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  1. Why So Much Vitriol Toward "Illegals"? by Laura Danielson

    "Come over legally, fine.  Come over illegally and we should be able to shoot you!"
    "Children born to illegals are illegal...the 'Native' Americans came from Asia many years ago and settled here so they are immigrants too. The Europeans came here legally and built this country up. Look what's happening to it now because of illegals."
    "The great majority of Americans have no problem with immigrants. Many of us have a problem with ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS....This article paints a picture of those who came here legally. ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION is a whole different picture."
    These are a few of the comments that were received (among a number of supportive ones) in response to CNN's recent article about our book, Green Card Stories. This type of response, which is pervasive on the web, makes me wonder how we have come to this point in time where people draw such easy distinctions between "illegals" and "legals", as if there is a clear-cut line. For example, when I gave Green Card Stories to a rather conservative friend,  the first thing she said was, "Thank you.  You know I support LEGAL IMMIGRATION.  It is just the ILLEGALS that I have no time for." 
    Those of us who work in the trenches know that immigration law is so nuanced and difficult that it is often only a combination of timing, luck and good counsel that lands people in the camp that holds their green cards, as many of our stories explain. A more detailed, excellent description of the complex legal twists and turns that one can face is found in immigration lawyer Helen Parsonage's recent post about a man on the brink of deportation who was granted permanent residence only after an uphill and arduous battle.  The real reason we have so many undocumented people in the U.S. is because we do not have a workable immigration system. Quite simply, there is no easy and correct way for most people to acquire U.S. residency and there is absolutely no line that the vast majority of our necessary skilled and unskilled labor force can stand and wait in until they become legal.
    The American discourse regarding "illegals" seems to be far more prevalent today than it was when I started practicing immigration law, shortly after Ronald Regan approved legislation that both granted amnesty to a large number of undocumented individuals and imposed sanctions on employers who failed to check their workers' documentation going forward. Back then, I called what I did "happy law" because most of the time we could find immigration solutions for our clients.  The law was more favorable, the immigration officials had more discretion, and we weren't hamstrung by the lack of solutions that exist today. The general attitude of  employers, neighbors and American family members back then was that  my clients' immigration difficulties did not in any way detract from their overall qualities as loyal, hard-working and law abiding people.  Certainly no one referred to them as "illegals".
    Of course, there have always been loud-mouths and racists, such as Peter Brimelow, an immigrant himself who now that he has been allowed in wants to shut the door to others who do not come from similar backgrounds.  He is quoted as saying that immigration is creating a "Spanish speaking underclass parallel to the African American underclass."  Further, he said, "These are people who are completely dysfunctional. They're on welfare; they're not doing any kind of work - at least not legal work - and their children are having a terrible time. They're dropping out of school; there's an increase in teenage pregnancy."
    My concern is that Mr. Brimelow was given a platform for his reprehensible views at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a few weeks ago: 
    How many are listening to and absorbing this vitriol? And how much of it is filtering into our mainstream discourse? It seems that it has become commonplace to demonize a large segment of our immigrant workforce along with their American-born children by classifying them as "illegals".  My state's Congresswoman Michele Bachmann did her part recently by stating to Bill O'Reilly that she saw no problem with dragging parents onto buses to be deported in front of their crying children.  She also said, in defiance of our U.S. Constitution,  "Well, Bill, what we have to do is end the practice of anchor babies in the United States" because that's when "illegal aliens come in."
    Similarly, Rick Santorum, speaking at a campaign stop in Iowa, said families that include undocumented immigrants "should be broken up when the law is broken."
    Despite how painful and difficult it is right now for the immigrants among us to suffer the invective I described at the beginning of this post, I do have a sense that we are reaching a tipping point.  Good-hearted Americans just won't allow things to reach such hysterical proportions that we routinely deny American children foodstamps, deport mentally ill people without legal representation, take custody of American children away from their undocumented parents, and deport American veterans.  They just can't.  We just can't.
    One thing I often wonder when I notice people slamming out angry anonymous responses on the web or calling in and shouting back on shock jock shows,  is whether these are the opposite of what used to be called the "silent majority" - the "clamorous minority".  They are getting so much attention that politicians are confused into thinking that they are reflective of the real mood in our nation.  Knowing full well that something must be done to address the urgent and pressing immigration problems we face, they cower in fear that if they speak out they will suffer a backlash from their constituencies.  Reputable studies, such as the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll have repeatedly shown, however, that the vast majority of Americans prefer to allow some or all undocumented immigrants to be able to remain in the U.S.  Only a quarter of Americans believe that we should kick everyone out no matter how long they've been here. 
    On a more personal positive note and in contrast to the ugly messages I described above,  over a three week period I have been the recipient of numerous anonymous postcards as part of a little-known campaign called Postcard Undergound, in which people from all across the country put pen to paper, **** a stamp, and send their support to someone they think has been doing good work.  In my case they are acknowledging the work that my immigration team did in helping an African kid get reunited with his newly naturalized U.S. citizen family after many years of separation. 
    I'm not writing this to highlight our work, which is typical of the work that ALL of my good immigration colleagues do on a regular basis without fanfare. I'm writing to say that in my mind these postcards represent the quiet 75%, the good hearted majority who still believe in the importance of caring for our neighbors.  These postcards are from people who still believe in the inscription on the Statue of Liberty and they give me hope.
  2. Bloggings: Calling the Republicans out on immigration racism, Part 1, by Roger Algase

