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Plain Talk – 5.18.10

Plain Talk – 5.18.10

Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 9:07 pm
By: Nicolle Crist, Guest Columnist

I was born in the United States, secure in the fact that I was a citizen and I enjoyed all of the rights and privileges of citizenship just as much as anyone else regardless of race, religion or gender.  
I am an American. My grandmother was born here, too, into the first generation of women who grew up with the right to vote, making me only the third generation of women in my family who doesn’t recall what life was like before women had the right to vote. When I think of it that way, it doesn’t seem like a very long time at all.
As we approach the implementation date of the Arizona Immigration Law on July 28, we’re starting to hear more and more about the concept of “Birthright Citizenship” and it’s beginning to look like immigration could be one of the hottest debated subjects in our country this summer.
Birthright citizenship is just  the belief that I grew up with, the belief that because I was born here, I am a citizen. It turns out, that just being born in the United States doesn’t seem to be enough for some people.
Representative Nathan Deal from Georgia, along with 92 co-sponsors including Tennessee Congressmen, Zach Wamp (TN-3) and John Duncan (TN-2) introduced legislation to the House that would punish the infant for the acts of the parents and deny citizenship to infants born in the United States whose parents are illegal immigrants.
The concept of birthright citizenship stems from the 14th Amendment which reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”  
It also guarantees our right to move to another state if we want to and applies the protections of the Bill of Rights more broadly through the Due Process Clause.
It cemented our right to speak out against our government if we disagree and interestingly, our right to spread information about our political or religious beliefs in what was referred to at the time as “house to house dissemination of political or religious pamphlets.”
What was life like when a political house party or a Bible meeting in a private home wasn’t a broadly protected right.  The 14th Amendment is probably  famous to most Americans as the amendment that granted citizenship to slaves and the decedents of slaves, nullifying the Dred Scott decision of 1857.
This isn’t some new, far-left liberal progressive idea from a blogger. The concept of birthright citizenship has been law for 142 years since the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868. Why our Tennessee congressmen would decide to co-sponsor legislation that would take us back 142 years, before women could even vote is unfathomable to me. I cannot understand it anymore than I understand  Advanced Quantum Physics. I decided to try.
This past March, George Will, conservative opinion columnist from the Washington post argued that we interpret the 14th Amendment too broadly and that there was no such thing as illegal immigration  when the 14th Amendment was passed.
I do not understand  his logic. There was definitely immigration in 1868 – Germans, Irish and Chinese immigrants were flocking to the United States starting around 1820. The people of Weakley County can still see the German immigrants’ influence in the name of our county seat, Dresden.  
So, it’s not as if immigration was an unknown concept that Congress just couldn’t prepare for. They were well aware of immigration, it was legal and they still wrote the language of the 14th Amendment as they did. Will’s first justification for restricting birthright citizenship just doesn’t hold up.
Mr. Will goes on to argue that in subsequent civil rights legislation we excluded Native Americans from citizenship. Again, not following the logic here, because we’ve excluded a group of people from citizenship based on race before we can do it again?
By his argument, the federal government has the constitutional right to deny citizenship to a broad group of people based on race, gender or religious affiliation simply because we’ve done it before.
I love my country, but there are a lot of things that I don’t want to see us do again. There’s no shame in admitting that and not wanting repeat past mistakes doesn’t make me any less patriotic.
Two weeks ago, the Paris Intelligencer reported that when asked about restricting birthright citizenship, all three Republican candidates, George Flinn, Ron Kirkland and Stephen Fincher and one independent, Donn Janes, supported the idea.
I could not find any public statements from Democratic candidate Roy Herron about the issue. But that doesn’t make me feel any better about the direction our district is heading.
It’s 2010 and 4 of the 5 candidates in this district publicly support punishing children for the actions of their parents and taking policy back over 140 years. Our citizenship rights are not something we can take for granted, no matter how many generations pass.
The colonial women of New Jersey learned that the hard way. They had the right to vote for 31 years from 1776 until 1807. Historians speculate that the writers of the state Constitution were trying to attract men to the military so they loosely interpreted citizenship.
Others argue that there just wasn’t time, that the writers were still surrounded by the British. They knew they had to develop a form of government quickly to keep order and there just wasn’t time to really iron out the details. Temporary insanity?
What historians agree on, is that women’s right to vote was rescinded simply because the men were concerned that the women were voting too frequently, and they were too easily swayed by the other party. Interesting.
Here it is more than 200 years later and Republican candidate Ron Kirkland’s current argument is that he thinks children of immigrants will grow up to be Democrats. Oh how we’ve changed. I will no longer take those three generations of voting rights for granted.
It took the women of New Jersey over a century to get their legislature to admit its mistake.
Send me your comments by email to nicolle.crist@gmail.com.
WCP 5.18.10

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