Immigration Reform Stalls in the House

Immigration art

May 13, 2013; CBS News

One thing that’s certain after the House GOP meeting last Wednesday is that immigration reform isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Republican representatives convened to discuss how to proceed after the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration reform bill, which includes provisions for what Senator McCain described as “the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” stringent law enforcement measures, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

House Republicans are well aware that their party mandarins want them to act in short order and produce immigration legislation, but they are not to be rushed. The priorities of national Republicans and representatives are simply different. Party leaders fear losing the Latino vote in 2016 and beyond, while House members fear losing the conservative White vote in upcoming primaries. (Very few House members have sizeable numbers of Latino voters to worry about. On average, only 10 percent of voters in Republican districts are Latino.)

Any steps taken will be after the August recess, and they will be small. The inclination is toward tackling immigration reform piecemeal, starting with border security, interior enforcement, visas for high-skilled workers, and an agricultural guest worker program. But a path to citizenship, a crucial component of any comprehensive immigration reform bill, is a non-starter for most House members, being tantamount to amnesty.

Some Republicans have suggested an alternative path that leads to “legalization,” not citizenship. But isn’t this just semantics? The Senate bill would legalize the status of undocumented immigrants and, after 13 years or so, allow them to naturalize. The House could pass a bill that “only” provides legal status, but under the current system, immigrants could eventually get green cards and in time, citizenship. The process might be tougher and longer, but it nonetheless ends the same…unless formerly undocumented immigrants are banned from ever becoming citizens.

In the meantime, others like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte are open to providing a path to citizenship for one group of unauthorized immigrants: those who were brought into the country as children. Cantor and Goodlatte are drafting their own version of the DREAM Act, which passed in the House but failed in the Senate in December of 2010.

Immigration reform might still happen. But not any time soon, and not in a fashion as comprehensive as some of us would like.

Originially posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s NPQ Newswire.

Will Our Next President Be Another White Male?


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.

Despite Display of Diversity, GOP Actions and Words Send Hostile Message to Immigrants

The optics of a mostly white crowd aren’t good for Republicans. (Photo: Flickr/newshour)

The Republican Party is trying hard to appear diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. While they can’t do much about the optics of a convention packed with white people, they can control who gets the podium.

Have a look at the list of convention speakers. You have a large number of Latinos, including Ted Cruz, Texas U.S. Senate nominee, Susana Martinez, New Mexico Governor, and of course, GOP darling Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator from Florida. You even have some Asians, with appearances by Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, and Ishwar Singh, president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida.

GOP leaders recognize that our country is fast becoming a majority minority nation and they need to appeal to people of color, especially growing immigrant communities which will decide the outcome, if not of this year’s elections, certainly of the 2016 race and beyond.

Republicans need to understand that most of us can see through this manufactured and condescending visual. The rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric of the GOP presidential primaries is still steaming fresh in our minds. Rubio himself admitted to George Stephanopoulos that he agreed with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when he said “you can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate.”

“Policies matter and, look, the Republican Party does have a challenge,” Rubio said.

The platform they proudly present at the convention is not exactly endearing to us either. While Rep. Marsha Blackburn, co-chair of the Platform Committee, boasts that the platform “represents the inclusiveness of our party and reaffirms the idea that we are the ‘Big Tent Party,’” many of us see it as the exact opposite, as proof of their propensity to exclude.

The GOP platform pushes for reduction in federal spending, particularly social safety net programs. It advocates for a tax code that shamelessly favors the wealthy. It continues the Republican assault on labor unions. It declares an end to “Obamacare.” It spells out an immigration policy that focuses mainly on law enforcement and opposes any form of reprieve for undocumented immigrants.

The thing is, communities of color which are mostly middle and lower income Americans, rely on safety net programs they pay for with their taxes. These are families and individuals who will not benefit from tax breaks for wealthy Americans who do not need preferential treatment. Labor unions protect the interests of all working Americans. The president’s health care reform law has already benefited millions who would otherwise not have adequate care or any healthcare at all. Are Republicans really so tone deaf to what truly matters to immigrants, their children, and communities?

