Monday, December 31, 2007

Irish American comic Des Bishop will do a one-off show in Rory Dolans on Friday, January 11 at 9pm in support of the ILIR.

Tickets cost $20 and will be available at the door. All proceeds will go to the ILIR campaign.

The show is also being filmed for Des's new Irish TV series called "In the Name of the Fada" which will be shown on RTE One in Ireland from March 08.

The show, which has been filming since March 07, follows Des's progress over a year while he learns the Irish language.

Des volunteered to do this gig to help the ILIR maintain momentum in the New Year and we are delighted to welcome Des back to Yonkers.

To find out more about Des, visit his Facebook page

Thursday, December 27, 2007

'Underdog' Clinton goes on the attack against Obama

Denis Staunton in New Hampshire

Mon, Jan 07, 2008

The snow-banked roads around Nashua North High School were jammed as a 300-metre queue of warmly-dressed people snaked around the building, waiting to hear Hillary Clinton make her case in advance of tomorrow's New Hampshire primary.

Inside, the candidate long viewed as the almost inevitable Democratic nominee was playing a new role as the scrappy underdog challenging the apparently irresistible rise of Barack Obama.

"How will we bring about change? By making sure we nominate and elect a doer, not a talker," Ms Clinton told a crowd of about 2,000 in the high school gym and a further 800 in an overflow room.

Mr Obama's emphatic victory last week in Iowa, which pushed Ms Clinton into third place, has transformed the Democratic race, making tomorrow's primary a test of viability for the former first lady.

A second resounding win could light a fire under Mr Obama's run for the White House, as Independents and Republicans cross party lines to support the first African-American with a fighting chance of becoming president.

With polls showing the two candidates in a dead heat in New Hampshire, Ms Clinton says it is time to subject Mr Obama to the same level of scrutiny she has borne and to search for the reality behind his soaring rhetoric.

She accused Mr Obama of shifting positions on everything from healthcare to the counter-terrorist Patriot Act, suggesting the promise of change at the centre of his campaign was an empty one. "If you give a speech saying we're going to vote against the Patriot Act and you don't, that's not change," she said.

During a question-and-answer session, CiarĂ¡n Staunton, a Mayo-born publican in New York, told Ms Clinton the Irish people were grateful for her contribution to the Northern peace process.

"I want us to get back into the business of being a peacemaker," she said, to loud cheering and applause. "And I was very privileged to work on behalf of the peace process in Northern Ireland. I actually went to Northern Ireland more than my husband did because I was working to change attitudes among people. Because you know, leaders alone can rarely make peace. They have to bring people along who believe that peace is in their interest."

Mr Staunton, vice-chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, which campaigns for undocumented Irish immigrants in the US, spent the weekend in New Hampshire, attending campaign events run by Republican and Democratic candidates.
© 2008 The Irish Times

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tancredo Drops Out, Endorses Romney

Tommy the Tank-redo has pulled out of the presidential race. Tancredo has probably been the most prolific anti-immigrant politician yet he only managed to poll six per cent among likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa. The writing's on the wall for those politicians who want to demonize immigrants. Can they read it?

December 20, 2007

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo announced today he's ending his long-shot bid for the White House.

The Colorado Republican made his exit from the race official at a press conference this afternoon in downtown Des Moines. He'll throw his support behind GOP candidate Mitt Romney, he said.

Tancredo's name was most associated with his fight against illegal immigration, one of the presidential election's most controversial issues. But his hard-line approach to curbing the unlawful migration of millions across the United States' southern border wasn't enough to vault him from the back of the GOP field.

He registered 6 percent support among likely Republican caucusgoers in the most recent Des Moines Register Iowa Poll.

Read the full article on the Des Moines Register's Website:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Exposing immigration hypocrisy

The Register-Mail

GUEST COLUMN -- It is a given in human history that governing is simplified by identifying and blaming an "other."

The word barbarian comes from a Greek word for those who didn't speak Greek. Any time a society is struggling, whether from the heavy hand of the powerful, from rapid change, or from economic distress, the rulers/leaders can distract their subjects/citizens by raising fears of some group they describe as different. For the Russian czars and Hitler the others were the Jews. Here in the United States (in addition to African Americans) the others have been, successively, those whose ancestry was not English, not northern European, not western European, and, finally, not southern or eastern European, which for nativists is where we are today.

In the 1700s colonial population grew rapidly as Scottish, Irish and German immigrants joined the English settlers and African slaves. Between the 1840s and the Civil War Irish immigrants were increasingly maligned; the Know-Nothing Party formed to resist continued German immigration and the sudden rise in Irish immigrants after the potato famine in Ireland. The Know-Nothings promised to stop what they described as a "cultural invasion" by the Catholic Irish who were portrayed as lazy, promiscuous drunks whose first loyalty was to the pope.

Before 1880, Germans, Irish, English and Scandinavians made up 85 percent of immigrants arriving in the United States. After 1880 there was a dramatic shift — by 1896 Italians, Hungarians, eastern European Jews, Turks, Armenians, Poles, Russians, and other Slavic people accounted for 85 percent of all immigrants.

Prejudice also shifted from the Irish to southern and eastern Europeans. Then, as now, politicians were able to use resentments and suspicions of immigrants to divide and govern. Between the 1880s and the 1920s, nativists passed immigration restrictions they claimed would preserve the purity of the nation's "racial stock." Under the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, immigration from southern and eastern Europe was choked off and the immigration of Jews trying to flee Germany was blocked. The perception of racial difference also hurt Chinese immigrants in the west. Recruited to work on the railroads in the 1860s, they became the target of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.

