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Department of Justice vs. Arizona

In the short time since Arizona passed SB 1070 into law, it has become one of the strongest and most controversial symbols of our nation’s debate on immigration. SB 1070 requires the police to stop anyone that has a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented but once enacted, it is believed that may well lead to unconstitutional racial profiling and a breakdown of trust between police and the communities they protect. But SB 1070 is also emblematic of the frustration that many have with our broken immigration system, a sign that states have decided to take immigration into their own hands as Congress remains in a deadlock over immigration reform. The latest catalyst for this debate -  a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice brought against the state of Arizona and SB1070 on July 6th, 2010.

Analysis over the implications of the lawsuit are rife in the media. Many are looking at the lawsuit and its potential for setting a new precedent with regards to the tussle between the federal government and state laws around immigration. Previous precedent shows a tendency for federal courts to side with the federal government on cases when states and cities pass laws that conflict with federal immigration law. An article in the Wall Street Journal traces this precedent back to laws in the 1880s aimed at limiting Chinese immigration. While the dispute could go either way, some analysts hold that that the federal court could only block sections of the law, while allowing some others to be enforced.

By bringing a lawsuit against the state of Arizona, the Obama administration (via the Justice Department) has taken a strong stand against the law. But an article in the Washington Post discusses further implications of this stand. The article quotes the Democratic strategist who spoke about the implications of the lawsuit for the Democrat party -

There is probably some short term pain politically given how popular the law is…But considering the demographic changes the country is undergoing, long term, there is a lot of upside in advocating for Latinos and comprehensive immigration reform.

While the Obama administration is advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, the Democrat party has continued to play safe so as not to alienate the large electoral base that supports the Arizona law and other enforcement heavy approaches to immigration. On the other hand, many Republicans, who support the law and an enforcement heavy approach, continue to emphasize a secure border-then reform approach, a rhetoric that leads to little progress on the issue. Republicans such as Senator John McCain,who previously argued for comprehensive reform, have abandoned their support of an immigration overhaul in the face of resentment and anger from within the party as well as from anti-immigrant groups such as the Tea Party Movement.

In the midst of all these actions are ordinary people suffering disruptions to their everyday lives on account of an immigration system that remains unjust and broken.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.org

President Obama gives immigration reform a boost on Independence Day weekend

How fitting it is that the day after President Obama delivered his first speech devoted entirely to the issue of immigration reform, 150 people are being sworn in as naturalized U.S. citizens on Ellis Island. In an address at American University, President Obama vowed not to “kick the can down the road” on immigration reform, restating his desire to fix a broken immigration system.

In his speech, the President asserted the need for a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people currently residing in the U.S. who do not have legal status, while stressing that the U.S. government secures the border, and businesses face consequences for hiring undocumented workers and keeping wages depressed. Calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive plan to fix an immigration system that is “fundamentally broken,” President Obama tackled the issue that has been the subject of contentious political debate in these months leading up to the mid-term November elections. He spoke about the “…estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States” and said that “the overwhelming majority of these men and women are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their children.” The President cautioned against rounding up and deporting the undocumented immigrants that are an intrinsic part of American society and economy, and against a blanket amnesty for all that he said would be “unwise and unfair…would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision,” and “could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. ” Instead, he advocated for a solution that eschewed both polar extremes of the debate in favor of rational middle ground. He said-

Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship.  And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable. Now, if the majority of Americans are skeptical of a blanket amnesty, they are also skeptical that it is possible to round up and deport 11 million people. They know it’s not possible. Such an effort would be logistically impossible and wildly expensive. Moreover, it would tear at the very fabric of this nation -– because immigrants who are here illegally are now intricately woven into that fabric.  Now, once we get past the two poles of this debate, it becomes possible to shape a practical, common-sense approach that reflects our heritage and our values.

This speech was influenced by a number of recent developments in the immigration issue. Most notably, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law that has set a precedent for states around the country taking the enforcement of immigration law into their own hands. Since April 23rd, when Arizona Gov. Brewer signed off on the law, its unconstitutional statutes that give a green light to racial profiling, have catapulted the immigration issue and the Federal government’s inaction on it, into center stage. The controversial “show me your papers” law, which is currently under review by the Department of Justice, has “fanned the flames of an already contentious debate,” Mr. Obama said. President Obama acknowledged the frustration that has led to Arizona and the 20 other states that are in the process of implementing similar laws as “understandable,” but stated that it was “ill- conceived” and that it “put huge pressure on local law enforcement to enforce rules that ultimately are unenforceable.” Referring to the police chiefs that have stood in opposition to SB1070, he said that laws such as these make communities less safe by “driving a wedge between communities and law enforcement, making our streets more dangerous and the jobs of our police officers more difficult.” He criticized this “patchwork of local immigration laws” for having “the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound.”

