Thursday, November 15, 2007

Semler Editorial, 9/9/07

In her editorial on September 9, Frances Semler wants to “whitewash” the Minuteman movement as being a patriotic group that cares only about enforcing U.S. laws against illegal immigration. The Minuteman movement is a vigilante group (President Bush’s label for the movement) with ties to white supremacist hate groups, as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights organizations. Exactly what is patriotic about harassing the most powerless members of our society in the vain hope that they will finally have enough of it and pack up and leave? Although our immigration policy is badly in need of reform and our borders are indeed broken, vigilantes like the Minutemen add no more value to the needed reform than do overtly racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (whose ranks have also been swelling). If the Minutemen are truly only concerned with enforcing U.S. laws, why aren’t they on every street corner with radar guns to nab the speeders – a “criminality” much more damaging to our society than illegal immigration. Our current immigration laws are unjust and will remain so until Congress can screw up enough courage to do the right thing and stop being intimidated by groups like the Minutemen. Unjust laws need to be changed, not scrupulously “enforced” by vigilante groups with questionable motives. We need immigration reform that provides a legal way for hard working human beings deeply imbedded in our society to get on a path to legalization through appropriate fines and penalties commensurate with their civil offense. Just because someone has run afoul of our exceedingly complex immigration laws (something quite easy to do even for the most careful visitors) doesn’t mean that banishment from family and employers is an appropriate solution. Fortify the borders all you want, but we need to stop destroying families for minor immigration violations and we need legal ways for workers and families to enter and remain in the U.S. Until this happens, all the Minutemen in the world will not effect a just and moral solution to our immigration problem.

Missouri Lawyers' Weekly

Just discovered that I was quoted in an article in Missouri Lawyers' Weekly on Missouri's efforts at immigration "reform."
Congratulations to the reporter, Kelly Wiese on getting the gist of my comments correct. So often in this area, the media doesn't quite understand what immigration attorneys are saying. The concepts are strange and the terminology is often confusing. Who understands what the difference is between "unlawful presence" and "out of status"? or that someone can actually be out of status in the U.S., but not accruing time in unlawful presence?

That's one of the difficulties we have in this debate. It is much easier to say, "what part of illegal don't you understand?" than it is to ask the questions like: is a violation of an immigration law really criminal behavior? has our country historically considered immigration violators to be criminals? is the punishment inflicted on immigration violators proportionate to the violation committed? are we acting humanely and morally toward immigrants? are there relationships that some immigration violators may have with this country (e.g. family and employment relationships) that outweigh the need to enforce a harsh punishment by deportation and long term or even permanent family separation? is part of the problem the fact that there are not enough visas to satisfy the demand for workers and family unification? is there a racist or nativist motivation behind much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric?

Those are the hard questions that people don't want to wrestle with. So the "illegality" of an immigration violator becomes the end of the story and the excuse to demonize them.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Sen. McCaskill; How about real compassion for immigrants?

Sen. McCaskill now opposes the nomination of Julie Myers to be the head of the USCIS, apparently because she allowed someone to appear in blackface at a charity event, posing as an immigrant. People were offended. While I understand how people were offended, Sen. McCaskill comes off as hypocritical to me to be opposing a competent bureaucrat for this reason, while at the same time voting against the Dream Act and other immigration reform measures. If she really cares about immigrants, how about doing something that really affects their lives in a positive way rather than this?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Mike Hendricks and Francis Semler

Comment post to article appearing in KC Star by Mike Hendricks. article appears at

Why is it that when Mayor Funkhouser refuses to yield, it is called a "principled stand" but when La Raza refuses to yield, it is called "blackmail"? Isn't La Raza's position just as "principled" as the Mayor's? After all, why should they do business with an administration that is so indifferent to their concerns? Exactly what "principle" is the Mayor standing by anyway? Apparently, it is the principle of loyalty to someone whose main qualification for her appointed post appears to be that she was a major contributor to his mayoral campaign? I'll respect La Raza's principles any day over that.
Roger McCrummen

I appeared on an immigration panel last night at William Jewell University as a part of their informed speakers series. Despite the name of the event, the panel also included a lobbyist for FAIR and the local president of the Minutemen.

I argued that our legal structure on immigration is broken because, not only does it not regulate the borders, but because it doesn’t meet our needs as a nation. These are economic needs as well as social (family unification) and humanitarian (justice). Somewhat to my surprise the Minutemen apparently don’t believe our legal structure regarding immigration is broken. It’s fine the way it is. It just needs to be enforced. That’s what the problem is, according to the Minuteman. I heard that enforcement mentality expressed to me from audience members after the meeting as well. “If we are going to have laws, they have to be enforced,” they said. “We are a nation of laws.”

True, we are a nation of laws, but we are also a nation that aspires to justice. We need to be right; to reflect the better aspects of faith and humanity. When laws are unjust, we need to change them, not mindlessly enforce them. Laws that separate families for long periods of time for minor non-criminal immigration violations are unjust. There is no virtue is simply enforcing those laws, as if we are meeting some kind of moral mandate.

