I give a lot of credit to Glenn Greenwald who I believe is one of the most perceptive political critics around. In one of his latest columns (Feb 1) he correctly lambasts Susan Collins for suggesting the Constitution only applies to U.S. citizens, which is absolutely wrong. After showing unambiguously how wrong Collins was in her comments regarding Obama and his war on terrorists, particularly as it pertains to how the Administration is going to try the Christmas Day underwear bomber in civilian court– with the rights that coincide with having your day in criminal court, Greenwald concludes by calling Collins “extremely ignorant or extremely dishonest.”
I agree! But, I also think that Collins deliberately tapped into the language of the Tea partiers and other right wing xenophobes who would like to perpetuate this ‘myth’ not because they are ignorant or dishonest as much as this ‘myth’ is at the center of a dangerous political revolt in 2010 American politics. It is part populist, large part right wing, filled w/ fear and very xenophobic. Or rather, let me suggest this myth occupies a contested terrain among right wing republicans and conservative dems. In other words, Collins’ language serves a political purpose (the accuracy of the myth is besides the point). It is a warning.
Here’s why I find the myth particularly alarming. Susan Collins is considered a political moderate, a leftist among republicans and somebody the Obama Administration and the democratic leadership has courted on health care and other issues as well as on her possibly switching to the other side of the aisle to join the dems. in the Senate.
Collins’ remarks should be translated as a big “no” to dems thinking and hoping they could count on her support. No way.
But the real danger of such statements goes well beyond Susan Collins and Tea Partiers.
It is the idea that the Constitution shouldn’t cover non-citizens; that foreigners should not be treated like citizens; that they are ‘the other,’ and as such can be kicked to the curb, denied their rights.
If this is indeed a narrative in this country that is on the rise, then a lot of us in the immigrant rights movement should bear down on the coming struggle. This discourse, espoused by a moderate republican should warn us that comprehensive immigration reform is in trouble. Further, it reminds us that many folks in congress really do believe (or if they don’t really believe they still have no problem saying it) that the Constitution should not cover immigrants. Rather, immigrants and foreigners should be stripped bare of rights, subject only to the whims of the sovereign and his petty sovereigns in DHS.
The danger I fear is that is this discourse has its way, then any reforms proposed by the Obama administration will be depicted as giving special rights to foreigners/ immigrants. And such “special rights” this narrative suggests, would in turn remove rights from the rest of us.
Back in the fall, the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on the Border held hearings about administration plans to reform immigrant detention. The reforms would reflect the fact that many incarcerated immigrants are not criminals and not violent, and thus should not be detained.
To this, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) expressed his chagrin that such talk of reform amounted to ‘special rights’ for immigrants. According to Souder this meant that “we would be treating non-citizens better than citizens who are detained… non-citizens would be held in detention centers that are better than we give US citizens.”
It is this resentment, this still simmering fear that something in america is still under attack and that any recognition of the stranger in our midst–under law– means somehow the rest of us are weakened byt it– that is most regrettably about the unfortunate comments made by Senator Collins.