Trump’s Bête Noire: Citizenship of Us-Born Children of the Undocumented

Undocumented immigrants’ children born in the US have become Trump’s latest foe. He does not believe that these US children hold valid citizenship despite the fact that since they were born in the US they receive citizenship automatically, a right granted by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

Donald Trump

He put it as follows:

I don’t think they have American citizenship and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers — and I know some will disagree — but many of them agree with me and you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship.

In his usual rambling manner, he does not name any of the “very, very good lawyers” nor does he elaborate his reasons for saying that these children are not US citizens by birth. Trump is not one to quibble over “details”: The children are not citizens because he says so, because the “incompetent idiots in Washington are wrong” as always.

An article in the Washington Post outlines the flaws in Trump’s proposal:

He leaves out what is perhaps the most important detail: Such change would be very difficult as it would require the repeal of the 14th Amendment, which would take require the approval of 75 percent (or 38) of the state legislatures, an unlikely event. There have been 11,000 attempts to amend the Constitution in the entire history of the United States, and only 27 succeeded.

Even Trump sycophant Ted Cruz admits the difficulty of changing Constitutional amendments. According to birthright supporters, ending it would have catastrophic consequences:

Supporters of birthright citizenship say there are a number of reasons it should be maintained. It’s part of the Constitution. Attempts to restrict it have historically been motivated by racist fears of immigrants and their children. Ending it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. The most extreme consequence would be a massive group of stateless people — neither citizens in the U.S. nor in foreign countries.

These warnings do not seem to have much on an impact on other Republicans, particularly the candidates for the Presidential nomination:

This week, several of Mr. Trump’s Republican rivals, including Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, echoed his call to end automatic citizenship for the American-born children of undocumented immigrants, repealing a constitutional right dating from the Civil War era.

Public opinion about birthright citizenship is mixed. A Wall Street Journal /NBC poll found that 43% of Republicans in the sample said that the U.S. should work to find and deport people who have come to the U.S. illegally. However, a survey of a sample of 2,002 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center in May, 2015, found that 72 percent of respondents believed that

Undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met.

Public opinion may be divided, but the effects of the anti-birthright campaign have been dire. Some children in Texas are unable to secure the birth certificates they need to enroll in school:

At issue is the health service agency’s Vital Statics Unit, which is responsible for issuing birth certificates, and its refusal to honor various foreign identifications from immigrant parents. Many Mexican immigrants receive identification cards commonly known as matriculas, which are issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living and working in the United States. But officials [in Texas] have increasingly come to refuse these, making it harder for parents living in the U.S. illegally to obtain birth certificates for their children.

To sum up: Trump is stirring up more anti-undocumented immigrant rhetoric through an attack against a Constitutionally-given right, birthright US citizenship. Trump, always the sophist, contends that children of undocumented immigrant born in the US were never citizens, an idea he claims is supported by “very good lawyers,” whom he fails to identify.

In fact, the only way to eliminate birthright citizenship is to repeal the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, something practically impossible because bringing about such repeals are very difficult, as shown by thousands of attempts have failed in the past. The “bottom line” is that Trump is stirring up a controversy that has no practical purpose. The only result is that undocumented parents find it very difficult to obtain the birth certificates their children need to enroll in school. How Trumplike: Being a loose cannon and disregarding its consequences.

‘Race Riots’ a Misnomer for White Mob Action

Recent news reports from Italy contain reports about “race riots,” but in fact, this is a misnomer.  A more accurate term would be “white mob action.” In this case, against African immigrants in Italy.    According to one report, Italian authorities moved more than 1,000 people, mostly temporary workers from sub-Saharan Africa to immigrant centers around Italy in an operation that lasted from Saturday through to the early hours of Sunday.

The clashes started on Thursday, when a gang of white youths in a car fired air rifles at a group of African immigrants returning from work on farms. The attack set off a night of rioting by dozens of Africans, who smashed car windows with steel bars and stones and set cars and rubbish bins on fire. That in turn sparked more attacks from residents determined to drive the immigrants out of the area.

The Italian context is obviously very different from the U.S., but there are also some similarities in which this form of intolerance is manifest.  In Italy, approximately 8,000 undocumented immigrants work in Calabria, most of them working as day laborers picking fruit and vegetables.   This is very similar to the position of Mexican undocumented workers in the U.S. who labor in the same kinds of agricultural jobs and endure a not dissimilar form of intolerance here.

The rhetoric from right-wing politicians in Italy seems akin to that espoused in the U.S. as well.  Roberto Calderoli, a minister from the same far-right Northern League party as interior minister Maroni, said with unemployment at 18 per cent in the south of Italy, “work should go to the Italians… not to illegal immigrants.”

Of course, I’m sure there are important differences between the U.S. and Italian contexts, and I look forward to reading the dissertation about that at some future date.

What I want to get back to, though, is the rather striking (at least, to me)  use of the term “race riot,”  in many of the news reports about these incidents.    This term seems to suggest that there was some sort of equal fight between two groups.  In fact, this was clearly white-led, mob action directed toward (black) African immigrants.   The use of the term “race riot” is a case in which the term obscures more than it explains or accurately describes.

This is not the first time that the term “race riot” has been used to blur the culpability of white-led mob action.   Over the weekend, I visited the New York Historical Society to see their “Lincoln” exhibit, which included an extensive exploration of the events in New York City known as “The Draft Riots.”  (Disappointingly, the NYHistorical Society has a crappy website, so I’ll link to some better resources.)  What I was reminded of, seeing that exhibit, is that the “Draft Riots” were in fact, white-led mob action, much like what’s happening now in Italy.   Here’s some information about what actually went on during the Draft Riots:

By analyzing who and what the rioters targeted for attack during the riot we can begin to understand the complicated social, economic, and political conflicts that divided New York City’s citizens in July 1863. The city’s black citizens were perhaps the most obvious and visible targets of the rioters’ wrath. By the end of the first day of rioting, It was not safe for African Americans to appear in public. Rioters beat individual black citizens and, in several instances, brutally murdered and mutilated. African-American men. Black New Yorkers weren’t even safe inside their homes as roaming bands of rioters attacked black neighborhoods. Not only were African Americans in danger; rioters also attacked white New Yorkers who provided shelter for endangered African Americans, sacking and burning the homes of white sympathizers.

This is not a “race riot.”  It’s a mob action, led by whites, intended to terrorize blacks.  This was true in the U.S. in the 1860s (and for decades following), and it appears to be happening in Italy today.   Let’s call it what it is, shall we?