Will Our Next President Be Another White Male?

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The relentless focus on the Benghazi attack makes me think about 2016. This is about Hillary Clinton after all, isn’t it? If she runs, then let this be her Achilles heel. But what if she doesn’t run? Or runs and loses? After our first president of color, will we put another white male in the White House? Or will we elect a person who represents either half the population or our growing communities of color?

While the current Republican prospects include Latino Senator Marco Rubio and Asian American Governor Bobby Jindal, they are all men nonetheless. Paul Ryan, Chis Christie, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush round out the list.

The Democratic field is far more diverse and inclusive. Aside from Hillary Clinton, names being tossed around include Joe Biden; Governors Andrew Cuomo, Martin O’Malley and Deval Patrick; Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren; and Mayors Cory Booker, Antonio Villaraigosa and Julian Castro.

Of course Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin may try again and perhaps Susana Martinez and Nikki Haley will join the fray.

Twenty-sixteen should be interesting. At the end of the day, however, we need to elect the person best qualified to lead and unify our country as it continues to be more diverse and polarized.

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The Choice is Clear for Immigrants

Delegates at the DNC in Charlotte. (Photo: Flickr/newshour)

American voters are faced with a stark choice, not only about who will lead the nation in the next four years, but about what our shared future will be like. At the deepest and most profound, it is a decision about what America stands for. About what we stand for.

The conventions in Tampa and Charlotte – the crowds, the platforms, and the speeches – provided the contrast. Immigrants, their families and their communities now have to decide with whom they will cast their lot. Which party and ticket will assure them of their proper place as Americans and help them secure their American dream?

I’d like to think that the answer is obvious, and the numbers show that a majority of immigrants do know who has their interests in mind. But there are some who for whatever reason refuse to see the truth.

A woman immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, worked hard, and sacrificed in order to help her family back in the Philippines and those who came with her. She has accomplished a lot: rising up the ranks in the company where she has worked for decades, and supporting her family here and abroad.

In so many ways she has accomplished her American dream. But as a middle-class woman of color, she has also been held back. She has been denied promotions in spite of her credentials and hard work. Countless times has she complained of less qualified men surpassing her for jobs she can do with her eyes closed. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this was because of her gender. I wonder how much of it had to do with her ethnicity and accent.

She was supposed to retire a couple of years ago but the Great Recession happened. Her investments and the value of her home went under. She has little choice but to keep waking up at the crack of dawn, getting on a commuter train, and putting in her eight hours. She is tired but she does what needs to be done.

And she blames Barack Obama. She faults the man who signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and who fought hard to keep our country from falling into a financial abyss. The man who wants to safeguard Social Security and Medicare for older Americans like her.

She listens to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. She is a hardcore Republican. She believes that Democrats promote dependency on government and that so many abuse system. She refuses to see and admit who is really responsible for her setbacks.

I doubt she watched the Democratic convention. I wish she had. She would have seen so many other Americans of color like her. Not as tokens but as valued members whose voices are heard. She would have learned of policies that safeguard and promote her and her family’s well-being. She would recognize her own family’s story in the struggles and successes of Michelle’s and Barack’s families. She would have heard the man she despises tell her that he thinks of her and her family when making hard decisions. She would have been assured that no one gets a free ride but that together we can create a better future. She would have heard the President’s passionate argument that “no American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and the dignity they have earned.”

Like many other immigrant Americans, she will go to the polls on November 6 and cast her vote. How I wish she realizes who really sees her, hears her, and embraces her as an immigrant and as a woman. It should be crystal clear to her who has her and her family’s future in his heart and mind. Sadly, it isn’t.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 7, 2012.

Democrats Should Not Capitulate on the ARMS Act


A protest in favor of the DREAM Act

A protest in favor of the DREAM Act. (Photo: Jobs with Justice/flickr)

The ARMS Act – the pared down version of the DREAM Act – does not make sense. By granting a path to citizenship only to those who sign up for the military, the bill precludes many undocumented youth who can contribute much to our economy and national well-being.

