we should do it again.

Oh, and by the way:

Two in three U.S. adults favor a plan to allow immigrants who are living illegally in the U.S. to remain in the country and become citizens if they meet certain requirements over time. Far fewer support allowing those immigrants to remain in the U.S. to work for a limited period of time (14%), or to deport all of these immigrants back to their home countries (19%). U.S. adults’ views have been largely stable over the past decade.

There’s a reason politicians hedge. Appear bold, to please your base, but not reckless, when eighty-one percent of the country knows the story of us, America, where if you get the idea of the country we’ll find a way to fit you in, as one of us. You’ll be welcome. It’ll be good for everyone.

Is that what you want to say? Donald Trump has forced each of the other Republicans to decide, one way or other, if they wanted to say that. They couldn’t hedge. And then they abandoned us.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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