A “Highly Qualified” Legal Analysis

Sign in Dimmitt, Texas 1949
Sign in Dimmitt, Texas, 1949
Russell Lee / Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

In an editorial for Newsweek, John Eastman, a Law Professor at Chapman University, argues Kamala Harris is not eligible to be Veep. Trump called Eastman “very highly qualified,” so where is this supposedly brilliant legal scholar coming from? In order to understand the layers of racism behind Eastman’s argument, it’s important to read his editorial.

Eastman claims that historically, the U.S. has not considered foreign residents like Harris’s parents, who were here on student visas, “permanent residents” and therefore Harris was not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States as required by the Fourteenth Amendment.

His evidence comes first from United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) which said that Wong Kim Ark was a citizen, even though his parents were not. Eastman does not mention that Wong Kim Ark’s parents were denied citizenship in the first place for being Chinese. Instead, he simply states that because Wong’s parents were “domiciled” in the U.S., which according to Eastman, means they had become “lawful, permanent residents,” the Fourteenth Amendment applied to Wong.

In contrast, Eastman cites the example of Mexican migrants from the 1920s who were not viewed as citizens and were “repatriated” to Mexico during the 1930s. What he does not say is that most historians consider this “repatriation” another shameful example of our racist past. In cities like Los Angeles raids took place on Mexican American communities and thousands were deported without due process. Given that most Mexicans have indigenous roots to the region, it can be seen as a continuation of the European removal of Native Americans from their lands.  It could also be called ethnic cleansing.

In short, his reason for denying Harris birthright citizenship rests on the same racial hierarchy that treated Mexican Americans in the Southwest in ways comparable to the Jim Crow violence directed at African Americans in the South. Eastman represents another example of MAGA logic that longs for a “Great American” past when immigration laws were explicitly racist and Harris’s parents would have been barred from coming to the U.S. in the first place.

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