    During the past year, the Republicans have run one of the most openly racist political campaigns in their entire modern history. That is saying quite a bit, considering that they are the party of the notorious Nixon era "Southern Strategy" and of the vicious "Willie Horton" advertisements in the 1988 presidential campaign. In fact, according to a recent article in the New Yorker, Larry McCarthy, one of the people responsible for creating the Willie Horton ads is now in charge of creating Willard Romney's attack ads against his main opponents. Should we call them "Willie" Gingrich and "Willie" Santorum?
    What was the strategy behind the Willie Horton ads? According to another adviser to the 1988 Republican presidential campaign, Lloyd Green, writing in the January 25 Financial Times, it is essential for Republicans to appeal to the white working class. What better way to do this than to focus on Willie Horton, the convicted African-American killer who had committed additional acts of violence while out of prison under a state furlough program for which the Republicans held the Democratic presidential candidate, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, responsible?
    Now, the Republican strategy does not involve just demonizing a single person. It involves demonizing 11 million people, namely every foreign citizen, man, woman and child, who is in this country without authorization. It also means demonizing their American citizen children, the so called "anchor babies". It means depriving millions more minority US citizens of the right to vote thought restrictive voter ID laws under the guise of protecting against virtually non-existent  "voter fraud".
    (Here, I have to admit, one qualification is needed. There has been one high-profile voter fraud conviction recently - against Charlie White, Indiana's Secretary of State, a Republican responsible for administering that state's own laws suppressing minority voters.)
    The Republican strategy has also been to demonize legal immigrants. Foreign professional workers have long been attacked for "stealing" American jobs by working for low wages, with visas allegedly obtained by fraud, something for which there has never been any widespread evidence, though what government program of any type is ever entirely free from abuse? Family immigration has been attacked as "chain immigration". "Amnesty" is competing with the word "terrorism" as the most hated word in the English language. The image is of an America taken over by Spanish-speaking and other minority immigrants who are destroying America's (white) "culture".
    Up to now, the Democrats, and even most pro-immigrant advocates, have been strangely silent against this assault. But now, the sleeping lions are beginning to wake up. To be continued.

