Monday, October 29, 2007

What Part of ‘Illegal’ Don’t You Understand?

The New York Times

I am a human pileup of illegality. I am an illegal driver and an illegal parker and even an illegal walker, having at various times stretched or broken various laws and regulations that govern those parts of life. The offenses were trivial, and I feel sure I could endure the punishments — penalties and fines — and get on with my life. Nobody would deny me the chance to rehabilitate myself. Look at Martha Stewart, illegal stock trader, and George Steinbrenner, illegal campaign donor, to name two illegals whose crimes exceeded mine.
Good thing I am not an illegal immigrant. There is no way out of that trap. It’s the crime you can’t make amends for. Nothing short of deportation will free you from it, such is the mood of the country today. And that is a problem.
America has a big problem with illegal immigration, but a big part of it stems from the word “illegal.” It pollutes the debate. It blocks solutions. Used dispassionately and technically, there is nothing wrong with it. Used as an irreducible modifier for a large and largely decent group of people, it is badly damaging. And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.
“Illegal” is accurate insofar as it describes a person’s immigration status. About 60 percent of the people it applies to entered the country unlawfully. The rest are those who entered legally but did not leave when they were supposed to. The statutory penalties associated with their misdeeds are not insignificant, but neither are they criminal. You get caught, you get sent home.
Since the word modifies not the crime but the whole person, it goes too far. It spreads, like a stain that cannot wash out. It leaves its target diminished as a human, a lifetime member of a presumptive criminal class. People are often surprised to learn that illegal immigrants have rights. Really? Constitutional rights? But aren’t they illegal? Of course they have rights: they have the presumption of innocence and the civil liberties that the Constitution wisely bestows on all people, not just citizens.
Many people object to the alternate word “undocumented” as a politically correct euphemism, and they have a point. Someone who sneaked over the border and faked a Social Security number has little right to say: “Oops, I’m undocumented. I’m sure I have my papers here somewhere.”
But at least “undocumented” — and an even better word, “unauthorized” — contain the possibility of reparation and atonement, and allow for a sensible reaction proportional to the offense. The paralysis in Congress and the country over fixing our immigration laws stems from our inability to get our heads around the wrenching change involved in making an illegal person legal. Think of doing that with a crime, like cocaine dealing or arson. Unthinkable!
So people who want to enact sensible immigration policies to help everybody — to make the roads safer, as Gov. Eliot Spitzer would with his driver’s license plan, or to allow immigrants’ children to go to college or serve in the military — face the inevitable incredulity and outrage. How dare you! They’re illegal.
Meanwhile, out on the edges of the debate — edges that are coming closer to the mainstream every day — bigots pour all their loathing of Spanish-speaking people into the word. Rant about “illegals” — call them congenital criminals, lepers, thieves, unclean — and people will nod and applaud. They will send money to your Web site and heed your calls to deluge lawmakers with phone calls and faxes. Your TV ratings will go way up.
This is not only ugly, it is counterproductive, paralyzing any effort toward immigration reform. Comprehensive legislation in Congress and sensible policies at the state and local level have all been stymied and will be forever, as long as anything positive can be branded as “amnesty for illegals.”
We are stuck with a bogus, deceptive strategy — a 700-mile fence on a 2,000-mile border to stop a fraction of border crossers who are only 60 percent of the problem anyway, and scattershot raids to capture a few thousand members of a group of 12 million.
None of those enforcement policies have a trace of honesty or realism. At least they don’t reward illegals, and that, for now, is all this country wants.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ex- U.S. Terror Official Backs Spitzer’s License Plan

Governor Spitzer defending his license plan at the Center on Law and Security at New York University.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, whose plan to grant illegal immigrants driver’s licenses has encountered widespread opposition among New York State voters and politicians, announced yesterday that Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism czar, had endorsed the proposal.

In a news conference at New York University, Governor Spitzer highlighted Mr. Clarke’s support as he sought to allay concerns that the proposal would make it easier for criminals or even prospective terrorists to obtain government identification. Mr. Clarke did not appear at the news conference, but he issued a statement, which Governor Spitzer’s staff released:

“From a law enforcement and security perspective, it is far preferable for the state to know who is living in it and driving on its roads, and to have their photograph and their address on file, than to have large numbers of people living in our cities whose identity is totally unknown to the government,” Mr. Clarke’s statement said in part.

