"He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose, obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners, [and] refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither."
--The Declaration of Independence
That was included among the principal grievances against George III enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. Both practical and principled men, they recognized that the new country would have to be populated and they were anxious to attract large numbers of immigrants to this continent. The economic viability of the new country depended upon having a diverse and skilled populace.
On the principled side of things, they of course wanted to expand their vision of the blessings of liberty to all [propertied, white, male] persons of the world. Why shouldn't they? They were the beneficiaries of their forefathers (and mothers') ability to settle in this new land. Creating a new, flourishing democratic nation for the world to see and perhaps emulate meant not pulling the ladder of opportunity up after them.
But let's assume they took the attitude that the Dred Scott Republicans of today and would deny the benefits of citizenship to anyone whose parents weren't both born in the colonies. That would mean 22 of the 56 men who signed the Declaration, well, would probably have been denied that distinction.
And how about those who wrote and signed the Constitution? Two of them, Richard Bassett and Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer have parents of unknown national origins. Eighteen of them were either born outside of the colonies or had one or both parents, including from the list above, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, James Wilson, George Read, and John Rutledge. The others:
Taken to its logical extreme, the desire to exclude anyone from the rights of citizenship on the basis of where their parents were born would invalidate the participation of those men in founding the nation. Not that there's much logic in the extremism of Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, Jefferson Beauregard Session, III and, of course, John Boehner. Would they take it to this extreme? Of course not, but where would they draw the line on birthright citizenship? Would they let Michelle Malkin stay? Gov. Bobby Jindal? Former Senator Pete Domenici? Astronaut Jose Hernandez? Alberto Gonzales?
Gonzales, in fact, just wrote about the debate:
Like most Americans, I am a descendant of immigrants and a grateful beneficiary of the opportunities available to our nation's citizens. My grandparents emigrated from Mexico in the early 20th century seeking a better life, and they found it working in the fields and dairy farms of Texas. Diversity is one of the great strengths of the United States -- diversity fueled by the migration of ethnicities, cultures and ideas....
Based on what I have observed, most illegal immigrants come to America to provide for their families, and by most accounts, they contribute to our economy.
How embarrassing is it for these lawmakers to be schooled on the principles of the rule of law by Alberto "The Geneva Conventions are Quaint" Gonzales?
And of course, there's also the reality of this ginned up "drop and leave" epidemic Lindsey Graham swears is ruining the nation. That reality is, according to PolitiFact:
Because citizen children cannot sponsor their parents for citizenship until they turn 21 -- and because if the parents were ever illegal, they would have to return home for 10 years before applying to come in -- having a baby to secure citizenship for its parents is an extremely long-term, and uncertain, process....
Undoubtedly, citizenship plays some role in the decisions by undocumented immigrants to come to the U.S. After all, they have made a decision to make their future in the United States rather than in their home country, and part of building a better life in the U.S. is having citizenship for their children. But on Fox, Graham termed the practice "drop and leave," which suggests that illegal immigrants are coming here for the primary purpose of having babies with citizenship, then rushing home to wherever they came from.
Graham's comments on this are misleading. While that does appear to be happening with affluent "birth tourists," it's important to understand that those affluent "birth tourists" are not the ones illegally crossing the Rio Grande or the Sonoran desert. They are coming here with the proper legal papers and giving birth. Thus, whatever public policy challenges arise from "birth tourism" are separate and distinct from the public policy challenges of illegal immigration -- which is not at all the impression that Graham gave in his Fox appearance.
The motivating factor for people coming to the United States, legally and illegally, remains unchanged from when those men listed above signed their names to declare freedom--through the Civil War and the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, through the fight for suffrage and the passage of the 19th Amendment and finally full voting rights with the 24th and 26th Amendments. Opportunity. The whole idea embodied in the Preamble: "To secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
The great American idea has always been about creating a better life for each successive generation: "our posterity." It's been a long evolution to extend that vision beyond the white, male, property owners who were the original "We the people" to every person inhabiting this land. There's one amendment in particular that secures those blessings of liberty.
Constitutional historian Richard Beeman writes in his newly issued Penguin Guide to the Constitution: "Perhaps the most significant and far-reaching amendment to the Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment is viewed by many scholars and jurists as the provision of the Constitution that has brought the principles enunciated in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence into the realm of constitutional law." In other words, equality, life, liberty, property and pursuit of happiness were now constitutionally protected rights.
Messing with that is just downright un-American.
There are other words to keep in mind in this debate, words that are so integral to the American experience that they grace the very symbol of the nation.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
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