A new acaemic year

I went straight to college after high school, and straight to graduate school after college.  I got my first tenure track job in 2002, immediately after the 8 years it too me to earn my PhD, and I have been at my “new” job now for almost five years.

As a consequence, an academic year has been the calendar of my life since I was five years old.  When I refer to “years” I often do so intentionally referring to the period between July and June.  I am mentally colonized.

On the plus side–it’s a new year!  The 2010-2011 academic year has begun at the Claremont Colleges.  Classes don’t start until Tuesday, but I just spent two 8am-5pm weekend work days doing first-year advising and student coordinator training.  I am seasoned, to say the least, and feel like I am hitting the ground running for the first time in some years.

I’ve been largely off the blog this summer, as I struggled to get two book projects done (or “done-as-possible”).  One, an edited collection, is done (mostly).  The other, my book manuscript on the history of Latinos in San Francisco, is moving nicely and is on its way to being done this semester.

Normally the idea of having a writing deadline during the semester seems daunting and impossible.  I spent as much of everyday writing this past summer as was possible, cutting out many distractions and making productive use of the ebb and flow of written productivity to use time to think, read, and think some more.  Now, writing will be compressed into the available time I have every afternoon, maybe a three hour period if I am vigilant and protective.

But I’m excited!  We have a new baby coming anytime in the next few weeks, I have a class of eager students ready to learn about Chicano history, I have a host of obligations related to student learning and community engagement (related to my position at our campus “Community Partnership” office), and I’ve got two books to shepherd through to completion, at least if I want to keep my job when I come up for tenure in another year.  And, yet, I am really looking forward to the mayhem ahead.

Ironically, I think I’ll find a free minute or two on the occasional morning to share a little something on the blog, too.  But if one of my three readers out there is wondering where I am and what I’ve been doing, well, it’s just life.

Monday Blues

Buddy Guy (born in Louisiana, 1936-), performing “Crawlin’ Kingsnake” by John Lee Hooker.

Monday Blues

Let us celebrate the brilliance of Stevie Ray Vaughan!  Born in Texas, on October 3, 1954, he died tragically on August 27, 1990, now 20 years ago.  He was a blues master, possessed with an ability few people in human history have had.  Authentic blues mixed with talent is hard to come by in this world; Stevie Ray had it all and more.

Here he is performing his own “Texas Flood” from a live show in 1985.

Original Intent

When I hear some politician or pundit pander to the radical right with talk of no taxes and no government, I often think about George Washington’s “cover letter” to the US Constitution.

The letter was actually written by the Committee on Style of the Constitutional Convention, and unanimously approved by the entire delegate body (as far as we know, without debate).  As President of Federal Convention, George Washington signed the letter.  It was sent along with the newly approved Constitution to the Continental Congress (and its President, Arthur St. Clair), who then sent both along to the states for ratification.

Contrary to “New Federalists” and their assertions that real sovereignty lies with the people of the states, and that the Founders believed in a highly limited national government, Washington’s letter is a thoughtful statement on the need for a federal government.  He explains the consensus of the delegates that “Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest.”  He also describes a healthy government being one of consensus built on a recognition of the need “to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude.”

Here’s the full text for your enjoyment:

Letter from the President of the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787, to the President of the Congress, Transmitting the Constitution.

Sir,

We have now the honor to submit to the consideration of the United States in Congress assembled, that Constitution which has appeared to us the most adviseable.

The friends of our country have long seen and desired, that the power of making war, peace, treaties, that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the Union: But the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident—Hence results the necessity of a different organization.

It is obviously impracticable in the federal government of these states, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet to provide for the interest and safety of all: Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance, as the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those which may be reserved; and on the present occasion this difficulty was increased by a difference among the several states as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests.

In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each state in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and this the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.

That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every state is not perhaps to be expected; but each will doubtless consider, that had her interest been alone consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish.

With great respect, We have the honor to be, Sir,

Your Excellency’s
most obedient and humble servants,

GEORGE WASHINGTON, President

By unanimous Order of the Convention.

His Excellency the PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Monday Blues

Elvis Presley (born in Mississippi, 1935-1977), performing “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” by Lloyd Price and “Baby What Do You Want Me To Do” by Jimmy Reed (1968).

Why Repealing Birthright Citizenship is More Difficult Than You Think

In recent months, the “movement” to repeal jus soli–or “birthright citizenship–seems to be gathering steam.

I use the term “movement” cautiously because, at heart, this is really about political posturing by the right. While there are groups of people who have consistently advocated for this kind of revision of the US Constitution, they haven’t done anything in the last half year to warrant this new attention. What has changed is the number of high-profile politicians and pundits who have made this their “cause of the day” in the hope of securing their election, re-election, and/or high ratings.

The most visible evidence of their work is a now mainstream discussion of the danger of so-called “anchor babies,” or children born to “illegal” immigrants. As this rightist argument goes, the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution–which bestows citizenship on anyone born in the US–acts as a motivation for illegal immigration by promoting a wave of pregnant migrants who come to the US to have children and then use those children to secure their own residency.

I want to point out a few things that are missing in the wider debate, “realities” which should guide your understanding of this very important issue. The first one is simple enough–this “movement” has very little chance of ever being successful.

