Category: immigration reform

Supreme Court rejects key portions of Arizona immigration law

By Alan Bean

The Supreme Court handed the Obama administration a big win by striking down the most egregious portions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.  Stat law enforcement can determine the immigration status of detained individuals, but cannot stop and question a person on the street simply because they suspect that person may be undocumented.

Although state police officers have a greenlight to determine the immigration status of detained persons, this merely transfers this common practice from ICE, a federal agency, to state and local law enforcement.  From the standpoint of the detained individual, it hardly matters whether your status is being checked by ICE officials or by a state official–the result is the same. 

Arizona won some state’s rights points, in other words, but the plight of undocumented persons (and those who merely look, by virtue of language, accent and skin-hair color, as if they might be documented) hasn’t changed on iota.  Under the all-but-universal Secure Communities program, local law enforcement officials are already required to place an ICE hold on any person they detain for whatever reason.  The feds will then run a check and determine whether the individual is subject to deportation. 

Secure Communities is well understood in the Latino community, but Anglos hardly know the program exists because, well, they don’t have to worry about it.  As a result, some Anglo reporters may interpret today’s ruling as a step toward more stringent immigration practices.  It isn’t.

Few understand that few of the supposedly dangerous criminals we deport every year have ever been convicted of a violence-related crime.  In the federal system, any conviction stands proxy for future dangerousness. 

The good news from today’s ruling is that local and state police officers will not have the right (or the obligation) to stop and question a person suspected of being Latino.   This policy, if upheld, would have been a wholesale validation of racial profiling, regardless of what Arizona governor Jan Brewer has to say to the contrary.  In the absence of criminal behavior, physical appearance, accent, and the use of non-standard English would have been the only cues that could lead an officer to suspect undocumented status.  In other words, Arizona wanted to legalize George Zimmerman-style hunches rooted in ethnic and racial factors and the Supreme Court said no.  America just dodged a bullet.

Supreme Court upholds key part of Arizona for now; strikes down other provisions

By , Updated: Monday, June 25, 1:26 PM

The Washington Post

The Supreme Court on Monday said states may play a limited role in enforcing laws on illegal immigration, upholding part of Arizona’s controversial law but striking other portions it said intruded on the federal government’s powers.The justices let stand for now the part of the law that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain or arrest if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) declared that decision, on the part of the law that had generated the most controversy, a victory.

But the ruling also in part vindicated the Obama administration, with the court rejecting three provisions that the federal government opposed.

The court ruled that Arizona cannot make it a misdemeanor for immigrants to fail to carry identification that says whether they are in the United States legally; cannot make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to apply for a job; and cannot arrest someone based solely on the suspicion that the person is in this country illegally.

The court also said the part of the law it upheld — requiring officers to check the immigration status of those they detain and reasonably believe to be illegal immigrants — could be subject to additional legal challenges once it is implemented.

The other major decision of the court’s term — the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care law — will come Thursday, on the final day of the term.

In a statement Monday, Obama said he was “pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law.” He added that the decision makes clear “that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform,” since a “patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system.” At the same time, Obama said, he remains “concerned about the practical impact” of the part of the law that was allowed to stand.

“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” Obama said. “Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans, as the Court’s decision recognizes.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for his part, issued a statement that did not comment on the specifics of the ruling but instead said the decision “underscores the need for a President who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy.”

Obama “has failed to provide any leadership on immigration,” the former Massachusetts governor said.

Romney did not speak to reporters accompanying him Monday on a campaign trip to Arizona, and aides refused to say whether he agrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling or even whether he supports Arizona’s immigration policy.

“The governor supports the states’ rights to craft immigration laws when the federal government has failed to do so,” spokesman Rick Gorka said. “That’s all we’re going to say on this issue.”

Keep reading . . .

Why Obama changed course on immigration

Facing SouthBy Alan Bean

Kung Li’s latest article in Facing South underscores the foolishness of believing that comprehensive immigration reform would be realized as soon as Obama and the Democrats proved they were serious about securing the border.  

Getting tough simply created an appetite on the right for yet more bodies on the border, ever greater deportation stats, and an ever-expanding role for local law enforcement.  

No matter how far to the right Obama moved on the immigration issue, his conservative opponents had no choice but to raise the ante.

The only way to produce credible and comprehensive immigration reform is to humanize the problem.  Obama’s “we’re only deporting the worst of the worst” stance was wrongheaded and counterproductive from the drop.

First, we aren’t deporting the worst of the worst.  

The federal court system uses any past felony violation as a proxy for “dangerousness” whether or not the offense involved violence or the threat of violence.  Instead, federal officials are examining the immigration status of every person apprehended by local law enforcement for any reason.  The assumption is that undocumented residents who have a criminal record of any kind are a threat to public safety.  In most cases, the government has no good reason to believe the folks we are shipping back to Mexico are dangerous criminals.

The Obama administration was simply jacking up its deportation statistics in the unfounded hope that a show of toughness at the border would induce Republicans to embrace genuine immigration reform.  When ill-informed voters hear that 400,000 dangerous criminals have been deported, they view all undocumented persons with fear and suspicion.

Republicans will oppose any measure proposed by the Obama administration unless it has overwhelming bipartisan support.  The president extended an olive branch to the DREAM Act  community because he realized, finally, that his original tactic could do nothing but fail.

