Monthly Archives: April 2010

SB1070 highlights problem w/ “Illegal Alien” meme

It has taken the ludicrous extremes of SB1070 to clarify once and for all the mission of the “No person is illegal.”  It’s mission is to educate the public about the damage caused by the term “illegal alien,” a concept that is undefined in the immigration law code and that denies the humanity of persons who are forced to wear the label.

The idea is simple. We are not our actions or behavior. Human being are neither good nor bad; rather they do good or bad things. They are neither legal nor illegal. Rather they engage in conduct that is legal or unlawful.  When they engage in behavior that is unlawful, they may be labeled a suspect or convict or criminal, which defines them as somebody who committed or is charged with committing an unlawful act. But they themselves are not illegal. Their identity is not unlawful.

Here is the point. Were someone declared to be illegal just because of the unlawful acts they commit, there would be many millions more “illegals” walking the streets. If one were labeled illegal for an act they haven’t been tried for, which is the case with most “illegal aliens” then most of us would be “illegal,” in some capacity or another. an illegal jay-walker, or illegal loiterer, or whatever.

This is all the more the case since the offense of being undocumented in this country is a civil offense, not even a crime, and entering the country without papers is a misdemeanor, sort of like loitering or jaywalking.

Now in the immigration field, being undocumented comes with the excess baggage of having your identity dismissed as “illegal: If you are illegal in your essence, then perhaps the police should come to round you up. But then, if all your have done is cross an imaginary line without papers or overstayed a visa, then perhaps society ought to leave your essence alone and just deal with the relatively minor infraction of being out of status.

SB1070 functions as if human beings are illegal. SB1070 is excessive if indeed it is dealing with individuals whose only alleged offense is administrative or a misdemeanor. Not even the war on drugs imagines placing everyone in a state under suspicion for having smoked a joint or taken a pill. Nor would it because we are a nation of laws. It seems a shame that the rule of law does not pertain to Latino immigrants in Arizona.

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SB1070 and Schumer/Graham: Cut from the Same Cloth?

Regardless of whether comprehensive immigration reform becomes law this year, 2010 has become the year of criminalizing immigrants.  Criminalizing immigrants has become the conservative AND liberal approach to resolving pesky immigration problems.  The polity has witnessed a remarkable convergence amongst liberal and conservatives that undocumented immigrants are criminals and deserve neither dignity nor rights in their efforts to make a better life for themselves and families.

The outcome? Reform or not, what’s occurring is a near pogrom against unauthorized immigrants and people who look like them.

In Arizona, already–and about 90 days before the new law is scheduled to go into effect– a Latino truck driver—born in Fresno—was arrested and detained for not having his birth certificate.  The law itself racially profiles all Latinos in Arizona.  It makes it a criminal offense to be an “illegal alien—and charges local police to identify and arrest them. Since even the governor who signed the bill cannot identify an undocumented immigrant, and no definition exists in the federal immigration code, all persons are under suspicion.  The only way in which the state avoids racial profiling is to ask all persons regardless of race/ ethnic considerations for their papers. This police state tactic would have a difficult time squaring with the law’s backer’s “don’t tread on me” mindset.

The Obama Administration offers itself up to the rescue.  Foreseeing the Governor signing SB 1070, Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi reshuffled their legislative agenda this session and placed comprehensive immigration reform on the front burner.  They present CIR as the rational and reasonable alternative to SB 1070.

Problem is the version of CIR that Obama supports (Schumer/Graham), criminalizes immigrants if in a less obvious manner.

At bottom, as the writer Anis Shivani suggests, the similarities between SB 1070 and CIR are perhaps greater than the differences.  They both contribute to and result from a culture of criminalization and xenophobia in Obama’s America.

Although SB 1070, places all Latinos under suspicion, CIR slightly less broad scope still criminalizes all Latino immigrants who have the misfortune of having their information taken down by a police officer and fed into a database.

Consider ICE ACCESS. The CIR likely will codify ICE ACCESS, which consists of 14 existing federal/state/local immigration law enforcement provisions, which include 287(g), CSAP and Secure Communities.  It will legitimize, expand and extend these ICE ACCESS programs in a discredited broken windows approach to immigration, and racial profiling.

