Arizona Sheriff Babeu Resigns From Romney Campaign, But Intends to Weather Scandal

Sheriff Paul Babeu

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu at rally for Mitt Romney in Paradise Valley, Arizona. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr)

Over the past few days, Republican candidate for Arizona’s 4th Congressional District and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has been engulfed in a political and personal maelstrom.

The conservative (former) rising star, whose hardline immigration stance landed him co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Arizona, was forced to come out as gay after allegations surfaced that he threatened his Mexican ex-boyfriend with deportation (Politicoreported that the ex is in the country legally).

Nancy-Jo Merritt, a longtime Phoenix immigration attorney, told the Phoenix New Times that Babeu’s threat is indicative of an “atmosphere that’s been created politically in this state, so that if you get angry at someone who is Hispanic, you immediately jump down to the level of threatening to deport him.”

Babeu denies the allegations that he threatened his ex with deportation, and he has refused to end his bid for a congressional seat. He did, however, resign from his post in Romney’s campaign.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Monday, Babeu declared that as a matter-of-fact he was the victim. He claimed that his ex-boyfriend, who had once volunteered for his campaign, stole private information, was sabotaging his run, and maligning his character. He also suggested that this was all politically motivated.

“The timing of this is more than coincidence, that nationally, that all of this stuff, for years, all the media here in Arizona, all five TV stations, enemies of mine, people have gone through my chain of command in the military to report that I’m gay,” he said.

Pete Rios, chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors and a Babeu critic, and Respect Respeto, a Phoenix-based immigrant rights group, are calling for investigations into Babeu.

“These types of threats and acts of intimidation send a horrible message to the migrant community that they cannot look to their law-enforcement agencies for protection when they are victims of a crime,” Lydia Guzman, director of Respect Respeto, wrote the Department of Justice.

“It is my feeling that neither an elected official nor a law-enforcement officer should abuse their positions to make such threats upon an individual in exchange for their silence, and this is why I am respectfully requesting an investigation into this matter,” Guzman continued.

There’s no doubt Babeu’s opponents in Arizona are enjoying some schadenfreude, but Babeu’s threats to his ex, if true, reveal a frightening relationship between law enforcement and the state’s large Hispanic population that we should take seriously.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, February 21, 2012.

Can State Immigration Laws Be Rolled Back?

Opponents of Alabama law HB 56

Opponents of Alabama law HB 56.

Alabama passed one of the most severe and stringent immigration laws in the nation last June. It requires public schools to check students’ immigration status, mandates that immigrants carry papers at all times, criminalizes granting rides or renting to undocumented immigrants, prohibits courts from enforcing contracts with those immigrants, and makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to transact business with the government. HB 56 also instructs law enforcement officials to demand papers from anyone they stop and suspect to be in the country illegally.

The bill has spurred lawsuits from religious leaders, the Obama administration, and civil rights organizations. The latest courtroom development Friday had the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issuing an injunctionwhich temporarily blocks parts of HB 56.

So public school teachers and administrators do not have to check their wards’ immigration status and immigrants will not be charged for walking without sufficient identification—for now. Police officers can still ask for documentation, courts are still barred from enforcing contracts made with unauthorized immigrants, and these immigrants can be charged with a felony for doing business with the state.

Michael Innis-Jiménez, a University of Alabama professor and expert on Latino and Labor issues, believes that the remaining provisions are problematic. He said people “can get profiled and pulled over for almost anything.”

He is troubled most by the contracts provision. “Any contract between an undocumented immigrant and anyone else is automatically void and unenforceable. If you sign a rental agreement it is void. If you sign a loan agreement, a mortgage, a title loan, or an employee contract, they are all void and unenforceable,” he said.

Since the law bars any public office from conducting business with undocumented immigrants, it will be difficult for them to get basic services. “This means immigrants can’t get tags for their cars. Some local governments are also interpreting this as a prohibition to hook up water, sewer, or electricity service for immigrants,” said  Innis-Jiménez.