While it comes as no surprise that GOP lawmakers would support the measure suggested by Rep. Rivera (R-FL), it is stunning that some Democrats are actually considering the ARMS Act as a viable alternative to the DREAM Act.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, thinks the ARMS Act is “a step in the right direction.” Whitehouse told the Hill:

“If you are willing to accept that military service is the kind of bona fide that credentials a young person to take advantage of college benefits, I’d want to explore what other kinds of service might also qualify with them before I wrote off drawing the line there. I’ll do a bit more exploring but it’s a good start.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) still believes that the DREAM Act should be passed, but he is not ruling out a compromise.

“My belief is we should try to pass the whole DREAM Act. As for what compromise might come about, that’s down the road,” he said.

I don’t see why any lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, should even mull the ARMS Act when a majority of Americans support the DREAM Act—which, we ought to recall, passed the House in 2010.

Moreover, do Democrats wish to further erode Latino support?

Their party’s relationship with the Latino community is stressed as it is due to their inability to pass the DREAM Act and the Obama administration’s record number of deportations.

Thankfully, there are those who will put up a firewall against GOP attempts to water down the DREAM Act.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) thinks the ARMS Act is no more than “a deeply cynical ploy” to garner the support of Latino voters and  remains committed to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth through military service AND higher education.

Douglas Rivlin, Gutierrez’s Director of Communications, explained the Congressman’s position in detail:

The Congressman thinks a military-only DREAM Act is a non-starter.  It is simply a campaign gimmick to give Republicans someplace to stand in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and other states where there are Latino voters that softens their “I will veto the DREAM Act” absolutism in South Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire.  The Congressman sees it as pure politics and the legislation itself is irrelevant.  Other than — perhaps — the two remaining Representatives who voted for the DREAM Act when it passed in 2010, House Republicans are generally not interested in legalizing anyone under any circumstances, even if they have to get shot at first.

Democrats should see the ARMS Act for what it is and not compromise on the DREAM Act.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, February 11, 2012.

Ban on Foreign Money Upheld, but Immigrants Find Other Ways to Help Campaigns

Michael Dompas, an Indonesian native who has just been sent overseas by his employer, plans to return this fall to help with President Obama’s reelection campaign.

“I’m allowed to do this,” he explained. “I was so frustrated by the Supreme Court’s decision over the results of the 2000 presidential elections that I just had to do something. I wanted to give money and volunteer. So I consulted a friend who at that time worked for the Federal Election Commission.”

His friend told him that as a legal permanent resident (a Green Card holder) Dompas can give money and volunteer for political campaigns.

Since then, the Indonesian banker has canvassed for Tim Kaine during his 2001 run for lieutenant governor of Virginia, and manned the phones for presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. In 2008, Dompas took two weeks off from work to campaign for then-Senator Obama.

The outcome of November’s elections will not only affect the lives of native-born Americans but immigrants as well. For that reason, some foreign-born individuals are doing what they can to get the candidate they believe has their best interest in mind elected.

Yet the Federal Election Commission bans foreign nationals from “contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly.”

Foreign nationals include those who are not legal permanent residents or do not have Green Cards, such as students, business travelers, temporary workers, and tourists. The commission also prohibits foreign governments, political parties, corporations, associations and partnerships from intervening in U.S. elections.

In October 2010, two foreign nationals who live and work lawfully in the United States filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of this prohibition.

Benjamin Bluman and Asenath Steiman argued that the ban violated the First Amendment and since they are here legally, their freedom of speech was also protected.

Bluman, a Canadian and self-described “passionate” Democratic supporter, wanted to donate to the 2008 Obama campaign. Steiman, who holds dual Canadian and Israeli citizenship, wanted to contribute to Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, the party’s National Senatorial Committee, and the Club for Growth.

The District Court dismissed Bluman and Steiman’s challenge last August and the Supreme Court issued an order Monday upholding the statute against foreigners making financial contributions.

Adolfo Franco, a Republican strategist who was an advisor to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, clarifies that anyone who is in the United States, with or without a green card, can volunteer for political campaigns so long as they do not make financial contributions, make in-kind donations, or are compensated for services they render.

“Freedom of expression applies to everyone,” he said.

Franco adds that the Republican National Committee doesn’t encourage or discourage legal immigrants from volunteering.

“We do not draw a distinction between U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents,” he said. There is “no vetting process for people who walk in the door to volunteer.”

Indeed, the RNC’s website does not mention anything about who can volunteer, but does check the eligibility of anyone who donates.

