Mike Kueber's Blog

October 20, 2011

Illegal immigration and the 14th Amendment

Illegal immigration became a major factor in the 2012 Republican presidential contest because (a) Rick Perry became a surprise front-runner and (b) he was on record as authorizing in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants.  Front-runner status as a Republican cannot co-exist with pro-illegal immigrant policies.  If you don’t believe me, ask the last two Republican standard-bearers, George W. Bush or John McCain.

Now that Perry has been knocked out of front-runner status, it remains to be seen if any other Republican candidate will dare to stake out a position that shows any empathy for illegal immigrants.  In the Las Vegas debate earlier this week, Rick Perry went on the offensive by telling an old story about Romney hiring some “illegals” for domestic help many years ago in Massachusetts.  Romney seemed to give a reasonable explanation, and post-debate the pundits declared that it was much ado about nothing.  Personally, however, I was struck by Perry’s tone in using the term “illegals.”  In making his charge against Romney, I thought Perry sounded like a redneck who didn’t consider “illegals” to be full-fledged human beings.  Later in the exchange, Romney sloppily used the term, which was unfortunate.  It reminded me of a congressional opponent of mine who said during a candidate forum in the border city of Del Rio that “America shouldn’t worry about mopping up the mess until we turn off the spigot.”  That is the tone of a bigot.  I don’t think Perry or Romney are bigots, but their tone in the middle of a hot debate can sound that way.

Throughout the various presidential debates, the immigration focus appears to have shifted away from the cliché about creating an impregnable border and toward the issue of eliminating magnets for illegal immigrants.  Romney continually mentions e-Verify as a magnet for illegal immigrants, and then he points to Perry’s in-state tuition as another type of magnet.  Other candidates mention various welfare benefits as magnets.

Las Vegas moderator Anderson Cooper tried to discuss another notorious magnet that has been overlooked in the debates up to now – i.e., birthright citizenship.  Hearst Newspapers described Cooper’s earnest attempt as follows: “Perry, meanwhile, found a discipline that had eluded him during the previous three debates. The governor stuck to the topics he wanted to address, side-stepping questions on birth-right citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants and uninsured Texas children. His refusal to discuss certain subjects raised the ire of moderator Anderson Cooper of CNN.”

  • “Let me ask the question of Gov. Perry: The 14th amendment allows anybody, a child of illegal immigrants born here is automatic an American citizen.  Should that change?” Cooper asked.
  • “Let me address Herman’s issue,” Perry responded.
  • Cooper said he’d rather have him answer the question.
  • “I understand that,” Perry retorted. “You get to ask the questions. I get to answer like I want to.”

Cooper went on to pose the same 14th-Amendment question to Bachmann and Santorum.  Bachmann seemed evasive, but ultimately said that, while birthright citizenship was wrong, its elimination could be effected by statutory enactment and did not require a constitutional amendment.  I have studied Bachmann’s argument, and although she may be right, I think she is wrong.  Santorum gave a “bleeding heart” response that suggested he would leave the law as it is.  I’ve previously stated that I have never heard a reasonable defense of birthright citizenship, and that remains true after listening to Santorum.

My hope is that moderators everywhere remember Rick Perry’s heavy-handedness in dealing with Anderson Cooper’s question and that they all resolve as a matter of moderator principle to not let Perry get away with stonewalling the question.  That means the birthright-baby question should be posed and posed and posed to Rick Perry (and Romney and Cain) until he answers it.

As pure coincidence, one of the lead columnists at the San Antonio Express-News wrote a heart-rending column yesterday on birthright citizenship.  Ricardo Pimentel wrote that he was ashamed of American immigration policy that forced a 13-year-old local girl to choose between living with foster parents in Texas or living with her Mexican mother and siblings in Mexico.  Of course, I am not the writer that Pimentel is.  He described the issue thusly – “What separates Angela from her biological family is U.S. policy that dictates that her mother may not legally live where her daughter’s best fortunes lie.”  If the NY Times ever loses Maureen Dowd as a columnist, they might want to consider Pimentel as a replacement.

Pimentel closed his column by revealing his disdain for the term “anchor babies”:

  • In some circles, she is called an “anchor baby,” her presence allegedly ensuring she is surrounded by undocumented family members. A laughable term in any case,
    but particularly so in Angela’s case.
  • The Smiths anticipate no compensation, but act as part of a ministry that emphasizes compassion. I am humbled by their action. And I am simultaneously ashamed of the choice that Angela and her family had to make.

Pimentel, who is new to San Antonio, is thoroughly reviled by his column’s readers, at least those who write comments in the on-line edition.  The comments attached to the on-line edition of this column are typical of those that he regularly receives.

This issue is not going away.  Yes, jobs and the economy are more important, but economic debate quickly becomes abstract and esoteric for most voters.  They would rather listen to and become mentally engaged in a debate on a subject that doesn’t require a college degree to understand.  Furthermore, the Republican debates are really just the preliminaries.  Eventually Barack Obama and the Republican candidate will be going toe-to-toe, but these preliminaries are a good place to find out who is ready for prime-time.

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