What can be done to counter Alabama’s immigration law other than going to court?

Some immigrant advocates have called for boycotts. A consortium of Spanish-language radio stations instigated a one-day protest last Wednesday to prove that Latinos are crucial to Alabama’s economy.  A Facebook pagecalled on Latinos to unite and “bring Alabama economy down (sic).” Reports indicate the one-day protest led some poultry plants and businesses to close but only had minimal economic impact.

Even if opponents of HB 56 are able to muster a protracted boycott of the state, it is highly unlikely that the law will be knocked down completely. Despite concerted action against Arizona’s controversial immigration law which cost the state its reputation and hundreds of millions in lost revenue, the law still stands, albeit with a partial injunction, as it winds its way to the Supreme Court.

Its also unclear if boycotts have staying power. The National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy group, called off the nationwide protest last month and Arizona was recently chosen by NFL owners to host Super Bowl XLIX.

Innis-Jiménez thinks Alabama’s harsh law will be seriously challenged only when non-immigrant Alabamans feel burdened by HB 56. They are the ones, not the small number of Latinos in Alabama, who can pressure elected officials to change course and possibly even repeal the law.

He gave the example of Alabama’s business and agricultural communities, which for the most part remained silent while the legislators were crafting the legislation. These interests are only now becoming vocal opponents, as they see their bottom lines getting slashed by the law which has scared Latino laborers—authorized and unauthorized—out of the state.

Ordinary citizens are also starting to be inconvenienced. In the most populous county in the state, residents are suffering longer than usual queues at courthouses due to HB 56 and budget cuts. Budget shortfalls have resulted in the closing of courthouses, just at a time when many more residents must flock to them, required to verify residency to buy or renew their driver’s licenses or car tags.

Alabama’s experience is not unique. Other states, like Arizona and Georgia, that passed harsh immigration laws inadvertently inflicted externalities upon their non-immigrant residents.

Innis-Jiménez predicts that eventually, non-immigrants in Alabama will witness the negative fallout of this law. A decrease in the number of public school students for instance, will lead to decreased federal funding. Multinational corporations that value diversity and employ immigrants will think twice before setting shop in states like Alabama.

Change will occur in Alabama, “not out of concern for human rights, but out of inconvenience,”  said Innis-Jiménez.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 20, 2011 and WNYC’s It’s A Free Country, “New Allies in Battle Against Controversial Alabama Law.”

Reasonable State Responses to Immigration

dream act activist

While federal legislation stalls, some states are passing their own DREAM Acts. (Photo: dreamactivist/flickr)

Most of us have been transfixed by Alabama’s immigration law which surpasses all other state laws in its harshness and stringency.

The Department of Justice asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to stop enforcement of Alabama’s HB 56, concerned that it could lead to racial discrimination. Advocacy groups also filed a separate appeal, citing the law’s immediate aftermath.

State immigration bills such as those passed in Alabama, Georgia and Arizona negatively impact not only immigrants and their families but society in general. They have wide-ranging externalities including lost productivity and revenues. They also have long-term implications for the well-being of our nation.

Fortunately, there are some states bucking the trend and providing more rational, productive and humane solutions to our broken immigration system.

A couple of weeks ago, Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education, encouraged by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, approved the state’s version of the DREAM Act which will allow undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition beginning September 2012. Students without papers must show that they graduated from a Rhode Island high school which they attended for at least three years or received a GED certificate from the state. They must also sign an affidavit promising that they will pursue U.S. citizenship as soon as possible.

Last weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the second half of his state’s DREAM Act. The first half, enacted in July, sanctioned private scholarships and loans for undocumented college students. These students, with the passage of the second bill, can now pay in-state tuition rates and apply for state aid.

The state DREAM Acts of Rhode Island and California, like other state versions of the stalled federal initiative to improve the prospects of young undocumented immigrants, does not include a path to citizenship. But they do allow motivated and able young people—in whom states have already invested public education—to obtain a college degree, earn better wages, pay taxes, contribute to the economy and give back to society.

