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.”


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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.


America’s inescapable specter of violence and racism

“…they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents.

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got hands the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert…”
– Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), referring to DREAMers, in an interview with Newsmax, Thursday, July 18, 2013

There’s no American racist poster child. That’s a sad fact. After his horrible comments, which he doubled down on, during a radio interview, Tuesday, we might like to hang it on Rep. King, but he’s just the xenophobe du jour. Sadly, our struggle with racism is older than our Republicans, and our republic.

We are born from an egg of independence fertilized by musket sperm. We were weaned at the teat of slavery and subjugation. Our country was raised on European snobbery and Christian absolutism.

“All men are created equal” was a great slogan for declaring war on a king, but the rebellion of the American Colonies against the British Empire was a revolt against tyranny, not privilege. Privilege is an inalienable right, under that whole “pursuit of happiness” clause. Without the superiority complex with which our founding fathers endowed us, in a period of colonization and exploitation, we would be just another Western Hemisphere backwater, trying to find a way to live with the native population instead of looking for the most efficient ways to annihilate them and their cultures. Empathy was not a tool of survival for the early settlers.

So when President Obama said the other day, “Trayvon Martin could have been me,” it shook the absolutists to the core. There’s no room for empathy in their view of justice, be it judicial or economic. There is only what the law says, and we move from there. Even the president, in that same speech, last Friday, admitted that a trial was held, a jury deliberated and a verdict was rendered, and inasmuch as this is what defines the criminal justice system in America, justice was served. “That’s how our system works,” he said.

Then he tried to put it into context, by talking about what it’s like to be a young black man in the United States, distrusted and feared by a white majority that seems to think cautionary aloofness is safer than positive engagement. The changes he suggested were all based on the way we relate to each other as a society. He spoke of changing the way the police think about racial profiling, and creating positive role models for young black men who are in threatening community situations.

Even when he was talking about “stand your ground” laws, he did not talk about changing the law. Instead, he talked about it as an unfortunate result of a society that would rather find an excuse to justify murder than a way to confront the ambiguous and seemingly capricious way those laws are applied.

We may not be able to change the sordid roots of our nation’s racist tendencies, but we can change what happens from now on. Yes, we can. That was always Barack Obama’s message. As the president said in his speech on the economy, in Illinois, Wednesday, quoting the state’s Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Carl Sandburg:

“The past is a bucket of ashes. Yesterday is a wind gone down, a sun dropped in the west. There is only an ocean of tomorrows, a sky of tomorrows.”

So the next time you hear a Congressman call immigrants from Latin America “wetbacks” or “drug mules,” remember that they read from a thin, fading parchment, that will turn to dust with them. When that happens, we will not dance on their graves, for we will have long dismissed their ideas as a disappearing specter, a ghost of an unfortunate past that we will not care enough to miss.


No immigration path to legal status with GOP, no path without them

“The President urges the House of Representatives to take action and move this bill or similar legislation forward, and stands willing to work with all parties to make sure that commonsense immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible.” – from a White House report, released Wednesday morning, entitled, “The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System

There are a lot of issues being dumped at the doorstep of the Republican party’s apparent unwillingness to engage in a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. Most of it is just an extension of the other problems the GOP finds itself facing, these days. It pushes the buttons of the extreme elements in their political base, like the Tea Party, and the white voters they count on, especially in the Deep South, who believe that the country works best when they, and people like them, rule (even though many immigrants here without permission come from the same parts of the world as their ancestors).

It also frightens the talking head intelligentsia who don’t want to sacrifice the base for a bill that “[t]here is no case for” and “certainly no urgency to pass,” as the National Review and the Weekly Standard wrote, in a rare joint editorial this week.

It was rushed through in a “hasty manner,” wrote the Reviews’s Rich Lowry and the Standard’s Bill Kristol, because “Republicans eager to back the bill are doing so out of political panic… This is silly. Are we supposed to believe that Republican Senate candidates running in states such as Arkansas, North Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, and Montana will be hurt if the party doesn’t embrace Chuck Schumer’s immigration bill?”

In that vein, the bombastic conservative, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), told a group of House Republicans, Monday, that a pathway to citizenship was a boon to Democrats and dangerous for his party because, “Two out of every three of the new citizens would be Democrats,” so why bother enabling that?

Most in the U.S. Senate, including the Gang of Eight’s Marco Rubio (R-FL), a son of immigrants, say that we have a moral obligation to give the more than 11 million people who work to build this country an eventual say at the ballot box. But King disputes that. “There’s no moral calling for us to solve the problem that they created for themselves,” he told Newsmax, Tuesday.

King went on to say:

“If you legalize people that are here illegally, that means that it is a path to citizenship.

“Eventually, those folks that are rewarded with the objective of their crime will be voting. They will have the measure of citizenship — and we can get to that piece, maybe we can understand then, as a group, that there’s nothing in this for Republicans, Independents, Americans.

“It isn’t good for the American people. The only people in America who are beneficiaries of such a policy would be elitists, political power-brokering Democrats and those who hire illegals. Other than that, there’s nothing in it for Americans.”

White House report on Economic Benefits of Fixing Immigration
White House report, released July 10, 2013, listing the economic benefits of comprehensive immigration reform. (click to view pdf file)

But the House Republican leadership, in a meeting with their entire caucus, Wednesday afternoon, reportedly made it clear to the membership that “doing nothing isn’t an option,” according to Politico. And The Hill reports that Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) insisted that Republicans risked being “in a much weaker position if we didn’t act.”

