By Masao Suzuki, Freedom Road Socialist Organization
Billionaire Donald Trump has established himself as the leading Republican candidate for president, with polls giving him twice the support of the nearest contender in a crowded field of 17. Trump has been the focus of media attention for his high level of support, his racist statements about Mexicans and his sexist attacks on women. In terms of policy, Trump has been leading the attack on the right of citizenship for people born in the U.S. – this right was granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He is calling for the U.S. citizen children of the undocumented to be deported, along with their parents, in what would be ethnic cleansing.
This extreme position is not just Trump’s, but is also supported by Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Scott Walker and other Republicans running for president. Russell Pearce, Arizona state senator and author of the anti-immigrant bill SB1070, was also an advocate of overturning the 14th Amendment and stripping citizenship from the children of undocumented, who number more than 5 million people today.
This is just the most recent in a long history of attacks on the right to citizenship. During World War II more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent were rounded up and placed in concentration camps. Two thirds were Nisei, U.S. citizens born in the U.S. Their immigrant parents, or the Issei, were banned from naturalization along with other Asians by racist immigration laws. During the war there were calls by anti-Japanese forces to strip the Nisei of their citizenship because they were the children of ‘enemy aliens.’
Ten years earlier, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, some 2 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S. citizen children were deported or pressured to leave the U.S. About 60%, or 1.2 million were either American-born citizens or immigrants who naturalized. Later, during World War II, the U.S. government started the guest worker program, called the Bracero program, to make up for the lack of farm labor caused by the 1930s’ deportations and incarceration of Japanese Americans.
The anti-Chinese movement on the West Coast led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1883, which barred almost all Chinese from immigrating to the U.S. Following this there were attempts to exclude the American-born U.S. citizen Chinese from returning to the U.S. after they traveled to China. This led to a court challenge by Kim Ark Wong, who fought his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1898 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Wong v. United States that the 14th Amendment meant exactly what it said: that all “natural born” children of the U.S. were U.S. citizens, with the only exceptions being the children of diplomats and the children of an occupying army, who were not subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. laws.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitutions was one of three amendments granting rights to African American slaves following the Civil War. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship, and the 15th Amendment granted voting rights. The 14th Amendment was needed to overturn the 1857 Dred Scott case, where the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Scott v. Sandford, upheld slavery as a perpetual condition of African American and said that neither slaves nor their children had the rights of citizens.
By calling for overturning the 14th Amendment and the right to citizenship, Trump and the other Republicans are opening the door to stripping citizenship not only from Chicanos and Latinos born in the U.S., but also Asian Americans and African Americans. It is no wonder that Trump has been supported by white supremacists such as David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Given that Trump and the rest of the Republican candidates are so bad, does this mean that we should work to elect a Democrat? Let’s look at the reality of what brought about some changes around the issue of police killings of African Americans. Did these killings slack off because an African American was elected president? No. Did white Americans become more aware of unequal treatment and racism among the police and in the courts because we have had a Black President for more than six years? No. What has started to force change among police, and what has changed the awareness of white Americans has been the militant struggle by the African American masses, including what was basically an uprising in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of Michal Brown.
We need to focus our energy on continuing to build a mass movement that can fight for legalization of the undocumented, that can fight for community control of the police, and that can fight for all-around equality for oppressed nationalities (African Americans, Arab and Asian Americans, Chicanos, Mexicanos and Latinos) and for the Indigenous Peoples of America, Alaska, and Hawai’i. This fight must ultimately include the demand for self-determination of the oppressed nations: the African American Nation in the Black Belt South, the Chicano Nation in the Southwest, and the Hawai’ian nation, up to and including the right to exist independent of the U.S., as well as sovereignty and national development for Indigenous Peoples.
Masao Suzuki is chair of the Joint Nationalities Commission, Freedom Road Socialist Organization