Last Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring state agencies to make vital forms and instructions available in the six most common non-English languages spoken in the state. State agencies including the Office of Children & Family Services, Corrections, the health department, motor vehicles and welfare agencies will now have to provide free interpretation and translation services to assist the 13 percent of New Yorkers who do not speak English as their primary language. Cuomo argued that lawsuits and legislation have failed to address the problem and that access to state services can be a matter of life and death for some immigrants.

Finally, last week, the city commissioners of Dayton, Ohio voted to turn their city into an “immigrant friendly” destination with the explicit goal of replenishing the city’s shrinking immigrant community. The “Welcome Dayton” program seeks to reduce the barriers to immigrants who want to open new businesses and thereby spur investment in immigrant neighborhoods. The initiative aims to help immigrants by providing adults with ESL and literacy courses; actively involving local youth in community building; and encouraging cross-cultural events among Dayton’s cultural and arts organizations.

In California, Rhode Island, New York and Dayton, Ohio, rather than marginalizing immigrants and treating them as scapegoats for our difficult times, government is finding ways to integrate them. These state and city leaders see their immigrant populations as economically integral and as contributing members of society. They acknowledge that immigrants are crucial to our nation’s vitality and future.

One hopes that other states will be less reactionary—ala Alabama—and follow such reasonable responses to immigration.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 12, 2011.

La Raza Calls Off Arizona Boycott – What Next?

Tens of Thousands March in Phoenix Against SB 1070 - Photo: José Muñoz

Tens of Thousands March in Phoenix Against SB 1070. (Photo: José Muñoz)

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), America’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy group, has called off the boycott it initiated against Arizona in May 2010, much to the disappointment of immigrant advocates in the state. NCLR and other immigrant advocates had initially called for the action in protest of the harsh and discriminatory immigration law Arizona enacted last year.

The boycott is estimated to have cost the state hundreds of millions in lost revenue from cancelled conventions and tourism. SB 1070 earned Arizona a reputation for being hostile to immigrants and Latinos in general.

La Raza rationalized its cancellation of the boycott, claiming that it achieved its goal—that other states were discouraged from enacting similar immigration laws.

ImmigrationWorks USA points out however, that this year, “three states – Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina – followed Arizona almost to the letter in authorizing local law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they stop in the course of other, routine police work.”

A look at the numbers reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures also challenges NCLR’s assertion that the Arizona boycott stemmed the tide of anti-immigrant legislation. In the first half of this year alone, state lawmakers introduced 1,592 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants, a 16 percent increase from the same period last year. 151 laws have been enacted and 95 resolutions adopted, mostly around enforcement and employment issues which tend to disadvantage immigrants and their families.

La Raza did give a more plausible reason for ending the boycott. In a letter to the Real Arizona Coalition of businesses, interfaith groups and community organizations, NCLR admitted that it was aware “of the hardship it has imposed on many of the workers, businesses and organizations whose interests we seek to advance” and as such decided to “suspend the boycott and cease all efforts to discourage conventions or meetings in Arizona, or to discourage our partners from participating in such meetings.”

The Arizona boycott may have failed to stop Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina from pursuing their own versions of Arizona’s law but it did raise the consciousness of sympathetic people nationwide. And it may yet succeed in other states, especially when business interests get involved. Arizona’s lost revenue and damaged reputation “frightened business leaders in many states,” argues ImmigrationWorks USA, which is working with 25 state-based business coalitions to overhaul the U.S. immigration system.

In terms of reforming the national immigration system, the boycott strategy is limited. It’s the narrative on immigration that needs to change.

As immigration policy expert Marc R. Rosenblum writes, “part of the issue is that the dominant frame for the immigration debate since the 1970s has been around criminality and security threats associated with unauthorized immigrants, a frame which naturally focuses attention on law enforcement solutions.”