Cheap, or free, immigrant labor built the United States economy into the most powerful in the world. Our immigration has been both voluntary and forced. We had forced immigration both in the slave trade and in the annexation of half of Mexico by the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo in 1848, which ended the Mexican-American War. This, far more than traditional immigration, is the reason that a significant number of Latinos in the Southwest live in the United States rather than Mexico — we absorbed the land they lived on.

Periodically in the 20th century, we initiated guest labor programs, bringing Mexican workers into the southwest as non-citizen farm workers. In the 1990s, we imposed the NAFTA treaty, which devastated the Mexican economy. More than a million Mexican jobs were lost in the first year of NAFTA; more than a million peasant farmers have lost their land. Some of these people are heading north to save their families from starvation.

The lies told about earlier immigrants are now aimed at Mexicans and Central Americans. Anti-immigration groups must endorse historical immigration because nearly all citizens are descended from immigrants. Their objection is to the source of today's immigrants. In 1900, the overwhelming majority (85 percent) came from Europe, and only 2.5 percent from Latin America and Asia combined. By 1990 Latin and Asian immigrants accounted for two-thirds of all immigration.

Demagogues like Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh misrepresent reality, railing against immigrants as "them," describing them as an economic drain and a cultural threat. Dobbs sounds as if hordes of brown people are pouring across our borders daily. In fact, the Census Bureau says less than 1.5 percent of the population is undocumented and most didn't sneak over any border, but came on a visa staying when it expired. Dobbs rants about the cost to U.S. taxpayers, but according to Business Week, immigrants receive about $5 billion in welfare benefits and $11.5 billion in primary and secondary education benefits, but pay more than $70.3 billion in taxes. Our new immigrants are learning English and assimilating just as our relatives did. Those who fulminate about immigration are hypocritical.

One part of the Republican coalition (and some Democrats) wants an ongoing supply of cheap, easily exploitable labor while another wants to keep the U.S. safely Anglo. The president wants permanent status for those here illegally because they contribute so much to the economy, and simultaneously says they are so dangerous we need to fence our southern border to keep them out. As former Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan suggested, we need to honor our mottoes, act as an accepting and caring people, and deal reasonably, rationally, and fairly with the real issues of immigration.

Laurie Muelder of Galesburg taught English and social studies for 20 years at Churchill Jr. High and now substitute teaches for the Galesburg School District. She's a former writer on the Community Roundtable.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Immigration Swamp

As the presidential campaign intensifies, so does the nativist ferocity.
Washington Post Editorial
Thursday, December 13, 2007; Page A34

THE IDEA that 12 million illegal residents of the United States can be induced to quit the country en masse within four months is absurd on its face -- a non-starter in logistical, humanitarian, political, diplomatic, commercial and economic terms that would leave an indelible stain on this country for years. Yet that is the wrathful centerpiece of Mike Huckabee's "Secure America Plan," which the Republican presidential candidate issued the other day in the course of his party's escalating enthusiasm for nastier-than-thou prescriptions to deal with illegal immigrants.

Never mind that Mr. Huckabee, when he was governor of Arkansas, actually pursued a pragmatic policy in regard to illegal aliens, urging that exemplary youngsters be eligible for scholarships to public universities even if they were undocumented because, as he put it, "we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did." Having lately surged enough in the polls to sniff the sweet smell of success, he is not about to let experience, common sense or simple decency get in the way of short-term electoral advantage.

Mr. Huckabee was promptly rewarded for his reversal with an endorsement from Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, a group of xenophobes who spend their time videotaping and harassing day laborers wherever they find them. The candidate, apparently once fazed by the Minuteman group's vigilantism, said he had undergone a conversion and cravenly apologized for his past skepticism; Mr. Gilchrist, for his part, said of the Huckabee immigration program: "It was a plan I myself could have written."

It's a fair guess that this cruel campaign of immigrant-bashing will eventually turn toxic for the Republican Party itself, whose own strategists (Karl Rove, among others) have long grasped the growing electoral clout of Hispanics. Those Hispanic voters, native-born or not, are anxious and angry about the intensifying nativist zeal in political rhetoric, which many are rightly blaming on the Republicans. In a new survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, half of all Hispanics in America reported that the debate on immigration has had a specific negative impact on their lives; 41 percent said that they or someone close to them had suffered discrimination in the past five years -- up from 31 percent in 2002.

The new data undercut the Republicans' frequent protestations that their targets are not legal immigrants but illegal ones. The attacks have become so venomous, and the policy proposals so pernicious, that, predictably, they have caused collateral damage among Spanish-speaking and non-native-born people generally. The anti-illegal-immigrant crowd would have us believe it honors and admires legal immigrants; in fact, it is making America a less hospitable place for them.

The candidates are stepping into a breach left by the colossal failure by Congress in June to enact comprehensive immigration reform, which held out the promise of calming a turbulent national debate. The bill would have tightened security at the borders; cracked down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers; established a legal mechanism for immigration for the hundreds of thousands of workers who enter the country each year to fill low-skill jobs; and provided a path to legal status for the illegal immigrants now living in America. It was a sensible response to a problem that will not be fixed by grandiose and far-fetched schemes such as Mr. Huckabee's -- cadged from an anti-illegal-immigrant think tank -- which goes heavy on enforcement and security but suggests no realistic plan to address the economy's appetite for immigrant workers in the future, let alone those here now.

