A line too long: no choice but action on ‘Broken immigration system’


President Obama speaks at Del Sol High School, Las Vegas. Nov. 21, 2014 (whitehouse.gov)
President Obama speaks at Del Sol High School, Las Vegas. Nov. 21, 2014 (whitehouse.gov)

“Our immigration system has been broken for a very long time — and everybody knows it.”

-President Barack Obama, addressing Las Vegas high school students whose families are affected by his use, this week, of executive authority on immigration reform

The Republicans know it. The conservative cabal that pulls the party’s purse strings knows it. They would have you believe that getting in the “back of the line” is the only fair way to handle immigration reform. The problem is, some people are doomed to wait in line for almost 25 years, and the more people we put in the line, the longer that line gets.

Maybe that’s what the far right wants, a broken system where, as the president said, Friday, families are “stuck in line for years.” After all, it fits in with their narrative of a broken and incompetent government.

The State Department has three major categories of visas it considers: family members of U.S. citizens, employment based visas (for which there is a relatively short waiting period) and diversity visas (a quota system for global regions that is only good for the fiscal year in which the application is filed).

“There are so many different lines. It’s very hard for people to understand that there are so many different categories and that each wait time is different,” Mary Giovagnoli, of the solutions oriented Immigration Policy Council, told the Washington Post in January.

A year ago, according to the State Department, there were 4.3 million people with family sponsored visa requests. The latest bulletin from Foggy Bottom says that the last family visas for siblings from Mexico it was considering were applied for in February, 1997. For married children of U.S. citizens, the last visas approved for Mexicans were applied for in November, 1993. If you are a citizen and want a visa for your sister in the Philippines, the last visas granted were for people who applied in May, 1991!

And just because someone applied for a visa back then doesn’t mean they are next on the list, because only a limited number of employment based and family requested papers are available every year to applicants from each country.

“The idea that the people can simply get in the back of the line is a little bit simplistic in practice,” Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan immigration policy think tank supported by philanthropic and government policy advocacy groups, told the Fiscal Times, this past spring.

At least one Republican considering a 2016 presidential run seems to understand the difficulties of the “wait in line” concept. At a panel of GOP governors who are seen as contenders for the nomination, Ohio Gov. John Kasich went counter to the crowd and the rigid stance of his on-stage colleagues in Boca Raton, Florida, when he admitted:

“My sense is I don’t like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, [but] we may have to do it. It may be a laborious and tough process. I would never say we would never do it. … At the end of the day it may be necessary.”

President Obama’s executive action acknowledges that reality, and he admits he can’t do anything about the wait, right now. His order, though, is neither amnesty nor a path to citizenship. That, he admits, requires Congressional action. The only thing it does is keep law abiding, tax paying folks who have children who are citizens or are otherwise here legally, from being deported. As he said on Friday:

“If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, you pass a background check, you are willing to pay your fair share of taxes –- then you’re going to be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows, get right with the law.”

The only line that may be getting shorter is the one for employment based visas.

Both the memoranda the president signed are geared to spur the executive branch to find means and methods, with the help of immigration advocacy groups and technology companies, to expedite repairing the broken process for everyone. That is well within his authority. It is unrealistic to expect the Republicans in the upcoming Congress to have the political courage to do any meaningful immigration reform, that takes into account the affect our inaction has on millions of families.

“The U.S. is kind of torn between wanting to be generous, yet not wanting to be too generous,” Sumption said in May, “And that means that on paper U.S. laws pretend to give people the right to come to the country, but in practice they have to wait so long that many of them may as well not have that right.”

– PBG

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Real crisis at border is one of American conscience


From Flickr/Public Domain
From Flickr/Public Domain

Angry White people screaming at busloads of minority children should frighten any American with a knowledge of our own recent history. Voices of fear and bigotry have risen like an oily mess on the tides that have brought waves of young immigrant children across our borders.

