Archive for the ‘Reform’ Tag
Comedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” (pronounced col-BEAR, and re-POUR…..and yes, as anyone who semi-regularly watches the show knows, Stephen would be horrified at my use of the word “bear” in the phonetic spelling of his name) took to Washington today to testify as a part of the “Protecting America’s Harvest” hearing in our nation’s capitol.
Colbert, the fake TV pundit, appeared before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigrants, Refugees, and Border Security “in character”—that is, as his neo-conservative, anti-intellectual, Republican mocking persona that has become such an icon alongside his Comedy Central counterpart, Jon Stewart. Earlier this week, as a part of his “Fallback Position” series exploring jobs available should his TV career falter, Colbert visited a farm in upstate New York to join the ranks of the migrant farm workers who are responsible for getting the food we eat from the fields to our tables. (Watch part one of the series here, part two here.)
Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who appeared in part one of Colbert’s report, invited Colbert to participate in the hearing presumably to draw attention to the plight of migrant farm workers, and to the “Take Our Jobs” campaign of the United Farm Workers union. And it worked; Lofgren commented at the outset of the hearing that she hadn’t seen so many cameras in the meeting room “since the impeachment.”
(It should be noted that the Democratic leadership is certainly not alone in tabbing celebrities to testify before congressional committees on subject matter that would appear to be far removed from their area of expertise. After all, as Colbert himself pointed out on his show Thursday night, Republicans once summoned “Elmo,” the “Sesame Street” puppet character to testify.)
All of the attention generated by Colbert’s appearance is terrific for such an important subject. But the overwhelming bulk of the coverage has focused solely on Colbert and his sarcasm filled opening statement (which, we were told by subcommittee member John Conyers, was significantly different from the written testimony he had submitted beforehand).
Not nearly enough attention has been paid to the actual discussion and issue at hand of the hearing itself. And that’s a shame.
Joining Colbert in testifying were Carol Swain, professor at Vanderbilt University; Phil Glaize, farm owner and Chairman of the U.S. Apple Association; and Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers of America.
Dr. Swain testified that her studies led her to the conclusion that there was, in fact, no shortage of American workers willing to man the fields. She cited the “experiment” of one Arkansas farmer who spent $250,000 of his own money on a program to provide transportation, better working conditions, and decent wages to Arkansans wanting to work harvesting his crops. Through this program he was able to provide jobs to dozens of African-Americans who were otherwise out of work and short on prospects. Swain held up this example as a triumph and an example that we don’t need migrant farm workers after all.
But on questioning, her argument fell apart. When Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) pointed to Dr. Swain’s written testimony that stated the grower in question discontinued the program because he couldn’t get any federal or state funding for it, she refused to acknowledge that perhaps he had stopped because it was too costly and unprofitable, and the only way to make it work would be with significant government subsidies.
Mr. Glaize had an entirely different take on the situation. As a farm owner and operator himself, he says the migrant workforce plays a vital role in keeping his business alive. Harvesting his apple crops, he says, is a time sensitive activity, and must be done within five days of the fruit ripening or else it will rot on the tree. It takes a certain level of skill to prune ripe apples without bruising the delicate fruit (which severely decreases their value) at a fast enough pace to harvest the entire crop in time. Even one day’s delay could cost the growers millions of dollars.
Glaize made two critical points: Farmers are usually leveraged to the hilt, exhausting every last line of credit available to them in order to get their crops to market. Even the slightest delay in getting the workforce to the crops could cause growers to lose a significant portion of their produce, causing them to ultimately default on their loans and lose at least part of their farm in order to pay them back. He cited one instance where the federal government held up Jamaican workers coming into the country legally on H-2A visas, sending the farming community into a panic. The Jamaican workers were ultimately allowed into the country just in the nick of time, and the farmers were subsequently able to get their fruit to market.
Farmers, Glaize says, face a dilemma. They are forced to choose “between a reliable, skilled and illegal workforce, or a bureaucratic, unreliable H-2A program.”
Arturo Rodriguez, the UFW President, told the committee about his group’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign. The workers were tired of hearing that they were such a drain on our society; that they were taking jobs away from qualified American workers; that there was a ready supply of workers LEGALLY here just champing at the bit to take over their jobs. It was the workers’ idea, Rodriguez said, to initiate the “Take Our Jobs” campaign.
