When Mitch McConnell took to the airwaves last week to criticize the immigrants who storm the shores of this country to “drop” babies and suggested that we evaluate the usefulness of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, it could have been forgotten, tossed in the pile of other inane off-the-cuff remarks GOP politicians make in the course of the day.
But it didn’t. It gained steam. Other politicians, instead of letting the old suggestion slide away with the news cycle or making an attempt to pay attention to other substantive immigration issues, glommed onto McConnell’s proposal. Especially on issues of immigration, rare is the politician today who dares get caught supporting anything but the most radically right policy. Even if, like this talk of ending birthright citizenship, they’re futile and ridiculous sideshow gimmicks. If McConnell and Co. had their way, the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants would not be allowed to be automatic citizens.
Who would stand to lose their citizenship if we stripped automatic birthright citizenship out of the Constitution? According to a Mother Jones roundup, Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, for starters. Jindal’s spokespeople said that would be impossible, because his mother was in the country as a permanent resident when she gave birth to him. (But see what a mess it would be, Bobby?)
The famed NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, trailblazing flight engineer and DREAM Act supporter, would have been out. MoJo names Pete Domenici, a former New Mexico senator, on the list. But think for even a moment about any of our own histories, and we could probably list many more less famous people in our own lives who were born to undocumented immigrants.
McCain and Graham suppress their dignity with such little effort. As the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne Jr. remembers, it was McCain who once said: “These are God’s children as well, and they need some protections under the law, and they need some of our love and compassion.”
Graham famously stood shoulder to shoulder with Senator Ted Kennedy as they rolled out a 2007 immigration reform bill that was by no means an ideal package, but was so much more rational than any of the latest talk surrounding immigration overhauls. He’s defended comprehensive immigration reform up until the spring of this year, and been a voice of moderation, if not always reason.
That’s why this kind of talk feels so disingenuous. It can be difficult to summon the energy to respond to these sorts of ridiculous suggestions; it is the kind of orchestrated chaos designed precisely to distract people from the real conversations we ought to be having about immigration. And yet, so much can happen in so little time. Immigration policy and the 14th Amendment are proxies for debates about notions of who belongs in this country and what rights we are willing to steal away from those found to be unworthy of citizenship. That’s why the Constitution must be vigorously defended, even against people too opportunistic to appreciate how fundamental these rights are to our country and our values.