Weekly Diaspora: What the #$@!, Arizona?

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

While federal lawmakers cautiously mull over the possibility of dropping a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year, legislators in Arizona have passed yet another law that criminalizes undocumented immigrants. What’s more, the Arizona House is advancing a bill that would require the Arizona Secretary of State to review President Barack Obama’s birth certificate before his name is allowed on any ballots.

The Arizona crackdown

Arizona lawmakers just passed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighbourhood Act, which is arguably the toughest immigration law in the country. It forces local police to check the immigration status of people if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they might be undocumented. The bill is an invitation to racially profile residents.

The bill, which now goes the states’ Republican Governor Jan Brewer for final approval, has sparked an organized campaign to defeat the measure over concerns that the bill is inhumane would discriminate against Latinos.

Valeria Fernández with the Inter Press Service reports on the bill, which “includes a number of provisions that go beyond authorizing the arrest of undocumented immigrants on ‘reasonable suspicion.’ It targets day laborers by making it a crime to look for work on the street, and would fine anyone who harbors or transports an undocumented immigrant, including family members.”

Outbreaks of civil disobedience have accompanied the bill. “On Tuesday, nine students were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct after they chained themselves to the entrance doors of the capitol building in an act of civil disobedience against the proposed law.” Fernández reports. “Authorities arrested them as soon as they said they wouldn’t leave until the governor took action on the law.”

John Tomasic with the Colorado Independent also notes that “On Capitol Hill, Prominent Latino Reps. Luis Gutierrez [(D-IL)] and Raul Grijalva [(D-AZ)]denounced Arizona’s controversial immigration bill and urged [Brewer] to veto the legislation. “

Eyes on Washington

While anti-immigrant legislation passes in Arizona, optimism for federal immigration reform this year is growing dimmer. While a proposal has already been introduced in the House of Representatives, the issue of citizenship for an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants could be shelved indefinitely if a bill isn’t introduced in the Senate soon.

The Senate will need time to debate the issue, and if it isn’t introduced in the next few weeks, potential fallout from the upcoming Congressional elections may make passing reform even more difficult.

ALIPAC attacks

As Kai Wright notes over at RaceWire, the congressional debate is not off to a civil start. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the only Republican Senator openly working on a bipartisan immigration reform bill, was verbally attacked by anti-immigrant groups this week.

“The rabidly anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) has launched a campaign professing to out Graham as gay,” reports Wright. “In a speech to a Tea Party rally — which is making the web rounds via YouTube — the group’s leader, William Gheen, speculated that Graham’s being blackmailed into participating in immigration reform because of his ’secret.’ ‘I need to figure out why you’re trying to sell out your own countrymen and I need to make sure you being gay isn’t it,’ Gheen said.

McCain veers right

Mother Jones reports that ALIPAC is also targeting Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a lawmaker who co-sponsored a immigration reform bill in 2007 with the late Ted Kennedy. The 2007 bill didn’t pass, and since then McCain has backed away from vocally supporting reform now that he’s facing a primary challenge to his Senate seat.

“The motivation for McCain’s rightward shift is obvious,” Suzy Khimm writes. “The Arizona senator authored the Senate’s last comprehensive reform bill, which included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. His Tea Party-backed primary opponent, J.D. Hayworth, has attacked him relentlessly for doing so. Hayworth has been endorsed by [ALIPAC], a right wing anti-immigrant group that’s trying to stir up Tea Partiers to revive the conservative crusade against ‘amnesty.’”

Just this week, McCain introduced a bill in the Senate that would 3,000 National Guard troops to patrol the border, “an intervention that critics say would be both costly and ineffective,” according to Khimm. McCain also come out in support of Arizona’s news anti-immigration law.

But despite vicious attacks from the right, there is still hope. Immigration reform supporters are planning rallies in dozens of states on May 1 to keep pressure on the Senate to propose a bill. To organizers working on the ground to pass reform, Arizona exemplifies why the broken immigration system needs to be fixed on a national level, and now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Dems Urge Holder to Stay Strong on 9/11 Trial

Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today urged Attorney General Eric Holder to stick to his initial determination that the alleged 9/11 plotters should be tried in civilian court, and not bow to partisan politics on what should be a legal determination.

"I think that the degree to which this dialogue has escalated is really very unhealthy," said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) at this morning's hearing, calling the recent attacks on Holder "reprehensible."

"Democrats did not do to Bush following 9/11 what has been done to this administration.. . . I believe the best interest of the people of this nation are served by the Attorney General, and the President, having maximum flexibility as to which venue these defendants should be tried in...I have never seen anything quite like this."