In his undeniably political speech, President Obama stressed the necessity for bipartisan support for immigration reform. He took Republicans to task for the lack of movement on immigration reform in Congress, specifically calling out the 11 Republicans Senators who had shown support for a comprehensive reform bill in 2006, and subsequently withdrawn this support, with the Republican party now unanimously calling for a “border security first” approach and balking at a comprehensive reform bill. Obama argued that the process has been “held hostage” by “political posturing, special-interest wrangling and . . . the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics.” Referring to his recent b0lstering of border security by sending 1200 troops to the border, he said that the border was now more secure than it had been in 20 years, and that crime along the border was at a record low. Moreover, he dismissed the “border security first” approach saying that the systemic problems were too vast to be fixed with “only fences and border patrols.”

The President’s speech has been criticized for offering no “new solutions, timetables or points of compromise. Instead, he outlined a longstanding prescription for change that, in addition to having no support from Republicans in Congress, also has failed to unite his fellow Democrats.”

And even as President Obama waits for bipartisan consensus on immigration reform, families continue to be torn apart, immigrant youth live in fear of being deported, violations in detention continue to grow and local and state police armed with immigration powers bring fear to communities. Many of these problems can be tackled be administrative measures, but there was little spoken of in the speech. No action was pledged on any of the bills already in Congress though he did mention support for the DREAM Act that would give undocumented students a chance to live in the U.S. And even with a forum for an announcement on whether the federal government is going to sue the state of Arizona, no mention was made on the issue. Many groups have decided to take action into their own hands.

Following on the heels of President Obama’s address, leading law enforcement officials shared their concerns about programs that require enforcement of immigration laws by state or local law police, a trend that continues in absence of a federal solution. With the country’s foremost police chiefs and sheriffs speaking out against such enforcement that undo decades of progress in community policing, Presente.org in collaboration with the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) and the Trail of DREAMs is launching an ambitious new campaign calling on the President to use his power to create real change, starting with ending the deeply problematic 287g program.

Reform Immigration for America is asking people to write to Senate Republicans, asking them to”stop holding up the process and hurting families” America’s Voice is asking people to support the DREAM Act, “a stepping-stone to broader reform that we can pass right now” to support “youth who would qualify to earn citizenship under the DREAM Act who are future valedictorians, nurses, computer programmers, and soldiers.”

And Restore Fairness is calling on President Obama and Members of Congress to fix the broken detention and deportation system that traumatizes families and has led to many human rights violations.

While we are encouraged by the President’s speech and commitment to the issue of immigration, and reminded of our nation’s proud immigrant heritage, there is a deep need for bipartisan action as peoples lives hang in the balance.

Photo courtesy of nydailynews.com

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John McCain betrays the immigration movement

How exactly does a leopard change his spots? Ask Senator John McCain. When asked about SB 1070, Arizona’s new anti-immigration bill and one of the harshest affronts to civil liberty and racial equality in recent memory, the previously pro-immigration Senator endorsed the legislation calling it a “good tool” and “an important step forward”. He went on to say the bill was a “commentary on the frustration of the state legislature” with the federal government and its inaction on the issue of immigration, and added that he understood the reasoning behind it. Back in 2004, the very same John McCain had spoken up in opposition to a ballot measure in Arizona which denied undocumented immigrants some public services, referring to it during a campaign for re-election to the Senate saying-

Things are terrible, and we’ve got to fix it…But we’re not going to fix it until we have comprehensive immigration reform…When there’s a demand, there’s going to be a supply. There are jobs that Americans will not do, so we have to make it possible for someone to come to this country to do a job that an American won’t do and then go back to the country from where they came.

From 2004 to 2007, Senator McCain worked closely with Senator Kennedy and immigration advocates to fight for comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that was as controversial back then as it is now. During that time, although he faced a lot of opposition for his stance on immigration reform from within the Republican party, he stood firm, denouncing a similar measure to SB 1070 approved by the House of Representatives as “anti-Hispanic.” In 2006, referring to his unpopularity within his party over the issue of immigration, Senator McCain noted

They tell me my poll rate has plummeted over this, but I’m a big boy, I can take it.

Today, his convictions seem to be completely at the mercy of his election opponent, former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who is staunchly anti-immigration. Speaking on the O’Reilly Factor on Tuesday night, Senator McCain offered a weak defense of the bill that directs police officers to stop anyone whom they suspect is undocumented, mandating racial profiling. When asked about the racial profiling angle, Senator McCain said that while he would be “very sorry” if that happened, the bill itself was justified by the-

…the people whose homes and property are being violated…The drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway…Look, our border is not secured. Our citizens are not safe.

Reneging on what has been one of his signature bipartisan issues in the past, Senator McCain’s position highlights one thing very clearly – while Sb 1070 will deeply impact the rights, dignity and safety of everyone in Arizona, decisions about it are based on political gamesmanship rather than on what is best for the residents of the State. In an article in the Huffington Post, veteran immigration advocate Frank Sharry expresses his deepest sadness that Senator McCain of all people, is supporting a bill that is “a civil rights retreat of historic proportions”.

Many groups are calling on the federal Government to intervene by overturning SB 1070 and asserting their authority to enforce immigration law. Condemning the bill for making racial profiling the norm, they point to its propensity to interfere with the ability of law enforcement to engage in its primary mission which is to protect and serve the community it works in.

