Weekly Diaspora: In 2011, Birthright Citizenship in the Crosshairs

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, a coalition of anti-immigrant lawmakers from 14 states unveiled their much-anticipated birthright citizenship bill. The measure would thwart the 14th Amendment by denying citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. As Julianna Hing notes at ColorLines, sponsors unabashedly admit that, after passing the legislation at the state level, they aim to push it through Congress. If passed, it would effectively become federal law while at the same time force a court case challenging the traditional application of the 14th Amendment.

The bill is is unlikely to do much more than upset the national debate on immigration reform, but it’s nevertheless a sobering reminder of how far some conservatives will go to segregate immigrants further.  While immigration reform advocates faced an uphill struggle last year, with few victories to show for it, the stakes are even higher in 2011,  as immigration issues become more brazenly racially divisive.

Arizona’s retrogressive policy takes effect

In the “Papers Please” state, where the birthright citizenship bill will make its debut, a controversial K-12 ethnic studies ban has already gone into effect—prohibiting curricula that promotes ethnic solidarity or is designed for students of a particular race or ethnicity. Attorney General Tom Horne, who proposed the ban while he was the superintendent of public instruction, has unabashedly singled out the Tuscon Unified School District (TUSD)’s Mexican American Studies program as its target.

Alex DiBranco reports at Change.org that—prior to assuming his new position as attorney general—Horne declared the TUSD to be in violation of the newly enacted law and threatened to withhold $15 million in funds from the school district if it failed to eliminate the Mexican American Studies program within 60 days. TUSD, for its part, is appealing the law while refusing to alter its curriculum.

Immigrant growth results in more Congressional seats…for Republicans

The results of the 2010 census are in and, thanks to a considerable boost in the new immigrant population, southern and western states are now set to gain additional Congressional seats. Sarah Kate Kramer at Feet in 2 Worlds reports that Hispanics, in particular, accounted for at least half of the growth in Texas, Florida, Nevada and Arizona.

While the growth of the Hispanic population has undoubtedly contributed to the election of a number of Hispanic legislators and could set the stage for greater political representation in the long term, the immediate effect of the apportionment looks bleak. The irony, as Kramer notes, is that while immigrant growth secured the apportionment of new congressional seats, those seats will represent predominately Republican states—effectively increasing the power of anti-immigrant lawmakers.

Few victories for immigrants

At the dawn of a new year, undocumented immigrants have gained little ground. New America Media/La Opinion reports that unemployment is still very high in sectors, such as construction, that typically employ large numbers of undocumented laborers, and remains high for Latinos, in particular.

Congress also failed to pass the bipartisan and politically popular DREAM Act, letting down scores of undocumented youth, and Arizona’s SB 1070 is spreading like wildfire to other states. To top it off, 2010 proved to be a record year for deportations—meaning that 2011 is seeing the largest number of divided families to date.

Obama Administration dropped the ball on immigration

The retrogressive nature of the immigration debate has a lot to do with the rise of conservative extremism following President Barack Obama’s election. In the past year, anti-immigrant lawmakers have gone to unprecedented lengths to commandeer immigration reform, defy the Obama administration’s policy goals and, in general, make quite a clamor. But reform advocates, too, have done their fair share to muck up the prospect of comprehensive immigration reform.

As Monica Potts at TAPPED argues, the administration’s consistent focus on enforcement, at the expense comprehensive reform, pushed the immigration debate further to the right—and may have even cost Democrats the Hispanic vote:

President Obama embraced conservatives’ enforcement rhetoric by ramping up deportations without prioritizing reform. This was a self-defeating approach: by buying into a harsh enforcement paradigm, he made the argument for reform much harder.

Whether the administration has learned from its 2010 mistakes remains to be seen. If not, then the gun-slinging lawmen of Arizona will continue defining the nation’s most pressing immigration issues.

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: After DREAM Act Defeat, Advocates Fight for Educational Equality

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

The Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act Saturday, as Democrats fell five votes short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. The final vote was 55-41. While a Republican filibuster diminished the bill’s chances of success, five Democrats sealed the measure’s fate. Max Baucus (D-MT), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Jon Tester (D-MT) crossed party lines to vote against the bill that would have created a conditional path to legalization for immigrant youth who attend college or serve in the military.