The boys and girls are buoyed ashore by a 2008, George W. Bush signed law – the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act – that is supposed to protect them from the rampant dangers of murder and sex trafficking in their home countries. You have likely heard, by now, that the GOP has wrongly hung this on Obama, citing his executive action that delayed deportation of minors that were brought here by their parents, as children, as the reason for the sudden influx. But the law and the president’s order are distinct issues.

That law says we cannot turn them directly around, without detention and a deportation hearing, unless they are citizens of Mexico or Canada. Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans (as well as the rest of the world) all have the opportunity for due process, allowing them to stay in this country until they have their day in court. In a small number of cases, the administration has said, they will be allowed to stay.

Republicans in Congress have fought against giving President Obama the nearly $4 billion he asked for to help expedite hearing the cases. Instead, they are looking at a much smaller bill, that includes rescinding the human rights exemption in the 2008 law for non-contiguous, near border states, so that the refugee children can be returned to their home countries as if they were refugees from Mexico (or Canada). The Senate bill, which was endorsed by the administration Monday, also cuts the amount of money by about a third, but does nothing to reverse the policy of treating the children like the asylum seekers they are.

Here’s the insidious part, though. The “humanitarian crisis” (perhaps an overly appropriated diagnosis of a plethora of refugee issues) the act was meant to address is now being framed by Republicans as the children risking their lives to cross our borders, and what to do with them once they get here.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sunday, insisted that the Bush law, which he voted for, must be amended. “Otherwise,” he said, “the humanitarian crisis will continue. Otherwise families far away, on the other side of Mexico, will be giving thousands of dollars to traffickers to take their children over the border.”

While it’s true the children’s journey is very dangerous and, too often, deadly, Congressional Republicans are purposefully taking the very real crisis of rape, torture, murder and slavery which the children are escaping in their own countries, and muddling it with a crisis manufactured by xenophobes and ignorant hayseeds who are easily ginned up by radio personalities pushing an anti-immigrant agenda. In other words, Republicans like Ryan are playing to their base.

House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-California) says changing the law is something Democrats will not agree to do, and the Senate’s bill bears that out. The act, she said, Friday, “relates not just to Central America, it relates to the American position on refugees and asylum seekers from around the world. Do we want to check out of that and say to other countries, ‘You take them’?”

Amazingly, she is getting some support in this from conservative commentators. Columnist George Will, on Fox News Sunday, said he thinks allowing the children to stay is not only the right thing to do, it is a traditionally American thing to do. “We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans,'” he told the show’s moderator, Chris Wallace. “We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county.”

When warned what he was saying could bring a negative response from Fox News’ regular viewers, Will didn’t flinch. “We can handle this problem, is what I’m saying,” he explained. “We’ve handled what Emma Lazarus famously called ‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shores’ a long time ago and a lot more people than this.”

Even the New York Daily News, which often criticizes Obama’s policies, published an op-ed, Monday, where they call those in Congress who want to change the law to make it easier to deport the children “cruelly wrong.”

Let your Senators and Congressional representative know that there is nothing un-American about creating new Americans. Nothing, in fact, could be more American. You can also let your governor know that you want them to welcome some of these children into your state and your community.

As a child of immigrants myself, who left Europe only a few years after boatloads of Jews fleeing Hitler were turned away by the United States, I believe we have no choice but to maintain the intent of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and keep letting these children in. This is not only our problem, it is our reason for being, our mission, and one this country, as a nation of immigrants, is uniquely qualified to solve.

-PBG

For you and me – the fight to GIVE our country back


It’s our country, and it’s their country. It’s my country and it’s your country. It’s a Christian country and a Jewish country and a Muslim country and a Hindu country and a Buddhist country and an atheist country. It’s a country where Africans, Asians, Europeans, Latin Americans, Arabs and Persians are as American as the baby born in Cleveland. If the White House is anybody’s house, it’s everybody’s house, white being the unbroken, unrefracted presence of all colors of visible light.

