The Immigration Debate

Last night, I spoke to the Lafayette chapter of Indiana’s ACLU. They asked that I address immigration. This is the talk I delivered.

It’s tempting to dismiss Trump’s emphasis on immigration—and especially his wall– as both stupid and racist: Stupid, because most people who are here illegally have flown in and overstayed their visas—something a wall would neither address or prevent—and illegal entries from Mexico, which were already diminishing, have declined some 45% since Trump’s election (along with tourism from pretty much everywhere); racist, because that wall he wants is only between us and Mexico, not us and Canada. And he’s made it clear he’d put out the welcome mat for those blond immigrants from Norway….

In fact, a significant element of racism infects the entire immigration debate. My own son-in-law is an immigrant; he’s been in the U.S. on a green card for nearly 40 years, and in all that time, he has encountered exactly zero anti-immigrant hostility. He’s not from Norway, but he is a very pale Brit who hasn’t entirely lost his cute English accent.

Trump’s emphasis on immigration is of a piece with his appeal to White Nationalists generally, but in all fairness, this administration didn’t invent the debate over immigration, nor is it the first to stoke the tribalism that infects that debate. I know facts are out of fashion these days, but it is instructive to look both at our history and the actual impact of immigration.

In a January column on the subject, David Brooks of the New York Times recognized that—when you look at that history and those facts, they point to one inescapable conclusion. Here’s what he wrote:

The case for restricting immigration seems superficially plausible. Over the last several decades we’ve conducted a potentially reckless experiment. The number of foreign-born Americans is at record highs, straining national cohesion, raising distrust. Maybe America should take a pause, as we did in the 1920s. After all, that pause seemed to produce the cohesive America of the 1940s that won the war and rose to pre-eminence.

Every few years I try to write this moderate column. And every few years I fail. That’s because when you wade into the evidence you find that the case for restricting immigration is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.

There has always been a nativist streak in America. If you go to the East Side Tenement Museum in New York, you’ll see that Ellis Island was first established to keep “undesirables” from entering the country. The poem we all quote on Lady Liberty—the “give me your tired, your poor, your masses yearning to breathe free”– was Emma Lazarus’ response to the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Know-Nothing Party (which today’s GOP seems to want to emulate, if not eclipse) was formed largely by people who feared that Irish Catholic immigrants would take jobs from God-fearing Protestant “real Americans.”

The persistent inability of Congress to pass immigration reform is one of the reasons the Executive Branch has been exercising more policy authority—Obama’s efforts to protect the Dreamers, for example, were a response to continued inaction by the legislative branch.

What are the facts—as opposed to the xenophobic fears—about immigration and immigrants?

Immigrants themselves make up about 14% of the U.S. population; more than 43 million people. Together with their children, they are about 27% of us. Of the 43 million, approximately   11 million are undocumented, and as I noted previously, after Trump took office, Customs and Border Protection reported a 36% drop in crossings from Mexico. Since 2007, individuals who flew in and overstayed their visas have outnumbered those who cross the border illegally by 600,000.

What anti-immigrant activists are calling “chain migration” is actually family re-unification and it applies only to close relatives; of the people granted permanent residency in 2016, about two-thirds fell into that category.

Immigrants made up 17% of the U.S. workforce in 2014, and two-thirds of those were here legally. Collectively, they were 45% of domestic workers, 36% of manufacturing workers, and 33% of agricultural workers. Those percentages help to explain why state-level efforts to curb immigration have come back to bite them: in Alabama a few years ago, as many of you will recall, the state passed a draconian new immigration law, and crops rotted in the fields. Farmers couldn’t find native-born residents willing to do the work, despite offering to pay more than minimum wage.

Despite the hateful rhetoric from the Rightwing fringe, most Americans consider immigration a good thing: in 2016, Gallup found 72% of Americans viewed immigrants favorably, and as many as 84% supported a path to citizenship for undocumented persons who met certain requirements. Another poll showed that 76% of Republicans supported a path to citizenship, and it’s worth noting that such support was higher than the 62% who supported a border wall.

What about the repeated claims that immigrants are a drain on the economy? The data unequivocally shows otherwise. As the Atlantic and several other sources have reported, undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars into Social Security for benefits they will never receive. These are people working on faked social security cards; employers deduct the social security payments and send them to the government, but because the numbers aren’t connected to actual accounts, the worker cannot access their contributions. The Social Security system has grown increasingly—and dangerously– reliant on that revenue; in 2010, the system’s chief actuary estimated that undocumented immigrants contributed roughly 12 billion dollars to the program.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that approximately half of undocumented workers pay income taxes, but all of them pay sales and property taxes. In 2010, those state and local taxes amounted to approximately 10.6 billion dollars.

