Thursday, January 3, 2008

UnAlienAble Rights

From The Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Russell Pearce, the tyrant GOP legislator who's on a roll here in Arizona, has declared his intent to place a proposition on the state's November ballot that would deny birth certificates to children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants.

If the proposal gets traction, I think we should extend it nationally, and make it retroactive all the way back to, oh, 1565, when Europeans colonized St. Augustine, FL. That should take care of pretty much everybody whose ancestors weren't home-grown from the first sunrise over North America. Then we can be sure who belongs here and who doesn't, by Gawd!

I wonder if Pearce's next step will be to hold nativist autos da fe at Chase Field.

Not all of us actually like, must less respect, the founding documents, I know. But all of us like to tout them, point to them, flaunt them when subjects like Iraq come up. Every 4th of July we strut with pride over that very Declaration of Independence.

It merits a close read in the context that Pearce has introduced. The very first cause the Founders enumerated for declaring the colonies' independence from the British crown was the self-evident fact that all men are (1) created equal, (2) endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, (3) including (but not limited to) life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Ironically, even the most fundamentalist racist among the militiamen will concede, if asked, that the Law of God predates and supercedes any law of humans. Granted, this is something they assert when they want to put a creche in front of the courthouse, but the fact is that the Western legal tradition finds its justification in Natural Law (Acquinas).

It seems clear enough, then, that above all, a patriot and a believer would be bound to acknowledge the claim of all to rights endowed by God.

Happiness, as used in the Declaration, didn't have the idiotic connotations that, oh, Britney Spears has given it. Happiness spoke of things of the soul, not the McMansion. Ostensibly it spoke of the right to strive to fulfill one's potential; the right to make a living; the right to love, marry, and procreate; the right to worship as one chooses; the right to find joy as one defines it; the right to live where one chooses; the right to care for one's family; the right to reach one's own conclusions--all, of course, within the overarching considerations of others' rights, and common decency.

But rights endowed by the Creator surely cannot easily be contravened, not even by laws of men.

If asked to point to something in the US legal tradition to justify my support for immigrants, it would be that first principle in the Declaration of Independence.

Stripped to the bone, the one reason immigrants cross our borders is to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. They have that right, unalienably. It was given to them by their (and our) Creator.

If we truly don't want them here, we should be focused on altering the economic and political policies that drive these immigrants northward. We can't demonize the immigrants themselves without questioning our own rights and freedoms.