Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The GOP vs. the American birthright

Washington state's Republican Party has been trying to wean itself from the influence of the far right for much of the past decade, particularly after the debacle of Ellen Craswell's run for governor in 1996. It hasn't done them a lot of good -- they manage to keep losing anyway, though the last gubernatorial race was a doozy.

So now, thanks to the immigration debate, they're back to embracing the far right. And tagging along for the ride is at least one of the party's U.S. House members.

At last weekend's state GOP Convention, the party adopted a platform including a resolution calling for a measure to deny citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants. It also endorsed a guest-worker program that would require all applicants to return to their home countries first.

Such obviously punitive measures against Latinos got a big thumbs up from Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican congressman from King County's 8th District, which is mostly the Eastside and parts of the south end:
Congressman Dave Reichert told me yesterday that he is willing to consider a proposal that would end automatic citizenship for babies born here. "It makes sense to me. This is people taking advantage of the system," he said. Reichert said that he has heard stories of pregnant Mexican women "just moments before the baby is born crossing the border and having the baby in a parking lot ... then claiming they can't leave because their baby is a citizen."

State Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, said denying citizenship to babies born in the United States would be unconstitutional. Reichert said that is something "for the lawyers" to hash out. "I think that has to be part of the entire discussion that has to take place," he said.

Hey, Congressman Dave! I've heard stories that Gary Ridgeway secretly performed a voodoo mind transplant back when you interviewed him and that, in reality, he now occupies your skull. Should I believe them? Should I report them to the press credulously?

Now, back to Planet Earth ... The reality is that yes, there are some women who cross the border to take advantage of American hospitals and American citizenship for her child. But the child's citizenship does nothing to grant her any rights to remain in this country, and she can be deported at any time.

Perhaps more to the point, their numbers are really quite tiny, especially compared to the large numbers of people who are crossing for the No. 1 reason we have illegal immigrants: jobs. I've discussed this issue before, and the abiding point remains: People aren't crossing our borders to have kids. They're crossing our borders to work.

So why, Congressman Dave, should we change the Constitution -- indeed, one of its most cherished tenets, among a nation of immigrants -- for something that isn't really a problem?

Washington's Republicans, I suppose, can take comfort in knowing that they are just living up to the legacy of their forebears -- namely, the nativists of yore who took up the cause of fighting off the "invasion" of America's shores by an "alien horde" ... from Asia.

After all, the first "illegal immigrants" were Asians. The nakedly racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first law to attempt to limit immigration to America; prior to that, immigration had been open to anyone, though citizenship was reserved to "free white persons" and then expanded in 1870 to include people of African descent.

So Asian immigrants, including those from Japan, were precluded from becoming American citizens by law. And it was in the context of racial agitation about those later Japanese immigrants that it was first suggested that the 14th Amendment be altered to exclude citizenship for the "undesirable" Japanese.

You see, the Japanese were deemed "unassimilable," people who could never be admitted in white society, and of course a great deal of sexual fetishism ("Would you want your daughter to marry an Oriental?") was thrown in for good rhetorical measure. Because of that, the prospect of little brown citizens with suspected loyalties to Japan was deemed a real threat -- mostly to the "purity" of white culture.

The original 1919 platform of the California Oriental Exclusion League -- headed by Republican State Senator J.M. Inman -- ran as follows:
1. Cancellation of the "Gentlemen's Agreement"
2. Exclusion of the "Picture Brides"
3. Rigorous exclusion of Japanese as immigrants
4. Confirmation of the policy that Asiatics shall be forever barred from American citizenship
5. Amendment of the Federal Constitution providing that no child born in the United States shall be given the rights of an American citizen unless both parents are of a race eligible to citizenship.

Likewise, the American Legion's national platform, adopted at its first convention in 1919, called for similar measures:
Abrogation of the so-called "gentlemen's agreemen" with Japan, and the exclusion of Japanese from the United States on the same basis as other Oriental races.

Amendment to Section one of the Fourteenth Amendment to the effect that no child born in the United States of foreign parentage shall be eligible to citizenship unless both parents are eligible.