The most significant impact of immigration, however, has been on innovation and economic growth. The Partnership for a New American Economy issued a research report in 2010: key findings included the fact that more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Collectively, companies founded by immigrants and their children employ more than 10 million people worldwide; and the revenue they generate is greater than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S., China and Japan.

The names of those companies are familiar to most of us: Intel, EBay, Google, Tesla, Apple, You Tube, Pay Pal, Yahoo, Nordstrom, Comcast, Proctor and Gamble, Elizabeth Arden, Huffington Post. A 2012 report found that immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as native-born Americans. As of 2011, one in ten Americans was employed by an immigrant-run business.

On economic grounds alone, then, we should welcome immigrants. But not only do we threaten undocumented persons, we make it incredibly difficult to come here legally. If there is one fact that everyone admits, it is the need to reform a totally dysfunctional and inhumane system. Based upon logic and the national interest, it’s hard to understand why Congress has been unwilling or unable to craft reasonable legislation. Of course, logic and the national interest have been missing from Washington for some time. And compassion went with them.

Which brings me to DACA, and the willingness of this administration and Congress to use the Dreamers as hostages and pawns.

On September 5thof last year, Trump terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. As you all know, Dreamers are children who came to the U.S. with their parents; most of them know no other home. A significant number speak only English. There was no particular reason, other than his fixation on immigration—nothing had happened that required or justified an out-of-the-blue termination of a program that huge majorities of Americans favored. At the time, Trump announced that it was the responsibility of Congress to pass legislation by March 5 to avert the crisis he had just caused.  That has not happened.

In January, a federal court entered a preliminary injunction requiring the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to receive and adjudicate DACA renewal applications from young people who previously received protection under the program. A second court entered a similar injunction weeks later, and on February 26, the Supreme Court declined the federal government’s highly unusual request to hear their appeal—and bypass the U.S. Court of Appeals.

So where are we?

Since its inception, more than 800,000 young people have applied for and received DACA status. Thanks to the injunctions, these individuals can apply for additional two-year work permits and protection from deportation. But the injunctions don’t protect other DACA-eligible individuals. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the overall total number of individuals who may have been eligible to apply for DACA or who may have become eligible by aging into the program or obtaining additional education was slightly more than 1.8 million.

Now, because Trump ended DACA, they are locked out of protection.

There are also an estimated 120,000 individuals among that 1.8 million who were unable to apply because they weren’t yet 15 years old when Trump ended DACA.

In addition to potentially DACA-eligible individuals who either did not—or could not—apply under the program before its termination, there are an additional 285,000 Dreamers who came to the United States at a similarly young age as DACA recipients and have lived here for even longer, but who were entirely cut out of DACA from the beginning, because the program excluded otherwise eligible individuals who were 31 or older as of June 15, 2012, when the program was announced.

The irony is that these older Dreamers have the longest and deepest ties to U.S. families and communities, since they arrived here as children at least 20 years ago. Bipartisan legislation, such as the Dream Act of 2017 and the USA Act of 2018 would get rid of the age cap entirely, remedying this situation, and would extend protection to Dreamers who, years ago, arrived in the country before the age of 18. They are currently excluded from DACA because they arrived after their 16th birthday.

It is so obvious where justice lies for these children that even our broken Congress was able to come up with a bipartisan bill—but despite his promise to sign whatever Congress came up with, Trump rejected it. Meanwhile, the media is filled with heartbreaking stories about families being torn apart, by the deportation of longtime residents who have been important, law-abiding assets to their communities—despite Trump’s rhetoric about focusing on the “bad hombres” among them.

Law is important. There should be consequences for ignoring it. But we can protect the rule of law without destroying families, sending children “back” to countries they know nothing about, and spitting on American ideals.

Over the past several months, we have seen escalating reports of horrible behavior by ICE and Homeland Security. Let me just share one such report, from a Washington Post article a few weeks ago, about the increasing practice of separating children from their mothers:

There is no allegation that the little girl, known in court filings only as S.S., is a terrorist, nor is there any suggestion her mother is one. Neither was involved with smuggling, nor contraband, nor lawbreaking of any other variety. Rather, S.S.’s 39-year-old mother presented herself and her daughter to U.S. officials when they crossed the borderfrom Mexico four months ago, explaining they had fled extreme violence in Congo, and requesting asylum.

A U.S. asylum officer interviewed Ms. L, as the mother is called in a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, determined that she had a credible fear of harm if she were returned to Congo and stood a decent chance of ultimately being granted asylum. Despite that preliminary finding, officials decided that the right thing to do was to wrench S.S. from her mother, whereupon the mother “could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother,” the lawsuit states.

