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Anti-immigrant Movement Renews Assault on the 14th Amendment

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, lead by a Republican majority, held a hearing on Wednesday to debate whether a clause in the 14th Amendment granting U.S citizenship to children born on U.S. soil should be scrapped.

The debate, which included testimony from Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen, is the most recent example of a decades-long campaign by anti-immigrant groups to scrap one of America’s core Constitutional rights.

Nearly three decades ago, in 1986, white nationalist John Tanton, the founder of the anti-immigrant movement, distributed a series of memos he penned outlining his grand strategy for creating a viable and impactful anti-immigrant movement. In these memos, he warned of a coming “Latin onslaught” and complained about Latinos’ allegedly low “educability," but Tanton discussed his plan for advancing nativist immigration policies.

“This is a long-range project. We should make every effort to get legislators sympathetic to our point of view appointed to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and their Immigration Sub-Committees. Think how much different our prospects would be if someone espousing our ideas had the chairmanship! If we secure the appointment of our people as freshmen members of the committee, we will eventually secure the chairmanship. Remember: we’re in this for the long haul,” Tanton wrote in the first memo in the series, under a section titled “Infiltrate the Judiciary Committees.”

Following the 2014 mid-term elections, Tanton (not for the first time) got his wish, as the Senate Judiciary Committee tipped in favor of the Republicans, many of whom were sympathetic to the anti-immigrant cause, and actively working with anti-immigrant groups.

The increase in the number of hardline immigration restrictionists taking positions in both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees has had a noticeable impact already in 2015. At yesterday’s hearing, three of the four witnesses invited to testify firmly advocated ending birthright citizenship. (The lone exception was the SPLC’s Cohen.)

One of the witnesses was Jon Feere, a staff member with the anti-immigrant think tank Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) a group founded by Tanton in 1985. In 2012, Feere granted an interview to the anti-Semitic newspaper American Free Press (AFP). Another witness, University of Texas professor Lino Graglia has a history of making racist remarks. In 1997 the professor stated in a press conference that black and Latino students were “not academically competitive.”

And this seems to be following a pattern.

In 2015 alone, eleven witnesses asked to testify before the House and Senate Judiciary Subcommittees on Immigration had strong ties to anti-immigrant groups. In both the House and Senate, legislators with strong ties to the anti-immigrant movement have introduced legislation designed to gut the 14th Amendment.

In the Senate, David Vitter (R-LA) introduced an amendment to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. Vitter is a longtime champion of anti-immigrant causes and puts a particular emphasis on national security. In the House, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) once again introduced a bill seeking to end birthright citizenship.

King is widely considered to be the most hardline anti-immigrant member of the House and has a long history of bigoted statements against immigrants and of working with the organized anti-immigrant movement in the U.S. In 2013, he said, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another hundred out there who they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Though both pieces of legislation are not predicted to gain much traction, anti-immigrant groups and activists have used the introduction of the legislation and the recent House hearing as a rallying cry.

Nativist group NumbersUSA, the anti-immigrant movement’s main grassroots organizer, recently sent around an email to supporters linking birthright citizenship with President Obama’s most recent executive action on immigration. The title of the NumbersUSA email read, “Without ‘anchor babies,’ Obama amnesty might not have happened.” In recent days, CIS too published a report claiming that 36,000 women came to the United States annually specifically to give birth to their children, a practice know as “birth tourism."

Following Wednesday’s hearing, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi issued a strongly worded statement criticizing her Republican counterparts for holding the event.

Pelosi accused Republicans of racing to “pander to the most radical, anti-immigrant corners of their party.” Pelosi continued, “House Republicans that refused to give the American people a vote on comprehensive immigration reform are giving a hearing to one of the most loathsome, xenophobic proposals in recent memory.”

With another election only 18 months away, the GOP would do well to heed Pelosi’s words of warning.

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