“Take Our Jobs” has generated over three million hits to the UFW website, with over 8,000 people applying for agriculture jobs. To date, according to Rodriguez, there are only seven (7) out of the 8,000 people who have taken up farm work full-time.
Steve King (R-IA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA) appeared to dismiss the “study after study after study” that Lofgren says prove that there simply are not enough American workers willing to live the migrant workers’ lifestyle for the wages migrant workers earn ($18,000-20,000 per year, Lofgren says). The Republican subcommittee members unanimously opposed any kind of program that would allow illegal migrant workers to earn legal status, since it would in effect “send them to the front of the line.” Farm owners, they say, should choose from the available legal work force; that there is a backlog of people waiting to get into the country legally, and it would be unfair to those people seeking to enter the right way.
Republicans were also challenged by their Democratic counterparts on their demand that by increasing the wage workers earn, agricultural jobs would become more attractive to legal workers. Ted Poe (R-TX) used the example of offshore oil jobs, and how well paid those workers are. The trouble with Poe’s example is that workers on oil rigs earn high salaries due to the extremely dangerous nature of the work, which calls for hazard pay rates.
Republicans in Congress excoriate farmers for using illegal migrant workers, yet refuse to take steps to make it easier and more efficient for them to enter the United States legally. They criticize farmers for not paying workers enough, yet refuse to support raising the minimum wage.
Critics have been quick to chastise Congresswoman Lofgren for the “publicity stunt” of inviting Stephen Colbert to participate in the hearing. But at least he has attempted to shed light on a controversial subject through his platform as host of a nightly talk show. And although his use of satire in the segments of his program and in his live opening statements appeared to belittle the topic, his point was still clear.
But it was this “jokester,” as MSNBC put it, that perhaps came up with the most poignant moment of the hearing: When asked by Judy Chu (D-CA) why he chose to highlight migrant farm workers on his show, Colbert uncharacteristically broke character with a very honest, straightforward, and enlightening reply: “I like talking about people who don’t have any power,” he said. “And it seems like some of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave. That’s an interesting contradiction to me, and, you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, and these seem like the least of our brothers……..Migrant workers suffer, and have no rights.”
Watch the entire hearing here. It’s long (2 hours), but worth the time.
So you think that Airzona’s “Papers, Please” immigration law is no big deal and won’t lead to natural born U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent being persecuted?
Along comes the story of a Chicago man, born in Puerto Rico (making him a citizen of the United States), who was arrested last weekend. From the Huffington Post:
Despite presenting identifying documents and even his birth certificate, Caraballo was held by federal immigration authorities over the weekend and threatened with deportation, according to an NBC Chicago report. He was only released when his congressman, Luis Gutierrez — a vocal supporter of immigration reform — intervened on his behalf.
….Caraballo spent the weekend in the custody of federal immigration agents. When he presented them with ID and his birth certificate, he says officials were skeptical: “Because of the way I look, I have Mexican features, they pretty much assumed that my papers were fake.”
Any bets on how many U.S. citizens get deported from Arizona? Particularly in congressional districts represented by a Republican?
Let’s get something straight: The singular policy of locking down our borders will NOT solve our immigration problems. Nor will the lone act of granting “amnesty” to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country solve all of our problems. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, ignorant, or both.
Immigration reform is a complex issue. But there are too many people who think it’s a one-size-fits-all problem with a one-size-fits-all solution. The “NO IMMIGRATION, EVER, AT ALL!” crowd seems to have their panties in a wad because more sensible people comprehend that the current system is broken in complete shambles and needs to be fixed. But what I’d really like to know—and what I haven’t seen from these folks—is just how exactly their “NO IMMIGRATION, EVER, AT ALL!” proposals will make our situation any better? How, exactly, will it fix the problem? And just how do they propose to round-up the 10.8 million people the Department of Homeland Security estimates are in this country illegally and deport them?
The inconvenient truth is that we can’t. But let’s not let a little thing like reality get in the way of your fear-mongering rhetoric. No amount of border security is going to entirely eliminate the flow of illegal immigrants through Mexico into this country. Rather, it’s likely to have the effect of making it worse and more violent by forcing them even further underground and mandating their dependence on human traffickers and the drug and gun runners who place little value on human life. Indentured servitude will become the rule rather than the exception, making the conditions these people will have to endure even more horrid. But they’ll do it. They’ll still come. And the streets will become even bloodier because of it.
