The New Know-Nothings

cactusBirthright Provision of the 14th Amendment

Since the end of the Cold War, which deprived them of the Red Menace, right-wing Republicans have been looking for a replacement bogeyman to frighten people into voting for them.

They tried humanism, then gay rights. Both were scary enough for Christians of the homophobic, Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can’t-stand you persuasion. But most Americans didn’t seem to get too worked up over the humanist-gay “threat” to the republic.

Finally, the GOP has gone back in history and found the tried and true bugaboo: immigrants.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is suggesting repeal of part of the 14th Amendment that makes anybody born in the USA a citizen.

Graham says his targets are undocumented immigrants and their offspring. He means Latinos, of course. I’d bet the senator is cool with automatic citizenship for the babes of paperless white Canadians born on this side of the border.

Anyway, Graham’s boss, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants hearings on the amendment’s birthright provision. Other Republicans are hopping on the demagogue bandwagon.

Meanwhile, just about everybody agrees that our immigration laws need reforming.

But the hue and cry over the 14th Amendment is pure electioneering. It is part of a grander GOP strategy. The Republicans are pandering to a rising tide of anti-immigrant anger among white folks who hate it that Mr. and Mrs. USA are looking a lot less like Ward and June Cleaver.

Anyway, prejudice against immigrants has been around for a long time.

It took off in the late 1840s when large numbers of German and Irish Catholics moved to America. Many many native-born Protestants wigged out. In the 1850s, fanatical Protestant white men of British stock formed the American or “Know Nothing” Party. They claimed the Catholic newcomers were in cahoots with the pope – who some of the xenophobes took for the anti-Christ — to wrest America from the “true Christians.”

After the Civil War, many Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish people arrived from eastern and southern Europe . Buddhist Chinese and Japanese also made America their new home.

Nativism came roaring back. Many “Old Immigrant” Anglo-Saxon Protestants loathed and feared the “New Immigrants,” describing them as the “scum of Europe ” and the “yellow peril.”

“Refuse the refuse!” became the anti-immigrant cry. This was about the time the Statue of Liberty went up in New York harbor inviting the world’s “tired,” “poor” and “huddled masses” to join us.

No matter, vote-hungry politicians — Republicans and Democrats — eagerly embraced the xenophobia. Congress stopped immigration from Asia and sharply curbed the number of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.

Anti-immigrant bigotry — bigotry, period — grew anew after the 20th century turned. The Ku Klux Klan re-emerged in the 1920s, claiming it stood for “100 Percent Americanism.”

The Klan stuck foreigners — again mostly southern and Eastern European Catholics, Jews and members of Orthodox churches — just below African Americans on its expanded hate list. At the same time, many politicians of both big parties ranted against the “foreign wretches,” claiming they were “polluting” the country and helping spread Soviet-style communism to America.

Of course, the Republicans – and even the Tea Baggers – would have us believe that their beef is with “illegal” immigrants. But they’re not fooling anybody. Most of these neo-Know Nothings are white people who have a problem with Latinos north of the border, period.

Check out signs at Tea Party rallies: “SEAL OUR BORDERS,” “Go Trash Your Father’s Crappy Country. Don’t Trash My Father’s Great Country! God Bless America/Damn Obama” and “America Help Us Boycott Mexico/Respect Are-[sic]Country/Speak English,” and “Make English America’s offical [sic] Language” are pretty typical (So are the misspellings.).

Better yet, watch the videos.

It’s funny that the Republicans and the GOP-tilting Tea Party white folks who yell and wave “I want my country back!” signs don’t see the irony in their protestations. Illegal immigrants – some of the Tea Bagger ancestors — started this country. The Indians didn’t invite the Europeans over.

And I wonder what the Tea Baggers would think if Native Americans started showing up at Tea Party rallies with their own “I want my country back!” signs.

This just in: Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has made the call for hearings on the 14th Amendment bipartisan. “…I agree with Senator McConnell,” he wrote on The Huffington Post. “We absolutely should hold hearings as soon as possible to discuss whether we should amend the U.S. Constitution to make newborns deportable. We need a high-level national discussion in both Houses of Congress on the issue of whether to station federal ICE agents in every maternity ward and delivery room right between the OB-GYN and the expectant father.

“….While we are at it, I think we should subpoena prominent Republicans like Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico to explain how they have ruined our country with their automatic U.S. citizenship. Under at least some of the legislative proposals supported by the Republicans, neither one would be citizens because one or more of their parents were not permanent legal residents of the U.S. at the time of their birth.

“Let’s get Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo and NASA Astronaut Jose ‘Astro Jose’ Hernandez on the witness stand to defend all that they have robbed from the United States by usurping U.S. citizenship. At long last, the GOP has come up with the legislative strategy to guarantee that no man or woman can rise from humble origins, with a father who is legally present on a student visa, to sit in the Oval Office as President of the United States .

“I really want to hear the Republican argument. Let’s hear why the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship and equal protection under the law regardless of the race or nationality of your parents, is a law whose time has come and gone. Please explain to the American people how the 14th amendment that resolved the issue of African-American citizenship after emancipation and was the critical underpinning of the civil rights movement in the United States, ought to be cast off now because the parchment paper it is written on has grown yellow and curled. Just the expressions on the faces of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus during such a hearing would make the whole exercise worth it to me.

“….I think the Senate and the House ought to call immediate hearings as soon as we reconvene in September to put the Republican’s immigration proposals up against Democratic ones and see which side is serious about rules, enforcement, legality and cracking down on employers. Which side is for immigrants taking personal responsibility and getting right with the law and which side is just blowing smoke in an election year.”

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on August 7, 2010
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.