Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Failure of Dream Act proves that race bigotry is still strong

Barack Obama will have achieved two major victories this week—the signing off on the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and the START treaty. He will have satisfied one constituency and strengthened his international standing. But Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid have failed utterly to even provide a token show for a constituency it owes a debt of gratitude for holding on to key seats in the West that allowed the Democrats to retain control of the Senate. Incredibly, five Democrats joined 36 Republicans to vote against cloture on the Dream Act—in effect killing it. Thus it was for Republicans and conservative Democrats a question of who was more offensive to themselves and the extreme-right constituency they take their marching orders from: Openly gay people in the military, or “Mexicans.” It makes perfect sense. Many scandals in the recent past have involved Republican congressmen who hid behind extreme-right views while they were propositioning male pages, staff members and undercover police in bathroom stalls. Why be ashamed of natural predilections because of societal prudery? On the other hand, since the Republican Party is the unofficial “white people’s party,” alienating “little brown ones” with racist talk is immaterial when it is such a useful tactic to motivate the “base.” For other minority groups who join in the anti-Latino scapegoating, it is useful to note that Republicans and their base always have time to expectorate the most inflammatory falsehoods against Obama, and people believe them; is it easier because he is black?

The “historic” Senate vote that repealed the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in regard to gays in the service had to be done to lift any vestiges of officially sanctioned bigotry (unofficially is another matter). Sexual harassment policies might need to be expanded beyond the sensitivities of female soldiers, to make room for the tender sensitivities of male soldiers who might be offended if they sense they may be an object of unwanted attention that insinuates upon their manhood. Everyone knows that gays serve in the military now, so it won’t take long for people to get used to the idea. But the vote against cloture for the Dream Act indicates that it is much more problematic to be identified as “Mexican”in this country.

Opponents of the bill, which has been floating around since 2001, assert that it is nothing more or less than an “amnesty” that it will allow a hoard of millions permanent residency. The fact is that the Dream Act is frustratingly modest and limited in its aims. The act would allow children of illegal immigrants who were 16 years of age or younger when they were brought into the country, and had lived in the country for at least five years the opportunity to apply for residency status, if they qualify in certain other respects: they must be a high school graduate or obtain a GED certificate; they must also demonstrate "good moral character,"a vague definition depending upon who’s making that determination. If these “requirements” are met, then a person would receive a six-year “conditional status.” Within these six years, they must either attend college or serve in the military for a minimum of two years, and naturally they must not have a criminal record, providing that ICE hasn’t already labeled them “criminals” just for breathing.States are also allowed to make their own rules about who qualifies for in-state tuition. Thus the “amnesty” would effect only a small percentage of children of illegal immigrants, perhaps no more than 7,000 to 13,000 a year according to government estimates. At that rate, it would take 100 years for a “hoard” of 1,000,000 to wreak devastation upon the country with their education and military service.

But even this was far too much for the racists and bigots in the U.S. Senate. I’m not going to mince words about these despicable people. They—and the racist constituency they pander to—are every bit as I see them. Even this extraordinarily narrow and limited bill that targeted only the best and brightest was simply too much for them; I can’t even give them the “out” of political cynicism. Harry Reid owed his re-election to Latino voters, yet he could not convince (and perhaps didn’t even try to) five recalcitrant Democrats (and one who abstained) to join three upright Republicans who voted yes. Even Mary Landrieu, who lost her re-election bid, could not bring herself to vote yes, even in response to the ugly racism of her opponent’s campaign.