Let’s also be clear that the “amnesty only” approach won’t work, either. The immigration bill signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 didn’t have its intended effect for a number of reasons: Fraud in the application process was not adequately ferreted out, and often completely ignored; the heavy sanctions against employers who knowingly hired illegals were never properly enforced; we lacked the technology to prevent and detect forged documents and to efficiently and effectively enforce border security; the agricultural worker program never functioned the way it was supposed to….and the list goes on.
The 1986 legislation also did nothing to fix the legal immigration process: The system is still horribly backlogged and inefficient, resulting in decades long waiting lists in some cases. More than 10 years! On what planet is that reasonable?
There’s a proposal currently working its way through the U.S. Senate that aims to take up all aspects of immigration reform. Recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), along with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) released the framework for immigration reform that they will be working to present sometime in the near future. (It should also be noted that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) played a significant role in crafting this framework, but withdrew his official support because of his objections to the timing of the legislation.) This proposed framework seeks to fix our immigration crisis by:
- Securing our borders through increased manpower and the use of modern technological resources, such as ground sensors that detect border crossings in more rural areas and send messages to Border Patrol agents stationed nearby. It also calls for the use of unmanned aerial surveillance drones similar to the Predator drones used by the military to patrol more isolated border areas. These resources were not available 20 years ago, and will make the job of securing the borders easier.
- Better equipping the agents and agencies tasked with enforcement, including more and better vehicles, computers, and communications equipment. It demands a more cooperative and integrated effort among the Border Patrol, ICE, DEA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to better track and hunt down the drug and gun runners and human traffickers.
- Reforming the current legal immigration system to make it more streamlined and efficient. The current system is horribly backlogged and inefficient, and has resulted in many cases in a decades long wait in order to legally come to this country.
- Providing an avenue for those currently in the country illegally to obtain “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” status. In order to qualify for LPI status, individuals will be required to register with Homeland Security, undergo extensive background and security checks, supply basic biometric information (i.e. fingerprints, just like at the DMV), and pay fines and taxes. Those who do not qualify for LPI status will be deported.
- After eight years, those who have been granted LPI status can then apply for “Lawful Permanent Resident” status by meeting certain criteria: Basic citizenship skills, English language skills, having maintained continuous residence in the U.S., updated security and criminal history checks, and they must register for the Selective Service.
- Creating a temporary worker program so that seasonal workers can return home once the seasonal work is done. Many of the migrant workers currently here don’t leave because they can’t; they won’t be able to return to the U.S. for the next round of seasonal work if they do.
- Stepping up enforcement on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
But perhaps the most important thing the proposal does—with regards to workers, at least—is to provide biometric Social Security cards that can be electronically scanned and contain basic identification information, including fingerprint info, that positively identifies the card holder. These cards will be issued to permanent and temporary workers alike, and allow authorities to keep track of who’s here, who’s here that’s not supposed to be here, and ensure that they pay taxes just like every U.S. citizen. This will also make it easy for employers to quickly and accurately determine if a prospective hire is legally allowed to work in the U.S., and will prevent employers from undercutting wages by going directly for the undocumented workers. The advanced technologies to be used in these cards make them virtually impossible to forge.
Look, the current system doesn’t work. At all. And the right-wing “Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement!” approach is only going to make things worse. It’s a lot like the “Drill, baby, drill!” mantra. Lasering in on one approach won’t do anything to address the root causes of illegal immigration any more than drilling for more oil reduces our dependence on oil. An all-of-the-above approach strives to eliminate the need for people to cross our borders and stay here illegally, while simultaneously helping to weed out the bad seeds. It also allows American businesses access to a vital workforce.
It’s impossible and impractical to identify, round-up, and deport nearly 11 million people. It just can’t happen. It’s even dumber to make that the cornerstone of any (anti) immigration policy. No, the proposed framework isn’t perfect. Guess what? It’s a proposal with stated, achievable goals. There’s a lot of work yet to be done to fine tune it and fill in the details. It’s a pretty good start, though, and it addresses our immigration debacle in a way that actually makes sense.