Under these programs, if an individual is pulled over by a cop, any record of prior law breaking could trigger an ICE agent to put a detainer in their file under 287(g), CAP or Secure Communities.  The detainer prevents the immigrant from being released and instead signals the transfer of the immigrant to ICE custody for detention and possible removal.  This process is triggered by no more than a traffic stop or broken taillight. Sometimes even less than that is needed.

Until now the Obama Administration has allocated over a billion dollars to such ACCESS criminal alien programs.  In FY 2010, it allocated $1.5 billion to CAP and Secure Communities, and proposes additional hikes for FY 2011.

Such embrace of ACCESS is bewildering and continues to plague Latino communities at the Constitution’s great peril.  CIR will also expand Secure Communities with biometric work authorization cards for everybody.

Who would have thought the liberal alternative to Arizona’s draconian law would consist of biometric work authorization, and a doubling down on programs that support police mishandling of immigrants as suspected criminal aliens?

When did collective guilt until innocence is proven become a liberal idea?  Such is the scary rational alternative that Schumer/Graham would have us consider.

How SB 1070 can Split the Tea Party

There are roughly two tracks to the Tea Party: one is the Ron Paul libertarian track, the other is the Palin track.  Only one track supports SB 1070: the Palinistas. Theirs is the incoherent wing: they hate big government; want to overthrow big government; deny they want to overthrow big government; and finally, they love big government when it comes to the police state expanding executive power over minorities like immigrants.  They hate Mexicans even more than they hate the big government.

Not so the Paulistas: at least their approach is somewhat consistent: they hate big government. Period. They despise the police state and for this reason they oppose SB1070.  They are libertarian shen it comes to both economic and social policy.

I would encourage the Paulistas to join the marches and protests in Arizona. I would also encourage the mainstream media to start pressing the Palinistas on the logical inconsistency of their hate.

Shoes Now the Window to the “Illegal’s” Sole

The sign that the Bush Administration had run out of all legitimacy came during that press conference in Baghdad when Bush dodged two pair of shoes thrown at him by a reporter.

The sign that BUsh had not made the country safer after 911 came that day in December 2001 when Richard Reid attempted to blow up a plane with his shoe.

And finally, the sign that anti immigrant politics had finally gone flat out crazy came when the state of Arizona now looks to an individual’s shoes to see where there is reasonable suspicion to arrest them for being unauthorized. I own a  campaign button from the 1956 presidential campaign; it shows a hole in the shoe of Adlai Stevenson. Having a hole in the shoe back in ’56 showed the candidate was a man of the people;  during the ’08 campaign a similar photo of Obama’s footwear at one point showed the same thing.  There is something very democratic about having worn footwear. But now–apparently– it is a sign of illegality, perhaps another sign that Obama is not legitimate; or perhaps another sign that the Tea Party nativist right is so bereft of rational thought that the political discourse has been reduced to making people neurotic about what police will  think about their sneakers. I can’t wait til this idea is branded. Converse came up with “alien” footwear a couple years ago. Something needs to be done with this idea and the death of democracy… just thinking.

Arizona Shames the Nation

Comprehensive immigration reform moved to the front burner this afternoon at 4:30 ET.  At that moment, saying she did not know what an “illegal alien” looked like,  Governor Janice Brewer criminalized her entire state. She signed a bill into law (SB 1070) that presumed every person in the state of Arizona to be an “illegal alien,” and she made being an “illegal alien” a crime.  If Arizona recognizes that racial profiling is illegal, and if the Governor herself cannot categorize what her law enforcement will be forming reasonable suspicion about, then everyone is presumed guilty.

In so doing, Governor Brewer joined southern governors during the 1950s and early 60s in nullifying the constitution and federal civil rights law.  Arizona has just become the Mississippi of the 21st century. Further, to the extent SB 1070 is part of a larger Republican Party strategy– informed by the right wing nativist/Tea-bagging faction, then the southwest just became part of the GOP’s  southwestern strategy which appeases old whites and writes-off swelling numbers of Hispanic voters. A stupid electoral strategy  in addition to being racist and illegal.