There was even some official support for these measures, as well as the ongoing fearmongering about little Nisei children. The most notable of these was an official report titled California and the Oriental, authored by the State Board of Control. As Roger Daniels describes in The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion:
According to Governor [William D.] Stephens [in the report's preface], the greatest danger to white California came from the high birth rate of these alien people: "the fecundity of the Japanese race far exceeds that of any other people." The report tried to prove that the Japanese birth rate was nearly three times that of the white. It showed the 15,211 Japanese women had given birth to 4,378 children in one year, while 313,281 married white women had given birth to 30,893 children in a similar period.

But, as Daniels goes on to explain, this was pure statistical manipulation:
The figures prove absolutely nothing, for they are in no wise comparable. Because of the special conditions of Japanese immigration, almost all Japanese wives were, for the period cited, in the first years of marriage and of prime childbearing age. To compare such a group to a different group of women ranging from 15 to 45 years of age and married for widely varying periods of time was patently absurd, except for purposes of propaganda. As a point of fact, perhaps in part as a result of the lack of any religious inhibitions about birth control, the long-range Issei birth rate was somewhat below that for contemporary immigrant groups from Europe, and only slightly above the rather low native-white birth rate in the twenties and thirties.

The anti-Japanese agitation of 1919-24 culminated in the passage of the Immigration_Act_of_1924, also known as the "Asian Exclusion Act." It was the first law to create a system of national quotas -- and all immigrants from Asia were specifically excluded.

But those old beliefs about Japanese citizens in their midst never went away, and resurfaced with a vengeance in 1942, after Pearl Harbor, and amid the discussion that resulted in the mass incarceration of all Japanese Americans.

In the U.S. Senate, Tom Stewart of Tennessee proposed stripping citizenship from anyone of Japanese descent: "A Jap's a Jap anywhere," he said.

This proposal had wide support on the Pacific Coast. Fairly typical was a letter to the Post-Intelligencer from a woman named Charlotte Drysdale of Seattle:
It has been interesting to note how many contributors have been afraid we would have no garden truck if the Japs are sent to concentration areas. We had gardens long before the Japs were imported about the turn of the century, to work for a very low wage (a move for which we are still paying dearly) and we can still have them after we have no Japs.

Isn't that discounting American ability just a little too low?

And by Americans I mean not the children of the races ineligible to naturalization. The mere fact that a child is born in this country should not give him the rights and privileges of citizenship.

The fourteenth amendment, granting automatic citizenship to American born, was placed there for the protection of the Negro and at that time the great infiltration of Japs was not even thought of. In recent years there has been so much fear of hurting the feelings of these people that no one has had the courage to try to rectify the situation. Now it would seem that the time is ripe to put things right, for once and for all time.

During the war, though restrictions against Asians began to lift; the Chinese exclusion was repealed in 1944 because of our alliance with her, and Filipinos likewise were granted similar naturalization rights. After the war, and the blood sacrifice of the 442nd established once and for all the loyalty of Japanese Americans, all racial restrictions against naturalization were removed (in 1952. And in 1965, we abolished the system of national-origin quotas.

It has to be understood that the entire immigration debate is ultimately founded on the continuing inadequacies of immigration law, especially for coping with the market realities of the American economy, where the demand for cheap labor is drawing so many immigrants they all cannot fit in under the law, and those of the Mexican economy, where the government is overwhelmed and failing.

Some people want to address this by changing the law to reflect realities, as well as to push for its full enforcement, which must include measures to stop the abuse of illegal immigrants simply by virtue of their "illegality", and to crack down on the large employers (who can shrug off current fines) whose cheap-labor push is diluting the living standard for all Americans.

And some people want to address this with ineffective measures that mostly victimize children.

Nice to know which side a good Republican like Dave Reichert is on.

Noemie Maxwell at Washblog has more.

[Note: Reichert, as Goldy notes, is very vulnerable this year. Be sure to check out the Web site of his opponent, Darcy Burner, who recently was named by Matt Stoller to the netroots list of congressional candidates.]

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