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Anti-Immigrant Movement to Target Native Born

Right wing seeks to overturn historic Civil Rights case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark

Commentary by Masao Suzuki |
August 4, 2010
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In 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark that American-born Chinese were U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

The 14th amendment was passed in 1868 to overrule the infamous Dred Scott Decision of 1857, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that African slaves and their descendants could never be citizens of the United States and were not subject to the protections of the constitution.

In July, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joined the call by the anti-immigrant movement to overturn this case and the 14th Amendment in order to strip citizenship from the American-born children of unauthorized immigrants. He joined Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, best known as the sponsor of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB1070 law, and the anti-immigrant organization Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

These anti-immigrant forces try to argue that undocumented immigrants today are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. This is the same argument that the anti-Chinese movement used 100 ago years to try to strip Wong Kim Ark of his birthright citizenship, saying that Chinese immigrants, who were banned from naturalizing by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. But the 1898 U.S. Supreme Court rejected this argument, pointing out that the only exceptions are children of diplomats (who are immune from U.S. law) and the children of a hostile occupation force in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Wong Kim Ark extended fundamental civil rights won by African Americans to Asian Americans. Later this case was cited in the 1982 Plyler v. Doe U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Texas state law that tried to exclude unauthorized Mexican immigrant children from public schools.

This move by anti-immigrant forces to target native-born Americans shows that this movement is not about the legality of immigrants. The anti-immigrant movement is a right-wing movement that is all about stripping away the right to go to public schools and to be citizens. These rights were won by African Americans through struggle - like the Civil War - and later extended to Asian Americans and Latinos.

Asian Americans, African Americans and other Americans not of European descent who have historically faced discrimination need to support the immigrant rights movement. Not only are many or most of our communities immigrants, but even those of us who are native born citizens could have our rights stripped away. When right wingers say that they want to take America back, we need to be clear that they are talking about taking us back to before the Civil War. When the president of FAIR said, “We should not allow language from 1868 [referring to the 14th Amendment] enslave our thinking...in the 21st Century,” we have to say “We are not going to be enslaved again, ever.”

Masao Suzuki is the grandson of an unauthorized immigrant from Japan who is a longtime activist in the San José Japanese American community. He teaches Economics at Skyline College and has written articles on the economic history of immigration such as “Important or Impotent: Taking Another Look at California Anti-Alien Land Law.” He wrote this commentary for Fight Back News Service.