Friday, August 21, 2015

The World's Most Interesting Amendment

While the First, Second and Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution get all of the glory and attention, the 14th Amendment is making a run at becoming the most-interesting and controversial of them all.  For those who believe that it's not necessary to "memorize facts" about US History and how government works, the 14th Amendment addresses citizenship and equal protection under the law.  It was originally drafted to protect recently-freed slaves and to ensure that they received full rights of all citizens following the end of the Civil War.  Democrats in Southern states would eventually usurp those rights with the Jim Crow laws and segregation.

Since it's final approval in 1868, the 14th Amendment has been used to force the integration of public schools through the Brown vs Board of Education case, legalize abortion through the Roe v Wade decision, decide the 2000 election in Bush v Gore, and recently, legalize gay marriage in all states in Obergefell v Hodges.  That's a lot of historic ground breaking for just a little amendment.

Now the 14th Amendment is being challenged again by Presidential Candidate Donald Trump--who believes the birthright citizenship granted by the law "needs to go".  The Amendment simply states that anyone born on American soil--regardless of the citizenship of their parents--is an American citizens and is entitled to the rights and protections thereof.  The intent was make sure that Democrats in the former Confederate states didn't deny rights to freed slaves because their parents weren't considered "citizens of the US" thanks to the Dred Scott decision.

Trump claims that illegal immigrants of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are taking advantage of the birthright clause by sneaking into the US to give birth to "anchor babies"--which tie them permanently to a US citizen--who has every right to stay here, even if his or her parents have no rights to stay in the country.  Those who back Trump's position point to notes from the original debate on the bill that Congress did not mean for people illegally in the country to be able to give birth to US citizens.  But if that was to be the intent of the lawmakers at the time--and the state's that ratified the Amendment--then they should have put that in there.

But the simple fact of the matter--and the law of the land is--that anyone born here is a citizen.  And that is just another of the things that makes us rather unique in the world.  Few other countries have birthright citizenship.  And let's not forget that not all of the European immigrants of the 1800's and 1900's came here legally.  There were stowaways on ocean liners that snuck in.  There were tourists who never left.  Some just walked over from Canada.  There could literally be hundreds of thousands of us whose families were here for three or four generations that could be denied birthright citizenship because our great-great-great grandparents skipped the stop at Ellis Island on the way in.

Meanwhile, how about we take a moment to once again thank those who have helped to draft and amend our Constitution into a dynamic document that continues to shape who we are as a country even after 226-years--even during a time when politicians and candidates do all they can to ignore it.

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