Immigrant advocates must change the story. They need to show, along with the economic benefits of integrating immigrants, that unauthorized immigrants are not criminals but hard-working women and men who came to better the lives of their families, much like many immigrants before them. Advocates need to convince Americans that immigrants are not asking for special treatment or hand-outs, only the opportunity to prove themselves, give back, and earn a place in society.

When more rational and fair-minded Americans hear and embrace a different narrative, then perhaps there will be progress.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 15, 2011.

La Raza Calls Off Boycott of Arizona

September 12, 2011; Source: The Orange County Register | In May 2010, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), America’s leading Latino civil rights and advocacy group, initiated a nationwide boycott of Arizona in protest of immigration laws advocates found discriminatory and unfair.

The action has been estimated to cost the state, which relies heavily on tourism, hundreds of millions in lost revenue from cancelled conventions and has earned the state a reputation for being hostile to Latinos, immigrants and people of color.

La Raza has now called off the boycott, much to the disappointment of local groups. NCLR reasons that the action has achieved its purpose. It claims that other states have been discouraged from enacting similar immigration laws.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reportsthat in the first half of 2011 alone, state lawmakers introduced 1,592 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants, a 16 percent increase from the same period last year. One hundred fifty one laws have been enacted and 95 resolutions adopted around law enforcement and employment issues, and to the disadvantage of immigrant individuals and families.

Arizona might have lost millions of dollars but NCLR and immigrant advocates have not been able to stem the tide of strident anti-immigration initiatives. This will be continue to be a challenge as Americans struggle with economic insecurity and fast changing demographics.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 13, 2011.

The Economic Argument for Immigration Reform

Mark Shurtleff, attorney general of Utah, kicked off a panel discussion on state immigration laws at the National Press Club this Tuesday.

He began by recounting the important role of immigrants, particularly Chinese migrant workers who were severely despised and discriminated against, in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. He stressed that it was the tenacity of businessmen and the back breaking labor of immigrants that made the monumental project happen in spite of inaction from a then as in now polarized and distracted Washington.

Shurtleff, along with Michelle Bolton of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Utah State Senator Curt Bramble, Mark Gerstle of Cummins, Inc., and Tamar Jacoby of ImmigrationWorks USA were at the panel to talk about states as “improbable laboratories of immigration policy.”

Shurtleff used the Transcontinental Railroad as an example of how business interests can spur Washington into action and to stress the importance of immigrant labor to the country’s economic vitality. He believes that an enforcement-only policy approach will not work and encourages stakeholders to come together with business leaders in crafting a viable policy framework to address the country’s immigration debacle.

Gerstle, a top executive of a multinational corporation related how Indiana companies lobbied hard to remove provisions in the state’s immigration laws which were detrimental to their interests.  Bolton said Arizona’s business community is working to repair the state’s image and is letting lawmakers know of the deleterious effects of immigration laws they passed. The entire panel was in agreement that immigration policy, both at the state and federal levels, should attract and retain businesses as well as the immigrants that start and staff them.

The framework put forth as a pragmatic and rational approach is the Utah Compact. It is a declaration of five principles by a group of business, community and religious leaders meant to guide the immigration debate in the state. It confirms that immigration falls under federal purview; believes that local law enforcement should focus on criminal activities; opposes policies that unnecessarily separate families; affirms the crucial economic role of immigrants; and acknowledges that immigrants are well-woven into the fabric of society.

It seems that the idea has caught on. Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine and Nebraska legislators have presented their own versions of the compact.

As the country clambers out of a recession that has long been declared over, the economic argument has certainly gained currency, even in Washington. Sen. Charles Schumer told POLITICO Monday that he is using the economic argument to revive efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. “We decided we ought to start highlighting the fact that immigration creates jobs rather than takes them away,” Schumer said. “Everyone agreed that is how we are going to start talking about immigration, as a job creator.”

For most Americans, this economic argument for immigration reform that acknowledges the contributions of and need for immigrants may be the most convincing yet, as families continue to struggle with tight budgets and job insecurity.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, July 21, 2011.

