Weekly Diaspora: Has Obama Failed the Immigration Reform Movement?

by Catherine Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

After signing a controversial $600 million border security bill last week, President Barack Obama is drawing fire from immigration reform advocates and anti-immigrant conservatives alike. While the former argue that the new security measures are a step backwards for comprehensive immigration reform, the latter say the bill does too little to secure our borders.

Arizona’s SB 1070 was a challenge to the federal government’s ability to resolve the immigration issue, and the Obama administration took a strong stood against it. The border security bill is almost certainly a demonstration of the administration’s might. But for what, and at whose expense?

The further right the president moves on immigration, the more absurd the opposition’s tactics become. Anti-immigration activists are now directing their ire towards the unborn children of immigrants. Meanwhile, immigration activists in Arizona are butting heads with an increasingly vocal gang of Tea Party members and have yet to see any positive change as a result of the federal lawsuit.

Obama gets an F

At The American Prospect, Adam Serwer argues that Obama’s immigration policies have failed the reform movement, and that they have also failed to bring anti-immigrant conservatives into the fold:

…While President Obama talks like an immigration moderate, in practice his actions are those of an unapologetic immigration hawk who has tightened border security without fulfilling his promise of immigration reform. […] On matters of border security, the administration is doing just about everything a Republican might do in his place, which means that Republicans have had to go to even greater extremes just to provide an excuse for not going along.

The extremist crusade against the 14th amendment, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., is just one example of the lengths to which some conservatives will go to defy an administration whose immigration policies are already remarkably conservative.

Exposing the myth of the “anchor baby”

True to form, those calling for a repeal of the 14th amendment are now outdoing one another in an effort to appear even more extremely anti-immigrant. This week’s “terror baby” threat has eclipsed last week’s “anchor baby” threat, as some conservatives claim that pregnant immigrants are not only coming to the U.S. to give birth, but to raise their American babies as terrorists.

Robin Templeton of GritTv and Seth Hoy of AlterNet jumped on the issue this week. Both argue that, in far too many cases, the citizenship of an immigrant’s children has little bearing on whether or not she stays in the country, let alone become a U.S. citizen.

Templeton drives the point home by citing the case of Fatoumata Gassama, mother of six U.S. citizens, who fled Senegal to escape genital mutilation and is now faced with deportation. If deported, Templeton writes, “She will have no choice but to return with her children…including her 4 daughters, who would almost certainly be subjected to the same torture from which their mother sought refuge in the United States.”

The “anchor baby” threat is just the latest in a long list of sensational and unfounded claims put forth to demonize immigrants. According to the anti-immigrant contingent, we are at risk of losing jobs to immigrants, losing social services to immigrants, and even being criminally victimized by immigrants. Propagating such baseless misinformation is a common tactic, as most may remember from the health care reform debates.

Checking in on Arizona

Meanwhile in the nation’s anti-immigrant epicenter, Arizona, Tea Partiers are enjoying their heyday, and immigrants’ rights activists have yet to see any positive change resulting from the federal lawsuit against SB 1070.

As Naima Ramos-Chapman reports at Colorlines, gun-toting tea party activists kicked off the week with a border rally headlined by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who advertised some of his own immigration solutions including “a pre-emptive strike to hunt down immigrants on the Mexican side of the border.”

Arpaio’s apparent disregard for Mexico’s sovereignty notwithstanding, his anti-immigrant zeal is nothing new. As Aura Bogado reports for Mother Jones, the sheriff tormented immigrants for years before SB 1070 became a hot topic, indiscriminately rounding up people of color and jailing them under such poor conditions that many have left prison severely injured, while others have died.

On top of that, federal prosecutions of immigrants in Arizona are at a record high this year. According to Elise Foley at the Washington Independent, newly released data shows that immigration cases made up 84.5 percent of prosecutions in Arizona.

That’s good news, no doubt, to Arpaio. Maricopa county ranks among the highest in its prosecutions of non-criminal immigrants. Such findings are harder for reform advocates to swallow, particularly in light of Obama’s repeated assurances that his immigration measures primarily target criminals. The divide between Obama’s promises and the reality of the situation on the ground is glaring, and anti-immigrant forces know it.

In Arizona, for instance, both the state legislature and Governor Jan Brewer remain defiant even in the face of the federal lawsuit against SB 1070 (which itself challenged the president’s resolve on immigration reform), and have since passed or introduced other anti-immigrant bills, in addition to several currently in the works—Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez at Ms. has a good breakdown of recently passed and pending anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona.