President Obama, who came out in full support of the DREAM Act in the 11th hour, wasted no time speaking out against the bill’s defeat. As ColorLines’ Julianne Hing reports, the president called the Senate’s failure to pass the measure “incredibly disappointing,” adding that “There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation.” Obama further promised that his administration would continue supporting the measure. Hing aptly notes, however, that the president’s support belies the Department of Homeland Security’s resolve to continue deporting DREAM Act-eligible youth in the event of the measure’s failure.

DREAM Act defeat sets stage for anti-immigrant agenda

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other congressional Democrats had hoped to pass the DREAM Act before Republicans assume control of the House in January and curtail future attempts at progressive immigration reform.

Mother Jones’ Suzy Khimm argues that the DREAM Act’s defeat sets the stage for incoming GOP leaders who have promised to crack down on immigration. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who will likely chair the House Judiciary Committee in 2011, has already spoken out about his plans to move forward with a number of anti-immigrant measures. Among them: A birthright citizenship bill and an employee sanctions bill that would requires the Internal Revenue Service to share information with the Department of Homeland Security (a la Secure Communities).

Whether House Republicans will be able to get such controversial legislation through the Democratic-controlled Senate, however, remains to be seen. In the meantime, many reform advocates are turning their attention to legislation at the state-level, where a number of incoming nativist governors are vowing to push a plethora of severely anti-immigrant measures.

What’s next?

The Media Consortium recently sat down with Yana Kuchinoff of Truthout to discuss the DREAM Act’s failure in the Senate, and what will be next for the legislation in the next Congress. Kuchinoff says that although congressional action is important, the growing strength of grassroots and activist organizations are likely to play a major role in the bill’s future.

Public education still a minefield for undocumented students

The DREAM Act’s bitter defeat is all the more unfortunate as an increasing number of state-level laws seek to deny undocumented youth access to education. As I wrote in a special report for Campus Progress, Arizona is leading that charge with the cavalier passage of several anti-immigrant and arguably anti-education measures. In addition to being the first state to deny undocumented youth in-state tuition and public funding (Colorado and Georgia have since followed suit), recent bans on equal opportunity and ethnic studies have made education a minefield for undocumented and minority students. Now, with state senator Russell Pearce (R) assuming the role of senate president, the crack down on Latino youth threatens to intensify—and spread across state lines.

In this feverish climate, many immigrant rights advocates are re-focusing their resources on fighting for educational equality at the state level. Chris Thomas at the Public News Services reports that a chief concern is passing tuition equality legislation for undocumented students. While 10 states have passed laws ensuring that undocumented residents receive in-state tuition at colleges and universities, Arizona, Colorado and Georgia have passed restrictive measures denying them that privilege.

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: Why We Need a Deportation Moratorium Now

 

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

As a floundering Congress repeatedly impedes the passage of widely supported immigration measures like the DREAM Act, reform advocates are refocusing their efforts and calling on President Barack Obama to declare a moratorium on deportations.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), whose impassioned support of immigrant rights landed him in jail earlier this year, is at the forefront of that charge, reports Braden Goyette at Campus Progress. Joining a chorus of immigration reform groups, Gutierrez is asking for moratorium: “The President will tell us we need Republican votes in order to pass legislation, and he’s correct,” Gutierrez told a raucous crowd of New York immigrants last month. “But let me tell you something. With the executive stroke of that pen, he can stop the deportation and the destruction of our families.”

The deportation dragnet

The administration’s amped up efforts to detain and deport greater numbers of undocumented immigrants is understandably contentious among immigrant rights advocates. As Goyette notes, at least 6.6 million mixed-status families stand to be directly affected by increased immigration enforcement, and nearly 100,000 citizen children have already seen their parents—lawful permanent residents—deported by the government.

To make matters worse, individuals are being deported without demonstrable regard for clean records, mitigating circumstances or even legal residency, in spite of the administration’s assurances to the contrary. Alina Das, a fellow at NYU’s immigration law clinic who was interviewed by Goyette, sums it up this way:

“Once you’re in the system it often does not matter if you’ve lived here since childhood, if you worked and paid taxes your entire life, if you gave back to the community and served in the military. The laws are so draconian that immigration judges are not able to consider these factors in many cases.”

