Friday, July 21, 2006

Citizenship

There is a good essay in Salon today about the importance of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is important for Americans to remember that although our Declaration of Independence stated that "all men are created equal", this principle was not upheld in our laws until the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Fourteenth Amendment did not end legally-sanctioned discrimination in the United States. If it did there would have been no need for the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-twentieth century. It was, nevertheless, an important step towards the equal protection of all persons under the law, as a century earlier the Declaration of Independence was an imporant step in that direction.

Ensuring justice for all people is a journey and we still have a long way to go on that journey. In the current political climate of the United States, where members of Congress (who are themselves the descendants of immigrants) want to deny the equal protection of the law to illegal immigrants, it is imporant for Americans to refamiliarize themselves with the importance of the Fourteenth Amendment. The lawmakers who sponsored that legislation knew that they were extending the rights of citizenship to any number of supposedly undesirable people (e.g., African Americans, Roman Catholic immigrants, Gypsies, the children of Chinese laborers, etc.). If only our current lawmakers understood that they might realize that persons named Tancredo and Sensenbrenner would not have become American citizens without the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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