We’ll never be able to solve our most complex problems until we learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. But it certainly doesn’t help when one faction continuously insists that we’re too simple-minded and not capable of doing so.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell talking about the border security and immigration reform:
Kentucky GOP/Tea Party Senate candidate Rand Paul has had a rough couple of days. On Wednesday he went on NPR and MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” and criticized the provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that makes it illegal for private business to discriminate on the basis of race. Today Dr. Paul declared the Obama Administration’s criticism of BP for their actions leading up to last month’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and subsequent incompetence in attempting to stem the leak as “un-American.” It’s not BP’s fault, he implied, and said “accidents happen.”
True, accidents happen. But it’s also true that many—if not most—accidents can be prevented, as certainly this one could have. Had there been proper oversight, had regulators not simply taken BP’s word for it that their operations in the deep waters of the Gulf were perfectly safe, and that they knew exactly what to do in the highly unlikely event that there was a spill and could easily clean it up, we would not be seeing the catastrophe we’re seeing now.
And yes, it is absolutely BP’s fault, because they skirted safety regulations, cut corners in testing, lied about their ability to contain a spill, and in partnership with Transocean (the doomed rig’s operator) and Haliburton (the installer of the “fail safe” blowout preventer) had they not skipped the step of filling the drill site with mud to prevent such leaks, and covered up and lied about defects and test failures in the blowout preventer, then this particular spill would never have happened.
But this compulsive need by Paul and many of his Republican contemporaries to exonerate Big Oil from any wrongdoing is what is really troubling to me. And the desire to protect these corporate entities from accountability is what is bringing this country to its knees.
Last week, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) blocked a measure in the Senate that would have increased the liability cap on oil companies from $75 million to $10 billion. Earlier this week it was Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) that stood in the way of ensuring that BP and all other firms are held financially responsible for the repercussions of their failures. It’s OK, they said; BP promised they’d clean it up and pay costs. We should just take them at their word, like we did when they promised us this technology was perfectly safe.
The result of this unwillingness to place accountability and responsibility where it belongs is what is going to end up costing the American taxpayer tens of billions of dollars to clean up this mess. Face it: BP didn’t get hurt (much) by this accident. But 11 people died on that rig, the Louisiana coastline is beginning to see gobs of oil staining its shore, fisheries have been closed down because of the massive oil slick putting countless fishermen out of work, creating a ripple effect that will devastate an already depressed local economy. And the smell that has to be endured by all that live in the Gulf region, lowering their quality of life.
And that doesn’t account for the sea life and marsh lands that will be destroyed. But it’s not BP’s fault, and they shouldn’t be criticized. It’s “un-American.”
This is the same attitude that led to the banking collapse in 2008. No regulation, no accountability; bankers and Wall St. execs are free to do whatever they damn well please with no regard to the potential consequences their actions will have on the rest of America. Even now Republicans are loath to put rules into place that will ensure such a monumental collapse will never happen again. We shouldn’t hamper private industry from doing whatever it wants in pursuit of profit. And when they fail and bring the entire economy to the brink of complete collapse, ruining the lives of tens of millions of people across the country, it’s ok. The government will be there to prop them up and make sure they don’t lose any of their fortune.
It was Republicans that insisted the deregulatory policies that led to the energy crisis in California, which led to the fraudulent and corrupt business practices at Enron, and which ultimately led to the collapse of that company and their accounting firm, Arthur Andersen.
It was the Republicans who were against regulating health insurance companies, out of fear that actually making them make good on claims and provide for the health care needs of their customers would have an adverse effect on their bottom lines. Never mind the billions of dollars in profits they make.
It is Republican policies, greed, and disregard for their constituents who are not Wall St. or Big Oil execs that perpetuate the need for the government to step in and bail these companies out to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.
“Trickle down economics” doesn’t work! It never has, and it never will! And allowing businesses to operate without any kind of rules or regulations always leads to disaster. And who ends up paying? The taxpayer does. So why are Repubs and their Tea Party compatriots complaining so much? This is exactly the way they wanted things! They got precisely what they wanted!
Maybe they should be a bit more careful about what they wish for.
So what’s next, Dr. Paul? Should we not allow the government to make sure that the medications we take won’t kill us? Should we not allow the government to monitor whether or not the food we eat is poisoned? Should the government not be allowed to prevent manufacturers from spewing noxious gases into the air we breathe? Toxic chemicals from getting into the water we drink? Should there be no rules against businesses lying to or misleading their customers and stealing their money? Do private businesses always do the ethical thing, and do they never put the general public at risk? And how do you propose to stop them when they do if there are no laws to stop them? If government can’t act to protect its citizens, then how do we know that we can stay safe?
