Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pleading the 14th

Something on the order of six out of ten voters believe that the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment is wrong.  That is to say, they do not believe someone born in the United States to illegal aliens should be given automatic citizenship.

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And there is good reason for their opposition; they realize that the current interpretation strays far from the original intent.  The 14th Amendment was created after the Civil War to establish the rights of the children of slaves.  It was a bold declaration that negro babies born from that day forward would not be the chattel of the slave owners.  They were no longer to be considered as just another lamb or foal or piglet added to the livestock count. 

You see, a landowner’s possessions can be bought and sold.  Property can be parceled off.  A bull can be castrated, dehorned and yoked to carry a heavy load.  Cows are milked and slaughtered.  And children born to slaves were considered nothing more than animals to be exploited for the good of the enterprise.

The import of that burden is horrifically illustrated in the novel Beloved, by Toni Morrison.  The character Sethe chooses death for her child rather than submission to ownership by another.

The 14th Amendment boldly declared that these children were citizens of the United States.  With rights and privileges.

And the Amendment was sufficiently clear to exclude visitors and diplomats.  And it spoke to the notion of allegiance with the phrase, “…and subject to the jurisdiction thereof..”

Not insignificantly, American Indians were specifically excluded from the citizenship clause.  It is not simply a matter of geography.

Subsequent interpretations of the Wong Kim Ark case turned the original intent on its head.  Interestingly, it was about a Chinese man born in the United States who left the country for a time and was barred from returning.  His parents were here legally and conducting business in the United States, and those facts were part of the case as ruled upon by the Court.  But somehow a precedent was set for babies of illegal aliens as others misapplied the message of the 14th and Wong Kim Ark.

One would think that Blacks in America would be incensed about this hijacking of the Amendment that freed their ancestors from ownership.  Were illegal aliens brought here involuntarily?  No.  Did they establish themselves as legitimate visa-holders?  No.  Do they consider themselves Americans?  No.  (In fact, they overwhelmingly consider themselves Mexican citizens working in the United States.)

So, what of their babies?  Do they have a loyalty to the United States?  Not really.  By nature of their family situation they aren’t learning English at home.  The bill for their bilingual schooling falls to the rest of us.  Often they are from poor families, so “We the People” paid for the delivery as well as health care, food and housing.

These babies are pawns for bringing  the benefits of the welfare state into the home, and later on they become sponsors for their parents to get legal.  Meanwhile, their very existence staves off deportation of mom, dad and siblings.

It is a powerful magnet to be sure.  But it is a far cry from the original intent of making sure slave babies were Americans, not cattle.

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