Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Article Index

II. Citizenship in Name Only: Redefining Democracy

As it relates to people of color, citizenship has historically been a tool for exclusion instead of inclusion. This issue of full citizenship participation has been a recurring issue for the United States Supreme Court for over 200 years, with the Court repeatedly addressing the domestic discourse of citizenship and its legal interpretation. While the Court, even to this day, continues to hear cases that affect citizenship rights, conservative law makers continue to pass laws that affect voting rights and judicial participation. These two fundamental concepts are the core of full citizenship rights. The involuntary arrival of Africans to America may have resulted in the social and economic caste system that has been embedded in the minds of the majority, specifically the belief that the rights and privileges of some Americans are in name only and that African Americans are in America only by invitation. Despite amendments to the Constitution forbidding unequal treatment of its citizens, state legislators designed Jim Crow statutes, pretextual race neutral voting laws and arcane jury practices to circumvent the democratic process for African Americans--unequal treatment that persists today. This redefinition of democracy took complete hold after the end of Reconstruction. Rights granted pursuant to the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were largely ignored, with the new democracy defined by legal and social segregation. This make-believe citizenship status would have proven effective absent the Supreme Court's later intervention and interpretation of cases and statutes that applied to race.

However, early Supreme Court rulings were not favorable to African Americans. The Scott v. and Plessy v. decisions only reinforced discriminatory practices and social inequality. In Plessy, the court upheld a statute of legal segregation, ignoring the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court viewed African Americans as citizens in name, not in law. Justice Harlan, in his dissent, maintained that:

[I]n the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law .... The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race, while they are on a public highway, is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.

Furthermore, argued Harlan, the Plessy decision would poison relations between the races.

What can more certainly arouse race hate, what can more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation.

As Justice Harlan predicted, this subordinate citizenship doctrine has created a historical legacy for African Americans that is almost impossible to remove.

W.E.B. du Bois, a famous African American scholar, felt the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment did not inject any political life into the African American community. In his book, “Black Reconstruction,” he contrasted the difference between political rights for African Americans and their ability to exercise rights and privileges granted to the majority. Another group, U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry, has also had its citizenship challenged in the past. During the early 1940's, Mexicans were allowed to work in the United States legally through several agricultural labor programs, with as many as 450,000 Mexican nationals working by the late 1950's. However, many Mexican immigrants entered the United States illegally, and in an attempt to stop their entry, the U.S. government established “Operation Wetback,” a government program designed to deport illegal Mexicans residing in the United States. However, because the government was racially profiling people of Mexican and Latin ancestry, many were arrested and again deported to Mexico despite being U.S. citizens because they could not show their citizenship status through documents.

Presently, several U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants are suing Florida for denying them instate tuition rates. Florida law states that the residency requirement must be established by the parents or dependent children prior to any in-state tuition pay rate. Tania Gallori, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, argues that the Florida law is misapplied and that residency requirements do not apply to the parents' citizenship status. Kassandra Romero, a student affected by the Florida law and enrolled at Palm Beach State College, said “I'm an American citizen, I was born here. But now I feel left By contrast, Republican Steve King, U.S. Representative from Iowa, led a charge against granting citizenship to children born in the United States of illegal immigrants. This position is contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment adopted in 1868, which says citizenship applies to all persons “born or naturalized in the United State,

 

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