03/09/2011

SPLC Report Examines Extremist Views of Lawmakers Attacking 14th Amendment

The coalition of state lawmakers seeking to undermine the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship protection includes a dozen legislators who embrace a raft of radical beliefs, including conspiracy theories about supposed government concentration camps and claims that President Obama is a foreigner.

Attacking the Constitution: State Legislators for Legal Immigration & the Anti-Immigrant Movement profiles 12 leading members of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), which has announced a national campaign to end the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship for all children born in the United States. The group is also pushing a number of other harsh, anti-immigrant proposals in states across the country.

"The radical beliefs of SLLI members parallel their radical agenda – rewriting the 14th Amendment," said Heidi Beirich, research director for the SPLC and author of the report. "The fact that we're talking about people who wield real political power should scare everyone who cares about our constitutional ideals."

SLLI, which has about 65 members in 40 states, was founded by Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe in 2007. The group works 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.

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 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.

Along with Metcalfe, the report profiles Rep. Tim Bearden, Georgia; Rep. Leo Berman,  Texas; Rep. Judy Burges, Arizona; Rep. Sally Kern, Oklahoma; Rep. Charles Key, Oklahoma; Sen. Brian Nieves, Missouri; Sen. Russell Pearce, Arizona; Rep. Michael Pitts, South Carolina; Rep. Matt Shea, Washington; Rep. Randy Terrill, Oklahoma; and Sen. Danny Verdin, South Carolina. It includes these details:

  • 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." He managed to get a grand jury convened in 1999 to investigate the allegation, only to denounce the grand jury when it found nothing to support his theory.
  • 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. She apparently feared a coming one-world government could use the photos.
  • Danny Verdin, a South Carolina state senator, has compared the fight against undocumented immigrants to the Confederacy's struggle against the Union. In 2000, he was one of the main speakers at the "Heritage Celebration" held in Columbia, S.C., to defend the Confederate battle flag. He reportedly helped to organize the rally, and he shared the podium with several neo-Confederate and white supremacist leaders.

"Not all members of this coalition have voiced such radical opinions, but by virtue of pursuing this attack on the 14th Amendment, they all have signed on to an attempt to radically reinterpret the Constitution – an attempt that one conservative commentator accurately described as a fool's errand," Beirich said.

SLLI contends that the 14th Amendment has been misapplied to grant automatic U.S. citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants. But it is clear from the record of debate in Congress leading up to the amendment's adoption in 1868 that its sponsors did intend for the amendment to cover the children of non-citizens, including Gypsies, perhaps the group most analogous to today's undocumented immigrants, as well as Chinese immigrants, who retained citizenship in their home countries, were present in large numbers and were barred from naturalization.