The current Dream Act legislation was greatly watered-down since it was first conceived in 2001, and has been subject to a great deal of misrepresentation by both lawmakers and the media. Complaints by Republicans in the U.S. Senate echo that of typical nativist organizations, like the innocuous-sounding “Americans for Legal Immigration Pac.” Just to show you that black militants and white supremacists can find “commonality” against a “common enemy,” an article opposed to the Dream Act by William Gheen (founder of ALIP), appeared on the website Blackvoices, a black-oriented news and entertainment website. Under a blog announcement of the “Dream Act Nightmare,” Gheen’s post, “Dream Act Amnesty Means Destruction of America,” Republican talking points and white supremacist rhetoric reach their intersection:

“First of all, the Dream Act Amnesty will turn millions of current illegal aliens into legalized workers, students, and voters. This means that millions of innocent American citizens will be displaced and replaced. Please picture yourself or your children and grandchildren not getting a job, not getting into the college of their choice or college at all, and your votes being counteracted by millions of illegal alien voters.” Perhaps the person who thought this was important for the black audience to know forgot about the anti-affirmative action fervor based on the claim that blacks are taking white students' spots. ”Dream Act Amnesty would also qualify most illegal aliens for in-state tuition subsidies and affirmative action programs, which would force US taxpayer to replace their own children in the limited seats in our colleges at taxpayer expense!” This line is highlighted, suggesting to black readers that the “Mexicans” are stealing their seats. Allowing oneself to be used to justify bigotry against another group tends only to justify similar actions against themselves later.

“Second, the Dream Act Amnesty is not for children and will not be limited to just a few million illegal aliens. The supporters of the Dream Act Amnesty have made it clear that passage of this friendly sounding legislation is just a lever to gain the full Amnesty for 12-20 million illegal aliens in America today! In fact, once they legalize the Dream Act Amnesty recipients, politically stopping full Amnesty will become almost impossible. Once the full Comprehensive Amnesty becomes law, there will be no reasonable expectation of future enforcement of America's existing immigration and border laws.” This is all either blatant falsehood or gross exaggeration, as I have already pointed out, given the severe limitations of the Act. But what is truth to a hate-mongerer?

“Not only can millions of illegal aliens making false unverifiable claims be instantly immune to deportation, but any illegal immigrants caught by Homeland Security can claim they qualify for Dream Amnesty, if it is passed based on 'Prima facie' evidence. Simply put, any apprehended illegal can claim they are under 30, brought here as kids, and planning on attending college so deportation will be waived, and if nobody rebuts their claims, since Homeland Security plans to keep applicants confidential, good luck checking on their work and so much for open government!” Again falsity run amuck. Given the current state of due process (or lack thereof), it is hardly likely that a person over 18 and not in school or the military will not find it extraordinarily difficult to convince an immigration court judge that they meet Dream Act qualifications before being deported; after all, even carrying a birth certificate that indicates native-born status is not necessarily sufficient “proof” to keep you from being deported.

“The existing hijacked American government has shown illegal aliens that they can engage in an extensive pattern of criminal acts to the detriment of American citizens and get away with it. Our nation currently has no immigration or border enforcement credibility.” I would agree with the lack of “credibility”—given the fact, as I just mentioned, that even U.S. citizens who are carrying their birth certificates can be arbitrarily deported if they speak with an accent.

Meanwhile, Ms. Anchor Baby herself, Michelle Malkin, displayed her usual ignorance concerning access to public services requirements, referring to “ already-rampant immigration benefit fraud.” But then she reveals the right’s real fear: “ The so-called DREAM Act would create an official path to Democrat voter registration for an estimated 2 million, college-age illegal aliens. Look past the public relations-savvy stories of “undocumented” valedictorians left out in the cold. This is not about protecting “children.” It’s about preserving electoral power through cap-and-gown amnesty.” It seems as if the right is realizing that there is a cost for demonizing a whole group at the ballot box, and the only solution they can come-up with voter suppression.