  3. Bloggings: The billionaires' threat to immigration, by Roger Algase

    In my last post, I wrote about a potential threat to the future of immigration in America that might come from President Obama's evident reluctance to take a hard line on Iran's nuclear program, something which might erode his support among liberals and moderates whose votes he badly needs to be re-elected. But there is an even bigger and more immediate danger - the huge influence over campaign financing that has been given away to a veritable rogues' gallery of far right wing billionaires by the US Supreme Court's appalling Citizens United decision.
    Both the Washington Post and the Financial Times (which is also publishing my letter today calling Mitt Romney out on his extreme right wing anti-immigrant stand), have published articles in the past two days identifying some of the billionaires and corporate special interest groups which are pouring tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars into Super-Pacs supporting the various Republican  presidential candidates this year. 
    According to the Washington Post, the biggest contributor of all so far is the Texas corporate raider, Harold C. Simmons, who covered himself with shame in the despicable "Swift Boat" attacks against John Kerry in 2004. But there are plenty of other billionaires who are not far behind - and neither article even mentions the Brothers K. Even granting that some Republicans may favor more open immigration so America can stay competitive (see 2/22 ID), the great bulk of Super-Pac money is going to candidates who are taking an extreme hard line in this issue - including, without question, Romney, Santorum and Gingrich.
    Apparently the Republicans' logic of winning elections through a coalition of the wealthy elite and white working class anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-women's rights and anti-religious freedom voters, is more important than creating an immigration system that would truly benefit America.
  4. Hypocrisy Knows No Boundaries - By Laura Danielson

    "A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation."  Adlai E. Stevenson

    Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu, is running for Congress in Arizona's extremely conservative, newly formed 4th District. He is a vehement proponent of stricter border enforcement and has appeared repeatedly on Fox News and other channels in support of Arizona's tough immigration law that makes the failure to carry proof of legal immigration status a crime. He can be seen here discussing the topic on CNN's Saturday Morning show after a temporary injunction against certain of the law's provisions was upheld by federal courts.  
    Sheriff Babeu appears to have led a closeted life involving a long-term relationship with a Mexican immigrant, Jose, whom he is accused of threatening with deportation if Jose ever made this fact public. Unpersuaded but intimidated, Jose sought legal protection and told his story to the Phoenix New Times (which he said he did in an effort to stay out of Babeu's reach).

    As a lawyer I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so there may be another perfectly plausible reason for Sheriff's Babeu's hand to be under Jose's shirt in this photo.  Perhaps he was frisking him or looking for his legal papers.  The sheriff's text messages to Jose ("and you say you loved me Papi?") and his self-portrait in nothing but underpants on the gay dating site all probably have equally convincing explanations.
    Or maybe not.  And maybe the threats that Jose said he suffered as a result of their break-up were true as well.  As my immigration colleague, Nancy-Jo Merritt, who practices in Phoenix says in the report, such threats are 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....If what [Babeu's attorney] says is correct [about Jose's being illegal], either the sheriff had a long relationship with someone he knew was undocumented, while all the time being Mr. Bluster about the border and using it for political gain," or he threatened to deport someone he just broke up with.
    In some ways this story flies in the face of my belief that if we just get to know the real human being behind the immigrant "alien" then we wouldn't be so virulent in our anti-immigrant rhetoric.  There is a very sweet video about an Alabama farmer and his close friendship with his undocumented employee, Paco, that illustrates this effect in the series "Not the Kind of Alabama I Want" (which was created in response to Alabama's oppressive immigration laws that mirror those of Arizona).  But maybe that's the nature of being closeted and in self-denial.  In the extreme it allows a person to lash out at the community of the very same person that he or she loves.
    By the way, Sheriff Babeu's Valentine's Day message on his campaign site was, "It's time to send a true conservative to Washington, D.C."  It makes me wonder about all of the openly gay mixed-nationality couples around the country who also celebrated  Valentine's Day this past week, many of whom are now legally married under the laws of the states where they reside.  Under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, however, which even our President says is unconstitutional, these marriages are not recognized under federal immigration law and therefore are of no value in ensuring that an American citizen can live together in the U.S. with his or her spouse.   There is change in the air, however, as temporary reprieves against deportation have been granted recently to same-sex couples by favorably disposed immigration officials, with the support of the administration.
    I believe that Sheriff Babeu and Jose are at a lovers' crossroad and the solution for them is clear: kiss and make up, go to a state where they can legally marry, file for immigration relief for Jose, and campaign for Congress under a new slogan, "It's time to send a truly honest politician to Washington, D.C."
    Postcript: Sheriff Babeu did the right thing and announced yesterday (Feb. 18) that he was in fact in a relationship with Jose, but that he never threatened him with deportation.  He also said, "This issue (of being gay) has been floated around even when I was a candidate for sheriff ... by my political opponents and those throughout my life. This is 20-plus years that I've had numerous people that would threaten this to me, to expose me, go to my chain of command, even in the military, to report this and have done so. So it's almost as if there is a relief today to not be threatened."  (Emphasis added.) There's a lesson here, about honesty, being true to one's self, and the relief that comes from no longer living in fear.  I wonder now whether the conservatives of Pima County will continue to embrace Sheriff Babeu after his revelation and I hope that Sheriff Babeu has gained a new-found empathy for those who live in fear of discovery.
  5. Bloggings: The biggest threat to the future of immigration in America may come from - Iran. By Roger Algase

