Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How many amendments to the Constitution are there? Can’t say offhand?

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world

Then you would not have been among the 20 new citizens from 15 different countries who swore their allegiance to the Constitution at Ellis Island last week. They were expected to know that fact along with many others about U.S. government and history that most native-born Americans would have been hard-pressed to recall.

The goose-bump-provoking scene of men and women from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America tightly clutching their small American flags as they joined the ranks of the millions who came before them through the great hall at Ellis Island happened the day before the presidential candidates addressed a major Hispanic organization, as they courted the votes of the fastest-growing group in the population.

But even as John McCain and Barack Obama recognize Hispanic clout, just showing up at a Latino event can be politically risky these days, particularly for Republicans, given the hostility of the anti-immigration forces. Case in point: Utah’s Chris Cannon — even with the backing of President Bush, his state’s governor and two senators — was recently shellacked in his congressional primary. Cannon’s sin? Support for immigration reform.

Any Republican who’s running for office and believes the immigration issue is dead should take another look and see what happened to Mr. Cannon,” Rep. Tom Tancredo crowed to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The leader of the opposition to immigration reform, Tancredo would argue that he is not against immigration, only illegal immigration. But the often-angry debate sounds decidedly nativistic.

Take the “English only” proposals — they’re aimed at all newcomers, not just illegal immigrants. A bill in Congress calling for “English only” ballots has nothing to do with illegals — they can’t vote. These are mean-spirited measures designed to punish new Americans, especially the fast-growing Spanish-speaking population.

Though talk-show hosts — led by CNN’s Lou Dobbs — stir up the anti-immigrant venom, the keep-out-the-foreigners feelings are real. Look at a sampling of responses to an article in the Las Vegas Sun quoting state and local officials on the positive effect of immigrants on the economy.

I told Carpets-N-More that the only installer I would allow into my home had to be a black or white AMERICAN who spoke English,” fumed one reader. “Guess what, they sent me just what I asked for: 1 black and 1 white American, born and bred.”

This is not America anymore,” lamented another, “no one speaks the language anymore. Everyone is catered to, the Mexicans, Muslims, Russians, Eastern Europeans, Indians, Africans, you name it.”

And it’s not just a few cranks sounding off to a newspaper who feel that way. When the Pew Research Center asked last year whether “the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values,” almost half — 48 percent — of those surveyed said yes.

At a time when the country is experiencing the biggest wave of immigration, in raw numbers, in its history, some of this trepidation is understandable. Though the newcomers bring with them a spirit of entrepreneurship, a willingness to work hard and contribute to their new nation, Americans have never warmly welcomed strangers, people who didn’t look and sound like them.

That’s why a visit to Ellis Island, now operated by the National Park Service as a museum of immigration, is so instructive. It was the landing spot for 12 million new arrivals at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries — the period of the largest influx of immigrants as a percentage of the population. The native-born descendants of the Western European settlers were no happier about that deluge of “huddled masses” from the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe than today’s are about newcomers streaming up from Latin America and in from Asia and Africa.

But now more than 40 percent of our population can trace their ancestry through that small outcropping in New York Harbor. Given those numbers, many of those offspring of the Ellis Island immigrants must be among those who find today’s newcomers threatening.

They should go to a naturalization ceremony, especially if they could go to one at the spot where their forebears got off the boat. They should see these excited new Americans following in the footsteps of their own frightened ancestors who arrived on these shores seeking a better life.

Not only would they be ashamed of their take-up-the-drawbridge mentality, but they would also find someone who could tell them how many amendments there are to the Constitution

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