Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Duncan Hunter echoes California's nativist past

I wanted to give something I saw this week a bit of historical context: Rep. Duncan Hunter's comment that he supported the deportation of native-born American citizens who are the children of illegal immigrants. The comment came during a Q&A and you can view it here:

I'll get back to this issue being American reflecting "what's in our souls" later. His call for American citizens to be deported (and children no less) obviously runs smack into the 14th Amendment, which must be left out of the copies of the Constitution Hunter's Tea Party crowd carry around with them. That such a proposed law would engender some debate at all is rather shocking to me. I'm no Con-Law scholar, but "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" sounds like a description of American territories in the 1860s.

Anyway, anti-immigration leaders in the 1920s at least knew their constitutional precedent better than Hunter and his lot. At that time, California Senator James Phelan and Sacramento Bee editor V.S. McClatchy supported the proposal of a constitutional amendment that would strip the right of citizenship from native-born children of Japanese immigrants. The initiative went nowhere in Congress but in 1924 the National Origins Act did outlaw the further immigration of Japanese or any other Asians. And states in the West passed a swath of laws that restricted Japanese land ownership and rights of commerce. Supporters of these measures, like Hunter, focused on the supposed negative economic impact that Japanese immigrants had on state and local economies. They argued that Japanese farmers and businesses routinely undercut the price of their "American" competition.

Of course, that wasn't the whole story. Racism seeped into the seams of these arguments. Japanese farmers were able to reduce their prices so aggressively because they held much lower standards of living. They weren't concerned about their impact on their native-born neighbors because Japanese immigrants were loyal to a foreign land and an inferior religion. I have read Congressional testimony by demographic experts of the era that claimed that because of the high birthrates of Japanese immigrant families, which were reflective of their racial difference from whites, California would be majority Japanese by 2000.

The terminus of this logic was the World War II internment camp. While we will almost certainly avoid anything resembling that blight on the nation's "soul," if you will, elected representatives need to take a bit more pause before playing to the nativist rabble and calling for the expunging of people's citizenship rights.

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