Shenanigans during the convention are also indicative of the climate that greets people of color when they step into Republican spaces. A couple of attendees threw nuts at an African American camerawoman, explaining “This is how we feed animals.” As Zoraida Fonalledas, chair of the Committee on Permanent Organization, started to speak in her accented English, some in the crowd started chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” The attendees who assaulted the camerawomen were promptly ejected and RNC chairman Reince Priebus did call for order and respect for Fonalledas, but none of the bigwigs has come forward to challenge fringe elements in their midst.

On the contrary, Mitt Romney pandered to birthers and nativists in the GOP ranks when he declared “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate” while campaigning in Michigan last week.

Eric Liu, former speechwriter and deputy domestic policy adviser for President Clinton and a fellow with the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University, writes:

Romney’s implicit pledge of allegiance to the birther movement is as revealing of his character as anything else in his campaign of half-deliberate opacity. He appears to lack a core capacity for empathy. He literally cannot see himself as someone not white, as someone accented or a newcomer … Romney may yet win in November. But he and this whole odious line of attack are on the losing side of history. The tide of demographics is irresistible, and soon enough it’ll sweep up his birth certificate and mine into a new notion of who is truly from this country.

Jeb Bush, who has been admonishing his party to ease up on its hardline immigration stance, told The Hill that inclusive language and policies are important symbols which reflect sensitivity for the concerns of communities of color. He also warned that if immigrant communities do not feel welcome, “we’re going to lose elections.” “That’s not opinion — that’s math,” he said.

Bush’s calculations are spot on. No matter how hard the Republican Party tries, most of us do not feel welcome. Both their words and actions belie their protestations of diversity and inclusivity.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, August 30, 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.

Are Presidential Hopefuls Palling Around with Hate Groups?

October 9, 2011; Source: LGBTQ Nation | Republican presidential hopefuls were at this past weekend’s Values Voters Summit addressing socially conservative constituents whose support they are all vying for. Despite being called a cult member by a prominent Baptist and Rick Perry supporter, Mitt Romney addressed the crowd and called for civility. By the end of the weekend, Ron Paul won the religious voters’ straw poll followed by Herman Cain.

Last Friday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a report on the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA) just in time for the summit. Entitled “The Anti-Gay Lobby: The Family Research Council, the American Family Association and the Demonization of LGBT People,” the document exposes the anti-gay agenda of FRC and AFA; debunks myths propagated by anti-gay activists which expressly “demonizes” the LGBT community; and presents alarming statistics on violent hate crimes against LGBT people spurred by the defamation and mischaracterization of the minority group.

SPLC began listing FRC and AFA, which it considers “among the most powerful groups on the American religious right,” as hate groups last year, based on the organizations’ activities targeting the LGBT community.  SPLC points out that the conservative groups are “the chief purveyors of lies about the LGBT people” which have resulted in discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals.

“LGBT people are now, by far, the group most victimized by violent hate crimes in America,” said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which compiles statistics and information on hate groups operating in the United States.

There is no denying that FRC and AFA are two of the most influential conservative advocacy groups in the United States – they are the ones behind the Values Voters Summit, a required stop for hopefuls in the GOP presidential primary race.

“Public figures should not lend their names to groups that vilify or spread lies about them (LGBT people),” argued Potok. He said that politicians “who know that the claims made by FRC and AFA are false, but who take no action, make these outrageous lies seem legitimate,” referring to GOP presidential candidates, Republican leaders, and other notables who graced the gathering.

Come general elections time, will the Republican presidential candidate be called out for associating with hate groups or will he or she get a pass since FRC and AFA are only vilifying gays?

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 10, 2011.

College Republicans Hold Racist Bake Sale

September 27, 2011; Source: CNN | Race continues to be an issue, even among Millennials, a generation that some say is “post-racial.” This was on full display Tuesday at the University of California–Berkeley, where the Berkeley College Republicans held a bake sale which has been characterized as racist.

The “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” offered baked goods priced by race. Pastries were sold to white men for $2, Asian men for $1.50, Latino men for $1, African American men for 75 cents and American Indians for 25 cents. All women got 25 cents off these prices.

The bake sale was in protest of SB 185, which, if signed by Governor Jerry Brown, would allow public state universities to consider race, gender, and nationality in the admissions process so as to foster campus diversity.

The Berkeley College Republicans acknowledged that the controversy was planned.

“We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point,” the president of the group, Shawn Lewis, wrote in response to the uproar. “It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender.”

