Yogi Berra led a great American life. If you don't believe me, read the Sports Illustrated headline on Yogi's obituary this week: "Remember the Great American Life of Yankees' Legend Yogi Berra." But few know that Yogi's life in America was made possible by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the amendment Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and others want to repeal.
A search of the 1930 U.S. Census records revealed that both of Yogi's parents declared themselves "aliens" that year. Yogi was born in 1925. He needn't worry because the 14th amendment made him a U.S. citizen as it has done for millions of other Americans after it was ratified in 1868. By all accounts Yogi's parents, who immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s, were wonderful, family-oriented, hard-working Americans -- even if they were never "naturalized," a term that's always struck me as odd anyway. I think they were heroes in their own right.
This week, as I listened to much-deserved praise of Yogi after his death, the thought occurred to me that Yogi was a hero in more ways than one. He is in so many ways an iconic American, right down to his immigrant roots. As Pope Frances told Congress, "Most of us were once foreigners." Sure enough, when I looked at the Census records, I found what to me is like another World Series ring. It was like having the word "American" stamped on Berra family history. Of course, most of us can't hit, catch or coach like Yogi. And few have his often zany if profoundly wise way of speaking. But most of our families immigrated here at some time in the past.
It seems to me that the current Republican anti-14th Amendment rhetoric comes straight from the polluted minds of the Center for Immigration Studies. They've been agitating against immigrants for decades. Back in 2001, a CIS "study" concluded that clever immigrants were even concealing the crime wave they brought with them.
An especially ominous reason for underreporting [immigrant crime] is that what most Americans would call crime many immigrants consider to be tradition, or if a crime, a ‘family matter’ not requiring outside interference.
Meditate on that quote for a moment if you can stomach it. It says we don't know about all the crime committed by immigrants because what we consider a crime they consider a family tradition. A more bigoted statement cannot be made.
While a goodly number of GOP candidates for president call for repeal of the 14th Amendment, here in Texas (God help us!), Gov. Greg Abbott's Department of Health has found a sneakier way to subvert it. The Health Department is refusing to issue birth certificates to newborns of immigrants here illegally. The immigrants have filed suit in federal court.
Yogi's parents came to America through Ellis Island before the Immigration Act of 1924, which severely restricted immigrants with a strict quota system. About 200,000 Italians immigrated annually to the U.S. before the quotas. Only 4,000 per year were allowed under the 1924 law.
Referring to poor attendance at the baseball games, Yogi once said, "If people don't want to come to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?" It's a question we could paraphrase to make part of attacks on immigrants at a time more Mexican nationals are leaving America than arriving here. We could ask, "If they won't come to America how are we going to stop them?"