The latest battle around immigration will concern the citizenship rights of children born to “illegal” immigrants, today’s New York Times predicts. It seems some loud-mouthed policymakers in Arizona and other states want to deny the right of some babies born in the US to be Americans. While the obvious argument against this misguided, anti-immigration strategy is that it arises from a racist, xenophobic desire to keep hispanic, asian, and other people out, I want to discuss the ways in which we should understand it as yet another expression of misogyny and patriarchal politics.
Consider the site of this particular battle: pregnant women. The current effort to deny citizenship to the offspring of certain children is a direct and bold effort to manipulate women’s reproduction. White men, such as Russel Pearce, who achieved notoriety for introducing the legislation that makes it a crime to be an “illegal” immigrant in Arizona, want to harras, demonize and punish women for giving birth where and when he says they should not. In an email quoted by Virilatino, Pearce fulminates:
“If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do.”
The wacko vision is that women deliberately enter the country and “drop” their babies, which become “anchors” that will allow hordes of relatives to slip in and steal jobs from Northern Americans. There are a number of different and perfectly innocent ways that an immigrant can be charged with “illegal” status, but Pearce and his nasty, misogynist cronies want to “target” all women who fall into this category as though they were a herd of deer or rabbits. They’ve declared open season and armed their rifles.
As the law currently stands, in this country as well as in a number of other new world nations, the citizenship of a person is determined according to jus soli, a Latin term meaning “right of the soil.” Meddling reactionaries want to change the law so that citizenship will be determined according to jus sanguinis, which literally means “law of blood.” They want effectively to overturn the 14th Amendment, which says that it doesn’t matter who the mother is, or what the race, class, or ethnicity of the child is, but only where that child is born, that confers citizenship. This important protection was hard-won against racists who wanted to prevent the descendants of African slaves from becoming Americans.
In the battle against undocumented and “illegal” immigrant mothers and their children today, just like in the battle against African-American slaves and their children before the Dred Scott decision, women are considered to be little more than animals that men impregnate, control, and move around for their own benefits. Why and how a woman has come into this country, or stayed here, or, more importantly, why and how she has become pregnant and then decided to go through with the pregnancy, do not interest the men and women who want to change the law. Their overriding concern is to limit and control the reproduction of immigrants in order to protect the interests of what they call “natives” (and they don’t mean native Americans). By Pearce’s own admission, the best way to do that is to “target the mother.”
Let us return to the opening scene from today’s NYT article:
NOGALES, Ariz. — Of the 50 or so women bused to this border town on a recent morning to be deported back to Mexico, Inez Vasquez stood out. Eight months pregnant, she had tried to trudge north in her fragile state, even carrying scissors with her in case she gave birth in the desert and had to cut the umbilical cord.
“All I want is a better life,” she said after the Border Patrol found her hiding in bushes on the Arizona side of the border with her husband, her young son and her very pronounced abdomen.
Now imagine what Pearce and his gang want to do to this woman: