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New SPLC Report Examines Extremist Views of State Lawmakers Attacking 14th Amendment

By Heidi Beirich on March 9, 2011 - 11:00 am, Posted in Anti-Immigrant

Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a new report, “Attacking the Constitution: State Legislators for Legal Immigration and the Anti-Immigrant Movement.” It documents the radical beliefs of 12 leading members of a coalition called State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI). The group is pushing harsh, anti-immigrant legislation across the country and announced in January a national campaign to attack the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship for all children born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction of its laws.

SLLI, which has about 65 members in 40 states, was founded by Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe in 2007. As the SPLC’s report documents, SLLI’s members embrace a raft of radical beliefs, including conspiracy theories about supposed government concentration camps, a coming one-world government and false claims that President Obama is a foreigner and Muslim. Members have described undocumented immigrants in vicious terms, as “invaders” or as a “poison.”

Metcalfe has said that immigrant parents “live the life of a criminal” and should have their children taken away. He has routinely demonized undocumented immigrants as criminals, despite studies that clearly show immigrants are on average much less criminal than native-born Americans. Metcalfe’s extremism is about more than immigration. He once denounced Pennsylvania’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month as part of the “homosexual agenda” because it included men as possible victims of domestic violence. He characterized military veterans concerned about climate change and foreign energy dependence as traitors promoting a “leftist agenda.” And, like others in the so-called “birther” movement, Metcalfe has cast doubt on Obama’s U.S. citizenship.

Other SLLI members have expressed similarly radical ideas. Charles Key, an Oklahoma legislator, has claimed the federal government had advance knowledge of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and engaged in a “cover-up.” Matt Shea, a Washington legislator, appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ radio show and expressed concerns about supposed concentration camps operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma legislator, told a newspaper that she opposed high-resolution driver’s license photos because she believed they were a sign of the end times. And Danny Verdin, a South Carolina state senator who described undocumented immigrants as a “poison” and a “malady” during a SLLI press conference, has compared the fight against undocumented immigrants to the Confederacy’s struggle against the Union.

There are additional reasons to be concerned about SLLI. The group works very closely with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the SPLC has designated as an anti-immigrant hate group because of its white nationalist agenda and ties to racist groups (a chapter of the report documents FAIR’s hateful agenda and ties). FAIR lawyers have authored the harsh anti-immigrant legislative proposals SLLI members are pushing in their respective states, including the group’s proposals to undermine the 14th Amendment.

The nativist descriptions of foreign “invaders” bearing all kinds of social ills that come from the likes of Metcalfe and FAIR are hardly new in America. Similar attacks on disfavored groups of the moment have marked our history from the very beginning. During the 1866 congressional debate leading up to the 14th Amendment’s adoption two years later, for example, Sen. Edgar Cowan of Metcalfe’s home state of Pennsylvania raged against the idea of children of Chinese immigrants and Gypsies — the “anchor babies” of yesteryear — becoming citizens by virtue of being born here. He argued, much like today’s white nationalists, that citizenship should be preserved for “people of my own blood and lineage, people of the same religion, people of the same beliefs and traditions.” Cowan warned against “a flood of immigration of the Mongol race” and, sounding a lot like Metcalfe, of the country being “invaded.”

The original debates over the 14th Amendment reveal something more (the relevant pages of The Congressional Globe on the debate can be found here, here and here). Though SLLI contends that the 14th Amendment has been misapplied to grant automatic U.S. citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants, it is clear from the record that the Amendment’s sponsors did intend for it to cover the children of non-citizens. Sen. John Conness of California, who rose in defense of the undocumented of that time, said that the children of the Chinese and Gypsies born in this country should be “regarded as citizens of the United States.” No person “claiming to have a high humanity,” he argued, could take a contrary position.

Thankfully, Cowan’s racist views about immigrants did not win the day, as his fellow senators rose in defense of immigrants by voting for the 14th Amendment.

  • Jordan

    “…has compared the fight against undocumented immigrants to the Confederacy’s struggle against the Union.”
    Yeah, you know what, it is kind of like that. One side is oppressive, far more racist, and stands against one or more of their nations key tenets, and the other side is the United States of America. They just compared themselves to a bunch of pro-slavery, white supremecist, traitors; they might as well just goosestep out the door shouting “Seig Heil!”. Ohh, and in case anyone is unaware of the fact that the creation of the Confederacy at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War was in the defence of slavery, here’s the confederacy outlining the unalienable right to own people in their constitution as well as a nice quote from their vice president:
    “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”
    -Constitution of the Confederate States of America, Article 1, Section 9.4
    “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”
    -Constitution of the Confederate States of America, Article 4, Section 2.1
    “No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs; or to whom such service or labor may be due.”
    -Constitution of the Confederate States of America, Article 4, Section 2.3
    “The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several States; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”
    -Constitution of the Confederate States of America, Article 4, Section 3.3.
    “Our new Government is founded on exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and moral condition.”
    -Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, 1861

  • Snorlax

    Funny thing about those “FEMA camps”, that rumor started when Dubya was Preznit and supposedly the camps were being built by Dick Cheney and Haliburton.

    Now, of course, those camps are being built by Obama and there is absolutely no mention of Dubya or Cheney.

    There aren’t any FEMA camps. It’s been debunked.

  • Bob

    Jordan, that is an accurate observation.

    Native Americans only gained citizenship in the 1900′s, and for most of us, the right to practice our religion in 1979. In some areas (notably most of Georgia), it was against the law to just EXIST until 1980. Many bigots would like to return to the days when we weren’t allowed citizenship or even basic human rights.

    They claim to be cracking down on immigrants, but the law meant to prevent “immigrants” from getting on Social Security Disability was specifically applied when I sought disability, and now I cannot apply again (I was denied in spite of 4 doctors and 3 witnesses) until I work 2 1/2 years.

    I was born in this country and am Native American by birth, yet the law against immigrants was used against me.

    Some of the Religious Right leaders have said that they would strip the people they hate of their citizenship if they could, and the 14th amendment is in their way.

  • Reynardine

    The Dominican Republic revoked jus solis citizenship, and now has up to six generations of stateless persons, whom they won’t help and can’t deport. Do we need that?… any of us could wind up stateless, under such a doctrine, and we haven’t even broached what the revocation of equal protection to those who are admittedly citizens would mean.

  • ruben

    i believe that these people are far more dangerous to the security of this country than any immigrant that i know….hate ultimately destroys.and by the way aren’t these the same hypocrites that are always crying about abiding by the constitution? but as usual they don’t mind amending it if it helps there whites only agenda which they are really after.but if these people are always being voted in it just tells you what the status of race relations in this country between whites and the rest of the country are really like and it ain’t good by a long shot.

  • Jordan

    For people who don’t like government control, they certainly are handing a large amount of power to the government. I don’t know if they realize it, but it is the 14th Amendment that ensures not only the children of illegal immigrants citizenship but the citizenship of all natural-born citizens. Without the 14th Amendment the government has the ability to deny citizenship to any person born within the United States, regardless of how long their family has been here.