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September 1996, Volume 3, Number 9

Presidential Politics and Immigration

In July and August, Republicans and Democrats ran campaign ads in California promising to get tough on illegal immigration. The Republicans' ads showed aliens running into the US under spotlights, and accused President Clinton of spending money on illegals while wages for US workers drop. The Democrats showed criminal aliens being removed from the US, and emphasized that President Clinton had kept his promise to combat illegal immigration.

The Republican Party platform criticizes President Clinton for opposing Proposition 187 in California in November 1994, and includes the statement that the party supports "a constitutional amendment or constitutionally valid legislation declaring that children born in the United States of parents who are not legally present in the United States or who are not long-term residents are not automatically citizens."

On August 23, 1996, Bob Dole said that he does not support this plank of the Republican Party platform. On August 14, Jack Kemp denounced the plank in the Republican Party platform that commits the Republican party to end "birthright citizenship" asserting, if you are "born in America, you're an American."

If the ban on "birthright citizenship" were to be approved, the 130-year interpretation of the US constitution would be changed: the 14th Amendment guarantees US citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof."

The purpose of the 14th Amendment was to overturn US Supreme Court rulings that held, in the Dred Scott decision, that blacks who were "imported into this country and sold as slaves," as well as their descendants, could not become citizens of the United States. In the debate over the 14th Amendment in 1866, one Senator asked "Is the child of the Chinese immigrant in California a citizen?" and received the answer, yes, "The children of all parentage whatever, born in California, should be regarded and treated as citizens of the United States, entitled to equal civil rights with other citizens."

The US and many other immigrant nations follow this jus soli (law of the soil) principle of granting citizenship, while many emigration nations, including Germany, follow the jus sanguinis (law of blood) method of granting citizenship to persons born of citizen parents, wherever they were born; this is why the children of legal Turkish immigrants born in Germany are foreigners, while the children of ethnic Germans in Russia are German. Some countries, including France, have a hybrid system, granting citizenship upon application at a certain age to persons born in the country.

The original US Constitution did not define citizenship; there was no definition of citizenship until the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. In 1898, the US Supreme Court held that a child born in San Francisco to Chinese parents was a US citizen, even though the parents were prohibited by the Chinese Exclusion Act from ever becoming US citizens. Republicans assert that 100,000 babies are born to illegal aliens each year in California.

Peter Schuck and Rogers Smith of Yale Law School wrote a 1985 book, Citizenship without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity, which argued that the constitution PERMITS Congress to decide whether the US should grant citizenship to babies born within its borders. When illegal immigration is "under control," then Schuck and Smith thought that "birthright citizenship" could be eliminated.

Demographer Jeff Passel estimates that 700,000 or almost 20 percent of the four million births each year in the US are to foreign-born mothers. Most of these foreign-born women are in the US legally and, of the illegal mothers, relatively few are believed to come to the US specifically to give birth.

In his acceptance speech, Dole said that "a family from Mexico who arrived here this morning, legally, has as much right to the American dream as the direct descendants of the Founding Fathers." Dole warned that the "exits, which are clearly marked," are for those who have joined the Republican party because they hoped that Republicans would shut the door to immigrants.

Kemp reversed an earlier position, and said that he now supports the Gallegly amendment to the pending immigration bill that would permit states to charge illegal alien children tuition to attend K-12 schools. Kemp also said that, if elected, a Dole administration would "do its best to stop illegal immigration."

The Reform Party may inherit anti-immigrant Republicans. Kemp was criticized within the Republican Party for not banning illegal immigrants from pubic housing when he was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for not supporting Proposition 187 in 1994, and for not agreeing in 1996 to urge lower levels of illegal immigration.

Former Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm, who opposed Ross Perot to be the presidential candidate of the Reform Party, used his concession speech to urge the Reform Party to tackle immigration issues. Ross Perot has not said much about immigration, although he cited the prospect of increased Mexico-US immigration as a reason to oppose NAFTA. Perot won the Reform Party's presidential nomination with 65 percent of the 49,000 votes cast.

Lamm ranks with Pat Buchanan as the Presidential candidate most in favor of more immigration controls. According to Lamm, the US is "at a crossroads on the question of immigration. We can either import large numbers of low- skilled workers or we can reach down and train our own underclass. We cannot do both.... No other nation in the world has the delusion that it can ignore its own poor while importing a whole generation of poor people every year."

Lamm said that there is "no essential difference...between exporting a job and importing a worker." In the first US Census in 1790, four million residents were counted; in 1994, the US had about 260 million residents, and Lamm asked "how many a world of limited resources...can we accept in the United States?"

Immigration control advocates used the Republican convention in San Diego on August 12-15, 1996 to spotlight illegal immigration issues. San Diego is the "least minority" large city in southern California--its 1.8 million residents are two-thirds white, and 25 percent Hispanic.

FAIR held a widely-publicized Immigration Reform Awareness Week that culminated in a conference August 10, 1996 urging that legal immigration levels be reduced, a position rejected by Congress in 1996. Dick Lamm, one of the speakers, asserted that, "If we have to choose between our 'huddled masses' and the rest of the world's 'huddled masses,' I'm going to chose our 'huddled masses'."

Many of those attending the FAIR conference said that they feared that Spanish is supplanting English in California and the Southwest. Some believe that the US is being "invaded" by Mexicans who are intent upon creating Aztlan, a mythical homeland of the Mexican people. Others decried the current US citizenship surge, fearing that immigrants were naturalizing for "the wrong reasons," and Mexican proposals that would permit Mexicans living in the US to vote in Mexican elections.

Those favoring closer ties with Mexico emphasized that the San Diego-Tijuana region has three million residents, many of whom moved to the region from elsewhere, and many of whom commute across the border legally to jobs.

Ronald Brownstein, "Kemp Now Backs Immigrant Curbs," Los Angeles Times, August 14, 1996. Patrick McDonnell, "Activists See Dire Immigration Threat," Los Angeles Times, August 11, 1996. Robert Pear, "GOP Panel Backs Change in Constitution on Citizenship," New York Times, August 7, 1996. Lamm, Richard and Gary Imhoff. 1986. The Immigration Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America. New York: E.P. Dutton.