Friday, February 18, 2011

EDITORIAL >> After them, it will be us

Nothing is more natural than politicians making hay with the widespread unhappiness over the rising number of dark-skinned people in our communities, many of whom do not have the legal papers that would officially entitle them to pursue the American dream. We have been through this many times the past two centuries, with the Chinese, the Irish, the Italians, Slavs and Germans and the influx of Asians in the 1970s and 1980s. A great political party arose from alarm over the immigration of Irish and German Catholics into the American heartland a century and a half ago. Now it’s people from Latin America who are supposed to be poisoning the well of democracy, taking our jobs and soaking up the public wealth. 

Politicians in Washington, Little Rock and other state capitals are climbing over each other to show voters they are doing battle with the brown hordes, particularly the children. Federal immigration law badly needs reforming, all right, but the spate of legislation that has cropped up in Congress and in the Arkansas legislature will do nothing to address the real problems with the unlawful status of immigrants. Almost without exception, the bills violate our state and federal constitutions as well as the Christian values that we proclaim in so many other venues. The bills have implications far beyond their purpose, which is to make life miserable and dangerous for people who do not have legal documentation to reside on U. S. soil. 

The most brutal is HB 1292 in the Arkansas House of Representatives, which would prohibit anyone who is not a citizen or who does not have legal residency papers from participating in the services of government. If he or she were not a citizen or holding documented legal status, any youngster who grew up in Arkansas and graduated from its schools could not attend college by paying the tuition required of Arkansas students, obtain student loans or any form of assistance to get a college education. A pregnant or nursing mother could receive no nutritional or medical help through the state-federal health programs. People could get emergency help only if it was necessary to save their lives. 

Here’s where you come in. You and your children wouldn’t be able to get any of these services either—college admission at in-state tuition rates, educational assistance of any form, social and health services of any kind—unless you gather the documents and present a notarized affidavit to the government agency certifying that you are a citizen of the United States or else a legal resident. All government agencies would be required to keep records on the citizenship status of people who get services and make regular reports to the legislature.  
This is from people who say they are for a smaller and less intrusive government. 

The premise of the legislation is that unlawful immigrants do not pay taxes (even Sen. Mark Pryor repeats this silly mantra), so they should not receive any of the services of government at any level. But what taxes do they not pay? The sales and excise taxes they pay for groceries, clothing, gas, electricity, cigarettes, gasoline and virtually every commodity or service they buy are not rebated to them because they are immigrants. State and federal income taxes, Social Security, disability and Medicare taxes are withheld from their paychecks and remitted to the state or federal treasuries, although they will never get Social Security or Medicare or disability benefits if they are disabled. 

The bill would serve two purposes—to make life miserable and hopeless for this fresh generation of immigrants and to demonstrate that they are not welcome in our country and our community. 

Isn’t that what Jesus would want? 

The state Medicaid director under Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ray Hanley, sent a letter to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the other day recalling when the federal government a dozen years ago gave the states the option of providing prenatal care under Medicaid for pregnant women who were considered illegals. The government gave Arkansas and the other states the option of counting a fetus as a citizen, although it would not be until it was born. Huckabee had breakfast with the Catholic bishop and a nun, who said covering the poor women so that they could deliver a healthy baby would follow the word of God. Huckabee, who can demagogue the immigration issue with the best of them sometimes, ordered Hanley on that day to cover the women. It’s the right thing to do, he said. HB 1292 would stop that. 

Speaking of birthrights, our new congressman, Tim Griffin, co-sponsored a bill last week with two other new  congressmen that would end automatic citizenship for people who are born on U.S. soil. The bill will go nowhere—most members of Congress know that you cannot amend the United States Constitution by merely passing a bill—but Griffin can say that he tried to stop all these brown and black babies from becoming citizens and voters. 

 You know the history. In 1868, the U. S. Supreme Court, in the most infamous decision in history, Dred Scott, said that no one with African ancestry could ever become an American citizen. Whether they were born here or not and whether all their forebears were born here, blacks could never be citizens of this great land. So the nation ratified the 14th amendment reaffirming that everyone born in the United States was a citizen if they were “subject to the jurisdiction” of the country. The latter phrase was intended to make an exception for children whose parents were in the United States on diplomatic status from other countries. Griffin’s bill seizes on that language to classify these brown and black babies the same way as children born to parents with diplomatic immunity to U. S. laws.

Maybe the descendants of American slaves could be disenfranchised on the same premise. Their forebears were never proper citizens under Griffin’s theory. 

We knew we were living in retrograde times, but we didn’t expect to return to Dred Scott.