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Those Who Don’t Learn from History are Destined to Repeat It

February 28, 2011

(Trice Edney News Wire, February 25, 2011)

Those Who Don’t Learn from History are Destined to Repeat It

Our unique heritage as a free society is being threatened by a terrible proposal to delete a fundamental Constitutional protection from the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Fourteenth Amendment Citizenship Clause, in accordance with § 301 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, provides that a person who is born in the United States, subject to its jurisdiction, is a citizen of the United States regardless of the race, ethnicity, or alien status of the parents.  The history of the 14th Amendment ensured citizenship for African-Americans when it was ratified in 1868. In doing so, it reversed the awful Dred Scott decision, which relegated Blacks to second-class inhabitants of the United States.

The importance of this amendment is self-evident in upholding America’s promise for freedom and liberty for all. However, those working to dismiss its significance, aim to set our history back more than 150 years.  Instead of attempting to turn back the clock to such a dark time, we should embrace this part of the 14th Amendment that enshrines forever, the highest ideals under which the country was conceived – freedom, justice and liberty for all. 

Unfortunately, many members of the majority in the Congress are using this opportunity to promote xenophobic thinking and protectionist philosophy, which caters to the lowest common-denominator of fear.

After all these centuries of the successful implementation of the American Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment, it is crucial to view with a racial justice lens why this is an issue now.  Ironically, as Black History Month draws to a close, we can only calculate that this is yet another attempt to stigmatize a racial minority, this time, Mexican Americans.  Rights stripping and racially-targeted policymaking has no place in the halls of Congress.

It is incumbent upon all Americans to renounce such divisive leadership and agenda setting. Debates such as these are distractions from real priorities. In a time where we need Congressional leadership to focus on the economic recession, unemployment, job creation and a rising foreclosure rate, some would rather scapegoat our fellow Americans than unite us to deploy our best strengths in addressing these real and serious challenges to the future of the American dream.

The 14th Amendment is a core constitutional protection which guarantees that all U.S.-born children are citizens of the United States.  It is evident that some would rather relegate others to second-class citizenship – or in this case, non-citizenship, although, this is precisely what the provisions of the 14th Amendment sought to prevent.   Instead of this misguided and unnecessary tampering with the 14th Amendment, Congress should embrace comprehensive immigration reform, including as a first measure,   the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act which would serve as a pathway to legitimate citizenship while asking students who successfully navigated their education in America to serve the country in ways that would provide much-needed support for both their families and the United States as a whole.

The American Citizenship Clause serves not only as a protection to individuals born in the United States regardless of race, and the country of origin of their parents, but also as an important reminder of our history and the continued need to protect vulnerable minorities. The United States has largely been a model for continuously expanding the community of people regarded as Americans from European immigrants to freed slaves to all children born upon our shores.  We must move forward courageously addressing the problems of the future rather than reverting to the divisionary mean-spirited divisions that the Reconstruction Congress wisely sought to relegate to the past.

–Barbara Arwnwine, Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

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