Curbing Arizona’s reach

But while numerous states have come out in support of SB 1070, many copy-cat bills have already failed in other states. Many more are likely to meet the same end.

Suman Raghunathan at YES! Magazine suggests that states are broadly rejecting Arizona—thereby demonstrating that the intense anti-immigrant sentiment currently dominating the media belongs to only a small faction of extremists. Raghunathan furthermore argues that it is actually the anti-immigrant movement that is failing.

Given the highly-criticized events at the federal level, such as the signing of the new border security bill and the expansion of the Secure Communities program, Raghunathan’s position is optimistic, to say the least. But maybe, at this point in the game, the immigration reform camp needs a little optimism.

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: Will $600 Million Border Security Bill Target Innocents?

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Anti-immigrant forces have adeptly shaped the ongoing immigration debate into an issue of crime and punishment. Now, the pending passage of a $600 million border security bill could breathe new life into the narrative of the criminal immigrant – despite the increasing safety of our border communities.

The sentiment is familiar, if false: Crime in Mexico fuels migration, which breeds violence on the border, which must then be combated within our cities. The undocumented must be punished for stealing our jobs, stealing our services and ruining our neighborhoods. In Arizona, lawmakers like state senator Russell Pearce (who claims that his ring finger was shot off by a Latino gang member) used just that rhetoric to justify the passage of SB 1070 and other anti-immigrant laws.

The reality is far different. Not only do Mexicans and immigrants experience the worst of drug-related border violence, immigration enforcement programs have shifted their resources from combating trafficking to deporting non-criminal immigrants.

Securing the border against non-criminals

At ColorLines, Julianne Hing reports that a border security bill passed by the Senate last Friday would provide $600 million in funding for unmanned aerial drones, communications equipment and 1,500 new enforcement agents on the U.S.-Mexico border. The sum is in addition to $701 million recently approved by the House for similar militarization efforts at the border.

The Obama administration quickly affirmed its support of the bill, which was re-introduced in the House and will go before the Senate for another vote today. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano reiterated the president’s assurances that the new resources would primarily target “transnational criminal organizations” in an effort to reduce “the illicit trafficking of people, drugs, currency and weapons.”

Experts argue that this renewed emphasis on border security may encourage Republicans to cooperate in passing comprehensive immigration reform – a suggestion that some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), have been quick to endorse.

The government’s demonstrated border policing priorities don’t gel with the administration’s assurances that increases in border security will solely focus on organizing crime and trafficking. As the Immigration Policy Institute points out, federal prosecutions of smugglers and drug traffickers have gone down significantly as resources have shifted to the prosecution of non-criminal immigrants crossing the border illegally.

Policing the innocent instead of the criminal

As Elise Foley reports at the Washington Independent, newly released records show that a significant portion of those deported through the Secure Communities program — which requires local law enforcement to share fingerprints with federal authorities — had no criminal records.

That number constitutes one-fourth of deportees nationally, but the proportions are much higher county-to-county. In Maricopa county, Arizona — the home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio — 54 percent of deportees were non-criminals, while in Travis county, Texas, the figure was 80 percent.

Immigration advocacy groups argue that the new data defies DHS’s stated commitment to prioritizing dangerous illegal immigrants over non-criminals. “ICE has blatantly misrepresented the program by saying it focuses on high-risk illegal immigrants,” Sarahi Uribe, an organizer with National Day Laborer’s Organizers Network, told Foley.

Given ICE’s admitted lack of resources and the inhumane conditions documented in many detention centers, prioritization of non-criminal immigrants is a troubling reminder that the anti-crime rhetoric of the anti-immigrant Right is nothing more than a ruse.

U.S. border communities are safer than ever

Yet, despite the ugly picture painted by mass deportations and massively-funded border security bills, communities along the U.S.-Mexico border are actually quite safe.

As Elena Shore reports at New America Media, a new poll commissioned by the Border Network for Human Rights found that 87 percent of people living in 10 different U.S. border towns feel safe in their communities— a finding supported by other statistics:

An FBI report obtained by the Associated Press found that the four big U.S. cities with the lowest rates of violent crime are all along the border: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection report obtained by AP also found that being a Border Patrol agent is much less dangerous than being a street cop in most cities.