We may not all share the same tenement, the same block, the same neighborhood, or even the same city. But whether we came here from somewhere else or we had relatives on the Mayflower, we are a people who believe that this land was made for all of us.

“This land is your land. This land is my land,” sang Woody Guthrie, in what was once held as a universal truth. “This land was made for you and me.”

Not anymore.

These days, there are many who hear that song as, “This land was made for me and people like me, and we want it back!” It is in that barren, rocky and unforgiving context that all the sad, forced battles over immigration, religion, and sexual rights take place.

Sailors raise their right hands and take the oath of U.S. citizenship during a naturalization ceremony held at Cabrillo National Monument.
U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Juan E. Diaz. (May, 2003)

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of passing laws like Arizona’s recently quashed SB1070, making immigrants outlaws and turning law enforcement into thugs defending cultural xenophobia, we felt compelled to pass laws which insure everyone, EVERYONE, gets a piece of our country’s “pursuit of happiness” idiom? That would be the greatest show of American unity! But that appears to be too threatening a principle for those who prefer you were more like them before they accept you.

For people like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, it seems states’ rights are necessary to protect those who prefer their own cultural isolation, and who cleave to their right to impose it on their neighbors. Want your country back, whatever that means? Get behind Scalia.

In his dissenting opinion, Monday, to the Court’s decision on the Arizona immigration law, Scalia talked about state sovereignty, and  wrote “Arizona has the inherent power to exclude persons from its territory,” and “the States have the right to protect their borders against foreign nationals.” So, one might infer that had he been a Supreme in the 1950s, Scalia would have dissented in Brown v. Board of Education, since public schools are often properties of the state, and if the state wanted to exclude Negros, it had the power to do that.

It also seems that he would have no problem, hypothetically,  against a state kicking out a minority that went against the principles of the state government, like if Oklahoma decided to expel their Muslim communities because their presence threatened the integrity of the anti-Sharia law amendment that Sooner voters passed two years ago (which has been struck down by at least two courts as violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution). The state, he would argue, is exercising its sovereign authority to “exclude persons from its territory” and “protect its borders.”

Indeed, Scalia seems to lament the nineteenth century laws and decisions, when  “primary responsibility for immigration policy… shifted from the States to the Federal Government,” and he appears to base his opinion on a pioneer ideal of states being able to operate more independently in protecting their territory, like they were still guarding a frontier. They fought to get ’em. They fight to keep ’em.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In a bizarre, glass mostly full kind of reaction, Jan Brewer, Arizona’s finger-wagging, tongue-twisted Republican governor, embraced Monday’s split SCOTUS decision as “a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.” In ignoring the actual result of what the Court’s majority rejected, Brewer must have concluded that as long as Scalia got their argument, they had won. “We must use this new tool wisely,” she said, as if she were a ruler rallying her troops, “and fight for our safety with the honor Arizona deserves.”

(One wonders, what is it about governors who see themselves as rulers of their own little country? No wonder so many feel they could be president. When they are president, though, they are just as nonplussed about state assertions of power as the current administration.)

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

With Scalia overtly signalling from the bench that he, for one, would entertain a case brought against President Obama for his recent executive order stopping deportations of immigrants brought here illegally as minors, on top of his pushing for the additional arguments that led to the death of campaign finance reform in the decision known as Citizens United v. F.E.C., there is little room for doubt that the justice is aggressively pursuing an agenda that plays into the hands of his monied friends on the right.

When we celebrate the Fourth of July, next week, let’s remember that along with celebrating our independence from Britain, we are acknowledging our interdependence on each other. E pluribus unum –  out of many, one: one nation, with liberty and justice for all.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
– “This Land is Your Land,” lyrics & music by Woody Guthrie

-PBG

Immigration decision stills the harvest


SCOTUS ruling has farmers fearful of labor shortages

The Supreme Court decision, Thursday, that confirmed the employer sanctions aspect of a 2007 Arizona immigration law (not the more controversial SB1070 signed in 2010), has chocked at least on wheel of the wagon for immigration reform and impeded the possibility for prosperity in Arizona and at least one other state that enacted similar legislation.