At the news conference yesterday morning, Governor Spitzer said he was unconcerned about a recent poll that showed that more than 70 percent of voters disapproved of his plan.

“I don’t base security decisions about the state of New York based on polling numbers,” the governor said.

He continued: “When I decide something is important for our security, I’ll do it if it’s right, if it’s constitutional, and it’s legal and it’s necessary. I also feel that those poll questions were structured in a way that was almost designed to get to that answer. I think if people listened to an articulation based on facts and based upon what we intend to do, they will recognize that this is smart security policy and probably support it.”

Governor Spitzer said he would begin implementing the plan by December, with the full range of changes to be completed by the middle of next year. “There is no delay, and we are doing this methodically and carefully to ensure that every step is done properly,” he said.

Some county clerks, who issue licenses in many counties, have voiced opposition to the plan, as has former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican who is running for president.

The governor has been steadfast so far, but some fellow Democrats have said they are worried that his stance could have high political costs.

Even before Mr. Clarke’s statement, some security experts had spoken favorably of the plan, saying it was a way to bring a hidden population into the open and ultimately make the identification system more secure, as well as a way to ensure more drivers are licensed and insured.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Finally, Support for Spitzer Begins to Grow

The New York Times is reporting today that Governor Spitzer's new policy on driving licenses is finally finding support among "terrorism and security experts, who, like Mr. Spitzer, regard it as a way of bringing a hidden population into the open and ultimately making the system more secure, not to mention getting more drivers on the road licensed and insured".

About time too.

We've been wondering when the sensible voices would prevail over the right-wing noise machine.

“If you talk to people in the intelligence and law enforcement communities, when they’re investigating terrorists or crimes or unlawful activity, they want people to be in the system, because that’s how you find them,” said Margaret D. Stock, an associate professor at West Point who also works for the Army as an immigration lawyer.

“I’m a Republican,” she added. “I find it disturbing that people who claim to be law and order types want to let hundreds of thousands of people run around the country without any oversight when there’s a war going on.”

Licenses for Immigrants Finds Support

The New York Times, October 9

ALBANY, Oct. 8 — Opponents have decried Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s move to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants as a “passport to terror” and a “frightening” policy shift that is “dangerous and inconceivable.”

They suggest that the policy will shield illegal immigrants from scrutiny by law enforcement and airport security personnel and make them appear to be in the United States legally.

But the governor’s policy is drawing support from some terrorism and security experts, who, like Mr. Spitzer, regard it as a way of bringing a hidden population into the open and ultimately making the system more secure, not to mention getting more drivers on the road licensed and insured.

The success of the policy, they say, will rest on the reliability of new technology that Mr. Spitzer wants installed in Department of Motor Vehicles offices to verify the authenticity of passports and other documents that the illegal immigrants will be required to submit when applying for licenses.

Some of the new security problems predicted by critics appear unlikely, several security experts said. Having a driver’s license should not make it easier to board a domestic airplane flight, because foreign passports are already accepted as identification at airports. Moreover, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration said, neither a foreign passport nor an American driver’s license is among the criteria used to determine whether the bearer will be subject to extra security screening.

Further, while critics have made much of the fact that several of the Sept. 11 terrorists used driver’s licenses to rent vehicles and board airplanes, they were able to obtain licenses as apparently legal immigrants, if in some cases by presenting fraudulent documentation. As a result, the federal commission that investigated the attacks specifically declined to make recommendations on whether licenses should be granted to illegal immigrants, saying it was not germane to their inquiry.

“If you talk to people in the intelligence and law enforcement communities, when they’re investigating terrorists or crimes or unlawful activity, they want people to be in the system, because that’s how you find them,” said Margaret D. Stock, an associate professor at West Point who also works for the Army as an immigration lawyer.

“I’m a Republican,” she added. “I find it disturbing that people who claim to be law and order types want to let hundreds of thousands of people run around the country without any oversight when there’s a war going on.”

But critics of the policy see it as a retreat.

“There will no longer be any security,” said Frank J. Merola, a Republican and the county clerk in Rensselaer County. A license, he said, “will no longer be different than a fraudulent document on the street.”

“When a police officer walks up to a routine traffic stop,” he said, “he doesn’t know if someone is here legally or illegally.”

Mr. Merola added that his concerns would have been allayed if the governor had proposed creating a second class of driver’s license for the illegal immigrants. Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said his group has generally opposed giving licenses to people who cannot prove they are here legally. However, he said he would not necessarily object to a system like the one Mr. Spitzer is proposing, as long as the verification technology was adequate to prevent fraud.

