140 Years After Its Adoption, the Reactionary Right Turns on the 14th Amendment

If you had asked me in 2008 whether I thought it possible that there would be a sustained, orchestrated effort in the first two years of the first term of the first African-American President to undermine and question the integrity of the 14th Amendment I would have answered "no way."  The 14th Amendment of course being one of the three major Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution designed to correct the "three-fifths" of a person clause of the original Constitution and the entire racist body of law which grew up after its adoption. 

The recent news of the attacks on "birthright citizenship" promised in the 14th Amendment is not the first orchestrated attack we've seen on this influential Amendment, one which not just helped ended the institutional racism of the pre-Civil War United States, but which was used to dismantle 20th century segregation in the recent Civil Rights era.  Last year NDN led a national effort to push back against an effort by Senators Vitter and Bennett to knock undocumented immigrants out of the reapportionment process, something we and many others believed was a direct assault on this clause of the 14th Amendment

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State

Like the decision to grant people born here in the US citizenship, this clause was designed to prevent the institutional racism the practice of slavery created in the US from every reoccuring.  In the case of birthright citizenship, our nation made a decision to prevent any future group of American politicians from determing that any one group would be something less than the rest of us, as it had in the era of the "three-fifths" of a person clause.  Given our history, this seems, in hindsight, to have a particularly wise and thoughtful decision.

While in each case the target group of these recent radical assaults on the 14th Amendment were not African-Americans but recent Hispanic immigrants, is it really possible that in the early days of this new age of racial conciliation promised by the election of Barack Obama, that we are seeing a sustained set of attacks on the Constititional Amendment that has done more to promote equailty among the races in the US than other?  It is in some ways shocking, in some ways, perhaps, predictable.  Race has a tortured history in our proud nation, and it shouldn't be suprising that for some the experience of a non-white President might cause a particularly powerful reaction.

It is at moments like these that we need to stop using the word Republican or conservative to describe this type of approach to our politics.  Radical or reactionary is more apt.  And I am proud of Senator Harry Reid last year for standing up to the first sustained assault on the 14th Amendment, and staring it down, defeating it.  The question is - when are other political leaders, including our President, going to show the kind of courage Harry Reid showed last year and mount a sustained defense of the 14th Amendment and the politics that it ushered in the face of these reactionary attacks?

Update - I weigh in on this debate in an article in the the upcoming edition of the The Economist, now online here.

Update, 7pm - In a Washington Post Op-Ed, former Attorney General Gonzales comes out against the efforts to roll back the 14th Amendment.  It includes this powerful graph:

As the nation's former chief law enforcement officer and a citizen who believes in the rule of law, I cannot condone anyone coming into this country illegally. However, as a father who wants the best for my own children, I understand why these parents risk coming to America -- especially when there is little fear of prosecution. If we want to stop this practice, we should pass and enforce comprehensive immigration legislation rather than amend our Constitution.

NDN, Andres in NYTImes Piece Today about the Census

The always interesting Julia Preston has an insightful piece in the NYTimes today about efforts to ensure Latino  participation in the upcoming census.  It includes a reference to recent NDN work spearheaded by Andres Ramirez:

Nearly 12 million Latinos voted in November 2008, an increase of two million votes over 2004, according to an analysis by Andres Ramirez, a researcher at NDN, a Democratic advocacy organization. Now, in the first census since Hispanics passed blacks to become the second-largest population group in the United States, Hispanics want to extend that voting power with a census count that would support more elected representatives for their communities.

An analysis by NDN and America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group, projected that a full count of Hispanics would lead to a significant redrawing of the Congressional map, with six states picking up one Congressional seat (Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah), while Arizona would add two and Texas as many as four.

For the US Latino community the next three years will be of great consequence.  We will see the census, the passage of immigration reform and the 2011/2012 reapportionment at the federal and state levels.   If each happen as they should, as Andres' reports above show, there will be a significant shift of political power in the US to states and parts of states with fast-growing Latinos populations, the beginning of a more proper alignment of the actual number of Hispanics in the US with their political representation at all levels of government.  For Hispanic leaders making sure that all three of these game-changing events happen, and happen as they should, is both a great opportunity and great challenge in the years ahead. 

For many years NDN and our affiliate the New Policy Institute has worked to make sure that the extraordinary demographic transition underweigh in the US today both better understood and for it to play out with the least amount of social strife possible.  Which was what drove us this year to not only aggressively champion comprehensive immigration reform and the nomination of Sonio Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, advocate for closer Hemispheric ties and relations with our Latin neighbors, produce the reports cited above, but to also lead the successful campaigns to get CNN to drop Lou Dobbs and to defeat the pernicious Vitter-Bennett amendment in the US Senate which would have done so much to disrupt the census next year.