Virtually all the presidential candidates now tip their hats to tougher enforcement of existing laws, with the Democrats generally differentiating themselves by saying or hinting that illegal immigrants might subsequently be offered a shot at legalization. But in Congress, some Democrats, mostly from red or purple states and wary of being attacked as insufficiently fierce on illegal immigration, are also going the enforcement-only route. A bill co-sponsored by freshman Rep. Heath Shuler, a North Carolina Democrat, which seeks to purge undocumented immigrants from the work force, would probably drive millions of them further underground; nonetheless, he has attracted a few dozen sponsors from his own party.

Such measures, in addition to state and local legislation that would deny some benefits and services to illegal immigrants, are a response to understandable and legitimate concerns that the nation's borders are porous; that illegal immigrants are straining government services and budgets; and that neighborhoods are being degraded by flophouses, day laborers and immigrant gangs. But the rhetorical excess that has accompanied the proposals, and the suggestions that millions of people might be expelled or hounded from the country, not only respond to popular disquiet; they also whip it up. According to the latest FBI statistics, from 2006, hate crimes against Hispanics had increased by more than a third since 2003.

America has had its paroxysms of anti-immigrant fervor in the past, also accompanied by spasms of violence and persecution. Today, as in the past, the national atmosphere is subverting the discussion, drowning out reason. Look at the uproar that overwhelmed New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's sensible, safety-minded proposal to make illegal immigrants eligible for driver's licenses, and you will see logic defeated by posturing, political cowardice and the poisonous diatribes of talk radio. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who championed comprehensive reform, is now chastened by the ferocity of the demagogues who mischaracterized it as an "amnesty"; he says he "got the message" and will now speak only of enforcement in the near term. In such an ugly environment, the best one can hope for is candidates who can appeal to the nation's self-interest as well as its better instincts; who can explain that resolving the immigration mess through a comprehensive approach is not only an economic imperative but also the only realistic way out of a political swamp.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Return of the Nativist: Behind the Republicans’ anti-immigration frenzy

Ryan Lizza
The New Yorker, December 17, 2007

Once upon a time, John McCain was favored to win the Republican nomination. His straight-talking appeal and his cultivation of the Republican Party’s right wing put him first—at least in the early conventional wisdom. Then, last summer, his campaign seemed to spontaneously combust in a puff of fund-raising troubles and staff intrigue. But McCain has slowly made his way back into contention. The usual line is that he has done it by being “the old McCain,” the one that New Hampshire voters (and many journalists) fell for during his 2000 Presidential run. Unlike Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, or Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, two of his chief competitors, he holds a press conference after nearly every campaign event. Just before a recent trip to South Carolina, he invited a dozen reporters for lunch at his Arlington, Virginia, campaign headquarters (on the thirteenth floor, naturally).

Rather than trying to woo religious conservatives, an awkward alliance at best, McCain is focussing more on his natural base of independents (in New Hampshire) and veterans (in South Carolina). Instead of trying to run a by-the-numbers conservative campaign, he is emphasizing issues on which he has taken what he believes to be principled but unpopular positions. He is the only one in the Republican field who seems eager to talk about Iraq. “My friends, here’s the news,” he told a small crowd in Seneca, South Carolina, a few days after returning from Thanksgiving with the troops. “We are winning in Iraq. We are winning in Iraq. We are winning in Iraq.”

Over lunch in Arlington, McCain had given the stock explanation for what caused last summer’s difficulties. “The problem, which was my problem, was that our fiscal expectations weren’t met by reality,” he said—in other words, he couldn’t raise enough money. But the next day, as I travelled with McCain around South Carolina, he told me that his campaign’s brush with death had less to do with fund-raising than with his role in championing the ambitious immigration-reform bill, supported by the White House, that died in Congress this year. “It wasn’t the budgetary problems. That was an inside-the-Beltway thing,” he said, referring to press coverage of his campaign’s setbacks. McCain gets animated whenever he discusses the immigration issue. After a town-hall meeting in Anderson, South Carolina, he recalled how the Irish were discriminated against in America. As he quoted a placard that hangs on the wall of an aide’s office (“Help Wanted—No Irish Need Apply”), he jabbed his finger in the air with such emphasis that he knocked my voice recorder to the ground and erased our conversation. “It was immigration” that hurt his campaign, he said when he continued, after a series of apologies on both sides. “I understand that. I was told by one of the pollsters, ‘We see real bleeding.’ ”

There were two major factions in the immigration debate in Congress. A bipartisan coalition wanted a bill that included tough border-security measures, which everyone favored, as well as more controversial provisions concerning temporary-worker permits for undocumented aliens and a way for them to attain citizenship. Conservatives, led by Tom Tancredo, a Colorado congressman and Presidential candidate, demanded a bill that dealt only with security. McCain seems torn by how to address the issue, and he makes a small but telling concession to the Tancredo faction when he argues that security legislation must indeed come first. “You’ve got to do what’s right, O.K.?” he told me. “But, if you want to succeed, you have to adjust to the American people’s desires and priorities.”