Georgia’s Immigration Law Hurts Farms and the State Economy

Georgia’s draconian immigration law took effect Friday and it is now a felony in the state to present false documents when applying for a job.

Parts of the law were blocked by a U.S. district judge last week–but not all.

The new measure, like those passed in Arizona as well as Utah, North Carolina, Indiana, Alabama and South Carolina, primarily seeks to stanch what lawmakers see as the biggest immigration threat facing the nation, unauthorized immigrants. The problem with these policies is that they were crafted by legislators wearing such huge blinders that they and the constituencies who spurred them on failed to consider the implications.

Georgia farmers, for one, are already feeling the adverse effect of the newly minted law. CBS reports many Latino farmworkers are staying away, fearful of raids and crackdowns. The owner of a family-owned blueberry farm laments the loss of twenty acres worth of fruit that will rot away unpicked and cost him $200,000. He is also worrying about 600 acres of grapes that will be ready for harvest next month.

It’s clear the revenue loss at farms and other businesses that depend on immigrant labor will negatively impact Georgia’s economy and other states that tell undocumented immigrants to stay away. These policies will affect the lives and well-being of ordinary citizens who have allowed their fears about growing immigrant populations in their midst to cloud better judgment.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal does not worry about the loss of immigrant labor. He proposes that ex-convicts fill the jobs abandoned by Latino laborers. Farmers have not embraced Deal’s solution, however. “Let them in the governor’s mansion to be cooks and I’ll let them on my farm. I want my family to be as safe as the governor’s,” sixth-generation farmer Gary Paulk told Time.

Georgians would have been better served by their governor and lawmakers had they not honed in solely on undocumented immigrants with the intent of driving them out. These policymakers could have taken a broader view and carefully accounted for the economic implications of enacting such measures. Better still, they could have left it to the U.S. government to sort out the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, July 7, 2011.

Where Immigration Laws are Made Today – State Capitols and Federal Courts

One by one, states have been enacting their own immigration laws, a response to the lack of leadership and political will in Washington to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. Now we’re starting to see a double-edged trend.

In Arizona, Utah, North Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, Alabama and most recently South Carolina measures have been enacted which focus on what lawmakers see as an intractable problem, undocumented immigration in those states. In turn, federal courts have scrutinized these new measures and deemed parts of them untenable.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker blocked parts of Indiana’s new law Friday, reiterating that immigration is a federal matter. She also singled out two specific provisions in the law that “have proven to be seriously flawed and generally unsuccessful.” One has wording that would allow the arrest of anyone who has had any notice of action filed by immigration authorities, which could mean anyone applying to be in the country for any reason. The other is a measure that makes it illegal for immigrants to use identification cards issued by consulates.

Judge Thomas Thrash, also a federal judge, stopped parts of Georgia’s law on Monday which authorizes local authorities to check the immigration status of suspects who don’t produce proper identification and to detain undocumented immigrants. He also granted a request from civil rights groups to block provisions that penalize people who knowingly transport or harbor undocumented immigrants.

Indiana and Georgia’s stringent new laws join those of Arizona and Utah, key elements of which have been blocked by federal courts. I foresee other state immigration measures being challenged and stalled as well.

South Carolina legislators approved their own bill last week and Governor Nikki Haley quickly signed it into law. But the American Civil Liberties Union plans to contest it, just as it has challenged immigration statutes in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. The Palmetto State’s newly minted law should get to a federal judge shortly, who will most likely find fault with it.

This cycle will no doubt continue. As more states pursue their own immigration fixes, they’ll be met by court challenges, followed by injunctions. Then states will file appeals, on and on until Congress and the administration work together successfully to reform the system. Unfortunately the political reality guarantees that this will not happen anytime soon. Immigration is such a hot button issue, with little agreement on how it should be tackled, that our elected officials are more than happy to punt straight through 2012. In the meantime the federal courts will be a battle ground pitting states against civil rights groups, while many immigrants and their families continue to live in fear and uncertainty.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, June 30, 2011. Re-posted on NYC Media Alliance, July 7, 2011.