In looking back at our work these last few years I think this work - helping ease and enable the extraordinary demographic transition underway in the US - has been our most important and lasting contribution to the national political debate.  I am grateful for all the support the NDN community has given us - the whole NDN team - to lead on these basket of issues which have often been hard and sometimes not well understood.  But led we have, with moral clarity and bull-headed conviction, and the I would like to believe that the nation is just a little better for it. 

But the battles ahead may be our most important yet.  Get ready my friends.

Update - Here is the redistricting report cited above.

On Dobbs, the Census and Fighting for a New Politics of Tolerance

This year NDN has been involved in two consequential campaigns critical to our ability to reform our broken immigration system next year, and to push back on the rising tide of intolerance in our national politics. In the past week each has been resolved in our favor, a hopeful sign for those who share our commitment to a more tolerant, diverse America. A quick report, and some broader thoughts on what this all means:

Defeating the Effort to Disrupt the Census and Reapportionment - Last week, by refusing to accept any amendments to the appropriations bill for the Commerce Department, the U.S. Senate defeated an effort by Senators Vitter (LA) and Bennett (UT) which would have disrupted the orderly conduct of both the census next year and the reapportionment process the years after. The Vitter-Bennett Amendment was a highly charged effort to use the presence of a large number of undocumented immigrants in the US - who constitutionally must both be counted and incorporated into reapportionment and redistricting - to politicize these processes to the point where the ability for them to even happen at all would have been called into doubt. It was just the latest in a long line of conservative scapegoating of immigrants for their own perceived political gain.

The strategy behind the Vitter-Bennett Amendment was something NDN had been warning our leaders about in public writings and private briefings since the spring. When the legislative effort by Senator Bennett began this summer, NDN was the first to report on it, helped explain to allies what was going on, organized a broad and diverse coalition to fight it, held press conferences and private briefings to expose the malevolent intent of a seemingly innocent amendment, posted several front page op-eds on the Huffington Post bringing attention to it all, and ultimately prevailed last week when the Senate invoked cloture, and defeated Vitter-Bennett.

In the many years at the helm of this organization, defeating Vitter-Bennett was one of the most satisfying and consequential efforts I've been involved in. But then, incredibly, came Wednesday's surprise announcement that our great foe, Lou Dobbs, was leaving the powerful national platform of CNN. A remarkable week indeed.

Dropping Dobbs - Getting Lou Dobbs off CNN is something many of us have talked about for years. His presence on the CNN election night sets, masquerading as he a journalist, had caused me to switch allegiance, after 20 years as a CNN watcher, to MSNBC. Many other people we know had taken similar steps.

But it was this summer and fall when we all witnessed the wild anger and intolerance exhibited at the town hall meetings, the primal racial scream of Rep. Joe Wilson, the spiraling rhetoric of Dobbs, Limbaugh and other right wingers that we at NDN said enough. We have to do something. We need to fight back against all this. I released this video at the time, but we kept asking what else can we do?

It was around that time that Andres Ramirez, our Senior Vice President here, began meeting with Media Matters staff to see if we could put together a different kind of campaign against Lou Dobbs. And on September 15, Drop Dobbs was born, and we had our way of pushing back against the rising intolerance we saw across the country. NDN acquired the web address, and conceived of the strategy and simple name - Drop Dobbs. Working with Media Matters' remarkable research and sharp team, our internet strategist Dan Boscov-Ellen built the website, created the logo and got the thing on the web. Andres and the Media Matters folks then went out and began building what became a powerful and unprecedented coalition to encourage people to sign a petition to ask advertisers to drop their advertising from the Dobbs show, a strategy inspired by Color of Change's recent success with Glenn Beck. Then other efforts sprouted, including the highly influential BastaDobbs efforts, and away we all went. Press stories followed. Hundreds of thousands signed petitions and watched videos of Dobbs. Dobbs began talking about the effort on the air. The thoughtful and well-produced CNN series, Latino In America, was overwhelmed by questions of Dobbs and his anti-immigrant rage. In something that has not been reported, advertisers we had approached were agreeing to pull their ads from Dobbs and were telling their ad buyers to shift their buys. Included in that group were among the most significant consumers brands in America.

And on Wednesday came the announcement that the most intolerant voice in mainstream American media was leaving CNN. It was a great victory for our coalition, and for those working to beat back the rise of intolerance this year in America.

