As Steve King Gets a Hearing on Redefining Constitution, Issue
Today at 1 PM Eastern, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on one of the anti-immigrant movement’s longtime pet issues – messing with the U.S. Constitution and changing the fundamental interpretation of birthright citizenship, the bedrock of the 14th Amendment. The hearing and underlying legislation, pushed by the virulently anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in the House and Senator David Vitter (R-LA) in the Senate, seeks to undermine the constitution’s citizenship clause. The 14th Amendment and its citizenship clause are guards against our country ever again creating an underclass of Americans. It helps ensure that the Constitution, and not politicians like Steve King and David Vitter, define and decide who is a citizen of this country. If you are born here, you are one of us, no matter your race, creed or ethnic background. It is what makes America exceptional.
In addition to the American ideals it would trample, looking to reinterpret and redefine who is “American” would also carry enormous practical costs, as Marshall Fitz of the Center for American Progress writes. How do King and Vitter envision enforcing their proposed change – are they really comfortable placing government enforcement agents in hospital delivery rooms? You’d think this concept would be anathema to those with smaller government sympathies. As Fitz writes:
“[M]aking such a system work would require a new and cumbersome bureaucracy, bringing the Department of Homeland Security into every delivery room across the country. We would need a new federalized birth registry in order to ensure that citizenship status is allocated properly, something that is currently in the hands of states and localities. To put things in perspective: Roughly 4 million children are born in the U.S. every year, each of whom would encounter vast bureaucratic red tape. Instead of reducing unauthorized immigration, such a change could actually increase the numbers of people stuck in limbo, without legal status or nationality, as parents struggle to register their children for citizenship.”
The bottom line is that this proposal is offensive and impractical and doesn’t have a chance of passage – but it has been embraced by anti-immigrant activists and is seeping onto the presidential campaign trail.
2016 Republican presidential contender and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has embraced the idea of changing birthright citizenship. Despite calling himself a constitutional conservative and being identified with libertarianism (an ideology that usually seeks to remove government from people’s lives, rather than putting government into the most sensitive and personal life experiences), Senator Paul co-sponsored a past attempt to amend the 14th Amendment and recently told the right-wing media outlet WorldNetDaily that he still wants to end birthright citizenship, stating that it makes the United States “a magnet for the world.” As Right Wing Watch highlighted, Paul also noted in the same interview that “while it isn’t ‘fair’ to send DREAMers ‘back to Mexico,’ it also isn’t fair ‘to say they can stay and everybody else like them from Mexico can come also.’”
Senator Paul describes himself as a “different kind of Republican” and says that he is “trying to “make the party bigger” and urges Republicans to “reach out to young voters and minorities.” His support for a radical redefinition of the constitution is a direct challenge to these goals and an affront to millions of American voters whose immigrant roots mean they would have been affected by this measure.
We’ll be watching to see if the rest of the 2016 Republican field will weigh in and embrace this radical redefinition of who we are as Americans.