Feinstein was referring to pending legislation that would require the Obama administration to try the 9/11 defendants in the recently-created military commissions rather than in traditional federal courts, where almost all terrorism cases have been tried in the past. Another pending bill would require the administration to place all terror suspects in military custody rather than have them questioned by the FBI, which has the most experienced terrorist interrogators.

Feinstein denounced these efforts at the Senate hearing as based on deliberate ignorance. "The record is ignored," she said. "It doesn't matter that the Bush administration brought 200 terrorists to justice under Article 3 courts," she said, apparently referring to a Human Rights First study analyzing the successful prosecutions of self-described Islamic terrorists since 9/11. "It doesn't matter that the military commissions, fraught with controversy, have convicted only three terrorists, two of whom are already out."

Citing the recent guilty pleas of convicted terrorists Najibullah Zazi and David Headly, she said: "the fact of the matter is that Article 3 courts have other charges they can use if they don't have evidence to sustain a pure terrorists charge," referring to the civilian federal court system authorized by Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution. "You should have that option," she said to Holder. "A lot of the attacks are just to diminish you. You should not buy into that. You should stay strong."

Senators Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) made similar remarks and echoed Feinstein's concerns.

Attorney General Eric Holder this morning gave no indication whether the 9/11 plotters will ultimately be tried in a civilian court or military commission, although he promised that the decision would be made within "a number of weeks."

Holder said that "New York is not off the table as a place where they might be tried," yet said the administration would "take into consideration" local objections.

Although local officials had initially supported hosting the trial, after a downtown real estate group protested about the disturbance to local businesses, officials such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senator Charles Schumer reversed their stance.

Holder made clear this morning, though, that the trials could be held in federal court even if they don't take place in downtown Manhattan. "The Southern District of New York is a much larger place than simply Manhattan," said Holder. "There's also the possibility of trying the case in other venues beyond New York."

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) hammered Holder on his initial decision to try the case in a New York court, then criticized him for wavering on the decision in response to local objections, and concluded: "I hope you will reevaluate this and we will soon have clarity about what the policy of the Department of Justice is."

Holder wouldn't say where the 9/11 defendants will ultimately be prosecuted, he did defend the track record of civilian federal courts, which he said have prosecuted close to 400 terrorists since 9/11, relying on recently-released Justice Department numbers.

Holder pleased some of his critics, however, by repeating that the administration still intends to hold 48 detainees "who are too dangerous to transfer but not feasible to prosecute."

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who's been pushing Congress and the administration to support legislation that would create a scheme for indefinite detention without trial within the United States, seized on the opportunity to note that the rules for indefinite detention based on "dangerousness" remain unclear.

"I would urge you to work with Congress to see if you can retain flexibility," Graham said to Holder. "If you're a member of Al Qaeda you're a continuing threat to the world," he said, adding: "holding a member of Al Aaeda who is a continuing threat until they die in jail is okay with me."

Asked by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) whether there would be a review process for those indefinitely detained prisoners who could be left to die in jail, Holder said: "that's something we 're still working on."

Holder didn't specifically say whether that process would be developed by the executive branch or should be created by Congress, although he indicated that an interagency review was ongoing and that he's "hoping to have something we will be willing to share and put in place in a relatively short time."

New Supreme Court nominee speculation thread

MSNBC's First Read reported today:

Per NBC’s Pete Williams and Savannah Guthrie, administration officials say at least eight names are on President Obama’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Six are women and two men. The names: U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Merrick Garland of the DC Court of Appeals, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former George Supreme Court Chief Judge Leah Ward Sears, Sidney Thomas of the 9th Circuit, and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. Of these names, people outside the government but familiar with White House thinking say the serious contenders are Kagan, Wood, Garland, Napolitano, and Granholm. Guthrie adds that Obama is likely to meet next week with key senators to discuss the vacancy. Many of the new additions are about interest group appeasement. And note the growing concern in the liberal/progressive blogosphere about Kagan.

One person who doesn't sound concerned about Kagan is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:

“I like her,” he said, quickly adding, “and that might hurt her chances.”

Graham, whose support for Justice Sonia Sotomayor last summer was a turning point in her confirmation process, said he liked Kagan’s answers about national security and the president’s broad authority to detain enemy combatants when she was going through her own Senate confirmation.

Both of President Bill Clinton's Supreme Court nominees had received a private stamp of approval from key Republican Senator Orrin Hatch. My hunch is that Graham's kind words for Kagan help her chances with President Obama. He loves to position himself as a moderate between the left and the right.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Chris Bowers made the case for Sears here.