No asylum for Mexicans fleeing cartel violence

The relative safety of U.S. border communities stands in stark contrast, however, to that of their Mexican neighbors. While Americans live comfortably on the north side of the border, places like Ciudad Juarez (El Paso’s seedy sister city) are wracked by cartel violence.

At the Texas Observer, Susana Hayward examines the strained relationship between the two cities: one threatened by escalating drug violence, the other a gateway to largest drug market in the world. Chronicling the stories of Mexicans affected by the drug war, Hayward reminds us that while the U.S. repeatedly reaffirms its commitment to combating drug trafficking and to keeping the border safe, it offers no recourse to the scores of Mexicans who seek refuge from the violence.

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: Thousands Protest SB1070; Arizona Gov. Braces for Lawsuits

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

Over Memorial Day weekend, tens of thousands of people marched in Phoenix, AZ to protest SB1070, a law that immigrants to carry papers at all times and makes it possible for any police officer to detain on suspicion of immigration status alone.

At RaceWire, Jorge Rivas reports that “an official crowd estimate was not available for Saturday’s SB1070 protest,” but that “officials overheard on the police scanner estimated the crowd at about 30,000.” Marchers also demanded that President Barack Obama nullify SB1070 by means of a legal challenge from the Justice Department.

Phoenix has become well-known for its anti-immigrant hysteria. The city is part of Maricopa County, home to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for racial profiling after targeting Latino neighborhoods and work sites for raids. The Sheriff has also garnered addition civil rights lawsuits and a pending investigation by the Justice Department relating to civil liberties violations in Arpaio’s “Tent City” jail.

Meanwhile, the fate of a comprehensive immigration reform bill is up in the air. The U.S. Senate is balking at the issue, even though reform proponents continue to participate in civil disobedience actions and marches.

Bring in the Justice Department

But there may be hope. Jessica Pieklo at Care2 writes that “It is becoming clearer and clearer that the only resolution to this issue will be a federal-state showdown, reminiscent of the ordered de-segretation of the South.” This week, unidentified Justice Department officials traveled to Phoenix to discuss SB1070, which be enforced on July 29th. They came to no consensus.

In response to the number of anticipated legal challenges against SB1070, not to mention mounting national pressure, Eric Lach reports for TPM Live Wire that Gov. Jan Brewer will “have outside counsel defend the state against legal challenges to the laws — not the state’s Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat and one of Brewer’s opponents in Arizona’s gubernatorial race.” The announcement came shortly after federal officials traveled to the state to discuss SB1070.

Cops against SB1070

Back at Care2, Pieklo also notes that SB1070 has polarized Arizona’s law enforcement community, with “Sheriff Joe Arpaio and some associations representing rank-and-file officers supporting it while a number of police chiefs have expressed growing unease with the law and see it as a means of driving a wedge between law enforcement and the Latino community, which represents approximately one in three legal Arizona residents.”

Where’s Congress?

The U.S. Senate has been notably absent from the immigration reform debate. Even though a reform proposal is already on the House floor, if the Senate doesn’t introduce a bill soon, immigration reform will likely fail this year. Despite two separate proposed drafts of plans for a bill in the Senate, nothing has been introduced officially. Even if a bill is introduced, the Senate still needs time to debate it, which makes for an uneasy race against the clock.

Immigration and elections

AlterNet reporter Michele Waslin examines the how the immigration issue has influenced recent electoral primaries. “For the last several years Congress has failed come up with a solution, despite the evidence that this is an important issue to their constituencies,” Waslin writes.

“Because Congress hasn’t acted and the problem isn’t resolving itself, some states and localities have taken action—some out of a genuine desire to fix the problem, and others to score political points. The newly passed law in Arizona and the various copycats are evidence that the states are not backing down.”

Currently, the chances that the Senate will have the gumption to take on a reform bill appear bleak, especially with a Congressional election in November.

‘We want common sense to rule’

Meanwhile, the White House’s decision to send 1,200 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border has drawn sharp criticism from border communities in Texas. Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz, who represents roughly 7,000 constituents along the Rio Grande,  lobbied against the troop deployment.

“Before Congress throws more money at the border, we’re asking them to take a step back and assess whether it’s working first,” Franz said in an interview with The Texas Observer. “We want common sense to rule. We don’t want wasteful spending, and we don’t need any more walls.”

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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