With all the crying and complaining about “government bailouts” you would think that Republicans would want to do everything possible to make sure that the government would not have to “bail out” major industries ever again. You would think that they would be all in favor of tighter regulations and increased accountability in American business, but you’d be wrong. Dead wrong.
In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s Republicans that want to ensure that government continues to bear the responsibility of coming to the rescue of irresponsible American corporate interests. Of course they won’t dare say so, but it’s true. Facts are facts, and what we’ve seen recently–particularly since the inauguration of President Obama–only serves to prove the point.
President Obama today spoke in front of the White House about the deepening crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. In a politically correct manner he berated BP, Haliburton, and Transocean execs for their Teflon behavior during this past week’s congressional hearings on the oil spill in the Gulf.
Not a single one of the companies involved were willing to take responsibility for the utter, complete, and disastrous failures of their firms. And while BP claims that they’re willing to shoulder the responsibility to clean the mess up (yeah, right), all three companies are simply thrilled that the government has taken the lead in trying to contain the spill and prevent the oil from completely covering the Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi shore lines.
And you know who’s going to end up paying the majority of the costs? The United States taxpayer, that’s who. And while it’s perfectly reasonable for the U.S. Government to pitch in resources that private industries typically don’t have access to (like containment booms, a fleet of ships, and other equipment), it’s is totally UNreasonable for the government to have to bear the brunt of the cost because these companies irresponsibly cut corners and blatantly ignored safety regulations and procedures in order to save a few dollars. And it’s Republicans that insist on allowing that laissez-faire attitude toward protecting the environment and allowing safety standards–both for the workers involved and in prevention measures–to continue.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) yesterday blocked a bill presented by Senator Robert Menendez (R-NJ) that would have increased the liability cap on oil companies from $75 million to $10 billion. She was concerned that it will put too much of a burden on her corporate oil overlords and could drive them out of business. Never mind that last quarter alone BP realized profits of over $5 billion. Never mind that according to Menendez the top five oil companies saw $25 billion in profits in the first three months of 2010.
That’s profits! That’s how much they made after expenses, and how much they get to keep! Yet Murkowski claims that $10 billion will put these companies at risk. Better the public suffer than careless corporations.
So the government is left to pick up the tab, just like they were forced to pick up the tab after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. And Republicans are against bailouts?
The current spill happened because there was virtually no oversight. It happened because of the culture of allowing the oil companies to do whatever they want, of leaving them to make up the rules and decide how they are to be enforced. And this is not the first time that BP was grossly negligent in following and enforcing safety standards: In 2005 a refinery in Texas City, TX, exploded, killing 15 BP employees and injuring 170 others. That accident resulted in the largest fines in industry history, but apparently either BP didn’t learn it’s lesson or simply doesn’t care.
But it’s not just the oil companies that Republicans get chummy with and vow to protect from “crippling regulation.” Recently Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) met with banking industry and Wall Street execs to ensure them that they would do everything they can to prevent the Democrats from passing any kind of meaningful reform. This shortly after House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) exhorted Wall Street execs to stand up to the “little punk staffers” and fight against financial reform. Never mind that it was the complete lack of rules and regulation that allowed Wall Street and the banking industry to nearly collapse the American economy.
It was Republicans who were against any kind of meaningful health care reform, desperate to protect insurance industry profits. And yet without meaningful reform, it’s the American taxpayer that gets stuck paying for the hospital visits of those without any health insurance. “Everybody gets healthcare” they tell us “They can just go to the emergency room and they get taken care of.” But who pays the hospitals for those emergency room visits?
Republicans are far more interested in protecting corporate profits than they are in protecting the public interest. Their opposition to any kind of meaningful reform guarantees that the government will be required to step in and pick up the tab when disaster strikes due to corporate negligence. It’s the government’s job to protect the economic interests of the country, yet right wingers won’t allow it to be done through regulation, so it must be done through bailouts.
Republicans insist on allowing their corporate benefactors to use their virtually unlimited resources to influence our elections, especially when it drowns out the interests of the every day average citizen. They want to make sure the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class all but disappears, and we were set firmly on that path during the Bush administration.
