Monday, March 03, 2008

Immigrant Rights News - Mon, Mar. 3, 2008

Immigrant Rights News – Mon, Mar. 3, 2008


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1. New York Times: “The Border and the Ballot Box”


2. Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “No go on quick immigration fixes “


3. St. Petersburg Times: “Illegal immigration foes won't consider amnesty for McCain. In Texas, they're fighting uphill to derail him.”




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New York Times

March 2, 2008


Counting Heads

The Border and the Ballot Box



ON June 7 of last year, a bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration system — a bill supported by President Bush and the Democratic leaders of Congress — died in the Senate. It died mostly because of grass-roots opposition, and its downfall appeared to serve as an announcement of the issue’s new political potency. For much of 2007, immigration seemed certain to play a dominant role in the 2008 presidential campaign.

After the bill failed, Senator John McCain, the early Republican front-runner whose championing of the bill had made him look soft on illegal immigration, faded in the polls. The new Republican front-runners, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney, were trading accusations over who had been nicer to illegal immigrants in the past. “It’s been wonderful,” Representative Tom Tancredo, the most emphatically anti-immigration candidate, said during a Republican debate in November, “because all I’ve heard is people trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo.”

The backlash even had a familiar feel to it. In the last few decades, the country has experienced its fourth great immigration wave. Each of the other three — in the 1850s, 1880s and early 1900s — also caused a political reaction, the first and most famous being the rise of the Know Nothing movement. History looked as if it would repeat itself, albeit in a milder form, this year.

And so it has. It’s just that the lessons of the past aren’t quite what they first appeared to be.

Immigration has a fantastically complicated political history in the United States. It has produced enough populist anger to elect Know Nothing mayors of Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and San Francisco, all in the 1850s and, more recently, to help Lou Dobbs reinvent his television career and become a best-selling author. But when national politicians have tried to seize on such anger, they have usually failed — and failed quickly. “While immigration has always roiled large sections of the electorate,” said Eric Rauchway, a historian at the University of California, Davis, “it has never been the basis for a national election, one way or the other.”

That appears to be truer than ever in 2008. Mr. McCain will all but clinch the Republican nomination on Tuesday with victories in the Ohio and Texas primaries. In the Texas campaign, except for a couple of obligatory questions about a border fence during a Democratic debate, immigration has been the dog that didn’t bark. The candidates who would have made an issue of it exited the race long ago.

There is, however, one more historical parallel to consider: as a political matter, immigration probably won’t go away on its own. The anti-immigration movements of the past may not have created presidents, but they did change the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act helped cut the immigration rate by more than 40 percent at the close of the 19th century. The Nativist movement of the 1910s and 1920s had even more success passing laws to reduce the flow.

Unlike those earlier immigration waves, the current one includes a large number of illegal immigrants, which creates its own political dynamic. The subject also plays into the economic anxiety of today that stems from decades of slow wage growth and is now aggravated by the possibility of a recession. Perhaps most important, this immigration wave could turn out to be the biggest of them all. Last month, the Pew Research Center reported that the percentage of Americans born overseas would break a century-old record sometime before 2025, if current trends continued.

So, eight months after the Senate’s immigration bill collapsed, immigration has managed to fade into the background without really becoming less important. The next president isn’t likely to be elected on immigration, but he or she is going to have to reckon with it.

ON a snowy December morning last year, Mr. Romney held a campaign event at a general store in Windham, N.H. Among the Republicans who had packed inside to hear him was a young mother, there with a child, and she asked Mr. Romney whether as president he would make sure that New Hampshire residents who worked in Massachusetts could qualify for in-state college tuition in Massachusetts.

There were any number of good-natured ways to deflect the issue (not one a president decides, of course). Mr. Romney chose none. “I can tell you this,” he replied. “If there is going to be an in-state tuition break, it’s going to be for citizens, not for illegals.” This was a swipe at Mike Huckabee, who had favored allowing illegal immigrants living in the state to pay the in-state tuition when he was governor of Arkansas.

In retrospect, those final weeks of 2007 — just before actual voting began — look like the recent high point for criticisms of illegal immigration. Consider that Mr. Huckabee was the one Republican candidate who seemed even friendlier to immigrants, including illegal ones, than Mr. McCain. In the November debate when other candidates tried to out-Tancredo each other, Mr. Huckabee instead upbraided Mr. Romney for his views on in-state tuition. “In all due respect, we’re a better country than to punish children for what their parents did,” Mr. Huckabee told him. “We’re a better country than that.”