Last year, the House passed its horrendous immigration bill that would have criminalized, for the first time, non-criminal immigration violations. It would have also criminalized the behavior of those that aided undocumented immigrants. This bill led to massive protests in the streets. Cardinal Mahoney of California declared that if that bill were passed, the Catholic Church would disobey it.

Enforcement of bad law is no virtue. What if suddenly the federal government passed a law that made the maximum speed limit nationwide 20 mph? They could justify that by pointing to the thousands of deaths that are caused each year by excessive speed. The lower the speed, the better the chance of surviving a collision. If congress did that, would the Minutemen be on every street corner with a radar gun demanding that the law be enforced? Of course not, because that law would not serve the country’s needs. We would have a nation of lawbreakers until Congress finally got around to fixing the law.

The FAIR representative made the odd assertion that her organization believed in enforcement of the laws on the books now, but that they did not support mass deportations. Exactly how does that work? There are approximately 12 to 20 million (the Minuteman says 35 million and I guess no one really knows) undocumented immigrants in this country. The existing law prescribes that they be deported. So how does FAIR want that to work if not mass deportation? Gradual deportation over a period of years? Harassment and heaping misery upon misery upon undocumented immigrants until they finally decide to leave on their own? This seems to be the current approach as they lobby states for local enforcement and criminalization of employers and landlords. It seems the hope is to make these non-criminal human beings so unhappy that they can’t stand it here anymore and they will just leave. Dream on. Undocumented immigrants are deeply imbedded in our society, and in fact, needed by our society. None of those sound like just or humane solutions to me.

I also found it odd that the Minuteman repeated several times that his organization “offers solutions” to the problem of “illegal immigration” and no one else is doing that. Well, an intimidated Congress isn’t offering much in the way of solutions, but an enforcement only mentality is also certainly no solution. Both DHS Secretary Chertoff and former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge have affirmed that there is no way they could possibly deport every undocumented immigrant in this country. It would cost billions and billions of dollars even if you knew where everyone was. And at the end of the day, what have we gained? We have separated families and crushed employers. We have trampled on civil and human rights and run our country like the Gestapo. Enforcement only is a very poor option for our tax dollars. It’s certainly no solution to the immigration problem.

Did you know that studies have shown that about 1/3 of the undocumented population has been here 10 years or more? This indicates to me that they are deeply imbedded in society. Uprooting them without any option for attaining legal status will be the cause of much unnecessary human misery. Are the enforcement only folks ready to accept responsibility for this unnecessary human suffering?

Dream Act. Claire McCaskill

Speaking of the defeat (once again) of the Dream Act in the Senate, we have to note our deep disappointment in Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. We met in my office with her staff a few weeks ago and they promised to push for support of the Dream Act, but confessed that they did not know what her position was going to be. Turns out, she was one of only about 6 democrats that voted against it (it was actually a cloture vote, but served to kill further consideration of the bill). This was particularly disappointing in light of the fact that many of us strongly supported Sen. McCaskill in her race to unseat Sen. Jim Talent. We figured that no one could be as bad on immigration issues as Jim Talent. But so far, Sen. McCaskill has not shown herself to be any improvement over Jim Talent.

Not only was this vote a deep disappointment, but her public statements on the issue of immigration have shown her to be out of touch with the real issues and only too willing to pander to loud nativist voices in her district. She apparently believes that the problem of undocumented immigrants can be solved by cracking down on employers. She doesn't support any kind of guest worker program. While employers should not be allowed to knowingly flaunt federal law, what she and others will find is that most employers are complying with federal law, but still hiring undocumented workers. The employers will not face much in the way of prosecution but their businesses will be disrupted and the lives of undocumented immigrants will be made even more miserable by ignorant and random enforcement actions.

I expect this kind of position from people like Tom Tancredo and Jim Talent. I don't expect it from Claire McCaskill, especially when she isn't even running for re-election this next year.

For the first time in my memory, immigration is lining up to be a partisan issue in the next presidential election. That is, leading republicans are almost uniformly in support of an enforcement only approach, while leading democratic candidates are almost uniformly in support of some kind of comprehensive reform. If the next president is a democrat who is finally able to push for immigration reform, I hope Sen. McCaskill lines up with the party to do the right thing. If not, she won't have any future support from me.

Tancredo to Retire

Finally some good news on the immigration front. Sen. Tom Tancredo has announced that he is not going to seek re-election to his senate post. The senator from Colorado has been one of the most extreme anti-immigration voices in government. His most recent act of "patriotism" was to try to have arrested those undocumented students who were scheduled to speak before the Senate in support of the Dream Act. One would hope that it would be the shame of that cowardly act that would have prompted his decision not to seek re-election, but I don't think so. He is also, by the way, running for President, but no one gives that bid any serious thought.