Weekly Diaspora: What Homeland Security Looks Like After Bin Laden’s Death

 

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Nearly a decade ago, America’s War on Terror began as a manhunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But over the next nine years, that anti-terrorism effort evolved into a multi-faceted crusade: birthing a new national security agency, blossoming into two bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, institutionalizing the racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim Americans and even redefining unauthorized Latin American immigration as—of all things—a national security issue. Now, in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death, which elements of that crusade will persist or expand and which—if any—will dissolve?

Muslim Americans celebrate bin Laden’s death…

Following the announcement of bin Laden’s death last Sunday, Americans feverishly rejoiced at the news that a mission actually was accomplished in the War on Terror.  Profoundly, the celebrants included scores of individuals who had unwittingly become targets of that crusade—Pakistani immigrants and American Muslims.

Mohsin Zaheer of Feet in Two Worlds reports that Islamic groups in the United States wasted no time applauding President Barack Obama for Bin Laden’s death, taking the opportunity to distance themselves and Islam from the legacy of the slain terrorist. And while many Americans forget that the 9/11 terror attacks killed nationals from 70 different countries, Zaheer notes that the many immigrants who lost loved ones that day took some comfort in knowing that justice has been done.

But Muslims in the U.S. also had another cause for celebration. Bin Laden’s death coincided with the termination of a grossly discriminatory federal program that has targeted, tracked and deported thousands of immigrants from predominately Muslim countries since 2002. ColorLines.com’s Channing Kennedy describes the program (called NSEERS or the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System) as “one of the most explicitly racist, underreported initiatives in post-9/11 America” which “functioned like Arizona’s SB 1070, with working-class Muslims as the target.” The Department of Homeland Security has been vague about its reasons for ending the program, but the decision  amounts to a victory for immigrant rights groups that have been protesting the effort since its launch nine years ago.

…but still face an uncertain fate

That said, the fate of Muslims in America is far from rosy. As Seth Freed Wessler notes at ColorLines.com, the Department of Homeland Security continues to target, detain and deport Muslims “in equally insidious, but less formal ways” than the NSEERS program.

Pointing to investigations by “Democracy Now!” and the Washington Monthly, Wessler explains that the Department of Justice “has repeatedly used secret informant-instigators to manufacture terrorist plots” and advocated religious intolerance, racial profiling and harassment in its search for homegrown terrorists. Through these means, the quest for security has degenerated into the systemic persecution of American Muslims and countless other immigrants deemed threats to national security becaue their race, religion or nationality. And that didn’t die with bin Laden.

As recently as last March, in fact, Republican Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held a hearing on the radicalization of Muslim Americans—during which numerous witnesses repeatedly reiterated the dire threat posed by radical Muslims in the U.S. At the time, Behrouz Saba of New America Media noted that the hearing lacked any discussion of U.S. military presence in the Middle East and its impact on radicalization. Rather than critically examine the many ways in which U.S. foreign policy and military conflict breeds the monster it aims to destroy, the hearing instead served to demonize a growing, well-educated and largely law-abiding population of the United States.

The Latin American link

But the War on Terror has deeply impacted other marginalized communities as well. Even the circumstances of bin Laden’s death bears an alleged connection to the frought issue of Latin American immigration to the U.S.—an issue that has, itself, undergone massive scrutiny and regulation following 9/11.

ThinkProgress reports that one of the Navy Seals involved in Bin Laden’s extermination is, purportedly, the son of Mexican migrants. While the veracity of that claim has been contested by some, Colorlines.com’s Jamilah King argues that the rumor nevertheless “raises serious questions around the military’s recruitment of Latino youth, the staggering numbers of Latino war causalities, and the Obama administration’s often contradictory messages on immigration reform.” She continues:

Casualties among Latino soldiers in Iraq rank highest compared to other groups of soldiers of color. Yet while the military actively courts Latino youth and immigrants with one hand, it’s aggressively deporting them and their families with the other.

It’s worth noting that, within the government, the most vocal proponents of the DREAM Act supported the legislation because they expected it to dramatically increase Latino enrollment in the military. While the DREAM Act ultimately died in the Senate, proponents of its military provision are perpetuating a troubling and persistent dichotomy that is only reinforced in the wake of bin Laden’s demise: immigrants are welcome on our battlefields, but not in our neighborhoods.

