Lead, follow, or get the hell out of my way
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus
In March of 1992, toward the end of an especially brutal and wickedly cold New England winter, I marched in my final Pass-in-Review. At the end of the parade and inspection, my battalion stood at strict attention, fighting every instinct to shiver, as the Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and guests came down the line and, one by one, installed the blue and gold Ensign epaulets on each midshipman’s service dress blues. When it was my turn, I looked up to see my father-in-law beaming with pride as he personally fastened my officer insignia on my uniform. The magnitude of this event should not be underestimated. This man was a Marine who, for as long as I had known him, had harassed me to no end for being a Navy boy instead of a real Marine soldier. But at this unique juncture in time, we were brothers in arms. We fought to defend the same Constitution of the United States. It did not matter that I was an immigrant and a naturalized citizen. We were bonded together in faith, service, courage, and honor.
That Constitution is today under attack. The new President has signed an executive order to ban Muslims from entering the country, even legal permanent residents. The rationale given is to prevent radical extremists from entering the country and causing us harm. But this reasoning is so flawed, so wrong, so unconstitutional that it bears a quick look at what our Constitution actually has to say about the subject.
Look, I admit I’m no constitutional scholar. But I have read it. Many times. I was tested on it as part of my citizenship test. And as a Naval Officer, I made damn sure I understood what I was swearing to defend. Let’s get this on the table right now:
The Constitution applies to every single person within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Plain and simple. Anyone that tells you the rights granted under the Constitution are exclusive to U.S. citizens is either grossly misinformed or a congenital idiot. Don’t believe me? Then consider that James Madison, our fourth President and author of the Bill of Rights, had this to say about the Constitution’s scope:
“It does not follow, because aliens are not parties to the Constitution, as citizens are parties to it, that whilst they actually conform to it, they have no right to its protection. Aliens are not more parties to the laws, than they are parties to the Constitution; yet it will not be disputed, that as they owe, on one hand, a temporary obedience, they are entitled, in return, to their protection and advantage.”
Look, people, this is a fairly easy concept for most humans to comprehend. You cannot argue that any human being, citizen or not, falls under the obligations of the Constitution, but then is not afforded the same protections under that very Constitution. Otherwise, are we suggesting that non-citizens should not be arrested for breaking laws? That’s a ridiculous argument. Of course any non-citizen will be subjected to the same laws as a citizen. And equally so, that non-citizen must be afforded the same due process under the law as a citizen.
It has also been argued that someone in “the process of immigrating” is not yet under the purview of the Constitution and therefore not afforded due process. An equally absurd argument. Ask yourself this – before you pass through passport control (and have officially entered a country), if you break a law, who will prosecute you? The airline? The country you left from? God? The answer is that the courts have ruled time and again that the international zone in an airport falls under the jurisdiction of the host country, and while you are free from fiscal obligations in this space (hence the presence of duty free shops), you are not free from the laws of that country. Thus, regardless of whether you’re a citizen, permanent resident, or illegal stowaway, the U.S. Constitution is the prevailing law with jurisdiction in that zone.
Now that we’ve established the jurisdiction of the Constitution over anyone immigrating to the US, let’s look at Madison’s Bill of Rights, in particular the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
To ask anyone entering the country what their religion is, whether they are a citizen, non-citizen, or illegal immigrant, is a blatant violation of the First Amendment. Note that the text reads, “Congress shall make no law…” But Congress hasn’t made a law here, right? This was a presidential executive order. True, but executive orders carry the full force of law as laws passed by Congress, and are thus subject to the same constitutional constraints and obligations. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that such an executive order is a gross violation of the First Amendment.
And this bring me back to my question from a few weeks ago. Where is our Democratic leadership? Why are they asleep at the wheel? We have a President who has so blatantly violated the Constitution in his first ten days, and all we see from the Dems are statements of disapproval. Surely the ultimate proof of elite privilege must lie in the ability to tweet a “tsk tsk, Mr. President,” while your constituency is actually frightened out of their wits and wondering if they’ll get deported or let back into the country after travel.
We are in a new age. This is not the America that I swore to defend and protect in 1992. And yet defend and protect her we must – from maniacal tyrants who have no regard for human rights and decency. If you’re an elected Democratic official, now is the time to step up. Lead, follow, or get the hell out of my way.