Washington, D.C. (January 5, 2011) – The following statement from Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, was delivered this morning in a press conference in response to assaults on the 14th Amendment:
“Thank you, Wade. The Asian American Justice Center, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, is pleased to partner with other leading civil rights organizations in fighting this assault on the 14th Amendment, one of America’s most fundamental constitutional principles.
Adopted to secure the rights of all Americans in the wake of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment and its guarantee of citizenship to all children born in the United States has played a critical role in the special character of this country—it is not your ancestry that determines your destiny as it does in other parts of the world. This constitutional guarantee played a particularly important role in American history, particularly for the Asian American community.
Since 1790 immigrants from Asia, like my grandmother who came from Japan, were barred from becoming citizens because they were not white. In 1892 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which severely limited immigration from China and reiterated the bar to citizenship for immigrants from China.
In the landmark 1898 Supreme Court case U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, the government argued that children born in the United States to the immigrant parents that Congress found so racially vile just six years earlier so as to limit their immigration and bar their citizenship, should not be guaranteed citizenship under the 14th Amendment.
In the face of the plain language of the text and the extensive documentation of congressional debate during the adoption of the Amendment, which specifically included the then racially charged issue of the children of Chinese immigrants, a majority of the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Wong. The Court held that children born in the U.S., even to parents not eligible to become citizens, were nonetheless citizens themselves under the 14th Amendment.
Not surprisingly, the dissent was based in the racist notion that Chinese were somehow incapable of assimilating as Americans.
The decision in Wong Kim Ark represents akey advancement in the Asian immigrant community’s struggle for inclusion in American society. It was only because their children were allowed to be citizens that Asian Americans were able to put down roots and begin the fight for true equality.
It is something many Asian Americans of my generation feel personally. If it were not for Mr. Wong’s victory my mother, who was born in Seattle, would not have been considered a citizen as it was not until 1952—six years before I was born – that Japanese immigrants, such as her mother, were finally allowed to become citizens.
What Mr. Kobach and his allies announced today is appalling. Indeed, they would drag us back to a time when minorities were not considered equal to whites nor worthy of being citizens. While their language is more carefully chosen than that used a century ago, their motives are no less clear.
Many Americans have fought, sacrificed and died to deliver on the promise of the 14th Amendment. This debate is about our values as Americans and the wisdom of undermining a principle that is at the very heart of our Constitution. That is why AAJC is proud to join Americans for a Constitutional Citizenship.”
The Asian American Justice Center(www.advancingequality.org), a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (www.advancingjustice.org), works closely with its sister organizations – the Asian American Institute in Chicago (www.aaichicago.org), the Asian Law Caucus (www.asianlawcaucus.org) in San Francisco and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (www.apalc.org) in Los Angeles – to promote a fair and equitable society for all by working for civil and human rights and empowering Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underserved communities.
AAJC turns 20 next year. Help us celebrate by attending the 15th annual American Courage Awards in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 6, 2011. Details will follow.