The only interests that concern Republicans are the interests of those who can put gobs of cash into their pockets. The fact that Republican lawmakers were hired by the voters to protect their interests matters little.
So just whose side are the Republicans on? Because it’s pretty clear that they don’t care a whiff about the constituents they’re supposed to serve. And the current stance guarantees that taxpayers will be left to clean up corporate messes.
Why is it that the very idea of comprehensive immigration reform is such an onerous idea for those on the Right? It seems that they’d rather grouse about immigration and lament that illegal immigration is such a drag on our society, but when it comes to sitting down and doing the hard work to actually do something to solve the problem, they hem and haw and head for the hills.
The Democrats haven’t exactly been out front on the issue, either, but then again, until now they haven’t had the power to meaningfully address the issue. And while they haven’t officailly put it on the table, at least they don’t run away from it (not yet, anyway). Give credit too to George W. Bush for at least attempting to bring the issue to the fore, only to see his Republican friends in Congress scurry away from it like cockroaches. After all, we wouldn’t want them to actually tackle an issue that was hard, now, would we?
See, Republicans tend to see this as a very simple issue with pretty simple answers: More guns, more barriers, more muscle, more enforcement on the border. But it’s not that simple. Far from it. The enforcement only band-aid won’t fix our problems. Closing the borders and sealing it off so that no one gets in at all will only exacerbate the problem. And it’s wholly unrealistic. People who want to sneak in will still find ways to do so.
Arizona and (to a slightly lesser extent) California have a very serious problem and are in dire need of very serious solutions. The trouble is no one seems willing to do the heavy lifting required to find serious solutions. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been screaming for years for more federal attention, with some success; then again, it is a bit less of a challenge to patrol 140 miles of border than it is to patrol 351 miles of barren desert. But our senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, haven’t done enough to heed Schwarzenegger’s call and push the federal government to take serious action.
In Arizona, the former self-proclaimed “Maverick” turned political coward John McCain and his Arizona Senate colleague Jon Kyl used to be vocal proponents of comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform. They realized that their state was in a bad way, and at one time actually thought about doing something about it. But, as the Arizona Republic excoriates in their front page editorial this past weekend, they’ve both abandoned their supposed principles in favor of political expediency in order to pander to their extreme right-wing base. Solving a complex problem involves instituting some policies that are politically unpopular with the Republican base and plutonium for the Republican leadership, so it’s off limits.
Policies such as creating a path to citizenship for those already here. That way the U.S. government could document who’s here, conduct background checks on them to help ensure that the criminal element is kept in check, and separate the wheat from the chaff: It can then be presumed that those who actually register want to work toward citizenship and become productive members of our society. They can then have their status normalized, be able to legally find a job and pay taxes, be able to be monitored, and be set on a rigorous course to citizenship. Those who refuse to participate or don’t measure up in the background check can be assumed to be here for less than honorable reasons, and thus can be deported when caught.
Policies like streamlining and simplifying the process to immigrate legally. We have the technology now to do this and make it unnecessary for so many to risk their lives to cross illegally and live their lives on the lam when they get here. The reason so many do it is because the process as it stands is so difficult and cumbersome and horribly inefficient. It takes years, sometimes decades to come here legally through the system, and these folks simply don’t have that kind of time. Speed it up and give them hope that they can go through proper channels. Allowing them to come here legally ensures that they can pay their taxes and not simply leech off of our society. Background checks and government scrutiny will help to filter out the bad seeds from those looking to come in earnest.
Policies like creating a guest worker program so that migrant workers can come and work in the fields or at other seasonal jobs, and then be free to return home having earned enough money to provide for their families and without the worry of not being able to cross back into the U.S. for the next round. Many of those here illegally would go back if they could, but because of the difficulties and dangers they face in crossing the border northward, once they’re here they’re stuck. And the simple fact is that our farms and industries need them and their services.
Reforming our immigration system would also reduce the migrants’ need to rely on the drug traffickers and gun runners that have made life such a living hell and has put so many migrants into indentured servitude, and that has made life so miserable and frightening for so many living in what would otherwise be quiet, safe neighborhoods. By taking away the power of the drug cartels to traffic in human suffering, we diminish their power to terrorize our neighborhoods.