The 5-3 vote, which some proponents of the new laws mischaracterize as a validation of the entire legislative agenda targeting illegal immigrants, says that it is perfectly fine for states to suspend the business licenses of farms and other industries, as that is what a 1986 federal law allows. It does not answer the broader question of states having the power to create and enforce their own immigration policy, which the Obama administration claims is a federal responsibility.

The administration insists that it is well on its way to developing a comprehensive, national policy on illegal immigration, “[b]ut again and again, good faith efforts to fix America’s broken immigration system – from leaders of both parties – fall prey to the usual Washington political games,” wrote Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, in an op-ed in Friday’s Lincoln[, Nebraska] Journal Star.

What the SCOTUS decision has also done is reinforce in the minds of most, especially Hispanic , immigrants, that legal or not, if you appear to be from a Latin American country, you will get hassled in states with these strict edicts. Georgia’s new immigration law, which was just signed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R), and does not even go into affect July 1, already has farmers voicing concerns over what they are hearing from their workers, about being hassled when it comes to their status.

“People are just saying: ‘I am not going to Georgia. We are going to get in trouble there,'” Dick Minor, a farmer from Leslie, Georgia, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “They have got options. And what they are saying is ‘Georgia is not the place to go.'”

He also told the AJC that he is short fifty workers this season because of the new law.

‘A dagger in the heart’

America’s Voice, a group promoting movement toward “common sense immigration reform,” issued a press release Friday, calling Thursday’s ruling “a dagger in the heart of Arizona agriculture.”

“Passing a mandatory E-Verify law without comprehensive immigration reform will kill American jobs and farms, burden small businesses, reduce tax revenue, and drive undocumented workers further underground,” claims America’s Voice Education Fund’s Deputy Director, Lynn Tramonte, in the statement.

Vilsack says the administration realizes that they must “keep in mind America’s working farmers and ranchers and the food they put on our kitchen tables.” Obama, he said, is calling “for a constructive and civil debate around an immigration system that would provide the United States and our farmers a reliable, legal work force” and “would continue our work to secure the borders.”

Still, the principle the administration feels would help the most in this conversation, is a carrot for farmers, and others who use immigrant labor. “Our nation’s farmers need a system that will reward them for playing by the rules – not punish them for it” by inhibiting their ability to fully staff their farms.

Homeland Security’s E-verify system, which is the tool most employers will be using to comply with the hiring laws, takes the same view. As it says on the DHS website, “The public can, and should, choose to reward companies that follow the law and employ a legal workforce.”

And people say this country can’t agree on anything.

-PBG

Rounding up the Roma in Europe’s Arizona


“A disgrace.” That’s what the European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding called France’s continuing deportation of thousands of Roma (part of a group commonly known as Gypsies) to Romania.

France claims the ethnic minority, who mostly live in poverty in more than 300 camps across the country, are disproportionally responsible for a high number of crimes and criminal behavior. France has expelled the Roma before, but the latest wave follows an attack by Roma on a police station, in reaction to a young woman from a local camp being shot and killed by police.

What makes this episode particularly vile, is the leaking of a memorandum that was issued in the beginning of August, calling for a “systematic action to dismantle the illegal camps, in priority those of the Roma.” Furthermore, to the EU’s dismay, French officials have insisted that they are working “in favor of the Roma population.”

“We can improve the situation of the Roma,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, “who are at the heart of our concerns and our action.”

So the French are uprooting thousands of individuals, putting them on buses and airplanes back to the discrimination they will face in Bulgaria and Romania in order to “improve the situation” for them.

The French Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, defended the action, saying the deportations are happening “not because they are Roma, but because they (the camps) are illegal.” Remind you of anything?