It’s comforting, albeit naïve, to believe that Osama bin Laden’s death will cap a decade of military conflict and draw a torturously long anti-terrorism crusade to a close. More likely, our multiple wars will persist longer than they should, and our domestic security apparatus will continue targeting the most vulnerable members of our society under the misguided notion that such enforcement strengthens rather than divides us.

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.

 

Weekly Diaspora: One Year After SB 1070, What’s Changed?

by Catherine A. Traywick, Medica Consortium blogger

A year ago this month, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, effectively pushing an already vibrant anti-immigrant movement to a new extreme. Over the following months, immigrant rights advocates prepared for the worst, and grappled with multiple setbacks as other states threatened to follow Arizona’s example.

Looking back, though, it’s clear that the draconian immigration law hasn’t quite measured up to its bad reputation—in part because a federal injunction blocked several of its more pernicious provisions.Kent Peterson at New America Media/Frontera NorteSur suggests that anti-immigrant policymakers “overreached” with SB 1070, pushing the restrictionist movement to its own peak with the controversial law.

Arizona’s political influence has waned

Certainly in the long term, the law seems to have done more harm than good to the movement. While it initially added plenty of fuel to the restrictionists’ fire, it has ultimately failed to spread through other states the way many expected it to. While a few states (seeColorlines.com’s infographic or Alternet’s rundown) are still considering SB1070-type laws, most others have backed off the idea.

As Seth Hoy explains at Alternet/Immigration Impact, “states learned from Arizona — the numerous protests, Supreme Court challenge, costly litigation, economic boycotts that are still costing state businesses millions — and rejected similar laws.” Peterson similarly notes that a number of states have moved away from Arizona’s example because of SB 1070’s unexpected economic consequences—chiefly, an estimated $769 million in economic and tax revenues lost as a result of boycotts.

Immigrants still marginalized

That’s not say that the law has had no effect on immigrants. While a federal judge stayed several of its provisions last summer, SB 1070 proved to be a precursor to other insidious state laws targeting immigrants. Empowered by their success with SB 1070 and the ensuing media frenzy, state legislators quickly moved forward with several other harsh laws. As Feet in Two Worlds’ Valeria Fernandez explains, many immigrants in Arizona continue to live in fear even though SB 1070 is only partially enacted. She writes:

When you talk to immigrants in the street, they’ll tell you that not much has changed. Some continue to live in fear that they could be stopped by the police and deported. Others are having a difficult time getting work due to another Arizona law that harshly sanctions employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

At Colorlines.com, Seth Freed Wessler elaborates on the real impact of bills like SB 1070. He writes:

[The bills] send waves of fear and confusion into immigrant communities. … In the period since SB 1070 passed, uncounted numbers of immigrants have fled their homes in Arizona. … And the provisions in the law that were not blocked by the court, including one that makes it a crime to harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, put everyone at risk.

The role of the federal government

Nevertheless, Wessler points out that the federal government—not SB 1070 and not Arizona—is to blame for the brunt of the damage inflicted upon undocumented immigrants in the last year. Besides deporting record numbers of immigrant detainees and significantly expanding border enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security laid the groundwork for SB 1070 with its 287(g) program—which enabled local law enforcement to act as ICE agents. Adding insult to injury, President Barack Obama never came to close to fulfilling his campaign promise of passing comprehensive immigration reform.

Whether he will do so this year is up for debate, but many reform advocates remain skeptical after last year’s ups and downs. As Marcos Restrepo of the American Independent reports, several immigrant rights activists voiced disappointment after Obama convened a White House meeting on immigration last Tuesday. Chief among the critics was Pablo Alvorado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who said in a statement:

While we appreciate the President’s effort to keep immigration reform on the national agenda, his actions belie his intent…If the President genuinely wanted to fix the broken immigration system, he would respond to the growing chorus of voices calling for the suspension of the secure communities program and move to legalize instead of further criminalize our immigrant communities.