And then there’s the unthinkable policies that would tighten and strengthen our gun laws in an effort to make it as near to impossible as we can for the cartels to arm themselves to the teeth on this side of the border with all manner of advanced weaponry that allows them to outgun the Mexican authorities who are attempting to curtail their reign of terror in the border region. Authorities have determined that Houston is the number one source of weapons for the drug cartels, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the weapons seized between 2007 and 2008.
The ATF is stepping up its efforts to track the sources of weapons, spreading their new eTrace system into U.S. consulates in Mexico and providing access to Mexican authorities in an effort to track the sources of cartel weapons, and has concluded that the problem of supply lies on the northern side of the border. It was guns from the U.S. that were used in the massacre at an Acapulco resort in 2007. Mexican authorities have practically begged U.S. authorities to clamp down on the gun trade, but the gun rights advocates will have none of it. They apparently don’t understand, or just plain don’t care, that their insistence on their right to own any kind of sub-machine gun or high-powered rifle that rapid fires rounds more akin to artillery shells than more conventional bullets is what is enabling the cartels to do what they do and how they do it. Cut off the supply of guns, and you emasculate their ability to control the border region through terror.
Solving our immigration problem will be hard work, and will involve enacting a lot of policies that may not be politically popular. But that’s what we sent our representatives to Washington for; to do what needs to be done, not what’s politically popular or expedient. It’s time to stop crying about it and start doing something about it. It’s time for the Republicans to stop trying to make a very complex and complicated issue into a simple matter of enforcement. It’s time for the Democrats to get off their collective asses and work to solve another difficult problem.
It’s time for President Obama and Speaker Pelosi to follow through on their pledge to worry more about solving problems than winning elections. Fix what’s broken and the elections will take care of themselves.
UPDATE: Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who was arrested this past weekend at an immigration rally outside the White House for “failure to obey a lawful order from a U.S. Park policeman,” on with Keith Olbermann this evening discussing proposals he intends to advance in Congress:
Section 1: All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. Ratified July 9, 1868. Citizenship has been a birthright in the United States for over two centuries. It was ratified as absolute into the U.S. Constitution in 1868, and has been an unquestioned pillar of American society ever since. Apparently until now, that is.
If two United States Congressmen from San Diego have their way, the right of citizenship will no longer be bestowed upon those born within U.S. borders or in U.S. territories. And if they have their way, the children born of immigrants in the country illegally will effectively retroactively have their citizenship revoked and be deported along with their parents.
This past weekend, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) spoke at a Tea Party gathering in Ramona, CA, a more rural community in East San Diego County. Hunter was asked whether he thought that U.S. born children of illegal immigrants should be deported along with their parents. Hunter: “I would have to, yes. And let me tell you why. You can say, ‘You are a mean guy. That’s not a humanitarian thing to do.’ We simply cannot afford what we’re doing right now. We just can’t afford it. California is going under. We’re not being mean. We’re just saying, ‘It takes more than just walking across the border to become an American citizen.’ It’s within our souls.”
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), when asked about Hunter’s comments, agreed, telling the North County Times that “if the parents are deported, their U.S.-born children should go with them unless the parents can find a legal resident guardian who can take care of the kids.”
So much for Republican “family values.” What Hunter and Bilbray want everyone to believe, and what the supporters of the Arizona anti-immigration law seem to imply, is that all immigrants are criminals. They’re here to cheat our system, steal from us, and murder our citizens. They don’t belong in our country, period. The image they want to leave you with is that anyone of a darker complexion that might come from another country should be treated as suspicious because it is assumed they’re here to do you or your property harm; they are a drain on our system and a threat to our way of life.
What they don’t tell you, and what they don’t want you to know, is that the overwhelming majority of immigrants—legal and illegal alike—are good, decent, hard-working people simply looking to make a better life for themselves and their families. They don’t want you to know that they pay their taxes (and in the case of illegal workers, without getting any of the benefits that most taxpayers are entitled to), that they are active in their church communities, that their children excel in school.
My brother is an attorney. When he was in law school, he worked on a case where a family that had been here in California illegally faced deportation. The parents came here dirt poor with their two children. The father worked in the fields as a picker for several years, before finding a job at a McDonald’s where he used root through the dumpster to find food to feed his family. He eventually found a job cleaning a school. In the country illegally, he was forced to use someone else’s social security number in order to get on the payroll. He paid his taxes, but received no benefits. He was a hard worker and well liked, and as such he was promoted several times. He also volunteered his time to clean his church, eventually being asked to lead a crew of 20 to clean various churches around the area.
