14: Dred Scott, Wong Kim Ark & Vanessa Lopez is a film about the 14th Amendment, exploring the history of how citizenship came to be granted to all children born on U. S. soil, and the attacks that are currently being waged against that right.
The first section of the film is devoted to the case of Dred and Harriett Scott, as told through interviews with their great-great-granddaughter Lynn Madison Jackson, in addition to numerous scholars and activists. The filmmakers do a very good job of explaining that the goal of the Scotts was primarily to establish that Harriett was free, because that would mean their two young daughters were free, not slaves. Formerly English common law held that the status of the children followed that of their mother.
Many know that the Scotts ultimately lost their case because the court determined they were not citizens and therefore did not have status to bring it, and that after the Civil War the 14th amendment was enacted to negate that decision.
Far less well known is the case of Wong Kim Ark, a man of Chinese descent who was born in San Francisco but was denied re-entry into the country after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The second part of the film is devoted to his case, which ultimately went to the Supreme Court. The court upheld the clause of the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to children born in the United States to immigrant parents. The film follows Sandra Wong, his granddaughter, as she explores his story.
The third section of the film is devoted to the activism of Rosario Lopez, an undocumented immigrant and her 10 year-old daughter Vanessa, who are fighting the likes of Lindsey Graham and Steve King who should probably see this film because their grasp of the 14th amendment is a bit shaky. This section of the film is a bit less grounded and I would have liked to see someone engaged in a modern legal struggle to remain in the country, but instead there were a lot of lingering, heart-tugging shots of children crying at the prospect of being separated from their families. Well-trod territory, but always moving.
It’s a short film, coming in at a little over an hour, and it would be an excellent primer for anyone (but particularly children) seeking to understand the historical roots of today’s immigration fights.