Dompas shared that though he is not a naturalized citizen he gets involved “because I live here and the policies and decisions made by elected officials affect my life.”

He supports the Democratic Party because he says its core values are aligned with his own. “They care about the individual, about social welfare, which in the long run can only improve society,” he said. “They fight for social justice, which is important to me as a Catholic.”

Franco believes, however, that immigrants will likely fare better under a Republican administration. In particular, he argues that immigration reform stands a better chance with the GOP.

“Comprehensive immigration reform will become law, but only with a Republican president,” he asserted, “because most Americans would trust Republicans with immigration just as they would feel more comfortable with Democratic leadership on issues such as Social Security and Medicare. A lot of Americans think the Democratic Party is soft on the border security and illegal immigration issue, and that Democrats are not really serious about tackling the illegal issue or adequate border security.”

Dompas, on the other hand, believes that immigrants will be better off with a Democrat in the White House and said he will do everything he can to help Mr. Obama keep his job.

Dompas is justified in wanting to get involved in a campaign, as are Bluman and Steiman, as are all people living in the U.S.—citizens and non-ctizens alike—because we are all affected by the policy decisions and rhetoric of our elected officials.

But the prohibition on foreign nationals influencing, and in particular, financially contributing, to U.S. elections is sound. We want people who are truly invested in the welfare of the United States, and who identify as Americans, determining its future through the electoral process.

Arguably, there are foreign nationals who want nothing more than to be U.S. citizens or at least have a green card but currently have no visible path to citizenship. These are the unauthorized immigrants who have planted their roots with American children, jobs, and homes in communities across the country; people who have lived here for decades and know no other home, and who want to contribute fully to this country.

The question then for immigrants and their advocates is which party will give them the best chance to legalize their status and earn a voice, and a vote, in our democracy.

Originally posted on WNYC It’s A Free Country and Feet in 2 Worlds, January 14, 2012.

Both Parties Propose Immigration Bills But Pass None

Immigration activists marched on the Capitol last October - Photo: Jelena Kopanka/Fi2W

Immigration activists in front of the Capitol. (Photo: Jelena Kopanka/Fi2W)

Democrats are thinking of introducing an immigration bill as early as December, CNN reported Monday. It is not clear what it would cover—possibly the DREAM Act—but apparently Congressional Democrats would like it to differentiate themselves from Republicans in order to secure Latino votes in 2012.

GOP lawmakers tend to focus on border security and enforcement. The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, for instance, passed the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this month and a vote in the Republican-controlled house is expected soon. The law would allow the U.S. Border Patrol to ignore environmental laws on federal lands including Glacier National Park and the Great Lakes.

The Scott Gardner Act is another Republican-sponsored bill and it seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by directing the U.S. Attorney General to take into federal custody any unauthorized immigrant arrested for a DWI or similar infraction by state and local law enforcement officials. The Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act likewise seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by penalizing states and other jurisdictions that block E-Verify and Secure Communities.

While trying to crack down on undocumented immigrants, Republican House members have simultaneously presented bills recently meant to attract foreign investors and high-skilled professionals. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced the Fairness of High-Skilled Immigrants Act which would eliminate country quotas for employment-based green cards. Rep. Raul Labrador proposed the American Innovation and Education Act of 2011 which would speed up green card applications for foreign-born grad students who have high-tech jobs waiting for them. These bills signify an acknowledgment in the GOP that immigration policy for legal immigrants needs to be reformed.

If the Democrats introduce anything, it will most likely be a bill that acquiesces to the GOP imperative for border security and enforcement while re-introducing DREAM Act provisions. Like all other federal immigration legislation, it will go nowhere. Fact is, nothing major will pass anytime soon. Not before the upcoming elections or during the 113th Congress, regardless of who takes control of the House of Representatives, Senate, and the White House.

Immigration laws that myopically emphasize border security and enforcement will not win the hearts of Latinos, even if this rapidly growing group of voters agrees with other Republican concepts. These proposals may pander to the conservative nativist base and pretend to address our nation’s economic woes, but at the end of the day, these measures skirt around the obvious need for comprehensive immigration reform, which many Latinos consider priority numero uno.

It is helpful to know where parties and politicians stand on immigration so we can hold them accountable. Party allegiance is not set in stone, a concept many of us are starting to embrace.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 27, 2011.