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Attacking Immigrants, and the Constitution

Marielena Hincapié

Yesterday, a group of state legislators launched an attack on the fundamental American values in the U.S. Constitution by announcing their intent to target babies born in the United States. This attempt to deny American babies citizenship, and the documentation to prove it, is a shameful, if unsurprising, new low.

This proposal takes aim at one of our nation's proudest moments -- the adoption of the 14th Amendment to bring to an end the ugly chapter in U.S. history when children of slaves were denied citizenship. The 14th Amendment overruled the infamous Dred Scott decision and lay down a simple principle of equality that "all persons born or naturalized" in the U.S. are citizens. We must loudly reject the attempt to punish babies and to re-define not only citizenship, but the very fabric of our nation.

These politicians could have gathered to announce plans to balance their budgets, promote job growth, or strengthen their communities. Instead, they've announced plans to create divisions within our country at precisely the time that we need to come together. Furthermore, they've taken on the Constitution simply to score cheap political points off of the backs of children.

The newborns targeted by this legislation would be caught in a firestorm manufactured to whip up anti-immigrant fervor for political ends. Such activities will do nothing to help American communities address the very real challenges we face in 2011. Even the legislators and legal advisors proposing these measures admit that their intent is to trigger reconsideration of the 14th Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court rather than to address compelling state or local problems for which they were elected.

What a waste. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution is enshrined in the document that has governed the country since its inception. A state challenge to its bedrock principles is legislative folly at best, and a waste of precious taxpayer time and resources at worst. Yet the politicians who gathered in Washington, D.C., today appear to believe that this attack on native-born babies is the type of priority that merits national attention.

Other legislators in states across the country have a choice: they can choose the path of divisiveness, flouting the Constitution, or they can maintain their commitment to their country and its children by denouncing attempts to trample our precious 14th Amendment and promote inclusive policies that improve their communities.

Children may not be voters, but we are. Voters across the nation elected state legislators to solve their communities' problems and to promote good policies. At the beginning of 2011, let's rein in these legislators who are trying to derail our nation and our American principles. Let's remind legislators that they too must uphold the Constitution, which is revered all over the world as a beacon for equality, fairness, justice, and opportunity.

Failure to protect the 14th Amendment would compromise many of the values that we stand for as a nation. We cannot allow this to occur.

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Marielena Hincapié is executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. She is a public interest lawyer who specializes in protecting and advancing the rights of immigrant workers, particularly those who are undocumented. She has authored numerous publications and policy analyses, provided strategic assistance and training to thousands of legal and social service providers, and to labor unions and community-based organizations.

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