Repealing or amending part of the US Constitution is an extremely difficult thing to do. It is prohibitive by design, since nobody wants a country where the fundamental laws of the land can change with the whims of the age. Accordingly, changing any amendment requires the rarest of political conditions. To do it, supporters of a new Amendment (which is how you amend another Amendment) would need to follow one of two courses: 1) get a two-thirds majority of both the House and the Senate to pass the Amendment, and then get three-fourths of all States to approve it; or 2) get two-thirds of all States to hold a Constitutional Convention proposing the Amendment, and then get three-fourths of all States to approve it. Neither one of these scenarios has a chance of mustering even the slightest chance of coming to pass relating to the 14th Amendment.

Now, this reality is an important one to grasp, before we engage in any other debate about the issue. The only reason this “movement” has seemingly become so successful is because politicians–from Lindsay Graham to John McCain–are spouting off about “anchor babies” and the reasonableness of having hearings on repealing jus soli. But these politicians know the process that is required of such a move. They know it has no chance of passing, let alone ever being considered by the House or Senate under this (or any recent) configuration. So why doth they protest?

So, before we continue, let’s get our head around the fact that this is an esoteric discussion being led by politicians who are trying to secure their electability among a small yet vocal fringe of their party.

The second reality passing us by is the second point I would like to make: repealing birthright citizenship opens a mess of legal complexities, many of which do not benefit the US. Supporters of this act like the issue is an easy one since all it would do it stop Mexicans from coming to the US and having their babies. What it would really do is provoke a global war on citizenship.

Let’s say a child is born in to an “illegal” parent in a United States where jus soli is not the law of the land. We say this child is not a citizen and they must be deported. But to where? Having been born in the US, they are not a citizen in any other nation of the world. Barring bureaucratic measures taken by the parent on the behalf of the child, they would now be a human being who has no citizenship.

You can’t deport them without the other nation agreeing to take them, which is highly unlikely since they have no vested interest in accepting, en masse, people they consider to be your citizens. So now you have a class of people within your national borders who are neither citizens–ostensibly deprived of rights as basic as the right to exist within your national limits–and yet who are, in fact, legally present within your nation. How do you house them? What do they get to do? What do they not get to do? Do you raise them in federal orphanages? Do they go to school? What happens when they turn 18?

How about this: let’s say we have a child born to an “illegal” mother but the father is “legal.” What about the reverse? Is the child deprived of citizenship or not? Does this differ if the “legal” parent is a naturalized US citizen, a US-born citizen, or a legal permanent resident (LPR)? What if we decide one parent who is a citizen is enough? Are there penalties for pro-creating with an “illegal”? And what about victims of rape? What about women who do not divulge the father’s name or status?

And then there is this complication: what level of “illegality” is necessary to strip a native-born child from becoming a US citizen? Only if the parent is residing in the US without authorization? Do we include people who are here “legally” but working “illegally”? What about people who were once here legally but have overstayed their visa? Does it matter when the migrant gets pregnant? Let’s say they child is conceived when the parent(s) are legal but born when one or both are not? What if the child is born on the exact day a visa expires? What if the migrant has been here for years, unauthorized, but then gets pregnant. Certainly not an “anchor baby.” And what about legal guestworkers who get pregnant and have children while they are working?

These scenarios are hardly far fetched. When you are dealing with a nation the size of the US, who actively promotes the informal importation of as many unauthorized workers as we do, these scenarios are common. They would also clog the US legal system and bring it to a standstill while we worked it all out. Whatever the solution, there would be so many ways around it and/or so many gross violations of common decency as a result, nobody would be pleased with the outcome.

Finally–and I think the most compelling reality that exposes this entire effort for the political smokescreen that it is–the advocates of repealing jus soli are basing their analysis on a bunch of misinformation. When it comes down to it, “anchor babies” do not exist in any measurable fashion. The offensive phenomenon of “stop and drop” is a myth.

This recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center is causing a stir because it estimates that better than 12% of all the children born in the US are born to “illegal immigrant parents.” This seems to statistically demonstrate the level of our “crisis.” But, the report also calculates that as many as 80% of the “illegal” parents have been in the US for one-year or longer. (In case you didn’t know, human babies take about 9 months to gestate.)

Furthermore, because of the data they used, the report does not separate between those children who have one parent who is “illegal” and those who have two. Other fairly recent reports (one, two, three) suggest the number of children with “mixed” parents (in terms of legal status) may be rather high.

So where does this leave us?

If the politicians and pundits know everything that I just described to you, then they are purposefully manipulating the information in order to strike fear in their constituencies. You might ask why they would do such a thing.

If they don’t know what I have just described to you, then they are dumb, uneducated, and/or misinformed. You might ask yourself why people who are elected to represent you don’t do the simple work of research and learning about complex issues before they take stands on them. You might also ask why people who make millions of dollars on TV talking to you about these issues don’t either.

In either case, repealing the 14th Amendment is not only a bad idea, but one that works against any stable democratic republic. And, when it comes down to it, it will do nothing to curb the flow of “illegal” immigration to the US, a phenomenon that exists because of two things: systemic poverty in Mexico and active recruitment and labor needs in the US.

Monday Blues

Eric Clapton (born in England, 1945-), performing “Driftin’ Blues” by Johnny Moore (1988).