His wife found a job washing dishes in a cafeteria near a prison, and worked her way up through the ranks. She was eventually promoted to store manager. They were both active in their church and were very generous in donating their time to various charities.
They brought with them two children, the oldest of whom was four when they arrived in the U.S. He became the Valedictorian of his high school class with a 4.0+ GPA, was a football star, an Eagle Scout, active in various church charities……Upon graduation from high school, unable to obtain financing for college due to his immigration status, he was forced to take a job washing dishes in a restaurant while attending junior college when he could afford it.
Their second child was also an excellent student. In addition to her church charity work, while still in high school, she started her own charity to clothe the poor in the Bay Area.
A third child was born here in the United States, and thus was afforded automatic citizenship. He too became an honors student, a Boy Scout, and by the age of 12 was designing websites and writing basic computer programs in his spare time. He had aspirations of becoming an officer in the United States Air Force.
Tired of living a lie and in constant fear, desperate to find a way to normalize their immigration status, they were convinced by an attorney that he could help them, but only if they turned themselves in to the INS. They were immediately placed into deportation proceedings while the attorney, who had taken $15,000 from the family, walked away from the case.
Their cause was taken up on a pro bono basis by a group of immigration attorneys along with several law students, including my brother. They immediately filed for a Cancellation of Removal, arguing that by deporting the parents, they would also be forced to deport the youngest child, a U.S. citizen (which cannot legally be done). They had no relatives, no family in the U.S., so there was no one to look after the youngest had the family been separated. So in effect, they would be deporting a U.S. citizen.
The youngest (by this time a young teenager) did not speak or read Spanish well at all. Had he been forced to attend a Mexican school, he would have been set back several years. His grades would plummet (remember, he was an honors student), he would suffer the severe psychological and emotional damage of having been ripped out of his own culture. In his anguish and frustration, this incredibly bright young man, a model citizen and certain future leader, would most assuredly become a delinquent. “When he grew up and came back to the U.S., as is his right, he would likely become a burden to society.”
During the short trial, the white, southern born and bred, ex-warden judge heard testimony from the town mayor, the boy’s teachers, the Boy Scout leaders, and a child psychologist. After four hours of proceedings, the judge was ready to issue his ruling.
As a result of the trial, the parents were issued green cards, and after five years, were eligible to apply for citizenship themselves. The two older children, however, were left without legal status.
There are many, many other stories similar to this one. These are the stories that the “Nativists” like Duncan Hunter, Brian Bilbray, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, FAIR, and others of their ilk don’t want you to know about. They don’t want you to find out that they contribute to society and are not the pocks Conservatives tirelessly scream about.
What our country needs is real immigration reform. We need to provide an avenue for the good and decent people who want to be a part of our society to normalize their immigration status and work toward becoming U.S. citizens. We need to streamline the process for legal immigration, including extensive background checks, so that desperate people no longer have to risk everything in order to come to our country. We do need to tighten our borders and strengthen our border security to keep the parasites—the drug dealers, the gun runners, the career criminals—out of our country. And we also need Mexico to do its part and improve conditions in their society so that so many people no longer feel the need to abandon their own country in favor of ours.
What we don’t need is for our politicians to wave the Constitution around when it suits them, but to completely eschew it when it becomes an inconvenience. You can’t have it both ways; either you’re for Constitutional rights or you’re not. If we start allowing U.S. citizens to be deported, then where will it end? Where do you draw the line? And what’s to stop that line from getting moved farther and farther back to the point where any citizen can be denied his or her rights on the whim of a person with power?
What we are witnessing now is the rebirth of McCarthyism, where the mere suspicion of illegal status (i.e. Latino) is enough to have a person detained. Heretics incite the fear of the Great Immigrant Invasion, where our laws and our very existence are being threatened into oblivion! Where the next step is to require them to wear some sort of identifying mark at all times. Where they can be harassed for any reason at any time, and segregated into ghettos. Where walking the streets while different is a crime.
We now live in a time when brown is the new black.
Besides, as John Wayne said: “Who are you calling alien, pilgrim?”