In early January, he won the Iowa caucus in an upset of Mr. Romney. Shortly before the caucus, Mr. Tancredo became the first candidate to quit the campaign, evidently fearful that he would not even attract a respectable protest vote.

It’s hard, in fact, to see how a single 2008 Republican candidate benefited from anti-immigration rhetoric. All the while, Mr. McCain’s campaign bus was being followed around the early-voting states by a white van called the “Amnesty Truth Express.” Outside his Florida headquarters in West Palm Beach, a few days before he won the primary that established him as the clear front-runner, the van displayed a sign reading, “McCain Equals Amnesty.”

How could Mr. McCain’s resurgence happen only six months after Americans deluged members of Congress with phone calls opposing an immigration bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for many people in the country illegally? And how could it happen when several states, including Arizona and Colorado, have recently implemented laws to make life harder for these immigrants? The country’s previous backlashes offer something of a guide.

Immigration was first mentioned in a party platform in 1848, according to Rita Simon, a sociologist at American University, just a few years after the potato famine brought an enormous emigration from Ireland. By the 1850s, the Know Nothings were a far stronger political force than anything similar today. They ran a former president, Millard Fillmore, in the 1856 presidential election, and he received 22 percent of the vote. For a time, anti-immigrant forces seemed as if they might dominate the new Republican Party.

In the end, though, the minority of Republicans who staunchly opposed the Know Nothings — including Abraham Lincoln and William Seward — won the day. As the 1850s came to a close and Southern states began talking about secession, immigration no longer seemed like a big enough issue to determine elections.

The Nativist reaction of the early 20th century started with a similar virulence. In the aftermath of World War I, “there was just this fear that millions of people were going to pour in,” said Mae Ngai, a Columbia University historian. “You could read the discussion from the 1910s and think you were looking at something from today, if you just took out ‘Italians’ and put in ‘Mexicans’ ”

Anti-immigrant sentiment probably did help Herbert Hoover beat Al Smith — a Catholic, like many immigrants at the time — in 1928. But after Congress overwhelmingly passed new immigration restrictions in 1924, the main political fight over immigration occurred not between the parties, but within the Democratic Party, with those who wanted to embrace the Ku Klux Klan battling those who did not. Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the latter group.

Mr. Rauchway, the historian, argues that the ultimate failure of anti-immigrant politics is part of a larger failure of class-based politics in the United States. Running against the rich — or the poor — has rarely worked in this country. Instead, immigrant-bashing has been most successful when it tapped into broader racial fears, as it did in both the 1850s and the 1920s. Notably, the economy was booming in the ’20s.

“As it becomes less and less acceptable to be racist,” Mr. Rauchway said, “immigration is not going to be as politically effective.”

Polling data supports this argument. In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last May — in the midst of the debate over the immigration bill — 57 percent of respondents said that most recent immigrants contributed to this country, up from 34 percent when the question was asked in 1986. Only 28 percent in last year’s poll said that most immigrants caused problems, down from 44 percent in 1986. The Gallup Poll also shows increasing sympathy for immigrants.

Social science, in turn, tends to support these tolerant views. Successive generations of Latinos — from immigrants to their children and grandchildren — have made enormous economic and educational progress over the last half-century, according to research by James Smith of the RAND Corporation. The crime rate among immigrants is lower than it is for native-born Americans, says Anne Morrison Piehl, an economist at Rutgers. The same even appears to be true of illegal immigrants: relative to their overall numbers, they are underrepresented in the nation’s prisons.

Yet it still is difficult to look at the current situation and conclude that last summer’s defeat of the immigration bill will be the last such political explosion. The current immigration surge not only raises the old questions about whether today’s arrivals are somehow unfit to be Americans, as the Germans, the Irish, the Chinese and the Italians were accused of being in past immigration waves; it also sows doubts about the competence of the federal government. As Ms. Ngai has written, illegal immigration “seems to undermine something fundamental to the very existence of a nation.”

In the 1990s, the number of illegal immigrants grew by 770,000 a year, according to Jeffrey Passel, a demographer at Pew. Recent efforts to tighten border security have helped reduce that annual total to 550,000 in this decade, but this still represents more than a third of total annual immigration. The mere fact that so many immigrants are here illegally, living in the shadows, may make it harder for them to achieve the usual American success story.

It also prevents the country from having control over its immigration policy — over how much weight should be given to family ties or to different job skills, for instance. The bulk of illegal immigrants have little education, which means that they worsen economic inequality (even if their impact is often greatly exaggerated). Their presence in the labor market reduces the cost of many items — from home construction and child care to fruit and vegetables — but does so by holding down wages for the native high-school dropouts who compete for those jobs.

