Radical right wingers have long suggested stripping the constitution of birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but recently, the mainstream media has capitalized off the controversy to gain ratings and prominent Republicans have picked up the issue to gain votes.
But just because the idea of stripping the constitution of the 14th Amendment has become more popular lately does not make it any less of a slap in the face, both to the African American community (many of whom gave their lives to fight for the rights the Amendment protects) and the immigrant community, who already face second class citizenship and exclusion from the national community.
Last week a reporter from the Associated Press came to the Valley wanting to put a human face on the 14th Amendment debate and interviewed LUPE member Maribel, her husband Miguel and Dora, a family friend. I had the opportunity to sit in on the interview and write down their views on the situation.
Maribel and Miguel have four kids, two from here and two from Mexico. During the interview their three year old son, Miguel, climes all over his dad, pretending to turn into the Hulk. Maribel, Miguel and their two oldest children crossed into the US without documents 10 years ago because they couldn’t find work in Mexico. Now her husband works cleaning and cutting down palm trees and, because he is contracted by the city, earns a good wage that allows her to take care of the children.
Dora also came into the US with her family without documents. They left Mexico because there wasn’t any work and there was no way of feeding her family. Her husband also works cutting down palm trees, contracted by the city.
When asked how she feels about two of her children having citizenship, Maribel says that part of her feels good, but part of her doesn’t because they are separate, two are from here and won’t be taken if the family gets picked up by immigration. “You know how the situation is,” she says, referring to the current immigration enforcement policies that have separated more families this year than in any past period, including under the right-wing Bush administration. “I might be taken,” she says, “and two of my children will stay here and I’m concerned that I’ll be separated from them.”
Here in the states she says she sees many opportunities for her children that were born here that the ones born in Mexico won’t have. They might be able to go to school, “but my children from the other side won’t.”
But when asked if she thinks people in Mexico come here to have their children just so they will be citizens and can petition for their parents’ citizenship, both her and her husband answer emphatically. “I don’t think that is the case,” she says, “because we suffer a lot to come into the US, we risk a lot.” Her husband Miguel says “I don’t think people in Mexico think that way because they know you also suffer here, finding work and in work. When you come, you can’t just go back, because you struggle a lot to cross, you struggle to find work.” Miguel expresses offense at the idea that immigrants come here just to have babies and not see themselves as part of the community. Once you’re here, he says, “everything you gain you’re going to invest here.” You’re already “instalado” (set up/installed) here he says.
For Maribel, Miguel, Dora and others like them, the main priority when considering coming to the US is survival. They will risk everything to come to the US because here they have work when at home there is none; here they feed their children when at home they may starve. As one man getting ready to cross the Arizona desert put it, “I know that I am risking death; but in my home village, I am already living in a coffin. At least there is hope for something in the north.”
And once they are here, “instalado” as Miguel says, the question of access to citizenship is not a matter of playing the system, but rather a necessity for living a dignified life where they don’t fear being separated from their children, where they won’t be harassed or threatened with deportation on the job, where their children will receive the education they need to live a quality life.
And in response to the question of whether the children of immigrants should be denied their citizenship, Dora puts it best: “The kids who are born here, this is already their country. How can they take their country away from them?”