I have been wondering, sometimes aloud, sometimes in my head, what’s behind the sudden and quite righteous-sounding public call from the senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, to change the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Readers will recall this amendment was passed just after the Civil War. It was a remedy for the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision which had denied citizenship to freed slaves. The 14th Amendment says in part “… all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States …” Graham contends that it is this citizenship for children born to undocumented immigrants that brings workers here.
First up, everybody knows that amending the Constitution is not an easy process. It takes an act of Congress by a two-thirds majority and ratification by two-thirds of the states. By any stretch of the political imagination such a process could take years at best. And while Mr. Graham suggests an amendment to the amendment would deter undocumented workers from entering the U.S. I really have to challenge that assumption.
First, let’s look at the context.
These are trying times. The economic decline in the U. S. and most of the rest of the world has left millions without work. Not to quibble about exact numbers but even conservative economists talk about in excess of 20 million workers without a real job in the U.S. Recent economic recovery news has lots of people wondering if bad times are not only here but also around the corner.
Some legislative relief has passed Congress: extension of unemployment insurance, food stamp help, some expansion to health care and assistance to preserve public service jobs. All of this has been a battle royal in the halls of Congress. And to boot, much of this legislation has been pared back at the behest of the most conservative legislators.
In this mix is the mid-term election: all members of the House and one-third of the Senate are up for election, November 2. The outcome of this election will set a course for the next two years and probably beyond. The gearing up of electoral forces is almost deafening – between now and November 2 it’s all hands on deck. The question is – will we go back to the policies of Bush-Cheney or will we move forward with an imperfect democratic front? Will we blunt the edge of the right and its worst elements or elect and re-elect the good and the quite imperfect?
The coalition of organizations that formed in 2008 to effect bold change that year has given a resounding answer. It has re-formed this year to call the “One Nation” march on Washington for October 2. It is a bold move to put tens of thousands of people in the nation’s capital demanding jobs and promising to work the election and vote November 2. It is bold just because it takes a lot of resources to organize such an action. But it appears clear to the organizers that it will pay off on November 2.
Now about my wondering.
Is Lindsey Graham worried about the children of undocumented workers born in the U.S. becoming citizens? Somehow I don’t think so. It has already been noted that changing the 14th Amendment as he proposes will present a new problem – children born in the U.S. to undocumented workers will not have any citizenship. It won’t alter the economic situation in this country one iota. It won’t add one job.
But here we get a peek at least some of the senator’s undeclared agenda: FEAR. Yes it’s the age old bogeyman – deflect and divert. We don’t have jobs? Well Mr. Graham says it’s the fault of those undocumented workers.
Do workers leave their homes, travel a difficult and expensive road, many times in peril, to have a baby? I think not. And my best guess is Mr. Graham doesn’t think so either. I think Mr. Graham knows exactly what he’s doing and my best guess is that millions of Americans got it and millions more will understand that Lindsey Graham isn’t worried about babies or the Constitution or immigration for that matter, but putting the Republicans back in power.