Immigration and The Post-Constitutional President

On Thursday (May 17), the liar-in-thief outlined an immigration overhaul that promised to “protect American wages, promote American values, and attract the best and brightest from all around the world.” I am going to ignore the deceit underlying the President’s proposal: the false assertion that low-wage foreign victims of violence and abuse are the cause for crime in the US. Those who have made it their lifelong pursuit to understand and document crime disagree: undocumented immigrants are overwhelmingly less likely to commit violent crimes than full-blown, domestically grown and raised citizens (LIGHT, M. T. and MILLER, T. (2018), DOES UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRATION INCREASE VIOLENT CRIME?*. Criminology, 56: 370-401. doi:10.1111/1745-9125.12175); also https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/13/upshot/illegal-immigration-crime-rates-research.html). Anyone who expects this President to tell the truth about anything is fooling themselves.

Instead I want to focus on the real heart of this proposal; the aim to overturn the citizenship clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.

For the most part, the US Constitution is an exceptional document. But in one respect it is deeply and fundamentally flawed. In order to bring delegates from southern states to support the new Constitution, northern delegates were forced to concede that each souther slave would count as 3/5ths a non-slave for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives. The notorious 3/5ths clause established (1) that African slaves were private property (no path to citizenship); and (2) that private property would enjoy a seat and a say in the United States House of Representatives.

That is the legacy of Dread Scott v Sanford (60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857)), which denied personhood to Mr Scott, a slave.

When the Fourteenth Amendment affirmed that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside” its intention was not simply to overturn Dread Scott, but also to eliminate the seat that private property had enjoyed in the US Congress since 1787.

Uniquely in 1868, but still rare among the nations, the United States elected not to base citizenship on the unique qualities, qualifications, or wealth an individual brought to the table. If a person is born here, they belong here. That person enjoys all of the rights, privileges, and obligations of every other citizen, without distinction. Period.

The liar-in-thief’s immigration proposal, which aims to link immigration not to what unites us — our humanity — but to what distinguishes individuals from one another, is a bald attempt to reinstate Dread Scott. Persons fleeing violence, oppression, war and poverty need not apply. Only persons who enjoy wealth, education, and privilege are welcomed.

But the liar-in thief is also dead wrong on the fundamental economics of his proposal. If the President genuinely wished to “protect American wages” he would vigorously promote a strategy similar to his German counterpart who has made high quality, affordable education available to all German citizens, but without the debilitating debt that loan-sharks pile on every new generation of wage earners. Instead, the President is willing to concede defeat and allow highly skilled, well-educated foreigners take the high-wage positions that Americans are no longer qualified to fill. More poorly educated and trained Americans will then be forced into the low-wage, low-skill positions for which they are now uniquely qualified.

In the past, each new wave of immigrants stepped into the labor market at or near the bottom. The liar-in-thief wants to change that. He wants each new wave to step in at the top. An alternative strategy would be to make sure that the Americans who are already here are already “the best and the brightest from around the world.”

Finally, brandishing his post-Constitutional credentials, the liar-in-thief substitutes one lone “American value,” wealth, for the love of liberty, democratic process, and republican institutions and values. Because that is precisely how southern delegates saw things back in 1787 when they insisted that their private wealth — the private market value of their slaves as property — gain a seat in the House of Representatives.

In one matter alone is the President telling the truth: by playing H1Bs against asylum-seekers, he is openly admitting that its not about crime and not about freedom, but about money.

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