by Brendan Beery
The first sentence if the Fourteenth Amendment – the sentence that a majority of Republican presidential aspirants want to repeal – does not just confer citizenship on persons born in the United States; it confers humanity.
To understand what the Constitution’s grant of birthright citizenship means, one must get to why citizenship was granted to begin with. As I have explained before, the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted for one purpose: to overrule the US Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision. And why were the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment so keen to overrule Dred Scott?
In Dred Scott, the Supreme Court ruled that an African American freed slave – a person who had escaped his slave owner – was not a citizen under the Constitution. That is a jolting enough thing for the Court to have said, but its reasoning was even more perverse. An African American, the court explained, was not a citizen because he was property.
Property is that which is owned, and we own things like horses, houses, and garments. If a slave, a former slave, or an African American is to be classed with such chattel, then obviously he is not in any sense human.
The first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment smacks down this prehistoric thinking. It says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
Let’s be clear about this: that sentence was written into the Constitution not just to upend the vulgarism of black non-citizenship – it was written into the Constitution to upend the vulgarism of black non-personhood. Constitutionally, to call a being a citizen is only to say that he is human.
So when Republicans advocate the repeal of citizenship for those born in the United States, they might as well be saying that some beings born to people in the United States are not even human.
And how can one get around this conception when Republicans have invented and popularized a term like “anchor baby”? Note the emphasis when a Republican uses this term: it is not pronounced “anchor BABY,” but “ANCHOR baby.” So a fully developed fetus born to an illegal immigrant is not primarily a baby; it’s primarily an anchor.
What else could it be to anyone whose only concern – any Republican whose only concern – is to get rid of it? And that is the object of those who seek to extirpate the noblest sentence in the Constitution. They wish to render human life inanimate: some babies are just tools. An anchor baby is not a being whose wellbeing is our concern. It is a thing to be ripped from view as though it had never existed at all – as though it had never been conceived.
No advocate for the abolition of constitutional humanity for babies can seriously call himself or herself “pro-life,” at least not without an “anchor baby exception.” If we are to deny that US citizenship begins at birth, then certainly personhood cannot begin at conception.