During another conversation, when I asked McCain what he had learned from the arguments about immigration, he said, “I think the main lesson is that Americans had no trust or confidence in the government. So when we said, as part of this comprehensive solution, we need to secure the borders, add temporary workers, and address the twelve million people here, they just didn’t believe us, O.K.?” He argued that the mismanaged response after Hurricane Katrina, the Washington corruption scandals such as those involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and unchecked government spending had undermined public confidence. “So what you have to do is prove to them that you’re going to secure the borders. And then I think that at least most of them—except for the Tancredos, who want to stop all immigration—would say, ‘O.K., I’m going to address these other issues.’ ”

McCain’s standard answer to immigration questions is that he “got the message.” But every so often this practical McCain, bending to the mood of the primary electorate, gets shoved aside by the quixotic McCain, the one who never seems happier than when he’s championing a lost cause. At one stop in South Carolina, at Clemson University, a student engaged McCain in an argument about whether his plan rewarded illegal immigrants for breaking the law. McCain was by then in a combative mood. Minutes earlier, a professor had asked about a piece of Internet-crime legislation that he argued would group terrorism researchers with actual terrorists. “Am I a terrorist?” the professor asked, his querulous tone suggesting that McCain hadn’t answered the original question. The questioner was wearing tennis shoes, jeans, a pink polo shirt, and a gray blazer, and McCain looked at him carefully. “With those sneakers, you’re not a snappy dresser,” McCain replied after a pause, as audience members gasped and laughed. “That doesn’t mean you’re a terrorist. Though you terrorize the senses.” To the student with the immigration question, McCain patiently explained that some illegal immigrants had faced unusual circumstances, and he mentioned a woman who has lived in the United States for decades and has a son and a grandson serving in Iraq. When the student said that he wanted to see punishment meted out to anyone who has broken the law, McCain stopped trying to find common ground. “If you’re prepared to send an eighty-year-old grandmother who’s been here seventy years back to some country, then frankly you’re not quite as compassionate as maybe I am,” he said. Next question.

McCain could stop discussing the controversial parts of his immigration plan or he could drop his support for them altogether, admitting that he was simply wrong, as Romney has done with abortion and other issues. I asked McCain about Romney, who had once expressed support for the comprehensive legislation backed by the Bush Administration—it sounded “reasonable,” he’d said—but now rails against it as “amnesty.” McCain said, “Both he and Rudy had the same position I did. In fact, Rudy was even more liberal. But, look, if that—” He paused and shrugged. “I don’t want to be President that bad.”

Later that night, at the CNN/YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, Florida, immigration declared itself the dominant and obsessive issue of the Republican primaries, and the issue also clarified some essential differences among the candidates. The two formerly moderate Northeasterners, Romney and Giuliani, taunted each other about who was tougher on illegal immigrants. On the other side were McCain and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, who told their opponents that illegal immigrants “need some of our love and compassion” (McCain) and that “we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did” (Huckabee). The Romney-Giuliani exchange prompted Tancredo, whose platform calls for restrictions even on legal immigration, to giddily declare that his opponents were trying to “out-Tancredo Tancredo.”

The emergence of Trancredoism as an ideological touchstone for two Republican front-runners is a stunning development, another indication of the Party’s rejection of nearly everything associated with the approach taken by George W. Bush. As a border-state governor, Bush boasted of his relationship with Vicente Fox, who became the President of Mexico, and he and his political adviser Karl Rove later argued that Republicans needed a pro-Latino vision for immigration reform. His strategy of cultivating immigrants as integral to the future of the Party seemed to work, and Bush did surprisingly well with Latino voters: in 2004, he won some forty per cent of their vote—double what Bob Dole achieved just eight years earlier.

In the late nineteen-nineties, when the Republican Party began embracing Bush’s pro-immigrant message, Tom Tancredo was a relatively anonymous backbencher. “When I first started on this, when I came to Congress, nine years ago, I found that I could get few, if anyone, to pay attention to the issue,” Tancredo told me as he was being ferried between campaign events in New Hampshire. “I remember going into a Republican conference meeting and asking if I could show a video that a night-vision camera had taken of people coming across the border in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in Arizona. You had all of these campers parked, people sleeping, and in between were probably hundreds and hundreds of people, most of them carrying guns. And I was showing this and it was two hundred and twenty-two members of the Republican conference, and there were four left at the end of it. And it was a three-minute video. They walked out murmuring things, you know”—he made a mumbling sound—“ ‘immigration, immigration, immigration.’ ”

When I asked Tancredo about Bush’s argument that Republicans risked losing a generation of Hispanic voters if they adopted an immigration policy that many regard as nativist, he laughed and said, “It doesn’t seem to be holding its own very well, considering what happened the other night at the debate. If you think for a moment that Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson”—Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator—“haven’t polled the heck out of this thing, you’re wrong. They have. And they are there now because the polls tell them this is where they should be.”

The rise of Tancredoism has been aided and abetted by a number of factors, including an absence of strong leadership in the Republican Party and the greatly diminished power and popularity of the President, whose approval ratings fell as the war in Iraq went wrong and the government failed to act effectively after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. In December, 2005, the nativist wing of the G.O.P. in the House—marginalized by Bush’s semi-successful rebranding of his party as progressive on immigration—passed legislation requiring seven hundred miles of fence along the Mexican border, and reclassified as felons illegal immigrants. (The bill set off huge immigrants’-rights protests in dozens of cities in 2006.) The post-Bush, pre-Tancredo era of the Republican Party had begun.

Another catalyst was the peculiar dynamics of this year’s Republican Presidential campaign. In 1999, when Bush made his initial foray into Presidential politics, he already had credibility with conservatives, largely based on his tax-cut promises and his religious convictions. It gave him latitude to be heretical on other issues. By contrast, the 2008 Presidential campaign features five leading Republican candidates, each of whom is viewed with suspicion by at least part of the so-called base. Unlike Bush in 1999 and 2000, Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, and Thompson have spent most of the campaign trying to establish their bona fides with conservatives. The effect has been to push the field farther to the right, especially on immigration.

