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[OPINION] For the people: On Kamala Harris and Filipino Americans

One name has resonated through the headlines, stories, and memes this week – Kamala Harris, the first African-American and first Asian-American candidate for vice president of the United States, a position that has been held by an unbroken streak of 48 white men since 1776. She is only the third woman to ever run for vice president, and only the second child of immigrants (the first being Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, the daughter of Italian-American immigrants) to ever do so.

The daughter of a Jamaican-American economics professor and an Indian-American cancer researcher, Kamala Harris was also the first South Asian-American senator and the first woman and Black person ever to be the attorney general of California. If elected, she would be a heartbeat away from the presidency, and possibly the standard bearer for the Democratic Party in 2024. As vice president, she would break 50/50 ties in the US senate, preside over impeachment trials, preside over the electoral vote, and travel the world representing America.

Racist 'birther' attacks

Sadly, soon after Kamala was announced as Joe Biden’s choice of running mate, racist “birther” conspiracy theories started to pop up on social media, with obscure law professors writing op-ed pieces challenging her eligibility because her parents were immigrants.

Let’s be clear, Kamala Harris is a natural-born US citizen, over the age of 35, has resided in the US for over 14 years, does not have a disqualifying conviction, and has never taken up arms against the US. Thus, she meets all the legal requirements for the vice presidency.

Birtherism, explained

Unlike the Philippines, which is a jus sanguinis country where your citizenship is inherited by the blood of your parents, the right to US citizenship is jus soli, meaning that someone born on US soil automatically acquires US citizenship. This is a long-held Constitutional right. Ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment begins by saying that, “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,” regardless of their parents’ citizenship or lack thereof. The lone exemption for people who are not subject to US jurisdiction covers the children of certain diplomats with diplomatic immunity, who are immune from US jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court has also upheld birthright citizenship since 1898. In the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, Wong was born in San Francisco shortly before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed. After returning to the US in 1885, after visiting his parents in China, he was detained by Customs in San Francisco, who claimed that he could not be an American citizen because his parents were Chinese. US District Attorney Henry Foote made himself a footnote in history by challenging Wong’s citizenship at the federal district level, in hopes of creating a precedent to invalidate the birthright American citizenship of children born in the US to immigrant parents. The district court decided in Wong’s favor, and upon appeal, the Supreme Court agreed by a 6-2 majority, creating the principle of jus soli and birthright citizenship for all children born in the US whose parents were not representing other governments in diplomatic or official capacities.

Mudslinging politics

Having increased his public profile in part due to similar attacks on Barack Obama’s heritage, the current inhabitant of the White House wasted no time in amplifying baseless “birther” attacks against Kamala. While he enjoys some level of support in the Fil-Am community, if birtherism is taken to its logical conclusion, then no Fil-Am would actually be a citizen of the US. In fact, no white or Black person would either, with the only native Americans being the Native Americans.

Although voters sometimes vote against their own interests, there is a glaring contradiction in immigrants or the descendants of immigrants (including a particular someone whose grandfather was a deserter from the German army and whose mother was a Scottish-born housewife) who support birtherism or similar ideologies. Vulgar sexist attacks also came from various corners, including the Second Son and a now-former NBA photographer straight out of the Disney World bubble.

We're better than that

Hailing from a nation that has had two female presidents, two female vice-presidents, and many excellent female senators, congresspersons, governors, mayors, and barangay chairs, Filipinos shouldn’t be as threatened by female politicians as others might be. Women actually compose the majority of the Filipino-American population, who are by far the largest group of overseas Filipinos and also the second largest group of Asian Americans. Although the majority of Fil-Ams were born outside the US, over 75% of Fil-Ams hold American citizenship, which includes the rights to due process and equal protection under the Constitution.

Fil-Ams are one of the most integrated immigrant communities in the US, with one in 5 Fil-Ams identifying as multiracial, and are behind only Japanese-Americans in percentage of interracial marriage. Racist, sexist attacks on Kamala Harris are the same types of attacks that are employed against Fil-Ams, and while it’s no secret that there are some Americans who would rather die than have a female leader (let alone a brown-skinned one), those same Americans are probably not friends to Fil-Ams, even if they are the same Americans who smile and ask “how are you” when they see us each day, and then keep walking without waiting for the answer.

'Don't sit around and complain about things; do something'

Always thinking of the above quote from her late mother, Kamala Harris grew up believing in the promise of America and fighting to make sure that promise is fulfilled for all Americans, including Filipino-Americans. As a district attorney, she started her legal career prosecuting child sexual assault cases in Alameda County in the Bay Area, then became the first Black woman District Attorney for San Francisco. Ahead of the curve as a “progressive prosecutor,” she started a program that gave first-time offenders a second chance to complete high school and get a job. As California’s Attorney General, she fought for families whose houses were being illegally foreclosed on, and won a billion-dollar settlement against a for-profit education company that was scamming students and veterans.

Kamala has worked to protect health care for Americans and residents of America, fought for marriage equality, and defended California’s landmark climate change laws. Since becoming Senator in 2016, Kamala has introduced and co-sponsored legislation to increase the minimum wage in the US to a livable wage of $15 per hour, to reform cash bail rules that further punish people who are trying to get back on their feet, and to defend the rights of refugees and immigrants. She has been a strong voice in Congress, objecting to many of the dubious actions and nominations of the current administration, and using skills honed as a litigator in debates and while questioning current and former administration officials in Congressional hearings.

As the 2020 election draws near, the differences in the positions of the two major parties are becoming more and more clear. While we can’t split our presidential and vice presidential tickets like people do in the Philippines, Fil-Ams have a choice between someone who’ll eagerly waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a choreographed political stunt, or someone who has been the top law enforcement official for the 5th-largest economy in the world, and is poised to continue to make history with her story. – Rappler.com

Jath Shao is a lawyer who fights for the rights of immigrants before agencies, embassies, and courts of law. An immigrant from the Philippines, he speaks several languages and represents clients from all over the world. Call +18008084013 or contact jath@lawfirm4immigrants.com for any inquiries.