While each of these victories were important in themselves, taken together they are truly significant. In each case private citizens and organizations organized, rose up and fought against angry voices of intolerance and divisiveness - and prevailed. In each case NDN was in the lead, building coalitions, encouraging and involving many others in the battle, helping set strategy and message. In each case our effort was led ably and deftly by Andres Ramirez (a big thanks to him).

Over the past few years many have questioned NDN's commitment to passing immigration reform and all that "Latino stuff" we do. Whatever the reasons I and our organization began working on these issues many years ago, the reason we are working on them now is that America is undergoing one of its most profound demographic transitions in all of our history and needs leaders to step up to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible. We are in the midst of transitioning from a white-dominated America to one that will, within my lifetime, become majority "minority." This transition means many things – a need to modernize a broken and anachronistic immigration system, closer ties to our neighbors in the hemisphere, ways of redefining mixed race and mixed ethnic identities, etc - but above all what this transition can be is an extraordinary opportunity for this nation to redefine what "race" means. For most of American history, race has been a malevolent, exploitive experience—one where an overwhelming majority subjugated and mistreated a small minority. How race has manifested itself in American history has been the greatest moral failure of a nation whose very existence and vision of self-government and free and open society has been an inspiration to so many around the world for literally hundreds of years.

But with our people going through profound racial and demographic change - driven by historic waves of immigration from across the world - the American people now have the chance to redefine "race" in a way that is less exploitation and more tolerant acceptance of people not like me. It is in many ways the great American project of the next generation or two, fashioning a coherent society from much greater diversity than America has ever faced before. Given our history, helping America come to a better understanding of "race," of people not like me, is an exciting and thrilling project, and one NDN and its team has embraced with all that we can muster, and one that we will not ever back down in our commitment to. It is just too important to who we are, and who we are becoming. As Americans.

Which is why these two political victories this past week are so important. Together with allies from across the political and ideological spectrum, we fought back and defeated remnants of an old order, an old way, a old politics which does not share our excitement about what America is becoming, and the opportunity we have to create a "more perfect union." But that's okay, for old orders and ideas don't just fade away - they have to be battled, again and again, and defeated. And while we have won these two recent battles, and should celebrate appropriately, we should also, soberly, steel our selves for the even more and significant battles to come in the years ahead.

Newsweek Looks at Vitter-Bennett

The online edition of Newsweek has a new story on the Vitter-Bennett effort to disrupt the census and reapportionment.  It includes these two graphs: 

Immigrant advocates have been bracing for this clash for months. As Simon Rosenberg of the left-leaning New Democrat Network recently argued in a blog posting, “The Republican assault on the census and reapportionment will not end next week even if the Bennett-Vitter Amendment is voted down,” which it likely will be. “This is going to be a titanic battle.”

Rosenberg and others decry the proposed amendment as divisive. They say it seeks to pit traditionally red states that receive fewer immigrants (like Indiana and Montana) against blue states that are magnets for them (like California and New York). Indeed, an analysis cited in a New York Times article today showed that if noncitizens were stripped out of the population totals, California would lose five congressional seats and New York and Illinois one each. Among the beneficiaries (surprise, surprise): Louisiana, Vitter’s home state, which would be spared the loss of one seat. Get ready for more skirmishes ahead.

A Senate vote could come as early as today.  Call your Senator or use this site to take online action against this pernicious effort. 

And use this recent NDN Backgrounder for more.

Progress on 3 Important Fronts - Drop Dobbs, Vitter-Bennett, 9500 Liberty

Just wanted to report in, quickly, on progress on three projects NDN is taking a leading role on right now. 

Drop Dobbs - Several weeks ago, along with more than a dozen other groups, NDN helped launched Drop Dobbs, a website and campaign designed to knock Lou Dobbs off CNN.   Tens of thousands have signed our petitions, watched our videos.  And the campaign itself has gotten a lot of notice.  Dobbs himself has addressed the campaign on the air, more groups are signing on, and some new steps will be announced soon.  The NY Times has a major piece by Brian Stelter today which is the most important press story yet generated on the campaign - be sure to check it out, and if you haven't yet please add your name to the petition today.

Defeating Bennett-Vitter - For NDN blog readers you know that we have been long talking about the day Republican leaders would mount a series effort to derail reapportionment and the census by challening the propriety of counting non citizens particularly in the reapportionment process in 2011-2012.  Well that day has come now, with Senators Bennett and Vitter attempting to put an Amendment on to the current Commerce appropriations bill which would add an 11th question to the census next year, in an attempt to get an accurate count of the non-citizens in the United States.  NDN has issued many statements, been up on the Hill, organized two press conferences this week with allied groups and in general helped organize a well orchestrated push back on this irresponsible effort that would undeniably cost the country a great deal of money, threaten the integrity of the census and reapportionment processes and almost certainly be found unconstitutional. 

