Our VoiceImmigration

Deal-cutting the 14th Amendment: At the Intersection of Racism and Immigration

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Jun 10, 2009

Nathan Deal

In a cynical move to build support for his campaign for the governorship of Georgia, US Representative Nathan Deal has rekindled racist fervor to gut birthright citizenship and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

By doing so he has once again – boldly and baldly – positioned himself at the intersection of racism and immigration.

HR1868, the “Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009,” would permit citizenship status to children birthed in the US only if at least one parent is a citizen or legal permanent resident. Now co-sponsored by seventy-three Members of the US House of Representatives – fifty-three of whom are members of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) fueled anti-immigrant House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC) – the bill rekindles the desire to dismantle a cornerstone of rights won by African Americans in the post-Civil War era.

Ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment abolished the “Black Codes” that the former slave states had enacted to prevent newly freed African Americans the equal rights granted through citizenship, and overturned the drastic rulings set forth by the US Supreme Court in the infamous Dred Scott case of 1857. In that case, the Court set forth a legal framework for institutional racism in America when it declared that African Americans were not citizens and that they were “so inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

The chances of moving HR1868 are slim, which even Representative Deal admits.

Yet he continues to press it both in his campaign and in Congress. By doing so he is stirring the old embers of racism in a state – and a nation – that’s still seeking to overcome its own long, sordid legacy of discrimination against African Americans. Furthermore, he’s reminding voters of the old battles of white supremacy. A bid to cut a similar path is currently underway via the “California Taxpayer Protection Act,” a 2010 ballot initiative aimed at ending “birth tourism” of “illegal aliens” in the US.

Such contemporary, immigrant-focused efforts to gut the 14th Amendment are usually looked upon as political grandstanding with virtually no possibility of gaining traction in law or in the public arena. The warnings of history, however, ought to sober such an assessment.

In spite of the protections afforded African Americans by said Amendment, Jim Crow reigned for decades, and the deadly forces of discrimination ravaged Black communities nationwide. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1883 and the National Origins Act of 1924 were enacted to keep immigration as white as possible. The forced expulsion of tens of thousands of Mexicans – including many who were US citizens – marked another era of economic crisis and rampant unemployment. The WWII internment of Japanese-Americans unmasked the nation’s paranoia over “foreigners” lurking in its midst.

And no one ever thought that Klansman and avowed white supremacist David Duke would ever come as close as he did to pulling off a Louisiana victory in the US Senate race of 1990.

In 2007 Duke urged his followers to support Nathan Deal’s Birthright Citizenship Act, reissuing on his web site  NumbersUSA’s own posting on the Act.

That link in-and-of-itself is wildly telling: racists love to gather at the intersection where they can simultaneously undercut the rights of Black Americans and immigrants. The 14th Amendment “battle” gives them common cause and cover to do so.

Take the case of Fred Elbel, who runs a website dedicated to explaining “the original intent” of the 14th Amendment and its current “misinterpretation”: i.e. permitting immigrants birthright citizenship. Another Elbel call to “revisit” the Amendment ran in the Spring 2007 issue of John Tanton’s The Social Contract Journal. Elbel is on the Board of Advisors and serves as webmaster for D.A. King’s anti-immigrant “Dustin Inman Society,” which is based in Georgia. (In 2007 King accepted over $5,000 from Tanton’s US Inc.)

It was in the heat of the (unsuccessful) 2004 effort by anti-immigrant activists to take over the Board of the Sierra Club, however, that Fred Elbel revealed himself – and likely mirrored his cohorts in the 14th Amendment battle – by making the following declaration in an email response to criticism of his role in that campaign:

“Damned right. I hate ‘em all – negroes, wasps, spics, eskimos, jews, honkies, krauts, ruskies, ethopians, pakis, hunkies, pollocks and marxists; there are way too many of them. I’m all for trout, elephants, bacteria, whales, wolves, birds, parrot fish, deciduous foliage and mollusks. Time to rebalance the planet, bleeding heart liberals be damned.”

Nathan Deal, it must be said, stands in bad company.

The battle to gut the 14th Amendment is a sleeper issue of our day, looming large at the intersection of racism and immigration. The warning signs are posted, and ought not be ignored.

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