ICE under fire for netting innocents

The legal system’s rigidity is further exacerbated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s questionable practices, which have resulted in the unlawful detention and deportations of scores of immigrants. The consequences of ICE’s overreliance on local law enforcement and its apparently indiscriminate tagging of undocumented immigrants are making headlines and raising prominent eyebrows.

The Filipino Express, via New America Media, reports that immigration courts are rejecting 31 percent of deportation cases filed by ICE—a six-point increase since 2009. In larger cities, the rejection rate is as high as 70 percent, suggesting that ICE is increasingly detaining and processing people who have just cause to remain in the country.

ICE’s credibility on the matter has deteriorated so much that last week a federal judge ordered the agency to release previously withheld documents related to a controversial enforcement program called Secure Communities, which has netted a number of non-criminal immigrants, including domestic violence victims. Several localities have tried to opt out of participating in the contentious program—including Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties in California, Arlington, Va., and Washington D.C.—but ICE has waffled on allowing them to do so. The documents ordered for release should shed light on the issue.

ColorLines’ Seth Freed Wessler reports that last week’s ruling was the second of its kind made against ICE:

In July, a federal court ordered the release of all government documents related to Secure Communities, following a public information request by Uncover the Truth, a coalition of civil rights and immigrant rights groups. The government released only some documents, which revealed that the program had resulted in the deportation of tens of thousands of non-citizens with no criminal convictions at all, or with convictions for low-level things like traffic violations.

The dark side of detention

The indiscriminate roundup of undocumented immigrants can have grave consequences—particularly when the immigration enforcement system is overly outsourced and over capacity.

While we’ve highlighted several cases of detention centers run amok in the past, Forrest Wilder at the Texas Observer has been following the case of a particularly horrifying incident at the Reeves County Detention Center near Pecos, Texas.

Two years ago, when the facility’s remarkably poor conditions provoked immigrant detainees to demand a meeting with the Mexican consulate, 1,200 detainees rioted and commandeered the facility, costing more than $1 million in damages. The impetus: The arguably preventable death of Jesus Manuel Galindo, a 32-year-old epileptic Mexican citizen who had lived in the United States since he was 13 and was locked up for “illegal re-entry” into the country:

Galindo’s death set off a huge riot at the Reeves County Detention Center, the world’s largest privately-run prison. It was the first of two riots in protest of poor conditions, especially medical care that the prisoners claimed was literally killing people. At the time of his death from an epileptic seizure, Galindo had been locked up in the prison’s administrative segregation unit for a month, possibly as punishment for his persistent medical complaints.

Wilder further reports that, last week, the ACLU and two El Paso attorneys filed suit against officials and administrators of the ill-reputed facility, stating that “the utter disregard shown by RCDC prison and medical staff to Galindo’s repeated, beseeching, well-founded expressions of fear for his own personal safety bordered on sadistic.”

Galindo’s case is not unique among immigrant detainees in the United States. Immigrant detainees suffer myriad abuses and injustices while their cases are processed and the administration’s increasing emphasis on enforcement only exacerbates the problem.

With the DREAM Act stuck in sentatorial limbo, the dire circumstances of hundreds of thousands of immigrants should compel President Obama to take action where Congress will not.

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: 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 Audit: Tax Cuts for the Rich Extended

By Lindsay Beyerstein,  Media Consortium Blogger

Congressional Republicans and the White House  struck an agreement in principle on Monday night to extend all the Bush tax cuts for 2 more years in exchange for extending unemployment benefits. The GOP agreed to the so-called “Lincoln-Kyl compromise” a partial 2-year extension of the Bush estate tax cuts on estates worth over $5 million. If the deal had not been struck, estate taxes on estates over $5 million would have gone back up from 0% to the pre-cut rate of 55%. Instead, the rate will be 35% for the next 2 years.

The GOP also agreed to a short-term “stimulative” 2 percentage-point cut off the 6.2% payroll tax we all pay on income up to $106,800. The good news is that a payroll tax holiday will provide the most noticeable tax relief to low- and middle-income Americans. The bad news is that payroll taxes fund Social Security, so cutting the tax means starving a program that most directly benefits average people. Social Security is not in crisis yet, but steps like these could push the program into worse financial straights where significant benefit cuts become inevitable. It’s almost as if the GOP, having failed to spark panic about an as-yet non-existent Social Security crisis, is determined to engineer one.