Weekly Diaspora: The Game Plan for Immigration Reform

By Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), started a hubbub among comprehensive immigration reform advocates last week when he expressed to members of the Capitol press corps that  progressive immigration legislation was “dead” for 2010 due to the contentious passage of health care reform. But the battle isn’t over yet. In an interview with Sandip Roy at New America Media, Frank Sharry, the executive director of DC-based immigration organization America’s Voice, says, “I think we have a good chance of seeing a bipartisan bill being introduced in April.”

Graham’s declaration mirrors similar antics that happened around the health care debate—where insurance reform was pronounced dead countless times by a wide array of pundits and lawmakers.  In fact, Seth Freed Wessler of ColorLines reports that Graham, who has been working with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on an immigration reform bill for a year later changed his tune, stating that he would continue to craft a bipartisan bill.

The Battle in the Senate

Gabriel Arana with The America Prospect questions just how the GOP lawmakers will react to the upcoming immigration debate, arguing that, “Even for those Republicans who are willing to publicly support immigration reform, partisan rancor all but ensures it won’t go anywhere.”

And outside the Capitol? As Laura Flanders of GRITtv points out, the immigration debate, “has the potential to be far, far messier—and more violent—than the health care battle,” and will likely galvanize those with xenophobic tendencies on the far Right to become even more unhinged.

On top of that, providing a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States will most likely be dead in 2010 if a bill isn’t proposed in the Senate this Spring. There needs to be time to debate the issue before the end of the year, and more importantly, before election season kicks off in the Fall. While there’s already an immigration bill in the House of Representatives, a timeline for when one will actually be introduced in the Senate is unknown.

Immigration agents go rogue

Combined with the uphill battle for immigration reform, AlterNet reports on a government memo revealing that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has set quotas to initiate more deportations of undocumented immigrants, targeting those who had committed no crimes. The memo was in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s stated goal to focus on deporting criminal offenders with violent histories, and prompted immigration rights groups to question the White House agenda.

At the same time, anti-immigration activists are also trying to label all immigrants as criminals. As the Colorado Independent documents, the shooting death of an Arizona rancher near the Mexican border has influenced former Colorado lawmaker Tom Tancredo and his followers to demand that the National Guard be sent the border—even though the death has not even been tied to an undocumented immigrant at this time. (The Department doesn’t have jurisdiction over the National Guard to begin with.)

The Inter Press Service also reports on the  results of such criminalization, as human rights abuses in immigration detention continue to increase each day. “More abuses in the U.S. immigration detention system came to light last week,” notes the media outlet, writing that “It was revealed that two mentally disabled men continue to be held in detention while facing possible deportation for criminal assault convictions, despite having already served their time.” The inmates were later released after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed legal petitions against federal government.

For more links on immigration check out:

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Next Up: A Climate Bill

Woo-hoo. The healthcare bill is done. People will see many of the provisions go into place immediately and then they can decide how they feel about these reforms based on realityinstead of frenzied, uninformed rhetoric. Let's just take a moment to recognize this historic occasion.

Unfortunately, just when we see Congress starting to pass bills promised during the last election, we get an unwelcomed glimpse of some of the ugliest parts of politics. It disgusts and frightens me that not only were Members of Congress spat upon as they walked to the Capitol, but lunatics threatened to kill the family members of our elected officials. I am disheartened by the actions of my fellow Americans in the last week but I am not without hope because despite all of these threats, they made real progress and that is something to celebrate.

Healthcare Reforms' passage also clears the way for the Senate to take up climate and they are thankfully wasting no time. According to E&E senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn, "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is inserting himself into the energy and climate debate with a series of meetings [on Tuesday and Wednesday] with key players engaged in the closed-door negotiations."

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is also doubling down on climate saying, "In the wake of health care's passage, we have a strong case to make that this can be the next breakthrough legislative fight. Climate legislation is the single best opportunity we have to create jobs, reduce pollution and stop sending billions overseas for foreign oil from countries that would do us harm."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the undecideds are starting to vocally call for Congress to consider a bill. Earlier this week, Senator Tom Udall lead a group of 22 moderate Senators in calling on Senator Majority Leader Reid to bring up comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation for a vote. The letter is especially significant because most of these folks hadn't been saying much about climate legislation before. And if those in the middle remained silent, that would have deadened any momentum. But they didn't.

Although none of this guarantees that we will get a bill and it certainly doesn't guarantee that any bill that moves will be strong enough to address the problems, it represents significant progress. Members of Congress have had a hard week so I hope that they go home over the Easter recess and take a few days to recuperate. When they get back, there is much to do and a lot of momentum to build upon.

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