The reasons why we have an immigration problem south of the border in the first place are legion. This country has never had an intelligible immigration policy with Mexico. The border was considered so impervious to control that the 1924 immigration quota law did not even bother to address immigration from Latin America. Laborers came and went as needed, and there seemed to be no need to establish a coherent work visa program. During times of economic stress, “Mexicans” were simply gathered-up and shipped out of the country, regardless of their status; during the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of “Mexicans” who were U.S. citizens were “expatriated” in this way. Despite the fact that farmers and orchard growers frequently complain of the difficulty in getting “native” workers, the current work visa program seems designed to prevent them from employing “Mexicans,”and for clearly prejudicial reasons. Instead of addressing legitimate labor needs, as the “native” population gets older, current immigration policy seems to have a clear anti-Latino element. The dysfunctional relationship between the U.S. and Mexico has also had its effect; despite the U.S.-funded “war on drugs” in Mexico since 2006 that has led to nearly 30,000 killings and even more corrupt officialdom, people fleeing from drug violence have almost no chance to be granted asylum in this country, unlike asylum seekers from other parts of the globe. A Village Voice Media story, part of a series after the Arizona racial profiling law was passed, noted that one asylum seeker “was separated from her family and placed in a detention center for more than a year while she waited for her day in immigration court. When a judge finally heard the case, her claim for asylum was denied and she was ordered back to Mexico. The evidence—that cops working for a drug cartel had beaten Sarah, killed her uncle, abducted her father, and raped her mother because her father (a policeman) fought against their illegal activities—was moot. Sarah did not meet the U.S. government's standard for asylum.” When one recalls the refusal of this country to grant asylum to the Jewish victims of Nazi terror during World War II, perhaps this is not so surprising.

People simply seeking a better life are simply treated like common criminals; the U.S. Border Patrol has instituted a program called “Operation Streamline” which critics have called arbitrary, inhumane and a violation of due process. Since even legal immigrants can be deported after being convicted of a crime, the function of this “operation” is to insure that as many people caught crossing the border as possible are sent before a kangaroo court, where they are given the “sweet deal” of only three days in jail before being deported if they “cooperate” and plead guilty to whatever crime is handy at the moment, regardless if an actual crime was committed; in this way, these people will never have the opportunity to enter the country legally, because they have a “criminal record.”

So much of the rhetoric in the immigration debate has been deliberate fallacy. In Arizona, Russell Pearce and other supporters of SB 1070 blamed “Mexicans” for “high unemployment and record foreclosures.” Accusations that illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes, crowd hospitals, schools and prisons are wildly exaggerated when not categorically false. Many of these accusations are the work of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a nativist hate group, but treated by the media and Congress as an “authority.” The claim by FAIR that illegal immigrants cost the average household $1,117 a year, and “most” pay no taxes, is not only wildly false and irresponsible, but refuses to take into account the economic befits for the country from immigrant labor, not just from additional tax revenue, but lower prices which allows Americans to save more money for other purposes.

Contrary to the anti-immigrant and anti-Dream Act faction, most economists assert that federal and local governments have a legitimate interest in educating all children, even if some are illegal, because if they stay, and educated adult contributes materially in the form of more taxes and greater productivity. Complaints about the costs of immigrant children are short-sighted, according to Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney writing for the Brookings Institute. "Both the immigrant children and children of U.S.-born citizens are expensive when they are young because of the costs of investing in children's education and health. Those expenses, however, are paid back through taxes received over a lifetime of work.” The problem with this country and its increasing failure to adequately fund education (especially at the higher levels) is that people refuse to see education as what it is: not as a cost but as an investment in the country’s future, in the same way as business investment.

However, reason has no chance when confronted by nativist and xenophobic “populist” appeals, which turns alleged supporters of immigration reform like Sen. Lindsey Graham, into quivering moral cowards. Graham, who was helping craft a reform bill, suddenly turned tail when the flap over SB 1070 brought attention back to the issue; now he wants to have hearings about a Constitutional amendment banning the native-born citizenship clause in the cases of immigrant children born in this country.

Thus it may come as a surprise that Daniel Griswold of the right-wing Cato Institute criticized a recent study from the Heritage Foundation for making wildly unsubstantiated and contextless claims of how each "low-skilled household costs federal taxpayers $22,000 a year. Spread out over 50 years of expected work, the lifetime cost of such a family balloons to $1.1 million” Such claims do not only refuse take into account tax collections and contributions to the economy and price stability, but they make extreme assumptions about “cost.” The figures they cite may be true as they apply to all residents as an average, but to simply state that illegal immigrants have the same access, or know how to take advantage of the ones they do, is simply ludicrous—particularly in light of the welfare reform act of 1996, which made it even more difficult for even citizens to qualify for public aid; that act also limited immigrant access to food stamps and Medicaid, employing a higher means-test for them.