All these gimmes for the rich were the price of a partial extension of unemployment benefits. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. If Congress had failed to act, 2 million people stood to lose their benefits this month and another 7 million would have run out before the end of next year, reports Andy Kroll of Mother Jones.

Meanwhile, unemployment continues to rise. The economy only added 39,000 jobs in November when analysts were expecting about 150,000. “At the beginning, some people just thought it was a printing error,” said reporter Motoko Rich on the New York Times‘ weekly business podcast. The overall unemployment rate climbed to 9.8%.

At ColorLines, Kai Wright argues that the time has come for President Obama to seize the opportunity to debunk conservatives’ bad faith arguments for tax cuts above all else:

At the same time, the anti-government crowd’s political hand—if forced—has never been weaker. A depressingly large number of middle-class and working-class Americans now know all too well what economists have long understood: You get a great deal more economic bang out of keeping lots of people from becoming destitute than you do by helping a few people horde wealth. People remain enraged about the no-strings-attached bank bailout, for instance, because they intuitively understand its ramifications. Wall Street is now enjoying a narrow, taxpayer-financed recovery while unemployment, hunger and poverty all continue climbing through the former middle class.

Extending UI makes sense

Tim Fernholtz of TAPPED tackles some of the bad arguments against extending unemployment insurance. Economist Greg Mankiw claims that extending unemployment insurance is just a surreptitious ploy to redistribute income to the poor from the wealthy. Actually, as Fernholtz points out, the point of a UI safety net is to prevent people, 3 million of them in 2009, from becoming poor in the first place. Poverty is very expensive for society at large. If we can keep the unemployed in their homes, spending their benefits in their communities, we can keep the socially corrosive effects of poverty at bay until the economy improves. The social costs of child poverty alone have been estimated at $500 billion a year, Fernholtz notes. The deeper we allow people to sink into poverty, the more difficult it will be for the economy to rebound. On this view, UI is a shared investment in a well-ordered society, not just a lifeline for jobless families.

Why corporate tax cuts won’t create jobs

Jack Rasmus of Working In These Times explains why tax cuts will not create jobs. Simply put, banks and big companies are sitting on over a trillion dollars. Among the nation’s biggest banks, lending to small and medium size businesses, the engines of job creation, has dwindled over 2009 and 2010. America’s biggest companies are sitting on a hoard of $1.84 trillion dollars, which they are not investing in job-creating projects. The Deficit Commission recommended slashing corporate taxes, ostensibly to spur investment and job creation, which would ultimately generate taxable income to help balance the budget. As Rasmus points out, this wishful thinking is predicated upon the assumption that if only corporations had more money, they would invest it to create jobs. The fact that companies are already sitting on huge piles of cash suggests that shoveling more moolah on the pile won’t change the basic dynamic. Perhaps companies are waiting to invest because they know that consumers aren’t keen to buy goods and services when they are unemployed or fearing job loss.

Economic disobedience

At In These Times, Andrew Oxford interviews sociologist Lisa Dodson about her new book on getting by in the low-wage economy. Her research shows that as economic instability mounts, many Americans are quietly taking matters into their own hands:

To understand how fair-minded people survive in an unfair economy, Dodson interviewed hundreds of low-wage workers and their employers across the country, examining what she terms the “economic disobedience” now pervasive in the low-wage sector. From a supervisor padding paychecks to a grocer sending food home with his employees, these acts of disobedience form the subject of her latest book, The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy.

Winner-take all economy

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Yale political science profesor and  Jacob Hacker explains why the Deficit Commission has it all wrong when it comes to tax cuts vs. unemployment benefits.

Hacker studies inequality. He has written a book on how the richest Americans cornered an unprecedented share of the country’s wealth for themselves over the past three decades. The richest Americans have never been in a better position to help the country grapple with the deficit. Yet, as Hacker points out, the Deficit Commission wants to balance the budget on the backs of middle- and lower-income Americans by cutting spending on programs that disproportionately benefit working people and readjusting the tax code to make it even more favorable to the rich.

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

 

 

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