In the wake of seemingly petty political charades, it is important to remember that views such as Senator McCain’s are being countered by law enforcement (Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police), faith-based groups and immigrant rights advocates that are working hard to condemn and protest the bill. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has received 11,931 calls, emails and faxes asking her to veto the bill, compared to only 1,356 in favor of it. Nine students protesting the bill through chanting and banging drums outside the Capitol were arrested “on suspicion of disorderly conduct” as 83,000 signatures against the bill were delivered to Governor Brewer’s office.

Make your voice heard and write to Governor Brewer today.

How far will the GOP go for the Latino vote?

In the 2008 Presidential Election, Republicans won only 31% of the Latino vote, down from 40% of Latino votes they had four years earlier when George Bush took office for the second time. And based on exit polls, it seems apparent that the Hispanic vote played a large part in President Obama’s Electoral College victory and win over John McCain. Add to this the fact that from 1998 to 2008 the number of Latinos eligible to vote rose by 21% (from 16.1 million to 19.5 million), and factor in estimates that say that by 2050 the Hispanic population is expected to increase by 200% and you get a reasonable explanation why Republicans are beginning to panic about how to ensure support from the Latino community. Now that Republicans have woken up to the fact that they desperately need to secure Hispanic support, the question is how they intend to go about doing this, and whether they have it in them to go beyond the surface and address issues that resonate deeply with the Latino community.

Earlier this month, America’s Voice brought out a report that spotlights the growing power of the Latino electorate and suggests that candidates in all political races should keep a close eye on the issues that influence the Latino vote if they intend to remain viable in the House and Senate elections for 2010. The report, The Power of the Latino Vote in America, gives a detailed account of Latino voting trends, identifies 40 Congressional races across 11 states where Latinos are likely to made a huge impact in the November elections, and makes a strong argument for how deeply the issue of immigration reform will affect the Hispanic vote.

While it rates the economy as the top-most issue for the Hispanic population, the report makes it clear that immigration reform has played a key role in how the Latino voters made their choices in 2008, and will continue to do so. The report says,

Polling of Latino voters shows that the Republican Party’s image has been severely damaged by GOP lawmakers’ demagoguery on the issue, and that the vast majority of Latinos simply will not vote for a candidate who advocates mass deportation instead of comprehensive immigration reform…Politicians of both parties also need to approach the issue responsibly during their election campaigns. Heated rhetoric coupled with unrealistic policy solutions like mass deportation will turn off both the crucial Latino voting bloc and other swing voters, who are tired of Washington policymakers talking tough, but delivering little.

But life isn’t hunky dory for Democrats either. Moving forward, the report tells us that while Hispanics have been tending towards the Democrats for years, taking the Latino vote for granted would be a huge fallacy on the part of Democrat candidates. The recent victory of GOP candidate Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts was attributed to the fact that Coakley failed to reach out to the Latino vote base, and works as a good warning to Democrats who must show leadership and work towards ensuring that their campaign promises be kept in order to keep the support of the powerful Hispanic voter base. Moreover, the Latino-swing constituency, comprising of foreign born, naturalized U.S. citizens of Latino descent who represent about 40% of the Latino population, tend to be favorable to some of the Republican ideals such as the emphasis on “family values.”

On the day of it’s release, Janet Murguia, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, wrote an article in the Huffington Post in which she prescribed that this report should be bedside reading for any politician in America today. And looking at the activities within a segment of the Republican party in the past few weeks, it looks like many have taken her advice quite seriously. Tea Party extremism aside, a number of Republican candidates in states such as California and Texas, seem to have adopted a more favorable attitude towards immigration reform in order to gain the support of the large Hispanic voter bases. In Texas, George P. Bush, an attorney of Mexican descent and son of Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has founded a political action committee, The Hispanic Republicans of Texas, aimed to promote Hispanics running for office. A number of Republican party strategists are researching social and economic issues that affect the Latino community. And in order to bridge the gap between the Hispanic community and Republican ideals, the Christian group, The Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, plans to spend $500,000 on helping pro-immigration Republican candidates and promote conservative values in the Latino community.

Running a focus group that is researching economic and social issues that face the Latino community, Former Republican National Committee Chairman, Ed Gillespie wants to reach out to Hispanic voters on issues that are important to them. Gillespie blames the loss of Latino support on past “Republican rhetoric,” and says that the key lies in changing the “tone and body language” when addressing the issue of immigration.

We have to make clear to Latino voters that we care as much about welcoming legal immigrants into our country as we do about keeping illegal ones out.

Actions speak louder than words. So while the new GOP language on immigration is evident when Sarah Palin said on Fox News that conservatives needed to be “welcoming and inviting to immigrants” and recognize that “immigrants built this great country,” a lot more than that is necessary before the tides turn. When Republicans stop blocking all immigration reform bills introduced in the Senate and the House, then we will talk.

UPDATE From Immigration Impact: While some high-profile Republicans are looking for ways to increase their support among Latino voters, a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies calls for the Republican Party to basically give up on Latinos for the time being, while sticking to its anti-immigrant guns.

Photo courtesy of immigration.change.org

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