Here’s what SB 1070 is about:

Makes it a crime to be in the country illegally ◦Requires local law enforcement and other state officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they encounter as part of a “lawful contact” if there is reasonable suspicion to believe that person is in the country illegally ◦ Race and ethnicity not to be used as sole factor but it can be used as a factor. Police can conduct warrantless arrests of anyone who cannot immediately produce documents ◦If a lawful permanent resident, can get 6 months in jail and $100 fine if don’t have papers on spot but produce them later.   If residents believe local police not enforcing immigration laws, they can sue them ◦Outlaws the hiring of day laborers ◦Prohibits anyone from knowingly transporting an undocumented immigrant for whatever reason

The kicker of SB 1070 is that  it leaves the Hispanic community to live in fear, and shame.  Just today, Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) said he will now think twive before going to see his Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez said on TV she now considers herself a target were she to go to Arizona. which leads to considerations about constitutional violations. The Obama Administration DOJ is investigating possible civil rights violations.

And perhaps the economic ramifications can hurt the state most. Congressman Raul Grijalva recommends an economic boycott of his home state.  And as Keith Olbermann pointed out this evening, consider Manny Ramirez– who plays spring training in Arizona, being pulled over and arrested for not carrying his paper. Olbermann suggests it wise for major league baseball to look elsewhere for spring training next year.

On Again: Immigration Reform Coming

Looks like comprehensive immigration reform is back on track to be rolled out this spring.  Roll Call has just said that Speaker Pelosi “would welcome an immigration bill this year” to the House.  Immigration reform has suddenly become so important that it has leap-frogged climate change as the next major bill in Congress

Pelosi met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) earlier this week and agreed that a “moral imperative” exists to move forward with a bill, even if it means scrapping energy legislation until the next Congress, aides said. Pelosi views a comprehensive effort to tackle climate change as the flagship issue of her speakership — a point that she made to reporters Thursday. But Reid appears to favor moving immigration first, and Pelosi, in her meeting with him, didn’t object.”

It seems clear that this shift in agenda setting is due to recent changes in the political winds.  Hispanics and immigrant rights activists, SEIU and civil libertarians everywhere  are gearing up for a major response come this Saturday to Arizona’s SB 1070, which is now sitting on Governor Brewer’s desk awaiting her signature or veto.   SB 1070 would pretty much require Latinos in the state to carry immigration/citizenship papers with them whenever they leave the house. It would “require” law enforcement to question anyone– almost anywhere- about their immigration status –upon a reasonable suspicion that they are unauthorized to be in the country–and to arrest that person if they fail to produce documents.  For decades in border regions, such reasonable suspicion has coincided with skin color, language spoken and surname.   By the way, SB 1070 has the support of about 70% Arizonans, which is why the governor who is running for re-lelection this year, is likely to sign it into law.

Next, Senator Harry Reid’s state of Nevada has a growing Hispanic population. Reid is losing in his re-election bid to a former tv personality who has just proposed replaced health reform with a chicken barter scheme.  get that tooth pulled for 2 chickens and some firewood!

Finally, as FDL reports, the Obama White house may have determined now is the time to wedge immigration between Latinos and the Republican party once and for all.

A couple things remain to be seen, however. First, is what CIR will look like at this time.  The routine for the past several months has been that liberal sounding reforms have made major compromises to the right before the legislative process even gets under way.  I fear some incredible bows towards the pro sovereignty criminalization wings of Congress. Next, even with such right wing compromises, I still do not see how the legislation– which in some form will regularize status for 12 million undocumented immigrants gets through or avoids filibuster. Along with SB 1070, the Arizona House just also passed a “Birther Bill” that requires candidates– ahem– the president to show “he is qualified” to be president next time he wants to get on the ballot in Arizona. Five other states are considering similar moves.

CIR will certainly bring some of these tensions to a head.

Noam Chomsky on Far Right Scapegoating of Undocumented Immigrants

In an interview this week,  Noam Chomsky gave voice to a dystopian fantasy that imagines far right Tea-baggers scapegoating undocumented immigrants as they– the T-Bs– increase the volume of their virulent attacks on the federal government and Obama Administration.  The mood of the country is frightening, Chomsky says, and he imagines a particularly disturbing dystopic scenario in which the far right takes up arms:

“Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority.  We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany.”