The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana is similarly skeptical of both the president’s approach to the problem, and his ability to enact meaningful reform:

On one hand, it is laudable that the president has revived the immigration debate, but there is a reason it died last year, even with Democrats in firm control of Congress and the executive branch. Instead of trying to tack immigration reform to an enforcement bill, the president should change the frame and stop talking about immigration as a national-security issue rather than an issue in its own right.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration bymembers 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 AuditThe Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: DREAM Act Passes the House, Heads to the Senate

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

A bill that would create a path to legalization for undocumented youth passed the House of Representatives Wednesday, and is now headed to the Senate. The DREAM Act, which has struggled for survival even amid steady and strong bipartisan support, could render more than 2 million undocumented immigrants eligible for conditional permanent residency if they attend college or serve in the military.

Making good on at least one pre-election promise, congressional Democrats succeeded in bringing the bill to a vote before Republicans assume control of the House in January—but not without plenty of contention. For two hours, House representatives rehashed the spectrum of party-line immigration talking points before finally clearing the DREAM Act, 216-198, reports ColorLines’ Julianne Hing.

Forging on a compromise

It’s a refreshing victory for DREAM advocates who saw major losses last October when the bill was momentarily defeated in the Senate, and last November, when the midterm election ushered in a spate of staunchly anti-immigrant representatives and governors who decry the bill as “amnesty.” But the stroke of success is bittersweet for many of the bill’s proponents, who take issue with some of the political concessions made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in an effort to bring the bill to the floor.

As Marcelo Ballvé reports at New America Media, the latest iteration of the act is more exclusionary than previous versions—to the point of possibly eliminating eligibility for as many as 140,000 individuals. In addition to reducing the maximum eligibility age from 34 to 29, the new version of the bill bars beneficiaries from accessing Medicare (or participating in health insurance exchanges under the health reform package) and draws out the citizenship process by several years.

But despite the rigidity of the newly revised provisions, Ballvé notes that the single greatest barrier to DREAM Act eligibility is not its design, but high levels of poverty within immigrant communities. While more than 2 million youths would theoretically be eligible for conditional legal residency under the DREAM Act, the educational barriers associated with poverty would reduce that number to 825,000, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute.

Debate suggests an uncertain future

Still, the DREAM Act makes both economic and political sense, as Katie Andriulli points out at Campus Progress. Even with the number of potential beneficiaries lowered, the Congressional Budget Office calculates that the DREAM Act could reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over the next 10 years, simply by legitimizing scores of potential professionals. And—contrary to opponents’ claims that the act will encourage illegal immigration or reward illegal behavior—the measure only provides “a discrete one-time universe of individuals” the chance for legalization, while actualizing a return on the financial investments already made in the millions of undocumented youth who have completed public school in the United States.

Despite the DREAM Act’s victory in the House, however, its chances of clearing the Senate on Thursday remain somewhat slim. After successfully blocking the bill last October, Senate Republicans have been laying roadblocks ahead of Thursday’s vote—first vowing to stall any and all proposed measures until the controversial Bush tax cuts were extended and then spouting considerable misinformation about the DREAM Act (which Marshall Fitz soundly counters at Campus Progress). Moreover, a number of senators who once supported the measure now appear to be undecided in the face of competing political pressures.

The movement’s next steps?

But whether the bill clears the Senate on Thursday, progressive immigration reform advocates will find themselves in a politically hostile—and possibly unnavigable—environment come January, when a new line-up of right-wing lawmakers takes over the House.

Daniel Altschuler at The Nation argues that the movement must assess and address its greatest weaknesses if it hopes—at the very least—to weather the storm. While the reform movement has demonstrated its ability to “convert grassroots power into legislative pressure,” Altschuler argues, it has failed at “developing a unified legislative strategy and shaping the national debate.”

In terms of crafting a focused legislative strategy, activists will have to contend with a number of competing issues as opposed to focusing on a single target—such as passing the DREAM Act. The Obama administration’s continued enforcement push, anti-immigrant proposals by Republican House leaders, and state-level immigration measures all threaten to divide the movement’s focus, as they have in years past. In the meantime, Altschuler concludes, “the movement’s goals will be to fend off punitive enforcement legislation and lay the groundwork for” comprehensive immigration reform, through substantial—and perhaps disappointing—compromise.

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.

Weekly Diaspora: Arizona’s SB 1070 Takes Nativist Fever Nationwide

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

While Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, was far from the first controversial immigration measure of its kind, it stands out as a hallmark of increasingly visible nativist sentiment. Numerous legal challenges and a federal injunction notwithstanding, the measure continues to inspire copycat legislation and attract millions in donations. Even as Arizona’s legislature attempts to outdo itself by pushing increasingly outrageous bills, as Care2 reports, SB 1070 remains center stage.