According to Griswold, “Increased immigration has also been blamed for crowded roads, hospitals, public schools, and prisons. In all four of those cases, the negative impact of immigration has been exaggerated.” For example, he notes that immigration has played a secondary role in population growth nationally and at a more local level. “Nationally, net international migration accounts for 43 percent of America's annual population growth, with natural growth still accounting for a majority of the growth. On a local level, an analysis of U.S. Census data shows that, for a typical U.S. county, net international migration accounted for 28 percent of population growth between 2000 and 2006. Natural growth from births over deaths accounted for 38 percent of growth on a county level and migration from other counties 34 percent.7 One-third of U.S. counties actually lost population between 2000 and 2006 as birthrates continue to fall and Americans migrate internally to the most economically dynamic metropolitan areas. If local roads seem more crowded, it is not typically immigration but natural growth and internal migration that are mostly responsible.”

In regard to alleged impact on public schools, “low-skilled immigrants cannot be singled out for blame. Enrollment in the public school system has actually been declining relative to the size of America's overall population. The share of our population in K-12 public schools has fallen sharply in recent decades, from 22 percent of the U.S. population in 1970 to 16 percent today. As with roads, overcrowding in certain school districts is more likely to be driven by new births and internal migration than by newly arrived immigrants.”

Despite the over-heated racist propaganda of Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, Michelle Malkin and the boys at Fox News, the image of immigrant crime appears to be mostly the work of fear-inducers and the media. “As for crime and the inmate population, again, immigration is not the major driver. Indeed, the violent crime rate in the United States has actually been trending down in recent years as immigration has been increasing. After rising steadily from the 1960s through the early 1990s, the rate of violent crime in the United States dropped from 758 offenses per 100,000 population in 1991 to 469 offenses in 2005,” Griswold noted. "Even as the undocumented population has doubled since 1994, the violent crime rate in the United States has declined 34.2 percent and the property crime rate has fallen 26.4 percent."

In fact, “Immigrants are less likely to be jailed than are their native-born counterparts with similar education and ethnic background…for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are least educated…All the available evidence contradicts the misplaced fear that allowing additional low-skilled immigrants to enter the United States will somehow increase crime and incarceration rates.” One study shows that 50 percent of illegal immigrants are in jail not for violent or property crimes, but simply for being undocumented. Of course, stereotyping continues unabated; the recent ad for a University of Washington “study” portrays a Latino man as the “typical” wife abuser.

Running cargo at the airport, I’ve seen more “cargo” that is the human remains of an infant with a Spanish name than I care to stomach; the accusation that immigrants take advantage of the health care system is another shibboleth. “As for hospitals, especially emergency rooms, the presence of uninsured, low-skilled workers in a particular area does impose additional costs on hospitals in the form of uncompensated care. There is no evidence, however, that illegal immigration is the principal cause of such costs nationwide. Indeed, low-skilled immigrants tend to underuse health care because they are typically young and relatively healthy.” Griswold goes on to say that “A recent report from the Rand Corporation found that immigrants to the United States use relatively few health services. The report estimates that all levels of government in the United States spend $1.1 billion a year on health care for undocumented workers aged 18 to 64. That compares to a total of $88 billion in government funds spent on health care for all adults in the same age group. In other words, while illegal immigrants account for about 5 percent of the workforce, they account for 1.2 percent of spending on public health care for all working-age Americans.”

Costs to state and local governments tend to be more burdensome than they are on the federal level, but again these costs must be weighed against other factors, and not just taxes they pay (in the state of Washington, the principle individual tax is the sales tax, which does not “discriminate” between residency status). Costs must also be weighed against “the equally real and positive effect of immigration on the overall economy. Low-skilled immigrants allow important sectors of the U.S. economy, such as retail, cleaning, food preparation, construction, and other services, to expand to meet the needs of their customers,” according to Griswold.“They help the economy produce a wider array of more affordably priced goods and services, raising the real wages of most Americans. By filling gaps in the U.S. labor market, such immigrants create investment opportunities and employment for native-born Americans. Immigrants are also consumers, increasing demand for American-made goods and services.” Recent studies by the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Texas comptroller of public accounts similarly concluded that contrary to popular belief fueled by political rhetoric, costs to localities are usually dwarfed by net benefits.

