(originally run in the Great Bend Tribune, Great Bend, Kans. Feb. 3, 2013 edition)
(illustration courtesy of http://www.freeduh.com)
Recently, I was moving photos and pictures around on my walls. My favorites are two shadow boxes, one with a photo of my great grandmother and great grandfather, their daughters and a photo of their house on the farm. The farm is in Kackley, a tiny almost-ghost town in North Central Kansas. In the other box is a set of hand painted knobs my mother created 20 years ago, which adorned her kitchen cabinets for years until she remodeled. One of them has a miniature painting of the barn from the old farm.
Looking at them, I cant help wishing I’d had a chance to visit with my great-grandmother. I’d ask her all kinds of questions, starting with what finally made her decide to leave Sweden on her own and follow her sister to Kansas, where she became a house maid until she married my great grandfather. It was a common thing, back in the 1890s for a young woman from Sweden to do, but still, what courage it must have taken to follow through with.
This relative of mine has been the inspiration of my adult life in many ways. She traveled alone, she made her own way, she was tough when she had to be, and living out on a farm, she had to be often. But she never became rough. Though she learned how to use a gun, and was known as a crack shot and able to blow away snakes on a fence post, she insisted on having a fine piano and having her girls learn to play.
This week, I had an opportunity to visit Doris Reile’s class of people who wish to go through the naturalization process. It occurred to me, I don’t know if my great-grandmother or great-grandfather ever became naturalized citizens. The Immigration Commission was not formed until 1907, so I have to assume they simply came into the country and became citizens. Because of this, all the rest of us who followed after her are firmly native born U.S. citizens.
Now that the election is over, and the fiscal cliff deadline has been pushed back, reports are beginning to make their way back into the media about immigration reform. Once again, Nativists are attacking our birthright as citizens, this time through the “Birthright Citizenship Act of 2013”, H.R.140. In a sneaky move, they hope to avoid an amendment to the Constitution by amending the Immigration and Nationality Act, according to a report by Devin Burghart, published in Nation, State and Citizenship and republished on Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website says the INA was created in 1952. It was basically a way to organize and codify a number of existing provisions and “reorganized the structure of immigration law”. It goes on to say “The Act has been amended many times over the years, but is still the basic body of immigration law.
So far, 13 House Representatives, mostly from southern states, are in favor of changing the act to “require that only the children of citizens, legal immigrants permanently living in the country, or immigrants in the military, be granted citizenship.” In other words, they don’t want any more illegal immigrants having babies in the United States and thereby ensuring their child has a birthright of citizenship.
While I can see how some might think that’s a good idea, I have to disagree. Sneaking around and slipping in a change in the law in a sneaky way only raises my suspicions at motive. The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 to underscore the fact that former slaves were to be considered citizens now, and there should not be any question of that fact.
I can understand wanting to secure borders from possible terrorist threats, but honestly, when was the last time you ever held a baby and worried what it’s motive for being in your arms was?
Veronica Coons is a reporter for the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.