Perhaps one reason that the measure has gained such traction across the country is that its crafters have been unequivocal about both their intent and the law’s objective: Attrition through enforcement.

“That’s a fancy way of saying it’s public policy aimed at making the lives of immigrants so miserable that they leave on their own accord,” explained community organizer Marisa Franco on Making Contact, a National Radio Project program. Andrea Christina Mercado, organizing director of Mujeres Unidas Activas and another guest on this week’s show, added that the “attrition through enforcement” strategy exemplified by SB 1070 centers on three pernicious tactics:

“…One is to close off all possibility for economic survival, the second part is to deny access to justice for migrants, making it harder and harder to place a wage claim or a police report, and the third is to normalize mistreatment through rituals of humiliation and hateful language.”

SB 1070: coming to a state near you!

While reprehensible to immigrant rights advocates, the “attrition through enforcement” approach to the immigration “problem” is refreshing to immigration hawks. The strategy’s unabashed method of self-evicting undocumented migrants through calculated marginalization is the kind of tough, no-nonsense policy that hardliners appreciate. Consequently, similar measures have spread like wildfire across states and municipalities. That such laws directly defy federal immigration policy goals seems only to increase their popularity among immigration hardliners.

Case in point: The incoming wave of newly elected, anti-immigrant governors pushing for SB 1070 copycat laws. As Braden Goyette reports at Campus Progress, governors-elect in Georgia, Florida, Nebraska, Mississippi, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Oklahoma hope to follow in Arizona’s footsteps. Nebraska’s Dave Heineman (R) explicitly campaigned on that hope, and Georgia’s Nathan Deal (R) plans to push for a copycat law as soon as January 2011.

State legislators are moving quickly on similar laws as well. Most recently, Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) filed a spate of anti-immigration legislation in advance of the 2011 legislative session. According to Change.org’s Prerna Lal, Riddle’s bills would collectively limit immigrants’ access to public education, intensify the penalties for being undocumented in the state, and even prevent undocumented persons from driving there. In total, the proposed measures embody the attrition-through-enforcement philosophy by attempting to make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to live in the state with any measure of quality of life.

Setting the stage for anti-immigrant laws

The attrition-through-enforcement strategy is contagious. But, as ColorLines’ Seth Freed Wessler points out, infection follows a predictable pattern. Citing a recent Migration Policy Institute study, Wessler explains that anti-immigrant laws tend to pop up in largely homogeneous white communities that experience an increase in the population of immigrants. The actual size of the immigrant population doesn’t seem to matter, and the study found that crime rates are equally irrelevant (and have no correlation to rates of immigration). The only thing that does matter is growth, however small.

It’s important to note that in largely homogeneous communities, which generally tend to be segregated along ethnic lines anyway, small fluctuations in minority populations aren’t glaringly evident to most residents. Growth among immigrant populations doesn’t immediately or spontaneously spark nativist sentiment. In most cases, that growth is noted by incendiary elites, who then repackage and sell it back to the larger community as an “immigration problem.” In Wessler’s words:

Crime is not actually higher because of immigration but individual incidents of crime, or the presence of day laborers on street corners, are used as animating tools by restrictionist groups. Support for the resolutions are drummed up by local politicians and demagogues, as well as national groups that often play a role in drafting the bills, who concoct a narrative about dangerous criminal immigrants.

As I’ve written before, anti-immigrant sentiment is driven by the fear that, as immigrant communities grow larger and more economically competitive, their increasing political power will threaten the status quo. And so politicos feed the immigrant-as-criminal narrative to their communities, bit by bit, eventually passing pernicious laws intended to self-evict the threat.

Thus far, 107 communities have passed anti-immigrant laws in the last 10 years, the bulk of them since 2006, when heightened discourse on immigration reform motivated anti-immigrant groups to redouble their efforts. A few years later, Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (R) teamed up with Kris Kobach—a lawyer for FAIR, the most powerful anti-immigrant group in the nation—to draft SB 1070 which has now unleashed a new wave of oppressive immigration laws.

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.