The refrain in Arizona, and elsewhere, is that the anger over illegal immigration is over the “illegal” part, and not racism. This despite the fact that the most vocal anti-immigrant groups are the ones worried about White people becoming a minority, those who see the US defined as a nation run by Europeans.

The EU’s Reding pegged it Tuesday, when she said, “This is a situation I thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War.” In World War Two, Vichy France was notoriously complicit in rounding up Jews and Gypsies and sending them to Nazi death camps.

So what’s going on here? The French have decided that because they are French, they cannot possibly be racist. Everything they are doing – expelling the Roma, outlawing the burqa for Muslim women – they are doing for their minority populations, not to them. N’est pas?

-PBG

Supremacy is not tyranny – it’s in the Constitution


Arizona’s SB 1070 and why the feds are suing to stop it

“S.B. 1070 is invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and must be struck down.” (from the US Department of Justice complaint, United States v. State of Arizona (et al), dated: July 6, 2010)

Like a hole in an Arizona border fence, the lack of comprehensive, US immigration reform has left what Latino advocates call a “void,” into which Arizona has inserted SB 1070. “Immigration policy and enforcement falls squarely upon the federal government, and the lawsuit will ensure to reassert federal authority,” Jerry Gonzalez, of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said in a statement issued after the DOJ announced the suit.

Any reform, Constitutionally, must come from the federal government, and not just in a way that pleases industry and appeases xenophobes. Indeed, watering down the law to cater to those groups is an abandonment of the charitable principles that, so proudly, we hail ourselves for every time we give our stuff to the Salvation Army and see a picture of the Statue of Liberty.

A government that is committed to the interests of its people operates dysfunctionally if it ignores the interests of the global community of which it is a member. Allowing states to make their own law irrespective of existing federal statute not only potentially disrupts the integrity of US international relations, it violates the Constitution.

The Supremacy Clause of Article VI in the United States Constitution says the “Constitution, and the Laws of the United States… shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and … every State shall be bound thereby.”

In the view of the Department of Justice, The Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State, Arizona’s controversial new immigration law violates this clause because – among other things – it “interferes with the numerous interests the federal government must balance when enforcing and administering the immigration laws and disrupts the balance actually established by the federal government.”

The agencies involved feel that any step Arizona – or any state – takes to amend or rewrite federal immigration law, may jeopardize treaties and other federal laws with regard to the safety and security of the entire country. Specifically, the brief says, “Arizona’s immigration policy exceeds a state’s role with respect to aliens (Homeland Security), interferes with the federal government’s balanced administration of the immigration laws (Justice), and critically undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives (State).”

This follows what the Supreme Court decided in 1941, Hines [Secretary of Labor and Industry for Pennsylvania] v. Davidowitz, et al. “Our primary function,” the court said, “is to determine whether… [state] law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress. And in that determination, it is of importance that this legislation is in a field which affects international relations, the one aspect of our government that from the first has been most generally conceded imperatively to demand broad national authority.”

Even though “the status quo perpetuates a broken immigration system,” as GALEO’s Gonzalez said, there is still federal immigration law already in place. Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano insisted that DHS will “continue to enforce the laws on the books.”

Arizona’s law, therefor, is an example of a state acting on its own to change a law which every other state must follow. “Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws,” Attorney General, Eric Holder, said in the DOJ press release, “will only create more problems than it solves.”

Gonzalez agreed, saying that in the case of the state his organization represents, the Justice Department action “should give pause to the Gubernatorial candidates talking about enacting or pushing for such a law in Georgia.”

Napolitano also said that, as Governor of Arizona she “vetoed several similar pieces of legislation” because, she believed they “undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve.”

The lawsuit is important because it says that in our democratic society, though we speak with different voices, and often a disquiet consensus, we still believe in the supremacy of the rule of law – one nation. E pluribus unum.

-PBG