Even former president, George W. Bush, who was unsuccessful at his own attempt at immigration reform, said, Wednesday, “America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time.”

In an homage to his “compassionate conservative” political label, Bush, speaking at a citizenship oath ceremony, at his presidential library, in Dallas, Texas, urged lawmakers to “remember the vast majority of immigrants are decent people who work hard and support their families and practice their faith and lead responsible lives.”

The Democrats say that any comprehensive immigration reform package must include a pathway to citizenship to get their vote. Republicans say border security first, and then we can talk about legal citizenship. We would like to think that our Congress is more concerned about doing the right thing in a fair and equitable manner, but given their clear majority in the lower chamber, it is, perhaps, wiser to assume that Republicans will treat the floor of the House as they do all those state houses around the country where their party has rammed through base-satisfying legislation. They will not take it conference with the bill the Senate passed last month, because they ar afraid they will have to accept a pathway to legal status.

If we get any bill at all out of the U.S. House of Representatives, it will likely be a border security bill with language about verifiability, and stronger penalties for those who hire immigrants who are here without the proper documents. Certainly, they will tout that as immigration reform. What it won’t be is comprehensive immigration reform, but it will probably be enough for them to bullshit their way through the next election.

As far as the immigrants in limbo, the DREAMers and the laborers, the writers and the doctors and the lawyers, King insists they self-deport. “They can easily solve it just by returning to the country where they can live legally,” he said. But what else do you expect from a guy who, after comparing immigrants to a litter of dogs, during last year’s campaign, defended himself by saying, “If someone is insulted by that, I don’t know that they belong in this country.”

Too bad he’s not the only one who feels that way. Sadly, there are many, not only in the 113th Congress, but in this country, who agree with King, and they offend me with their limited view of what it means to be American. We have spent more than a century marketing ourselves as “The Land of Opportunity.” Is that not an invitation to everyone in the world to come to our shores, even if they must start with nothing, and better their lives? Maybe we need to change it to “Land of False Expectations.”

No. If there’s anything we need to change, it’s getting those who withhold the promise of America for political gain out of Congress, and electing people who are more committed to doing what is right for the future of our country than what serves their immediate political ambitions.


2014 battle lines coming into focus

A famous Democrat told me recently, the Georgia Republicans in the 2014 Senate race – Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston – are all “certifiable.” They are some of the loudest, logically dissonant voices in the House of Representatives, but by running, they are out of Congress, permanently. Further, having them in that race gives the probable Democrat, Michelle Nunn, a real shot at winning.

Some on the left may have been disappointed that the exemplar of the most ridiculous and extreme voices of the Republican Party, and right wing politics, Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann, chose not to run again in the coming midterms, because they wanted to show that not only could she be beaten, but the stubborn, conservative ideology she represents would go down with her, in dramatic, flaming fashion, in 2014.

But, as they say in baseball, a walk is as good as a hit. If we can beat them through attrition that’s even better than beating them at the ballot box. For one thing, it’s cheaper. And while the fall of one narrow-minded icon will not stop the Tea Party goose steppers, it is a sign that their candidates realize their mass appeal is fading.

But that presents a conundrum for those Republicans, in solidly red districts, who consider the far right base a necessary evil, because it is an evil that can cost them their seats.

“The problem for many Republicans in these specific districts is that if they’re less partisan, they face a primary from the right,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Politico. “If they protect themselves from a primary by being more partisan, they’re in trouble in the general election.”

A good example of that is the immigration fight. After the Senate, last week, passed their immigration reform bill on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, the conservatives in the House dug in their heels.

“Those who voted for this bill sacrificed the Rule of Law for a meaningless political trophy,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA), said in a statement, where he compared the bill the Senate passed to what he called “the 1986 Reagan Amnesty bill.”

Now, King has the luxury of not having to worry about anyone running to his right, but he did have to apologize to popular Senate Republican, and one of the leaders of the Gang of Eight, Marco Rubio (R-FL), for some remarks made by folks at a rally the Iowan held in Washington last month, against the upper chamber’s immigration bill.

According to ABC News:

“Audience members loudly booed Rubio’s name when it was mentioned by several speakers, including Robert Rector, the co-author of a controversial Heritage Foundation report on the cost of the Senate bill. Rector accused the senator of not reading ‘his own bill.’

“A handful of attendees carried signs that targeted Rubio. One read: ‘Marco Early Advocate of Muslim Brotherhood Takeover. Obamas [sic] Idiot.'”

As if he were personally listening to Rep. Israel’s warning, the man that Congressional Democrats just voted “most clueless Republican,” actually realized that he couldn’t go that far, without sounding too extreme, hence his apology to Florida’s junior senator.

It now appears King will have a credible Democrat challenging him, next year. Tuesday, Jim Mowrer, a 27 year-old Army veteran, announced he was going to take on the unflinching conservative. He has a compelling background, in service to his country, and a message that could appeal to independents. “[I]n Iraq,” he said, in his announcement, “There were no Democrats or Republicans, just Iowans and Americans.”

elephant through the eye of a needleKing’s district may not provide a very big opening for Democrats, but, Israel said, the idea is to narrow the path for incumbent Republicans. “They’re getting squeezed,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that hole is very small.”

But don’t underestimate the far right’s faith. They’ll always believe they can get an elephant through the eye of a needle, even if the have to destroy the needle in the process.