On immigration, cutting the ties between enforcement and legalization

Kung Li

Facing South

June 22, 2012

The cover of Time Magazine released on June 14 featured Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and 35 other undocumented immigrants. The next day, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a memorandum that will, when implemented, grant deferred status and possibly work authorization to between 800,000 and 1.4 million undocumented people who meet age, education, and criminal history criteria. President Obama stepped out later that afternoon into the Rose Garden to add some Presidential love — if not an executive order — to the policy. It was a significant shift for someone who had, a year earlier, insisted it would be inappropriate for him to do exactly what he is now doing. (more…)

At war over the culture war: Dionne and Gerson go toe-to-toe

By Alan Bean

When two columnists working for the same newspaper address the same subject (the culture war and the contraception debate) you can learn a lot.  Michael Gerson accuses Barack Obama of sustaining our endless American culture war by forcing a conservative Roman Catholic Church to conform to “the liberal values of equality and choice.”  In Gerson’s view, the Catholic Church is an inherently conservative, indeed ‘illiberal’, institution.  Gerson endorses a pluralistic view of America in which a variety of civic organizations, some liberal and progressive, others illiberal and traditional, co-exist in a free society.  But this dream of a pluralistic America is being thwarted by an inherently intolerant “liberal” view of American life in which every individual and institution is expected to conform to the liberal values of equality and choice.  By forcing illiberal Catholic medical providers to provide free contraceptive services to their clients, Gerson alleges, the Obama administration is rejecting the pluralistic vision of America and stoking the fires of culture war.

Gerson believes it is a mistake to antagonize conservative institutions because, unlike their liberal counterparts, they encourage 

The habits of good citizens — attributes such as self-control, cooperation and respect for the law — don’t emerge spontaneously. They are cultivated in families and religious congregations. The health of liberal political institutions is strengthened by the success of traditional institutions, which often teach values that prepare individuals for the responsible exercise of freedom.

In Gerson’s view, Obama moved to the left on immigration and gay rights because he is an ardent culture warrior who disrespects the views of American conservatives.

Then comes E J Dionne, a progressive columnist who, unlike the evangelical Gerson, happens to be a living, breathing Roman Catholic in good standing.  Dionne agrees that Obama’s initial handling of the contraception issue was ham-handed and out of character.  Dionne’s Obama is no champion of the liberal view of America.  At his core, the president is an even-handed pragmatist who is generally eager to negotiate with his ideological opponents.

In fact, Dionne reminds us, six years ago Obama complained that

There are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word ‘Christian’ describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.

Sounds a lot like Michael Gerson, doesn’t it.  Obama dropped the ball on the contraception issue, Dionne admits, but was able to self-correct by offering a compromise that was joyfully embraced by Catholic medical care providers.   

Unlike Gerson, Dionne refuses to define the Roman Catholic Church as an inherently traditional or illiberal institution.  The Catholic Church is a pragmatic and pluralistic blending of conservative and progressive impulses.  Dionne says he remains in the fold largely because

When it comes to lifting up the poor, healing the sick, assisting immigrants and refugees, educating the young (especially in inner cities), comforting orphaned and abandoned children, and organizing the needy to act in their own interest, the church has been there with resources and an astoundingly committed band of sisters, priests, brothers and lay people. Organizations such as Catholic Charities, the Catholic Health Association, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services make the words of Jesus come alive every day.

Moderate Catholics appreciate the president’s willingness to meet the Church half way on contraception and Dionne hopes the conservative wing will tone down its opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage because the American Catholic community is as divided on these issues as the rest of society.

Two views of the Roman Catholic Church; two views of the sitting president.  Who wins?

Dionne gets the best of this dust-up.  The culture war doesn’t separate illiberal traditionalists like a monolithic Catholicism from liberal, pluralism denying, culture warriors like Obama.  Obama has been deeply influenced by both secular liberalism and the traditional values sustained by the Christian Church.  Roman Catholics, like most Christian denominations, are split down the middle over culture war issues like gay marriage, abortion and, now, contraception.  Gerson’s neat divisions don’t fit either Obama or American Catholicism.

If the president has moved off the fence on gay marriage and immigration it’s because he sees no point in placating ideological opponents for whom the word ‘compromise’ has become the vilest of profanities.  Any politician on the right willing to meet the president half way on any contentious issue gets his or her (usually his) mouth washed out with soap in full view of the cameras.

Nice try, Michael, but you didn’t nail it this time.

Obama says no to mass deportation

By Alan Bean

In a major development, the Obama administration has decided to enforce key provisions of the failed DREAM Act essentially by presidential fiat.   Young people who came to the United States as children, who have graduated from high school and have a clean criminal record, will be allowed to remain in the United States.  The plan does not include a pathway to citizenship, but qualifying applicants will receive two-year work visas that can be renewed indefinitely.

Although this plan does not give the immigrant rights movement everything it wants (this is no substitute for comprehensive reform), it means that 800,000 young people are no longer targeted for deportation.

President Obama is calculating that, like his recent support for marriage equality, his softened position on deportation will help him more than it hurts.  It will certainly raise his prospects with Latino voters who are far more likely to show up on election day now that the administration has addressed the mass deportation issue. 

In the process, Obama has handed Mitt Romney a potential campaign issue.  But Republicans will have to think carefully before accusing the administration of introducing  de facto “amnesty” contrary to the express wishes of Congress.  Demonizing “illegal aliens” has worked well for the conservative movement, but public opinion could shift in a more progressive direction simply because somebody, finally, is making the case for compassion and common sense. 

An update to the article below can be found here.

Administration plan could spare hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from deportation

By Associated Press, 

 Friday, June 15,


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration deportation policies. (more…)

Evangelicals call for immigration reform

By Alan Bean

Evangelical organizations from the left-leaning Sojourners to the right-leaning Focus on the Family, have joined in a plea for immigration system.  If you’re curious, you can find a list of all the signatories here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Critics will note that there are few concrete policy proposals mentioned in the brief list of principles released by the Evangelical Immigration Table.  But the fact that conservative religious leaders are calling on political leaders to “welcome the stranger” is noteworthy.  Here’s the statement: (more…)