Even if border security continues to improve, it seems unlikely ever to be foolproof. Just recently, the federal government backed away from a plan for an electronic fence because of technical glitches. Many experts say that a more honest immigration policy has to start inside this country — namely, with the government ending its wink-and-nod attitude toward employers who hire illegal immigrants.

There are small signs it is beginning to do so. Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, announced a week ago that 53,000 employers were now using an electronic system to check new workers’ Social Security numbers, more than twice as many as last year.

Politically, the success of a policy like this one would have the potential to persuade voters that the government was serious about enforcement. Skepticism on that very point helped kill last year’s immigration bill. If Americans believed enforcement was real, they might then accept higher levels of legal immigration, as well as a citizenship path for immigrants now here illegally.

“The only scenario I can see for reform is one that tries to damp down the frenzy about illegal immigration,” Christopher Jencks, a Harvard sociologist who has studied the subject, said. To varying degrees, Mr. McCain and his Democratic opponent — whether Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama — will most likely try to balance security and openness in the general-election campaign. Mr. McCain, who says he was chastened by the reaction to the immigration bill, has so far emphasized border security more than the Democrats have.

No matter how it happens, the country will almost certainly need an influx of new arrivals in coming decades. The baby boomers are about to start turning 65. Someone will have to take their place in the work force — and help pay their Medicare and Social Security bills.

After a year of political whiplash, it seems safe to conclude that the anti-immigration fervor was never as bad as it seemed but isn’t permanently gone, either. As ever, we Americans like to say that we live in a nation of immigrants. But we are also prone to believing that the last great immigrants were the ones who arrived decades ago. The country can never quite make up its mind how open it should be.

It was in 1882, after all, that Congress significantly restricted immigration for the first time, by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act. Only four years later, the Statue of Liberty — “the Mother of Exiles,” in the words of the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed inside the statute — rose above New York Harbor.


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Seattle Post-Intelligencer


No go on quick immigration fixes

Last updated March 2, 2008 10:30 a.m. PT


WACO, Texas -- Surely, the day is approaching when Congress will recognize that gimmicks will not solve the nation's immigration problems.

The latest evidence arrived in a Thursday Washington Post story by Spencer S. Hsu who reported that the Department of Homeland Security is pulling the plug on current efforts to build a "virtual fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border.

American taxpayers have already kicked in $20.6 million to Boeing Co. for Project 28, a high-tech virtual fence along a small stretch of the international border in Arizona.

Boeing was the prime contractor to build a measly 28 miles of virtual fence near the border southwest of Tucson to demonstrate how 98-foot towers, radars, sophisticated cameras and sensors tied into the Border Patrol could curb illegal immigration.

The virtual fence project was part of a $1.2 billion immigration bill passed by Congress that emphasized building 700 miles or so of fencing along the border with Mexico.

The idea of preventing illegal immigration by constructing only 700 miles of fences along a 2,000-mile border is an assault on common sense.

Congress arrived at the decision, however, after President Bush could not gain enough support to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would attack the problem at the source -- the jobs that attract impoverished foreign citizens to risk brutal hardships and even death to find work in the United States.

At a joint hearing of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border, maritime and global counterterrorism and the subcommittee on management, investigations and oversight, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., described the delays and problems with building the border fence as "unacceptable."

"We are 98 yards from the goal line, which is where we started five and a half years," Pascrell said when no one representing Homeland Security or the multibillion-dollar Secure Border Initiative could answer how much it would cost taxpayers to secure the border or estimate when it could be accomplished.

"After five and a half years, someone should be able to answer the question without a bunch of malarkey," Pascrell reasonably observed.

The problem with Boeing, which is now off the virtual fence project, was blamed in part because Boeing's software could not process the sensor data, the cameras could not resolve images as planned, the radar systems were triggered inadvertently and the Border Patrol was not adequately tied into the system.

Other problems included the realization that no one understood the type of terrain where the fencing is to be constructed, what materials would be required or factored in the cost of the land.

Somehow it never occurred to members of Congress or the Department of Homeland Security that most of the property on which the fence was to be built is privately owned and would have to be purchased.

It especially did not occur to anyone that no one in Texas who owns land adjoining the Rio Grande wants to have property taken so the government can construct a border fence.

The Project 28 virtual fence now has been pushed back to at least the end of 2011 at an unknown cost.

Earlier estimates that the entire southern border could be fenced for $7.6 billion also must be scrapped.