Anti-immigrant passion also owes much to the disproportionate influence of a few small states in the nominating process. National polls show that, as an issue, immigration is far behind the Iraq war, terrorism, the economy, and health care as a concern to most Americans; a recent Pew poll shows that, nationally, only six per cent of voters offer immigration as the most important issue facing the country. But in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the three most important early states, it is a top concern for the Republicans who are most likely to vote. “It’s the influx of illegals into places where they’ve never seen a Hispanic influence before,” McCain told me. “You probably see more emotion in Iowa than you do in Arizona on this issue. I was in a town in Iowa, and twenty years ago there were no Hispanics in the town. Then a meatpacking facility was opened up. Now twenty per cent of their population is Hispanic. There were senior citizens there who were—‘concerned’ is not the word. They see this as an assault on their culture, what they view as an impact on what have been their traditions in Iowa, in the small towns in Iowa. So you get questions like ‘Why do I have to punch 1 for English?’ ‘Why can’t they speak English?’ It’s become larger than just the fact that we need to enforce our borders.”

Mike Huckabee is the latest victim of the Republican shift on the immigration issue. We talked on what should have been a happy day for Huckabee. According to at least one poll, he had taken the lead from Romney in Iowa, and was enjoying a sustained burst of positive media coverage. “Oh, man, it’s been unbelievable,” he said in his winning, Gomer Pyle-like voice. “We’re up in New Hampshire and I’ve got more press coming to the events than I’ve got people. I’m not kidding. It’s unbelievable. We have so many people coming we can’t fit them in the places.” But Huckabee’s excitement was tempered by Romney’s persistent attacks on his immigration record as governor of Arkansas, and he seemed to be grappling with the intensity of the question among Republicans. “It does appear to be the issue out here wherever we are,” he told me. “Nobody’s asked about Iraq—doesn’t ever come up. The first question out of the box, everywhere I go—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, it doesn’t matter—is immigration. It’s just red hot, and I don’t fully understand it.”

Romney has not been similarly reflective in trying to discern the source of the issue’s power. Rather, he has quickly and easily adopted the negative code words of the anti-immigration movement—“sanctuary cities,” “amnesty”—and has tried to attach them to Giuliani and Huckabee. In doing so, he became the first top-tier candidate to seize the Tancredo mantle. My own sense, from talking to Huckabee, a Southern populist, and McCain, a border-state senator, is that they are genuinely appalled by Romney’s tactics, not only because of the damage to their campaigns but also because of the damage they believe he’s doing to the Party’s image. Romney’s communications director, Matt Rhoades, said, “Both Senator McCain and Governor Huckabee have decided that to win in 2008, Republicans need to be more like the Democrats when it comes to illegal immigration. That’s the wrong course. McCain-Kennedy”—Edward Kennedy was a sponsor of the initial legislation—“was the wrong course. Governor Huckabee’s plan to give tuition breaks to illegal immigrants was the wrong course. America doesn’t need two politicians with records on illegal immigration that are in tune with Senator Clinton.”

“He’s clearly distorted my record as well as my position,” Huckabee told me. “But I’m not interested in getting in a war with him to see which of us can be the meanest son of a gun running for President.” He went on, “My experience has been—not just in politics but in any realm of life—when people keep saying something over and over, and louder and louder, it’s to compensate that they don’t want you to know that’s really never what they believed.” Nevertheless, last week, Huckabee, too, found his inner Tancredo: he announced the Secure America Plan, which included tough language about enforcement and pressuring illegal immigrants to return home. This leaves McCain as the only Republican candidate who hasn’t folded in the face of Romney’s attacks. At the press lunch in Virginia, after McCain had discussed his warm relations with several candidates, a reporter asked about Romney. “I’ve never known him,” McCain said icily. “I’ve never had a relationship with him.”

Barack Obama, during a recent interview with the editorial board of the Boston Globe, predicted that the Republicans will run next fall on two issues: terrorism and immigration. When I asked a leading Republican strategist and former Bush lieutenant if he agreed, he said merely, “I hope not.” He argued that it was incorrect to think that immigration was the second most important challenge facing the United States. “We need to address other issues, like the economy, health care, and education,” he said. When I asked Tancredo if he was leading his party “over a cliff” or “to the promised land,” he laughed and said, “I see manna out there.”

The evidence so far, though, points to a cliff. In several election contests in the past two years, Republicans tried and failed to deploy immigration as a campaign weapon. This November, Republicans in Virginia and New York who ran on the issue were defeated. Not even Eliot Spitzer’s misbegotten plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, which was thought to be ruinous for Democrats, has damaged the Democratic Party; rather, the Party increased its numbers in local races around the state. McCain says that last year he saw how toothless the issue was in Arizona. “Congressman J. D. Hayworth had a pretty good opponent,” he said of the former Republican from Arizona, who lost his seat in the 2006 midterm election. “J.D. ran just on the issue of immigration, in a moderate but Republican district. Arizona State University is there, in Phoenix. And J.D. got beat by four points in the general election. There was a guy who was going to take Jim Kolbe’s seat”—an Arizona congressman who retired last year. “Jim was there twenty years, and had always carried the district well. The Republican candidate was another one where immigrant, immigration, anti-illegal immigration was his theme. He lost by twelve points. So I think there is a lesson in some of those elections when people use anti-immigration as a major part of their campaign. But I also know that it galvanizes a certain part of the Republican Party.”

