US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Native-born nativism

Kevin Clarke | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I've been saying for a long time that U.S. political culture has made social satire a thankless task. More evidence surfaced this week with the new-found interest among Conservative Republican leadership into redefining citizenship. Now even John McCain (perhaps an indication of his growing electoral anxiety) has tenuously begun to explore (with evident distaste) what had previously been a fringe proposal meant to block children of immigrants from automatic U.S. citizenship by birth.

The apparent target is the 14th Amendment's codification of a long-standing custom of the republic to acknowledge anyone born in the United States as, well, someone born in the United States, therefore a citizen. This seems eminently common-sensical, but it is actually not the practice in all societies and one of the more laudable democratic traditions here in the United States, not least of which because it neatly removes the process of defining citizenship from the caprice of short-tempered and -minded political currents.

Case in point: what we're seeing today. A long-observed, rational commonplace of American life is now being challenged because some believe the notion of cutting off the native-born children of undocumented migrants into the United States is a rhetorical winner in 2012. Monkeying around with the Constitution is never a good idea, just ask Al Capone. This one stinks of opportunism and more than a whiff of white anxiety. Yes, fellows, America's WASPy New Jerusalem is likely in its final throes. It's been on the way out since some of my relatives arrived from the Emerald Isle in the 19th century (What nation could recover from that?). It can't be undone—certainly not by this bad idea. Deal with it. You may grow to like it. Certainly the food and music will improve.

I'll be dealing with this subject at greater length in an upcoming Margin Notes in the print edition.