The Trump administration has said that it is considering separating parents from their children as a means of deterring other families, most of them Central American, from undertaking the perilous trip necessary to reach the United States and seek asylum. Now, without any formal announcement, that cruel practice, ruled out by previous administrations, has become increasingly common, immigrant advocacy groups say. In the nine months preceding February, government agents separated children from their parents 53 times, according to data compiled by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Make no mistake: Ms. L and S.S. could have been placed together in a family detention center. There has been no explanation of why the determination was made to separate them; nor is there any allegation that Ms. L. is an unfit parent.

This administration sees nothing wrong with calling DACA children criminals despite the fact that their parents brought them here when they were too young to legally form criminal intent. It sees nothing wrong with separating children from their parents while their applications for asylum are pending. It sees nothing wrong with arresting and deporting upstanding, otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants who have lived and worked here for decades are the parents of U.S.-born children.

This profoundly corrupt administration has no concept of the rule of law, no compassion for the people whose lives it is ruining, no understanding of the long-term damage it is inflicting on this country, and no competence for managing the affairs of state. The longer the “party over country” Republicans in Congress facilitate this President, the more damage is done to America at home and abroad.

If there isn’t a “blue wave” in November, the damage may be irreversible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Religion Gets A Bad Name…

Polls suggest that the younger generation is far less religious than its predecessors, and it isn’t hard to see why. Religious double-standards are hard to miss; every day, I come across articles with titles like “Why Evangelicals Still Support Trump” and “Is Evangelical Christianity becoming a Cult?”

In all fairness, the (entirely appropriate) accusations of hypocrisy contained in these articles don’t apply to all Evangelicals, or to adherents of other religions, but the mismatch between what these “Christians” preach and what they practice is so obvious, so “in your face,” that it manages to besmirch the entire religious enterprise.

Case in point: Scott Pruitt. As Ed Brayton writes at Dispatches from the Culture Wars,

So far, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Scott Pruitt, considering that the EPA Administrator has been lurching from one scandal to the next. Pruitt had already distinguished himself with his preference for opulent, non-secure hotels while on official travel; with his predilection for first-class flights on taxpayers’ dime; with his insistence that he receive a 24-hour security detail fit for a king, comprising up to 20 bodyguards; and with the plush DC condominium he’s reportedly been renting, for a veryattractive $50 a night, from the wife of a Beltway oil and gas lobbyist.

The embattled Donald Trump appointee is currently the subject of at least two ethics investigations.

Today’s Pruitt controversy concerns a commemorative coin that the wanted the EPA to order.

Pruitt’s preferred design would delete the logo of the EPA he is trying to dismantle, and would instead feature some combination of symbols “more reflective of himself and the Trump administration.” ( I will ignore my impulse to suggest that a jackass might serve as such a symbol…) Among his suggestions were a buffalo, to represent  Pruitt’s state of Oklahoma, and an unspecified Bible verse to “reflect his faith.”

Perhaps the verse that reads “Thou shalt allow thy donors to pollute the air and water”?

I am not religious, but I have several friends who are members of the clergy. Their approach to their various theologies have a number of common elements.  My Christian friends believe they should love their neighbors as themselves; my Jewish friends are obliged to refrain from treating others as they would not wish to be treated. Other traditions teach variations of this Golden Rule.

There is an old adage along the lines of “show me how you treat other people and I’ll judge the value of your religion.” To which I would add, “show me your moral code, and how closely you follow it, and I’ll evaluate the sincerity of your professed beliefs.”

There has long been a clash in America between the “live and let live” morality embedded in the Bill of Rights–the Enlightenment belief that government power must not be used to impose obedience to religious commandments–and the Puritans’ insistence that everyone needs to live by their particular interpretation of their particular holy book, that “religious liberty” means “freedom to do the right thing, and government must insist you live in accordance with what (our religion says) the right thing is.”

The Puritans may originally have tried to live in accordance with the rules they were trying to impose on everyone else, but these days, they don’t bother. Today, they just want to be the ones making the rules. What began as theology has morphed into a fight for political dominance.

For these theocrats and posturers, “love thy neighbor” doesn’t require respect for the rights of others, or for the planet. It requires fealty.

No wonder the kids are turned off.

Will Children Save The Planet?

Every day, it seems, there is more news about this administration’s attack on climate science, its roll-back of efforts to reduce the carbon emissions that are causing the planet to warm–not to mention regulations intended to ensure that the nation’s water supply is potable and its air breathable.