Far from fearing the immigration issue, some Democratic strategists are quietly cheering how the subject has played out. Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist who has closely studied the politics of the issue, says simply, “The Bush strategy—enlightened on race, smart on immigration, developed in Texas and Florida with Jeb Bush—has been replaced by the Tancredo-Romney strategy, which is demonizing and scapegoating immigrants, and that is a catastrophic event for the Republican Party.”

Besides McCain, who was the original Republican sponsor of the comprehensive immigration bill, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is the Republican most associated with the legislation. Graham negotiated the details of the final version of the bill, which went down to defeat, and as a consequence he has become a target of ridicule on the talk-radio right. On the afternoon of the YouTube debate, Buddy Witherspoon, a Republican National Committeeman, was finishing a two-day tour of South Carolina, announcing his campaign to run against Graham in the June Republican primary. Witherspoon’s sole issue is immigration. After watching McCain’s testy forum at Clemson, I travelled a hundred and twenty miles to see Witherspoon in Aiken, a town of about thirty thousand. I found him setting up for his speech in front of a government office building at the end of an alley that abutted a shopping thoroughfare where tourists occasionally passed in a horse-and-buggy, casting curious glances. Exactly thirteen people were there to listen to him, including a ten-year-old who had accompanied his grandmother.

Dean Allen, a plump and friendly fellow sporting an American-flag tie, told me that he runs something called Spirit of Liberty; he’s also helping Witherspoon’s campaign. “Some of these people may be coming in here to get jobs washing dishes, but some of them are coming in here to hijack airplanes,” he explained. “If you’re down there trying to look at the people coming across the border, maybe a lot of them are just motivated by economics, and they want a job washing dishes or cutting grass. But I can’t tell Jose Cuervo from the Al Qaeda operatives by looking at them, because they cut their beard off. It’s like trying to get fly manure out of pepper without your glasses on, you know? I mean, not a racist thing, but they’re all brown with black hair and they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Arabic or Spanish, so if they don’t belong here and they don’t come here legally, I want to know who’s here.” He echoed McCain’s observation that the anti-immigrant feeling is strongest in states with new Hispanic populations. “The illegal Hispanic population, it’s definitely growing,” he said. “I can tell you just from how many you see when you walk in Wal-Mart, and you drive down the street and you see buildings now with writing in Spanish that says ‘tienda,’ which is Mexican for ‘store.’ You didn’t see that even a year or two ago.”

After speaking for forty-five minutes, Witherspoon walked across the street with me to Tako Sushi and we sat outside, where heat lamps warmed us. Witherspoon is tall and bald, and he spoke quickly, like a man full of opinions he’s been eager to vent. In his speech, he had run through many of the issues that have been festering on the right: the Law of the Sea treaty; an alleged plan to combine Canada, the United States, and Mexico into a super-state; the Patriot Act. But he was most exercised about immigration and about Lindsey Graham’s betrayal on that issue. “There’s a lot of unrest in South Carolina,” he told me gravely. “And people are concerned that the Senator no longer represents the views of mainstream South Carolinians in a lot of ways. Immigration is the No. 1 issue, no question there. We’re concerned about illegal immigrants coming in here and—well, under the Bush Administration, it’s now seven years into his term, and he hasn’t done a lot about it.” He was not impressed by Bush’s big-tent philosophy of courting Hispanics as the future of the Republican Party. “The big tent is great. But that doesn’t mean ’cause it’s a big tent you should include everything under the tent.”

When I talked to Graham a couple of days later, he did not sound alarmed by the Witherspoon challenge. With more than four million dollars in his campaign account, he can afford to be somewhat, but perhaps not entirely, relaxed. His pollster, Whit Ayres, has been monitoring the issue closely, and Graham was eager to share the results. His role in the immigration debate has indeed hurt him. “What’s happened for me is my negatives have gone up about ten points,” he told me. “My approval rating has come down about eight or nine points. That’s the consequence to me.”

But the numbers told another story, too. Graham read me one of the questions that his pollster asked about immigration. The poll tested voters’ opinion of three different proposals to deal with illegal immigrants: “arrest and deport”; “allow them to be temporary workers, as long as they have a job”; “fine them and allow them to become citizens only if they learn English and get to the back of the line.” In two separate polls, the majority supported the third option. The average for the first option was only twenty-six per cent.

“What it tells me is that the emotion of the twenty-six per cent is real, somewhat understandable, but if not contained could destroy our ability to grow the Party,” he said. “And I don’t think you need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if you’re going to win a general election you have to do well with Hispanic voters as a Republican.” He continued, “My concern is that we’re going to have an honest but overly emotional debate about immigration, and we’ll say things for the moment, in the primary chase, that will make it very difficult for us to win in November. There’s a fine line between being upset about violating the law and appearing to be upset about someone’s last name.”

Graham, who is one of McCain’s staunchest supporters, had not yet seen a new poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, which reported that the gains made among Hispanic voters during the Bush era have now been erased. Nevertheless, he had a warning for Republicans: “Those politicians that are able to craft a message tailored to the moment but understanding of the long-term consequences to the country and to the Party are the ones that are a blessing. And the ones who live for the moment and don’t think about long-term consequences, demographic changes, over time have proven to have been more of a liability than an asset.” He added, “Be careful of chasing the rabbit down a hole here.” ♦

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Losing Our Minds Over Immigration

By Eric Haas, The Rockridge Institute. Posted December 5, 2007 at AlterNet

By repeating the phrase "illegal immigrants," the media and politicians have created a misleading framework to talk about immigration.