Other college Republican groups have hosted similar events across the country which have also been met with indignation and protests. Some university officials, such as those at Bucknell University, the College of William and Mary, the University of California–Irvine, and Southern Methodist University, stopped these events. The University of California–Berkeley, however, did not prevent the incendiary bake sale.

Originally Posted in Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire,  September 30, 2011.

Obama or Perry (or Romney) – Does it Make a Difference to Immigrants?

Immigration reform protest


The latest Rasmussen poll of likely Republican Primary voters finds Texas Governor Rick Perry leading the GOP pack of presidential contenders. He is trailed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and the winner of last Saturday’s Iowa Ames Straw Poll Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann.

As the GOP whittles down its field of presidential candidates, it is worth looking at where these politicians stand on immigration and asking whether it ultimately matters who wins the presidency in 2012 when it comes to advancing policies and laws beneficial to immigrants and their families.

Some on the right see Perry as having an “immigration problem.” After all, he did sign a law allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition ten years ago, long before that became a major immigration issue nationwide.

The conservative Washington Times also points to his questioning Arizona for passing the draconian SB 1070, which resulted in a cascade of copycat anti-immigrant laws in other states, his criticism of the E-Verify program, and his purported support for open borders as evidence of Perry’s liberal immigration bona fides.

All this might give some the impression that the Texas governor would be good news for immigrants and their advocates. But as Feet in 2 Worlds clarified, Perry’s “open borders” policy is rather nuanced. It would involve a biometric identification system that tracks immigrants to make sure they paid their taxes and obeyed the law. All this as a requirement for two year work visas for migrant laborers.  Perry also tried, but failed, to pass a bill prohibiting sanctuary cities in his state.

Bottom line, it might not be enough for extreme hard-liners, but Perry’s immigration stance is one of enforcement. He calls for thousands of “boots on the ground” and predator drones in the air along the border with Mexico.

The National Catholic Reporter adds that Perry opposes any comprehensive immigration reform effort that includes “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and most of the provisions of the federal DREAM Act. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is quoted as accusing the governor of having “the most anti-Latino agenda in more than a generation.”

Mitt Romney also toes the party line and prioritizes enforcement. As Mitt Romney Central states – should anyone doubt – “securing the border is priority number one.” In addition, the presidential hopeful opposes “amnesty,” supports an employer verification system, and is against “sanctuary cities.” Particularly chilling for immigrants and their families are his proclamations that “illegal immigrants should be required to return to their home country” and “giving tuition breaks to the children of illegal immigrants needs to stop.”

Michelle Bachmann shares Perry’s and Romney’s views on immigration. At a town hall event in Greenville, South Carolina, she called for a wall to be erected along the border with Mexico and claimed that lax enforcement of immigration laws was a threat to the nation’s security. She promised that “as president of the United States, every mile, every yard, every foot, every inch will be covered on that southern border.”

So on the Republican side, the option is between one type of enforcement or another. No GOP candidate is talking about comprehensive immigration reform. Does this mean that despite little immigration-related action in his first term, the incumbent is still the better choice when it comes to improving the lives of millions of immigrants and their families?

In a certain light, it might not matter who wins the presidency when it comes to comprehensive reform.

President Obama did not pass CIR while both Houses of Congress were under Democratic control and any reform effort is now unlikely to occur due to the current political climate. Mr. Obama has chosen not to use his executive powers to push meaningful immigration changes such as the DREAM Act, one of the least controversial initiatives, or stop deportation proceedings. In fact, his administration has managed to deport a record number of immigrants, much more than his Republican predecessor. Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security unilaterally declared an end to Secure Communities agreements with state and local governments, saying states had no choice but to participate.  Last Thursday, the Board of Immigration Appeals issued a decision that immigrants arrested without a warrant will not be read their rights until they are placed in formal deportation proceedings.

Some argue that if the president’s party were to win control of both Houses of Congress again, then he could finally fulfill his promise to pass immigration reform. On the other hand, he still may not fulfill that promise, leaving immigrants and their families to live in constant uncertainty and anxiety.

Ultimately, it will be up to voters to decide whether they will support a Republican candidate who is crystal clear on where he or she stands, or a Democratic one who says all the right things but has yet to deliver.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, August 18, 2011. Re-posted on WNYC It’s a Free Country, August 18, 2011.