The Trump Administration’s efforts to protect the bottom lines of fossil-fuel companies are in defiance of mounting evidence about the dangers posed by our changing climate.

Serious disruption to the Gulf Stream ocean currents that are crucial in controlling global climate must be avoided “at all costs”, senior scientists have warned. The alert follows the revelation this week that the system is at its weakest ever recorded.

Past collapses of the giant network have seen some of the most extreme impacts in climate history, with western Europe particularly vulnerable to a descent into freezing winters. A significantly weakened system is also likely to cause more severe storms in Europe, faster sea level rise on the east coast of the US and increasing drought in the Sahel in Africa.

The new research worries scientists because of the huge impact global warming has already had on the currents and the unpredictability of a future “tipping point”.

With Republicans in control of Congress (at least until next January, and beyond if the predicted “blue wave” fails to materialize), political intervention to protect the environment is unlikely.  Just as the NRA’s iron grip on GOP lawmakers has prevented passage of sensible gun legislation, campaign donations by the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests ensure a lack of meaningful Congressional action any time soon.

Enter the children.

A trial date of Oct. 29 has been set for a landmark climate change lawsuit brought by a group of young Americans despite the Trump administration’s efforts to halt the case.

Juliana v. United States was filed in 2015 on behalf of 21 plaintiffs who ranged between 8 to 19 years old at the time. They allege their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government’s creation of a national energy system that causes dangerous climate change.

The trial will be heard before U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon, according to Our Children’s Trust, the non-profit group supporting the plaintiffs. Aiken joined the court in 1998 after being nominated by President Bill Clinton.

 

The lawsuit was filed when Obama was still President, and a few days before the Trump administration took it over, Obama’s Justice Department lawyers admitted the accuracy of several of the plaintiff’s scientific claims– including the claim that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations are now greater than 400 parts per million. They also admitted that fossil fuel “extraction, development and consumption” causes those emissions.

The children’s suit asserts that government’s failure to adequately address climate change imperils their future. The Trump Administration has tried–and failed–to get the case dismissed, or the trial postponed.

“It is a relief to see that the Court understands how imperative it is to get this trial underway as soon as possible, despite all of the delay tactics the U.S. government continues to try to use,” Sophie Kivlehan, 19-year-old plaintiff from Allentown, Pennsylvania said. “I am so excited to have an official trial date on the calendar again so that we can finally bring our voices and our evidence into the courtroom!”

These youngsters–like the teenagers who survived Parkland–aren’t waiting for adults to take action to protect them. (They have evidently weighed the prospects of adults acting like adults, and concluded–reasonably enough–that those prospects are dim.)

The emergence of these young activists lends weight to the hotly debated arguments of researchers who posit that about every eight decades “a new positive, accomplished and group-oriented” civic generation appears, sometimes dubbed the “we generation” in contrast to the “me generations” that preceded it. The “we generation” is “non-cynical and civic minded” and its members believe in the value of political engagement.

These amazing kids may save us all.

 

 

 

Truth And Consequences

What do you do when research consistently comes up with a result that is explanatory but politically incendiary–data that enrages the very people who need to be calmed down?

Anyone who followed the trajectory of the Trump campaign recognized the degree to which racial animus suffused it. That animus wasn’t a surprise; it had been stoked by the behavior of Republicans during Obama’s Presidency–the intransigence of the Congressional GOP, and the eruption of “birthers” and conspiracy theorists and garden-variety racists among the base.

As my youngest son says, there were only two kinds of voters who cast ballots for Trump:  unapologetic racists and voters for whom Trump’s bigotry wasn’t considered disqualifying.

The degree to which racial resentment influenced Trump voters has been confirmed in study after study.  Vox recently reported on a survey of the minority of millennials who voted for Trump.

Even when controlling for partisanship, ideology, region and a host of other factors, white millennials fit Michael Tesler’s analysis, explored here. As he put it, economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. We found, as he has in a larger population, that racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income and employment made a negligible difference.

To anyone who’s been following the research on this, the findings should come as little surprise. There have now been numerous studies that found support for Trump is closely linked to racial resentment, defined by Fowler, Medenica, and Cohen as “a moral feeling that blacks violate such traditional American values as individualism and self-reliance.”

The article reviewed a number of previous studies that have come to a similar conclusion. (I’m aware of several others) The author argued that it is important to understand the increased role racism plays in today’s politics in order to counter it–that those of us who are less threatened by the waning of white privilege should have “empathetic discussions” with Trump supporters in order to reduce their levels of fear and resentment.

Somehow, I doubt that a frank-but-“empathetic” discussion that begins with one person saying “I know your vote was racially motivated” is going to end well.