The demonization of Latinos has taken a hit recently by those not swayed by its arguments. Recent incidents which fueled the rhetoric have been questioned. One may recall that after Arizona rancher Rob Krentz was found shot to death down on his ranch near the Mexican border, anti-Latino immigrant fanatic Tom Tancredo immediately announced his conviction that the killer was an illegal alien, without any evidence to support that conclusion. Pearce, in keeping with his longtime anti-Latino extremism, used the unsubstantiated accusation to promote SB 1070 in the state and the national news media. Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever even released a mug shot of a “fierce-looking Mexican” who was a “person of interest” to fan the racist fire. But the crime in fact remains unsolved, and now law enforcement suspects that the killer was an American. Not long afterwards, Pinal County deputy Louis Puroll was all over CNN and other networks being feted as a “hero,” talking about how he had been grazed with a bullet after an encounter with drug smugglers armed in AK-47s. An investigation by the Phoenix New-Times examined Puroll’s claim and found the evidence for the alleged encounter lacking; Puroll may have in fact wounded himself.

Meanwhile, after they had been acquitted of all charges by a Shenandoah, PA jury, Derrick M. Donchak, and Brandon J. Piekarsky were convicted by a federal jury of civil rights violations in the beating death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala. The trial of Shenandoah police on obstruction and conspiracy charges remains; Shenandoah police chief Matthew Nestor is being held without bail, because he is"clearly, unequivocally a serious danger to witnesses in this case" according to the judge. Nestor is also a defendant in a civil suit that alleged that in 2006 his officers beat to death a Latino teenager, and then staged a suicide inside a holding cell.Although an autopsy by the county coroner made a determination of suicide, this was based on the coroner’s acceptance of Nestor's claim that the victim’s bruises had come during the arrest process. A second autopsy, however, revealed that the victim "suffered extensive, massive injuries consistent with a profound beating.” Unlike crimes when the victims are white females, stories like this never make prime time.

According to an attorney for the family of the deceased, Shenandoah police "acted as feudal warlords in this coal town community that people were afraid of. I would not suggest they were not abusive to everyone and anyone, but I would say the pattern certainly starts to appear that minorities took the thrust of their abuse." According to the victim’ father, U.S.-born of Puerto Rican descent, "A big group of Spanish people moved into Shenandoah, and they didn't know how to react to that. Were they fair to us? No. They're fair to their own kind. The outsider always had to pay."

Despite these speed bumps, hate continues unabated. Retired Vanderbilt professor Virginia Deane Abernethy, who calls herself an “ethnic separatist”—just another unconvincing euphemism for “racist”—and is an anti-immigrant fanatic, recently wrote a “review” for a violence-laden white-nationalist novel entitled White Apocalypse, calling it "an emotionally compelling account of whites as historical victims of non-whites — just the sort of thing we need to motivate a renaissance among our people."The “semi-fictional” novel (sold on Amazon) claims that whites were the original inhabitants of North and South America, but were slaughtered by incoming Amerindians—a ludicrous (as well as undisturbed by facts) theory given what whites and their superior technology and diseases wrought on Native Americans when they arrived. But then again, lies and deception has always been the mainstay of the maintenance of racist propaganda.

And what of Obama? Is this how he repays Latino voters, particularly those of Mexican heritage, by failing in even to get this extremely limited “reform” passed? After all this time when he allowed ICE raids of such excess that paled in comparison in just two years to the whole of the Bush administration—and this is how the Republicans “repaid” him? Instead of easing the atmosphere of hate, Obama’s administration made certain that illegal immigration was on cable news headlines. The repeal of Don’t ask, don’t tell time was coming. It was really an absurd rule, and after all is said and done, people will forget about this and move on. Race hate is much stronger than sexual orientation prejudice, and the failure of the so-called “Dream Act” proved this.

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