For more on this important advocacy effort visit here, and also feel free to read some of the press stories this effort has also generated. Be sure to contact your Senator this week and ask them to vote no on Vitter-Bennett (the vote could be as early as Weds). 

9500 Liberty - Our favorite movie, 9500 Liberty received an extraordinary early review this week:

It’s a bitter human irony that we can be at our ugliest when we’re fighting for our most passionate verities, including democracy, freedom and the American dream. And it seems to happen most often in the politics of immigration.

Most of us are good people when we’re sitting around the dinner table. What happens to us as soon as we step up to the public podium?

If there’s one movie that shows the worst -- but also the best -- in that regard, it’s a documentary you’ve probably never heard of. As of now, it's unreleased.

Like many other independently made documentaries, “9500 Liberty” doesn’t have a distributor. That ought to change. So far, it has been on the festival circuit with forthcoming stops at the San Diego Asian Festival (Oct. 27), the San Francisco’s Sundance Kabuki Theater (Oct. 29), and festivals in Virginia, Austin and St. Louis in November.

And it lit up the virtual nation of Youtubia when filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler posted their movie in progress.   In the summer of 2007, Park and Byler took their cameras to Prince William County, Virginia, where an explosive debate was taking place.

In response to the burgeoning influx of Hispanics, the local board of supervisors was considering legislation that would require police officers to stop and question anyone who gave them “probable cause” to suspect was an illegal alien.  The film follows the interaction within the board, out in the community and over the Internet, as the issue attracts increasingly inflamed and widespread debate.

And as we watch events unfold, we can’t help noticing this is all taking place in Manassas, the hallowed battleground site where another racially charged matter divided the political nation.

This postmodern version of civil war may not have the musketry and the spectacular loss of life of its predecessor. But it doesn't lack for absorbing drama. And a memorable cast of characters...

.....Even though the filmmakers’ political sentiments aren’t too hard to identify, there’s something to watch for viewers of any political stripe. “9500 Liberty” is local, yet powerfully American. And not unlike Marshall Curry’s excellent 2002 documentary “Street Fight,” which chronicled the stunning rise to power of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, it shows us politics where the rubber meets the road.

With an uplifting turn of events and some extraordinary acts of conscience, “9500 Liberty” is as dramatically charged as any fiction movie. And ultimately, it’s as powerful a booster of the democratic process as anything Frank Capra ever imprinted into our collective memory.

Those of you in SF this week are lucky - along with several other organizations we are cohosting a screening of 9500 Liberty this Thursday night, October 29th, at Sundance Kabuki.  I hope you will be able to attend, and see what I have called one of the best movies I have ever seen. 

NYT: How to Waste Money and Ruin the Census

From an editorial today in the NYTimes, "How To Waste Money and Ruin the Census" -

With the start of the 2010 census just a few months away, Senator David Vitter, a Republican of Louisiana, wants to cut off financing for the count unless the survey includes a question asking if the respondent is a United States citizen. Aides say he plans to submit an amendment to the census appropriation bill soon.

As required by law, the Census Bureau gave Congress the exact wording of the survey’s 10 questions in early April 2008 — more than 18 months ago. Changing it now to meet Mr. Vitter’s demand would delay the count, could skew the results and would certainly make it even harder to persuade minorities to participate.

It would also be hugely expensive. The Commerce Department says that redoing the survey would cost hundreds of millions of dollars: to rewrite and reprint hundreds of millions of census forms, to revise instructional and promotional material and to reprogram software and scanners.

During debates in the Senate, Mr. Vitter said that his aim is to exclude noncitizens from population totals that are used to determine the number of Congressional representatives from each state. He is ignoring the fact that it is a settled matter of law that the Constitution requires the census to count everyone in the country, without regard to citizenship, and that those totals are used to determine the number of representatives.


Changing the survey now would be a disaster for the census and for American taxpayers. The Senate should defeat any and all attempts to alter or delay the 2010 count.

We here at NDN agree.  Later this morning, NDN wiill join 10 other groups in a press conference asking the Senate to reject the Vitter-Bennett effort to disrupt the census and reapportionment.  Last week I sent this letter to every Senator asking them to oppose these efforts in the days ahead. 

Check back later for more from our press conference.

Syndicate content