On the issue of immigration, politicians and much of the mainstream media are playing with our minds. By repeating the phrase "illegal immigrants," they're creating a misleading stereotype. It's inaccurate. And, it's distracting us from the real issue -- economic exploitation of all low-wage workers in the United States.

The Republicans did it in their YouTube debate on CNN. In the first 30 minutes, the Republicans repeatedly used the term "illegal immigrant" and spent the time sparring over which of them could treat them more harshly. Were the painters who worked on Romney's house and the low-wage workers in Giuliani's New York City really such a grave threat to America?

CNN's John King used the term, too. And so did CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Campbell Brown in the most recent Democratic debate in Las Vegas. And, some of the Democratic candidates also used it, though Kucinich specifically refused ("There are no illegal human beings"). But he's in the minority. The term is everywhere in the press. You can find it in the Washington Post and in the New York Times, as well as the doubly derogatory term "illegal alien" in the Washington Times. They've all got "illegal" on the brain.

The repeated use of the term "illegal immigrants" is leading to all sorts of policies created to stop them. Many of them were repeated in the debates. More border fences. Prohibiting driver's licenses. Some want to stop their kids from attending neighborhood elementary schools.

But the phrase "illegal immigrant" is misleading. There's a grain of truth, but the emphasis is only selectively applied -- it's misapplied -- we don't call speeders "illegal drivers" or people who jaywalk "illegals." And that selective application to immigrants is harmful. As Lawrence Downes wrote in a New York Times op-ed:

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.

There sure is a problem. So much so that the National Association of Hispanic Journalists won't use it. They recommend using "undocumented" instead. That's a start.

Branding people with the Scarlet "I" creates a fearful stigma. The vast majority of immigrants, whatever their legal status, are law-abiding members of society. Yet, the "illegal" description is so pervasive that it has us thinking about punishment and revenge, instead of solutions to the real problem -- the economic exploitation of people, both immigrant and native-born.

How did that happen?

In part, it's all in our heads; it's how our minds work. To understand the world, we unconsciously create categories of things. We understand these categories by, again unconsciously, creating central examples that represent how we envision the basic properties of the group.

Think of a bird, for example. What first pops into your mind? Most likely something akin to a sparrow, maybe a robin. It's unlikely that your unconscious, initial image will be an ostrich or a penguin. Or even a duck or an eagle. These are all birds, but they are not what we instinctively envision as the typical bird. In fact, our unconscious category example need not be the most common bird or even an actual bird at all. Nevertheless, the typical example you have in your mind allows you to organize, understand and apply what you experience about birds.

Our categorizations serve a useful purpose. They allow us to process lots of information very quickly. Much faster than if we were to try and consciously think through a list of characteristics about everything we encounter all day long in the world. We'd be paralyzed, like the computer icon spinning on your screen while the web page loads. So, in many situations, we're very fortunate that our brains work in this manner. Otherwise, we'd never get through the characteristics of the mental category "animals with big teeth." We'd have been eaten.

But it's not so straightforward when our brains create central examples for groups of people. We call them stereotypes. Like the bird category, our minds do this unconsciously, and the people stereotypes don't have to be real or accurate. Nevertheless, they exist in our minds, and they shape how we react and interact with people from these groups, both individually and as a whole. This includes the policies we make.

Since we have been repeatedly bombarded with the term "illegal immigrants," most of us have at least some negative characteristics associated with our unconscious stereotype of low-wage foreign workers. As a result, the policies that many people support are punitive -- more deportations, more border security and fines for employers who knowingly hire them.

This makes a certain logical sense. What policy would go best with these stereotypes of immigrant workers? If they are "illegal immigrants," we think of crime and danger and that leads first to police actions, border walls and roundups. That was certainly the thrust of the Republican YouTube debate on CNN. But it was also the same argument that came from many Democratic candidates when they would not support drivers licenses for the people they also called "illegal immigrants." And if most immigrants were murderers or armed robbers -- if the stereotype currently repeated by candidates and the mainstream media were accurate -- this way of thinking might make some sense and these policies might be warranted. But they aren't.

In fact, it's just the opposite. According to the American Immigration Law Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public understanding of immigration law and advancing fundamental fairness and due process for immigrants, the vast majority of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are law-abiding people: "A century of research finds that crime rates for immigrants are lower than for the native-born." These conclusions are bolstered by their latest report, published in spring 2007.

And the American Immigration Law Foundation tells us the likely reason why:

The problem of crime in the United States is not 'caused' or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. This is hardly surprising since immigrants come to the United States to pursue economic and educational opportunities not available in their home countries and to build better lives for themselves and their families. As a result, they have little to gain and much to lose by breaking the law. Undocumented immigrants in particular have even more reason to not run afoul of the law given the risk of deportation that their lack of legal status entails.

Sounds more like a good neighbor than a criminal.

Some of these foreign workers are even heroes. The AP just reported on one. On Thanksgiving, Jesus Manuel Cordova Soberanes, a 26-year-old bricklayer from northern Mexico, rescued a nine-year-old boy who had been in a car wreck. Soberanes had snuck across the border to find work to feed his family. While he was walking through the Arizona desert, he came across the boy. The boy's mother had swerved off a cliff and crashed. The mother was severely injured, and the boy had gone in search of help. Soberanes returned with the boy to the car, but he could not save the mother. As night came and temperatures dropped, he gave the boy his sweater and built a fire. Soberanes stayed with the boy through the night, until he was rescued the next morning. The boy was flown to a hospital in Tucson, and Soberanes was turned over to Border Patrol agents, who deported him back to Mexico. According to the local sheriff, Soberanes is "'very, very special and compassionate' and may have saved the boy's life."