Chomsky’s eye on undocumented immigrants is spot on in terms of identifying how undocumented immigration plays into recent dystopian narratives. Look no further than the arizona legislature.  Or, consider how the branding of immigration has provided an axis around which partisan politics has spun new and interesting webs around the presidency of Barack Obama.  Immigration Reform still may or may not end up being the hot button issue for 2010, but one thing is certain: the politics of Barack Obama’s early presidency owes a good deal to the undocumented immigration meme.

Quick background: The salience of the undocumented meme for Obama starts at the October 2007 democratic party debate as a turning point in Obama’s journey to the nomination.  It is quite possible that had Hillary Clinton not stumbled on the question about Real ID and drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, the prevalent sense of inevitability about her candidacy at that time would not have faltered, and Obama would not have been able to reverse Clinton’s double digit lead in the polls.

During the waning days of the 2008 campaign, as Obama himself looked increasingly invincible against the aging John McCain and his incredibly lackluster campaign, McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin tried to turn Barack Obama into an undocumented immigrant.  She turned the notion of ascriptive citizenship into a campaign issue when she started questioning Obama’s eligibility to be president. Where Barack Obama was born? Was he a citizen?  What’s his religion?  The obvious subtext was that Barack Obama was undocumented (no papers/ birth certificate?), and as such, disloyal, a fifth column manchurian candidate who held no legitimate claim on the presidency and would serve the interest of “the other” were he elected.

As the undocumented meme connotes Obama was too be considered different, too foreign, too black, too “muslim”, too liberal, too threatening ever to be president.

After the inauguration, “know-nothing” attempts to discredit the legitimacy of the Obama presidency spread to virulent personal attacks against Obama, almost crippling his presidency during its first year. Witness the health care reform debate.   In (September) 2009, during Obama’s health care address to both chambers of congress, Joe Wilson shouted “you lie”  when the President declared that HCR would not cover undocumented immigrants.  The breech of decorum aside, Wilson’s outburst was an exclamation mark on the branding of the president as an “illegal alien.”  Since Wilson interrupted Obama’s speech, this back bencher had his 15 minutes of fame as a cause celebre among right wingnuts. Among other things he received plaudits from Operation Rescue’s Randall Terry;  Tea-Party Patriots; Palmetto Scoop gave away “I’m with Joe Wilson” T-shirts, others urging folks to open their wallets. Wilson himself issued a YouTube video trying to raise money from those who think Obama “want’s to give health care to illegals.”  It didn’t matter that undocumented immigrants were excluded from the health care exchanges under consideration, that Wilson’s shout was the lie.  In fact, Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” is all that is needed when it comes to branding an immigration crisis.

In April 2010 it was reported that a “Birther” in the armed forces was going to be court marshaled for saying he would not follow orders because the commander in chief lacked legitimacy.  Also in April 2010, former governor Sarah Palin addressed a Tea-Party rally near the original Boston Tea-Party site in Boston, reminding them of President Obama’s foreignness and of the un-American policies he espouses.  She was followed a week later by former representative Tom Tancredo urging the president to be sent “back to Kenya” where he belongs.

Each day public policy debates are spun more and more to resemble Super Bowl advertisements. The more surreal the situation, and the more absurdly over the top the claim describing the product/policy, the more the cash flows into right wing republican coffers and the product sells.  In fact branding Obama an alien has become a hugely successful fundraiser for right wing Republicans, particularly Tea-partiers, who looked to extort huge sums of money from hapless followers and cynical corporate sponsors.

Next, Chomsky’s claim of white males being branded as the persecuted minority is similarly grounded in the reality of the erstwhile Minutemen and the marauding Tea Party and militia response to changing demographics in the United States.  They may distrust the Census Bureau as a federal government agency and may not fill out their own census forms but they certainly have no problem exploiting the census projection of a white minority by 2030 and using this figure as a rallying and fundraising cry to grow this scary white nationalist threat.

(parts of this post expand upon an recent op/ed I published in the Baltimore Sun and earlier posts on koulflo memo).