Commentary By Opal Tometi of Black Alliance for Just Immigration
PHOENIX -- For the past year Arizona has been in the spotlight because of its harsh attacks on migrant populations and people of color. From the signing of the most far reaching anti-immigrant law (SB 1070) that legitimizes racial profiling, to its ban on Ethnic Studies (HB 2281), Arizona is rolling back the clock on the gains that the civil and human rights movements made in the United States of America. In addition to these legislative measures, Arizona recently banned affirmative action (Proposition 107) in the November 2010 election.
Sadly, Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer and other government officials, like State Senate President Russell Pearce, are relentless in their attack on the migrant community, attacks that also impact the African American community. Pearce's current foray is on the 14th amendment, an amendment that is well known for both the Citizenship Clause and Equal Protection Clause. It is now threatened because, after over one hundred years in existence, Pearce wants to ascribe a new interpretation.
The 14th amendment to the Constitution was written when slavery was finally outlawed in the United States. It granted formerly enslaved Africans in America full citizenship, and overturned the Supreme Court's 1857 decision in the historic Dred Scott v. Sanford case. In plain speak, the 14th Amendment was meant to ensure that all people born in the United States would be treated as equal citizens under the Constitution. However, Pearce is trying to strip away the citizenship rights of children who were born in the U.S. to parents who are not recognized as legal residents.
Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) Executive Director Gerald Lenoir explains that, "attempts to undermine the 14th amendment are unconstitutional and are part of the tradition of racism and xenophobia that our ancestors have fought hard to dismantle. Furthermore the term ‘anchor baby', which has become associated with this bill is pejorative and is used to criminalize children of immigrants, especially those of color."
This attack on the rights and dignity of children demonstrates a sad shift in the trajectory of the national discourse on immigration. The assault on birthright citizenship through distortion of the 14th amendment and the reversal of gains made through the struggles for civil rights, only aims to disenfranchise the growing number of people of color in this country.
Arizona State Senate President Pearce, the key author and principal in pushing forward this legislation, has been known to fraternize with white supremacists. This is not the kind of thinking that we should allow to shape our nation. In this day and age when black and brown communities are continually marginalized and disenfranchised, we cannot allow for a reinterpretation of the 14th amendment that would only create a new caste of second-class noncitizens with no rights in any country. We cannot allow for the normalization of this type of anti-migrant policy that further institutionalizes xenophobia, racism and injustice in the U.S., as well as dismisses the gains of the civil rights movement
As Martin Luther King, Jr. poignantly said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The Black Alliance for Just Immigration will stand with immigrant communities in Arizona and across the country in opposing the reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment and in asserting the birthright citizenship rights of children of undocumented immigrants.
Opal Tometi was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona and is the National Organizer for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) is an education and advocacy group comprised of African Americans and black immigrants from Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean. BAJI engages African Americans and other communities in dialogue that leads to actions that challenge U.S. immigration policy and the underlying issues of race, racism and economic inequity that frame it.