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Alberto Gonzales to GOP Leaders: Don't Trash the Constitution | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Alberto Gonzales to GOP Leaders: Don't Trash the Constitution

Tea Party activists and their amen corner in the media have in recent months been proposing to trash the Constitution by gutting the amendment that guarantees essential equal protection under the law.

Motivated by a mind-numbing rage over the growing immigrant population of a United States that is becoming dramatically more diverse, the wrecking crew wants to alter the section of the Fourteenth Amendment that says: "All 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."

The theory is that, by changing this section of the Constitution, they can deny equal protection to the children of undocumented mothers who give birth to children while in the United States. The Constitution sees these children as US citizens, and the fact of that citizenship makes it easier for their families to remain in the country and ultimately achieve citizenship.

That frightens the anti-immigrant extremists who have clustered on the fringe of the Republican Party and are now beginning to influence many of its Congressional leaders—including House Minority Leader John Boehner, who has expressed interest in the scheme, and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been talking up the amendment idea. Even Arizona Senator John McCain—who once said of immigrants: "These are God's children as well, and they need some protections under the law, and they need some of our love and compassion"—now says he would be open to holding hearings on an amendment proposal.

But the movement to alter the Fourteenth Amendment is not supported by thinking conservatives. And some of them are beginning to speak up.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales penned an op-ed for Sunday's Washington Post, in which he declares: "I do not support such an amendment. Based on principles from my tenure as a judge, I think constitutional amendments should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances that we cannot address effectively through legislation or regulation. Because most undocumented workers come here to provide for themselves and their families, a constitutional amendment will not solve our immigration crisis. People will certainly continue to cross our borders to find a better life, irrespective of the possibilities of U.S. citizenship."

In his op-ed, Gonzales restates the Bush administration's proposals for comprehensive immigration reform, which seem remarkably moderate when compared to what Republicans are now proposing.

He also strikes a balance that has been missing from the current debate.

"As the nation's former chief law enforcement officer and a citizen who believes in the rule of law, I cannot condone anyone coming into this country illegally. However, as a father who wants the best for my own children, I understand why these parents risk coming to America—especially when there is little fear of prosecution," writes the former Texas jurist and White House counsel who became the nation's first Hispanic attorney general. "If we want to stop this practice, we should pass and enforce comprehensive immigration legislation rather than amend our Constitution."

I've written many a column criticizing Gonzales.

I still disagree with him on many, make that most, issues.

But his decision to speak up at this critical moment, and the humane and reasonable way in which he has done so, deserves attention and praise—especially from members of the Grand Old Party, who should recognize that the Fourteenth Amendment, written and enacted by radical Republicans in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, is one of their party's greatest legacies to America.

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