Xenophobia tends to rear its ugly head during poor economic conditions. Add to that an election season and the trickle of anti-immigrant sentiment becomes a flood, aided and abetted by candidates seeking to mine it in their quest for elected office.

The latest overblown rhetoric deals with a clause in the 14th Amendment that guarantees citizenship to anyone born on American soil. Specifically, the petition is to amend the clause to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants, catchily termed “anchor babies.” Changing the U.S. Constitution requires two-thirds majority in both houses of legislature and three-fourths of the states but, no matter, the manufactured outrage is just designed to inflame and motivate supporters (now that opposition to gay marriage is no longer a reliable wedge issue).

Still, I found a fair amount of closeted support for this modification among desi friends, and it is not hard to see why. Any immigrant who has jumped through hoops to get the paperwork perfect, stood in long lines outside embassies, encountering the occasional tout is naturally peeved. I sense immigration reform is a potent issue among Indian Americans.

But consider this. The United States is a great country because of the enterprise and hard work of all its immigrants, not just the brainy ones from IITs. This country’s welcoming attitude towards its immigrants, embodied in the message on the Statue of Liberty to give her the world’s poor and huddled masses, has made assimilation of the multiple cultures of its people relatively painless. Unlike much of the European West, being American is an idea, not an ethnicity.

Besides, every year, the United States receives more immigrants, legal and illegal, than any other country in the world. Denying citizenship to a large chunk of these would mean creating a sub-class of rootless people without rights.  What will the social implications of this sub-class be a generation from now?

Then there are the practical considerations. Would these non-citizens be prevented from attending schools, a matter that comes under the purview of individual states? What if one parent was undocumented? I imagine a huge bureaucracy would have to be created around this issue.

Immigration reform is overdue, but this meaningless political gesture, like Arizona’s SB 1070, is not worthy of a second thought. Instead, support candidates who talk rationally about the issue, with practical and fair solutions that address the economic reasons behind illegal immigration, not those who just seek to drive up the hysteria to drive you to the polls.

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