The current, hotly contested debate on immigration is moving more into the realm of the extreme. And it is going to get hotter and ever more dangerous! Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The action? Decades of a broken system that deports and separates thousands of families that have undocumented and documented members. A system that also promotes the destitution of hundreds of thousands of young people who cannot go to college because they came to the U.S. as paper-less children. Moreover, legal proposals that instill fear and hatred for the more than 12 million undocumented.
The reaction? Millions of people, mostly Latinas/os, marching on March 10, 2006 and every May 1 since then in cities across the country, demanding comprehensive immigration reform. Another reaction was an increase in Latina/o voter participation, especially in swing states, that voted for President Barack Obama because he promised to address immigration in his first 100 days. Due to former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and others in his close circle, he never followed-up on his obligation. In a last-minute gesture, he pushed for the passing of the Dream Act, a bill that would’ve provided a path of citizenship to the foreign-born if they came to the U.S. as children and either went to college or joined the military. The Democrat-controlled Senate rejected it twice.
Now we have another sort of reaction, one that could have been expected, but many wished would never come. A national move to the Right. The result of the midterm elections was a Republican re-take of the House of Representatives, an increase in the Senate, and a ridiculous 690-seat gain in state legislatures across the U.S.
On January 5, in a press conference by the “Coalition of State Legislatures for Legal Immigration,” the new goal for the right-wing was made clear. Challenge the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows for citizenship by anyone born in the country, in state government so that it can climb the ladder to the federal level. In essence, the vision is to deport all of the “anchor-babies” of the undocumented, along with their families. According to one Oklahoma legislator, the issue of citizenship is the “holy grail of the illegal immigration debate.” For a California Congressman, the issue is about proving that “it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen. It’s what’s in our souls.” Six states, from Pennsylvania to Nebraska, are beginning to discuss such legislation and the coalition is pushing 40 other states to do the same.
One of the main arguments for this attack on a 143-year-old Constitutional Amendment is that the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that allows birth-right citizenship. This is true. No country in Europe does so, and some, like Ireland, France, and the UK have repealed such laws in the recent past. Hatred for the “other” is the main motivation. For the Europeans, it is the belligerent disgust for the Roma peoples or “gypsies,” that are “diluting” their alleged national cohesiveness. And even more ironic is their hatred for Middle-Eastern and African peoples, who, as former colonial subjects in their vast Empires, were contracted to work to maintain their economic productivity. If anyone thinks that anti-Latina/o racism is not motivating the immigration debate in the U.S., think again! After the draconian SB1070 law was passed in Arizona, allowing police authorities to detain anyone “who looked like” they did not have papers, another deceitful bill was approved. HB 2281 bill outlawed all ethnic studies classes from K-12, most notably Chicana/o studies, in a largely Mexican state (and a former territory of México).
It is evermore frightening when it was the “Tea Party” – a loosely connected body of reactionary populists who want to reinterpret the constitution to meet their own, utopian ends – who put these demagogues into power. But this utopia is, obviously, not for everyone. Whenever there are those who are openly calling for the exclusion of human beings while using language that speaks to an almost spiritual calling blessed by God, beware of their final solution. In the distorted rationale of such movements, “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”
Originally published in January 2011 gozamos.com and La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper