Center for American Progress

COLUMN: Birthright Citizenship Debate Is a Thinly Veiled Attack on Immigrant Mothers
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COLUMN: Birthright Citizenship Debate Is a Thinly Veiled Attack on Immigrant Mothers

Conservative attempts to deny birthright citizenship to children of some immigrants are sexist and racist, write Gebe Martinez, Ann Garcia, and Jessica Arons.

By Gebe Martinez, Ann Garcia, Jessica Arons

Read the full column here.

This election cycle conservatives are intoxicated with immigrant bashing, particularly pregnant immigrant women and their children. Their tactic: change the U.S. Constitution to deny citizenship to babies born in this country to undocumented women. This is a cynical strategy that explicitly targets Latino communities—the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. These desperate politicians would rather get rid of these new voters than do the hard work of cultivating them. In their quest for power they will do or say anything to get elected.

This is also an ugly strategy fueled by sexism and racism. It taps into a long history of population control—government efforts to curb growth among disfavored populations. During slavery, the children slaveowners sired with their slaves were deemed slaves themselves who could be sold as chattel, thereby increasing the wealth of the owner rather than the size of his family. Chinese women in the 1800s were labeled prostitutes and denied visas to join their husbands who labored on our railroads. And black women, Native American women, and Latinas were routinely sterilized either without their knowledge or without their consent as recently as the 1970s.

Conservatives’ rhetoric on this issue is particularly insulting, likening the human birthing process to that of farm animals.

“They come here to drop a child. It’s called ‘drop and leave,’” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) during an interview on Fox News. Graham’s comments were especially shocking given his past leading role as a sponsor of comprehensive immigration reform legislation aimed at uniting, not dividing families. Nevertheless, his comments buoyed the push to end birthright citizenship, creating an echo on Capitol Hill where conservative leaders then called for hearings on the issue.

The rhetoric did not get any better coming from former obstetrician-turned-congressman Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) on MSNBC: “That dropping situation, Chris, is what we refer to as anchor baby.”

And Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), the architect of S.B. 1070, the state’s anti-immigrant law now being challenged in court, conceded that his support for changing the Constitution is gender based. He circulated and publicly defended a statement by Al Garza, one of his constituents and a former top official of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, a group classified as a nativist extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The e-mail Pearce defended reads, “If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do.”

Pearce’s amalgamation of legislative proposals would inexorably lead to ethnic profiling of pregnant women. This already occurred in Utah even without any legislation to sanction it. Two state government workers sent the names of 1,300 people to law enforcement and the news media because they suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. The list included the due dates of pregnant women, which is a disturbing invitation for harassment and is most likely a violation of federal health privacy laws.

Ironically, many of the same politicians who have jumped on the citizenship denial bandwagon also claim to be “pro-life” and “pro-family.” Yet they have no hesitation about splitting up families through harsh deportation policies or dehumanizing immigrant women and their children with their hateful rhetoric.

Read the full column here.

Gebe Martinez is a Senior Writer and Policy Analyst, Ann Garcia is Special Assistant for Immigration Policy, and Jessica Arons is Director of Women’s Health and Rights Program at American Progress.