On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on a bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and 22 other Republican lawmakers, to end birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. to a non-American parent. King’s proposal is likely unconstitutional, as it attempts to redefine the 14th amendment. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment declares that:
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.
While the wording of the 14th Amendment appears unambiguous, Congressman Steve King insists that it doesn’t really mean what it says, arguing instead, that the 14th Amendment:
[D]id not contemplate that anyone who would sneak into the United States and have a baby would have automatic citizenship conferred on them. I’d suggest it’s our job here in this Congress to decide who will be citizens, not someone in a foreign country that can sneak into the United States and have a baby and then go home with the birth certificate.
In King’s mind, the Constitution should be scrapped or at least redefined, because when the 14th Amendment was put into place, King presumes that the amendment’s supporters had no intention for it to apply to kids born to Mexican or Chinese parents.
Congressman King, being a racist, wants to make sure that the 14th amendment isn’t interpreted in a way that might benefit children of color. The Iowa Congressman has long been fixated on despising immigrant children. He once infamously bashed immigration reform by asserting that those who would benefit from the DREAM Act ”aren’t all valedictorians”, and he added:
They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another hundred out there who weigh a hundred and thirty pounds—and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling seventy-five pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.
Given King’s history, it is little wonder that one of the witnesses called to testify on behalf of his bill was controversial racist University of Texas Law Professor Lino Graglia. Although popular with the political right, Graglia has a history of making blatantly racist remarks, and in 1997, he once commented, “I don’t know that it’s good for whites to be with the lower classes”. Given that perspective, it is pretty obvious why Graglia doesn’t think non-white babies born on American soil should be granted citizenship.
Fortunately, King’s bill has little chance of becoming law. Nevertheless, it exposes just how extreme the Republican Party has become in its disdain for immigrant children. While King is often regarded as an extremist even within his own party, other less marginalized Republicans are also pushing to end birthright citizenship. Kentucky Senator and 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul co-sponsored a similar measure in 2011, with Louisiana GOP Senator David Vitter. Even the two Republican presidential candidates that the media likes to label moderates, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, are apparently okay with banning birthright citizenship. Both of them enthusiastically endorsed Senator Vitter in his bid for Louisiana Governor, after all.
The Republican Party has become so anti-immigrant that they are now openly trying to find ways to circumvent the 14th Amendment, even though that Amendment was made possible by the first Republican U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln. The Constitution clearly states that children born on American soil, are citizens by right of birth. While it may be upsetting to Congressman King that many of these children aren’t white, that is no reason to tear up the Constitution. The American nation was built by people from a wide variety of nationalities, not just from a bunch of parochial white folks in the heartland. Diversity is one of America’s enduring strengths, and the narrow prejudices of men like Steve King, one of its perpetual weaknesses.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.