Soberanes explained his sacrifice this way:

"I am a father of four children. For that, I stayed," Manuel Jesus Cordova Soberanes said in Spanish from his home in the Mexican state of Sonora. "I never could have left him. Never."

Soberanes made America a better place during his brief stay.

So, the statistics and Soberanes beg the question, what kind of policies might we envision if our stereotype were more accurate? What if we understood Soberanes and others like him as "economic refugees"? Perhaps we might begin to understand their actions as moral and them as good people, maybe even noble ones.

Like Jean Valjean of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. He stole bread when he was desperate to feed himself and his sister's family. He didn't even work for it. Yet he has become an international symbol of conscience, one that's celebrated today in the long-running Broadway play. The bad guy was the relentlessly unjust, even cruel, economic and legal systems of 18th century France -- embodied in police inspector Javert.

What policies might we construct if the issue were economic exploitation? Would we not think first about protecting the human dignity of all who work in the United States? We might then begin to create policies that address the underlying problems that face all workers in America -- the need for jobs that are safe, secure and pay a living wage, combined with healthcare for everyone. We might begin to understand that Americans, too, can be "economic refugees" inside the United States -- our fellow citizens forced to abandon their hometowns due to factory closings, for example, in search of a job wherever they can find it.

At the Rockridge Institute, we have been examining these ideas in The Framing of Immigration and a recent response to a reader's inquiry. Many others are thinking and writing about this too, including bloggers at ImmigrationProf and Immigration, Education, and Globalization. But it's time to push this thinking mainstream so that we hear the truth over and over. If we are going to have effective policies that deal with reality, we can start with changing our language and updating what's in our heads. Let's start being mindful of how we think and talk.


See more stories tagged with: media, debate, immigration

Eric Haas is a senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Alan Lupo: Immigration debate requires large dose of compassion, common sense

By Alan Lupo
Salem News, December 4, 2008

Just north of the Mexican border in the Arizona desert, a woman loses control of her van, which crashes into a canyon. The driver, recently widowed, dies while awaiting help. Her son saves himself and sits alone, stranded, scared. He is only nine years old.

A guy named Jesus, of all things, Jesus Manuel Cordova, walking illegally from Mexico through Arizona, finds the kid and consoles him until help comes. Those who help have no choice but to take Jesus into custody. He is, after all, what the immigration panic-mongers like to call, "an illegal alien," as if such a person were from another planet.

It may come as a shock to those worrying themselves sick about illegal immigrants that most of those crossing our borders are not terrorists or criminals. They are just people trying to make a better life for themselves, because life in Latin America has not been good to them.

Common sense dictates that illegal immigration is not the biggest problem facing America, but we need a workable policy to deal with it. But common sense also has a partner in life's travails: It's called compassion, and there's a sorry lack of it these days.

In Boston, a four-year-old boy dies while in the care of a foster mother. The person who truly cared for him is the boy's father, but he had been deported to Nevis, his home in the Caribbean.

A Guatemalan who had been deported twice and paid big bucks to a smuggler to get back to his American-born autistic little boy in New Bedford, collapses from an obstruction in his airway and dies. He was an elementary school dropout, but had managed to find work to support his family.

From Ohio, to California, to Georgia, to Minnesota, to New Mexico, to Iowa, to Massachusetts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids have resulted in the break-up and imprisonment of family members.

Hard-line opponents of illegal immigration are right when they say that the original sin is to come here without documentation, and it's compounded by those who hire illegals. But are raids and the resulting trauma the way America wishes to deal with such people?

Last April, one of those hardliners, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, said, "Kids often pay for the bad decisions of their parents. If you do something wrong that sends you to jail, well, your kids suffer for that."

It's a matter-of-fact conclusion. But is this what we want America to become, as it has in the past - a place of raids, deportation and imprisonment?

We certainly want it for those immigrants, illegal or not, who join gangs, peddle drugs and commit mayhem. But they are a minority, just as criminals have been a minority in every ethnic group. Indeed, studies have shown that immigrant family members are less likely to commit violent crimes than so many of our home-grown legal citizens.

Instead of trying to put all this in perspective, we have talk-radio touts and their sheep-like followers ready to close every border and immediately deport 12 million or so illegals.

Of course, there's a lot less talk about building a Canadian border fence than a Mexican barrier. Is it just oh, so slightly possible that certain Americans fear swarthy folks who speak rapid-fire Spanish and hang on the corners to await day jobs more than, say, white folks who pledge allegiance to hockey pucks and maple leafs? Perish the thought.

But from Everett to New Bedford, from Hazelton, Pa., to Riverside, N.J., from Brewster, N.Y. to you-name-it, U.S.A., people are panicking, and in some cases, taking local action against illegal immigrants, blamed for every municipal problem or property tax increase.

The answer is not for Hazelton or Brewster to go after illegals and those who hire them. The answer is for the federal government to devise, yes, a common-sense and compassionate program to deal with this issue; something both political parties failed to do last spring.

It must be a bipartisan effort by those who realize the issue is complex, that its antidotes include such difficult strategies as improving the economies of Latin American nations and convincing folks there to have fewer kids.

What it does not warrant is to break up families, deport at will and treat fellow humans as if they were of an inferior breed.

Alan Lupo, a veteran Boston columnist who appears regularly on these pages, can be reached at

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