“We just need to know who we’re stopping, and have some degree of confidence that the information is accurate,” Mr. Canterbury said. “As long as they have proof of who they are, I don’t think that we would object to something like that.”

Under the new policy, someone applying for a license without a Social Security number would need a valid, current foreign passport, in addition to other documents that would aid in establishing the applicant’s identity.

The passport’s authenticity would be verified through new scanners installed at all Department of Motor Vehicles offices or at a central location by a new unit of specially trained personnel. In addition, under the policy, photo-comparison software will be tested in hopes of keeping people from getting multiple licenses under different names.

“If the photo-comparison technology works and if the D.M.V. uses effective methods for authenticating and verifying foreign-source identity documents, the future New York license will be more robust than today’s driver’s licenses, and of much greater use in screening and investigations involving terrorism,” said Susan Ginsburg, a former staff member of the 9/11 Commission who is now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and an adviser to the federal Department of Homeland Security.

The most important thing for investigators and intelligence officials, she added, was to be able to track suspects, legal or not.

“Consistency of identity is critical to law enforcement and counterterrorism, and it’s the consistency of identity that the New York system is designed to increase,” she said.

But James M. Staudenraus, an adviser to the groups 9/11 Families for a Secure America and the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, argued that forgoing a requirement for Social Security numbers meant forgoing the only reliable method for verifying someone’s true identity. Foreign passports varied so widely in quality and antifraud protection, he said, that it was dangerous to rely on them.

“We can’t rely on technology for verifying people’s true identity,” Mr. Staudenraus said.

He worries that once would-be terrorists had access to valid state driver’s licenses, they would raise less suspicion. “Everyone who sees it assumes that the individual carrying it has gone under some sort of a background check,” he said.

The Spitzer policy means that New York driver’s licenses are unlikely to meet the federal guidelines being phased in by 2013 for a federally recognized license known as a “Real ID,” which will require, among other things, proof of legal residency. Under the federal law, at that time, the Real ID or a passport would be needed to board an airplane in the United States. In that case, New York and other states may opt to offer both Real IDs for those who want them, as well as standard driver’s licenses.

The dispute over the Spitzer policy appears headed for the courts.

In most upstate counties, county clerks operate centers for the Department of Motor Vehicles, and a dozen Republican clerks have threatened to defy the policy, even though they act as agents of the governor’s administration. Republican lawmakers have threatened to sue to block the policy, saying the governor did not have the statutory authority to act on his own; the Spitzer administration argues that previous litigation on the matter supports their position.

Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, has called the response hysterical.

“We are not talking about letting more people into this country,” he said, “we are talking about being practical about those who are already here.”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Irish held in CA raids; Hate voices attack NY Gov

News in today suggests that Irish people have been caught up in raids in Southern California. We'll post more when we know more.

Meanwhile, in New York, Governor Spitzer's office is under siege from hate voices attacking the Governor for his brave stance on driving licenses. Please take a minute to call Spitzer's office to say thank you. Whether you are a New York resident or not, please join us. We need you to drown out the voices of hate and defend this important policy as a national example. Please call Governor Spitzer (518-474-8390) to tell him, "I am calling to thank you for your leadership in improving the drivers’ license system to protect public safety for all New Yorkers and setting a national example." Read the ILIR statement

Anti-immigrant group shows ugliest of colors

The people on the anti-immigrant side are really feeling free to show their truly ugly colors now.

Take this report from CNN this morning. Petty Officer Eduardo Gonzalez is about to be deployed to Iraq for a third time but is worried about his wife Mildred who faces deportation. Imagine this; a US sailor is off to Iraq for the THIRD time and he may lose his wife and baby son while he risks his life serving this country. Everyone quoted in the story, including army officials, is sympathetic and seeking a resolution.

Everyone, that is, except for the blinkered ugly folks from an anti-immigrant group.
That's just fine, (if Mildred gets deported) according to Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which lobbies for tougher laws on illegal immigration.

"What you're talking about is amnesty for illegal immigrants who have a relative in the armed forces, and that's just outrageous," he said. "What we're talking about here is letting lawbreakers get away with their actions just because they have a relative in the military. ... There's no justification for that kind of policy."

There you have it. According to Mark Krikorian, those brave young men and women serving in Iraq deserve to have their wives and husbands deported. This kind of sentiment is beyond despicable.