That is the dilemma. It really didn’t take a multitude of studies to see where Trump’s appeal lay. All it took was a look at his rhetoric and the composition of his rally crowds. The question is: what do we do about it?

Racial bias has always been there (Southern Strategy anyone?), but the studies indicate that it has spiked–leading to the election of a man who constantly feeds it.

The election of a black President was a shock to many people who held negative racial attitudes but had felt it prudent to suppress their expression. The prospect of a majority-minority country by 2040 or so, the sudden ubiquity of “uppity” women, same-sex marriage…all these things destroyed their complacent belief that straight white Christian men would always be in charge.

All the empathy in the world isn’t going to make African-Americans “know their place,” return women to the kitchen and nursery, and put gays back in the closet. The pace of social and technological change isn’t suddenly going to abate. The progress that terrifies Trump voters may slow, but it is unlikely to reverse.

An older lawyer with whom I practiced many years ago used to say that there is only one legal question: what do we do?

“What do we do?” is the question Americans of good will face now, and I doubt that “empathy” –no matter how appropriate–is the answer.

The good news is that there are many more Americans who don’t vote their fears and resentments than there are those who do. While we wait for the hate and fear to subside–and they eventually will– we need to redouble our efforts to get those voters to the polls.

It Just Goes On And On

This time, it’s Rick Perry. (Mr. “Oops”)

Watching the Trump Administration cabinet reminds me of going to the three-ring circus when I was a girl: it was impossible to watch what was happening in all three of the rings at the same time. And there were lots of clowns.

The New Yorker has turned its attention to Rick Perry, who has always struck me as one of the clowns. 

On March 29, 2017, Robert Murray, the founder and owner of one of the country’s largest coal companies, was ushered into a conference room at the Department of Energy’s headquarters, in Washington, D.C., for a meeting with Secretary Rick Perry. When Perry arrived, a few moments later, he immediately gave Murray a hug. To Simon Edelman, the Department’s chief creative officer, who was on hand to photograph the event, the greeting came as a surprise. At the time, Edelman did not know that Murray’s political-action committee and employees had donated more than a hundred thousand dollars to Perry’s Presidential campaign, in 2012, and almost as much to Donald Trump’s, in 2016.

At one point in the meeting, as Edelman recalls, Murray handed Perry a document titled  “Action Plan for reliable and low cost electricity in America and to assist in the survival of our Country’s coal industry.” Edelman snapped a closeup.

According to the article, it was barely six months later that Perry sent a letter directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a new rule. The ostensible reason for the rule was “to protect the resiliency of the electric grid” from what he described as vulnerability to power disruptions. (Interestingly, barely a month before Perry sent the letter,  Perry’s own staff had issued a report concluding that “reliability is adequate today.”)

Perry’s letter instructed the Commission to emphasize “traditional baseload generation”—in other words, coal and nuclear.

Perry proposed that all coal plants in certain areas, including many that do business with Murray Energy, be required to keep a ninety-day supply of coal onsite to provide “fuel-secure” power. Edelman was alarmed: the language in Perry’s letter clearly echoed Murray’s “action plan.” ..Edelman shared his photos of the March meeting with reporters from the progressive magazine In These Times and, later, the Washington Post. The photographs were published on December 6th. The next day, Edelman was placed on leave.

Edelman has since sued Perry and the Department of Energy, and the remainder of the article analyzes the evidence and the federal laws that would seem to have been violated both by Perry’s issuance of the letter and his dismissal of Edelman. Not surprisingly, it concludes that both were wrongful.

The degree of corruption that characterizes this administration is breathtaking. Trump and his “best people” seem utterly oblivious to ethical principles, let alone the legal constraints that govern their operations. I suppose we should be grateful for their overwhelming incompetence–the bumbling that opens windows into their ethical and legal transgressions and mercifully undercuts the efficacy of their efforts to roll back regulations and initiate policies to enrich their benefactors. (Last Sunday, the New York Times had an article about Scott Pruitt’s rush to undo EPA regulations, and quoted  environmental lawyers to the effect that persistent, sloppy legal work and inattention to detail has made it much easier to challenge his efforts in court–and win.)

American citizens need to use the next two and a half years to demand a great cleansing of federal agencies. If the predicted “blue wave” materializes in November, Congress will need to initiate a thorough and bipartisan audit of compliance with government’s settled ethical obligations.

Donald Trump didn’t appear out of nowhere. This corrupt, unhinged ignoramus and his “best people” circus are the result of several decades during which plutocracy grew and voters were apathetic. It will take a sustained and determined effort to right the ship of state.

If that blue wave doesn’t materialize, the U.S. will join a list of failed democracies that is getting longer every year.