    Iran may soon be reaching the point of no return with its nuclear program. This aggressive fascist dictatorship, whose power depends on having slaughtered, imprisoned and tortured its opponents in the wake of its fraudulent June, 2009 election, is now in the hands of its Revolutionary Guard, whose respect for democracy and human rights is about the same as that which the Nazis showed in Germany. 
    All indications are that Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons, no matter what the cost, and to use them - primarily against Israel, which Iran's leaders have called an illegitimate, "one-bomb" state  (a reference to the number of bombs it would take to destroy Israel). It is not only Israel that is in danger, however. Iran could use nuclear weapons to intimidate the entire Arab world or even Europe -goodbye Arab spring. But one does not have to be a supporter of Israel's far right regime (and this writer is certainly not) in order to worry that Iran intends to carry out a second Holocaust, this time a nuclear one.
    According to reports in some of the world's most reliable newspapers, such as the Financial Times and the Guardian, Iran may be about to enter the "zone of immunity" in which its entire nuclear weapons program may be located so far underground that no Israeli or even American strike would be able to reach it. This may make a military strike, or strikes, against Iran essential before the US election this November in order to avet catastrophe.
    What does any of this have to do with the future of immigration in America? Only this: let us adopt the laughable assumption that that Iran is going to the extreme lengths of defying the entire world and building its underground complex only to develop the capacity for "nuclear medicine research", and that it is not a nuclear threat. Even in this case, millions of American voters will take the Iranian nuclear threat seriously anyway.
    As the Financial Times points out in a February 20 article by Edward Luce, just one billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, whose money kept Newt Gingrich's campaign afloat for far too long, is prepared to spend whatever it takes to sink Obama over the Iran issue. Adelson is a strong supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appears eager to strike Iran before it is too late. I am not aware that Adelson is concerned about about immigrant rights in America one way or another.
    Disaffected Obama supporters, or outright opponents, may include not only Jewish and fundamentalist "Christian Zionist" voters, but Americans from all faiths and ends of the political spectrum who see Iran, unlike Saddam Hussein, as a real, not manufactured, threat to world peace and who, on moral and humanitarian grounds, do not wish to see a second Holocaust take place or the world become a far more dangerous place.
    Many of these voters are in favor of more liberal immigration policies, and an end to the politics of using Latino immigrants as scapegoats, while keeping minority and less affluent US citizens away from the polls through restrictive voter ID laws. But faced with a choice between re-electing a president who, while arguably the lesser of two evils on immigration, may be perceived as weak on Iran, and voting for a Republican who may take immigration back closer to the era of the Chinese exclusion laws, but who pledges that Iran will have no nuclear weapons, many pro-immigration voters may still vote for a president who takes the harder line on Iran.
    If President Obama persists in relying on "sanctions" or "negotiations" which may be perceived by millions of voters as ineffective, will there be enough Iran apologists or nuclear threat deniers left to re-elect him without those crucial votes? If not, we may see an extreme Republican immigration hard-liner take over the White House next year, thanks to Iran.
    The biggest threat to the future of American immigration may come, not from Arizona, not from Alabama, not even from Kansas, home of Kris Kobach, the author of racist anti-immigrant laws and avowed enemy of minority voting rights, but from Tehran.
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