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: Lawless Judges, Immigrant Soldiers, and Deportee Pardons

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Here’s the harsh truth about our immigration system: When 392,000 immigrants are detained per year and 33,000 more are detained everyday with limited staff and minimal federal oversight, institutional misconduct is inevitable.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is moving record-breaking numbers of immigrants through its ancillary agencies and, in the process, immigrant women are being raped by Border Patrol agents, LGBT detainees are being sexually assaulted at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, and citizens and legal residents are certainly being deported.

How can such things come to pass? Simple: a combination of overworked and overzealous officials are enforcing overly broad immigration laws. It should be no wonder that people, inevitably, slip through the cracks—whether immigrant, citizen, or soldier.

Immigration judges subverting the law

Misconduct, corruption and a general inability to handle impossibly high caseloads aren’t exclusive to DHS and its many agencies. On the contrary, organizational mismanagement plagues every aspect of the immigration process.

As Jacqueline Stevens reports at the Nation, immigration courts are rife with lawlessness and corruption. Charged with adjudicating the hundreds of thousands of immigrants thrown their way by DHS every year, judges are authorizing deportations without even seeing the defendants, issuing rulings at mass hearings (usually with no lawyers present), and abandoning due process for a quicker turn-around.

What’s more: the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR)—a separate agency from DHS—is actively shielding this misconduct from the public and trying to avoid federal oversight:

The public’s ignorance of the idiocies endemic to the EOIR’s business as usual and the calamities these entail is no accident. The agency deliberately withholds basic information from the media and researchers, and its top officials routinely decline requests for interviews […] Complaints about immigration judges fall under the jurisdiction of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and people may file there directly, but the EOIR instructs immigration court stakeholders to lodge complaints with the EOIR itself. Instead of passing complaints on to the OPR, as the website promises, the EOIR top brass, to protect their cronies and avoid outside scrutiny, sweeps complaints under the rug.

Consequently, American citizens—as well as immigrants who could qualify to remain in the country—are being deported indiscriminately by judges whose decisions are rarely, if ever, questioned.

Immigrant soldiers deported after serving in the U.S. military

Immigrant soldiers serving in the U.S. military are among those routinely cheated by deportation-happy immigration judges.

Julianne Hing reports at ColorLines that 17,000 non-citizens are on active duty in the armed forces, and 4,000 immigrant veterans have already been deported or are facing deportation because of criminal convictions. Hing argues that, while some of those veterans are certainly guilty of violent crimes, many others have committed only minor crimes, like drug possession, and have already served time in jail. Deportation is a secondary, and wholly incommensurate, punishment.

A double standard is at play. Veterans, regardless of immigration status, are more likely than the general population to abuse drugs and alcohol and to commit violent crimes. But while non-citizen soldiers are indiscriminately deported for minor offenses, thousands of American military rapists have deftly avoided punishment in the past 15 years.The U.S. government’s prejudicial treatment of non-citizen soldiers isn’t new (to date, Filipino veterans who fought alongside American soldiers in WWII are still waiting to receive the benefits promised to them), but it remains reprehensible.

The unique plight of immigrant veterans certainly puts into perspective the ongoing push for passage of the DREAM Act—proposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant youth who serve in the military.

New York governor to pardon deportees?

Fortunately, some government officials are working towards a fairer immigration system. Elise Foley at the Washington Independent reports that New York governor David Paterson (D) has created a panel to review thousands of pardon requests from immigrant detainees awaiting deportation:

The idea behind the panel is to allow relief from the “extremely inflexible” federal law for green card holders “who have contributed as New Yorkers and who deserve relief from deportation or indefinite detention,” Paterson said when he announced its creation in May. […] While Paterson’s pardon panels would not change the way immigration courts are run, the effort is arguably a push to add a bit of discretion back into the system.

Paterson’s laudable commitment to protecting the interests of immigrants, particularly when doing so is far from politically expedient, is proof positive that rectifying our broken immigration system is entirely within the reach of our politicians. Misconduct and corruption within our immigration agencies are not merely the product of overcrowding and understaffing, but rather persistent inaction on the part of powerful lawmakers and government officials.

As Stevens wryly notes for The Nation: President Barack Obama, whose own citizenship is repeatedly questioned, ought to get on board.

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.

 

 

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