As the recent congressional hearings revealed, no one knows when or if a border fence can be constructed or even offer a guess at how much it will cost.

In the meantime, the economic pull of U.S. jobs brings an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants into the United States every year.

While some 500,000 unskilled foreign workers find jobs in the United States every year, the government issues only 5,000 year-round legal work visas for immigrants.

Congress should concentrate on the source of the problem -- jobs. Employer sanctions must be enforced and foreign workers should be legally matched to U.S. jobs.

Rowland Nethaway writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald. E-mail: RNethaway@wacotrib .com



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St. Petersburg Times

Illegal immigration foes won't consider amnesty for McCain

In Texas, they're fighting uphill to derail him.

By Jose Cardenas, Times Staff Writer

Published March 3, 2008

Sen. John McCain is the all-but-official Republican presidential nominee, but don't tell that to illegal immigration opponents in Texas.

They're fanning out across the state before Tuesday's primary to ask people to vote for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

"You got two people left, so we are putting our faith behind Huckabee," said Shannon McGauley, president of the 500-person-strong Texas Minutemen. "He may have his faults, too, but at least he did not try to shove amnesty down our throats."

And it's not just the border-watching Minutemen who plan to campaign against the GOP front-runner. McGauley says 19 other anti-immigration groups plan to try to rally against McCain.

"Huckabee wins two more states, and I think he's back in it," McGauley said recently.

Whether this tactic will work - it didn't in Florida - the effort shows how deeply some in McCain's own party resent his moderate stand on immigration.

"The majority of our supporters would not vote for John McCain at gunpoint," said William Gheen, president of the 25,000-member Americans for Legal Immigration in North Carolina.

* * *

As McCain campaigned in Florida before the Jan. 29 presidential primary, illegal immigration opponents followed him in a white van sporting a sign saying, "McCain = Amnesty."

At rallies from Tampa to Boca Raton, activists carried signs and passed out fliers. McCain, they warned, would give citizenship to undocumented immigrants.

After McCain all but secured the Republican nomination Feb. 5, one wrote to GOP leaders in Washington and Tallahassee.

"I will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, vote for Juan McCain," David Caulkett of Pompano Beach wrote.

Two years ago, McCain co-authored a bill with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that would have created a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 12-million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The bill failed last year, but the political damage was done.

"His amnesty views will actually echo through the rest of the political system, giving Democrats advantages in a lot of races that have nothing to do with him," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies.

McCain and others dispute that the senator's efforts would have given undocumented immigrants amnesty. They note that under his bill, undocumented immigrants would have faced hefty fines and years of waiting before becoming citizens.

These days, McCain has backed off immigration reform. He says his priority is securing the border. Still, he was booed recently when he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

"Only as we have achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure," McCain said, "would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration."

* * *

Advocates for undocumented immigrants take comfort in the rise of McCain and the fall of Republican candidates with tougher immigration views.

"It was supposed to be a big issue in South Carolina," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "McCain wins."

Opponents say several candidates had tough positions on illegal immigration and McCain won because those candidates split the vote.

The issue is having other effects. Advocates for undocumented immigrants say the Hispanic share of the vote in some states has increased during the primaries from years past because Hispanics generally feel attacked by harsh Republican language on the issue.

"Not only did the immigration issue fail to deliver the election to them, it's driving Latinos to the Democratic Party," said Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union.

McCain received 54 percent of the Hispanic Republican vote in Florida. Mitt Romney, with a harsher stand on immigration, got 14 percent.

Historically, McCain has been viewed positively by Hispanics in Arizona and nationally. But some say he must now try to appeal to conservatives.

"He has shifted at least his rhetorical posture," said Cecilia Munoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza. "He is talking a lot about enforcement first. That is worrisome."

* * *

Some see no point to organizing against McCain. They plan to "warn" voters about Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama as well, citing that all three have held similar views on immigration.

They are trying to persuade CNN host Lou Dobbs, who rails against illegal immigration, to enter the presidential race.

After launching a Web site promoting Dobbs, Gheen said people pledged almost $500,000 if he ran. Gheen planned to ask Dobbs to join the race.

"Enclosed is half of my Republican voters registration card," Caulkett wrote to Florida Republican leaders. "I have registered as a Lou Dobbs Independent."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at or (727) 445-4224.


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Arnoldo Garcia

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Red Nacional Pro Derechos Inmigrantes y Refugiados

310 8th Street Suite 303

Oakland, CA 94607

Tel (510) 465-1984 ext. 305

Fax (510) 465-1885


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