Tag Archives: immigration

Undocumented Lawbreakers

The other day, several news outlets carried an emotional scene from an airport, where an undocumented woman who had been in the United States for 30 years, and given birth to  three children who are American citizens, was being deported. She’d come here as a teenager and was being “returned” to a country she only dimly remembered.

Ah yes! In Donald Trump’s America, we’re getting rid of those dangerous criminals from other countries. It’s particularly rewarding to see ICE ramp up deportation for those who came to the U.S. illegally as two- and four-year-olds, using their criminal parents to carry them over the border. Getting rid of them will make America Great Again–and that’s good, because there are so many things we won’t do to make America great.

We won’t try to make America great by tightening gun laws to cut down on the daily mayhem and violence (caused almost exclusively by angry native-born white guys). We won’t work to make America great by repairing our crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure. We aren’t even willing to make America fair by really reforming the tax code to eliminate loopholes that unnecessarily favor the wealthy, or by raising the minimum wage so that working people can make ends meet, or by ensuring that everyone has access to health care.

No–in Trump’s America, we’re not only deporting people whose only “crime” was coming here without going through a tortuous legal process that can take years, we’re repealing the minimal protections the Obama Administration extended to undocumented persons who were children when they were brought here by their parents.

DACA–Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals–addressed the utter cruelty of uprooting children who had no part in the decision to come here, young people who have been productive and law-abiding, who grew up here and have known no other country. As USA Today recently summarized the measure, DACA

allows two-year stays for certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday who have attended school or joined the military and have not committed any serious crimes.

They receive a renewable two-year period of deportation protections and eligibility for a work permit. Some enrollees are currently on their third term.

There are roughly 800,000 individuals temporarily protected from deportation by the DACA program.

DACA was a short-term, emergency, humanitarian measure extended by President Obama due to persistent Congressional failure to act on desperately needed immigration reforms. Trump’s attack on DACA is further evidence of his willingness to hurt innocent people in furtherance of a white nationalist agenda that–so far as we can tell–is his only agenda. (Other than self-aggrandizement, of course.)

We should certainly deport people who came here illegally and committed serious crimes. We can argue about deporting undocumented people who came here as adults and subsequently committed minor crimes. However, I am unable to conceive of any argument that would justify expelling young people who had no part in the decision to cross the border, who have spent most of their lives in the United States (and often speak only English), and who are contributing to society in a multitude of ways.

One of my students is a DACA enrollee. Her younger brother is an American citizen, born after her parents settled in the United States. She’s an excellent student. She’s also understandably passionate about fixing both immigration law and state laws that burden undocumented persons. She volunteers for several nonprofit organizations, and she knows a lot more about the U.S.Constitution than most of my native-born students. I fail to see how deporting her would make America great.

In fact, deporting her–and those like her–would make America very, very small.

 

 

 

 

Dreaming…

From Reuters (as well as a number of other media outlets) we learn that

President Donald Trump is expected to rescind an Obama administration policy that protects from deportation nearly 800,000 immigrants who as children entered the country illegally, setting the stage for a fight with U.S. business leaders and lawmakers over tough immigration policy.

The article goes on to detail the negative response of the business community to the proposed action, and economists’ prediction that such a move would hurt economic growth and depress tax revenues.

Leave aside the economic consequences. Trump’s willingness to inflict immense human misery is what’s truly appalling. This would be the most immoral action taken thus far by a profoundly immoral administration.

The targets of this move are not criminals. They aren’t even immigration scofflaws; they didn’t choose to come to the United States illegally. They were children. They were brought here by their parents. Most of them have never known another home; significant numbers speak only English. They are productive citizens, small businesspeople and dependable employees, whose value to their communities has been amply documented. Why on earth would Trump want to deport them?

I think we all know the answer to that.

Reuters tells us that the overwhelming majority of the Dreamer immigrants came from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Most are brown, and brown and black people are  by definition un-American “others” to the White Supremacists, neo-Nazis and other assorted bigots who are Trump’s core supporters.

Trump’s utter lack of human empathy has been obvious for a long time; it was prominently on display during his trip to Houston. So it is pointless to expect him to understand or care about the wrenching reality of his proposed order.

Vox has focused on that reality.

Hundreds of thousands of families in the US are anxiously awaiting a decision from President Donald Trump that could change the course of their lives. Will they lose their jobs? Will they have to drop out of college? Will immigration agents knock on their doors to kick them out of the country they consider home? And what will happen to their American kids if they have to leave?…

In the five years since DACA went into effect, thousands of undocumented immigrants have been able to go to college, get driver’s licenses and get jobs and pay taxes for the first time. Many now have their own children, who are American citizens. Parents with DACA are wrestling with the question of what to tell their children, and whether it would be best to leave them in the United States or take them away if they are forced to leave.

When comprehensive immigration reform once again failed to pass Congress, Obama addressed the situation of the so-called “Dreamers” with an executive order creating DACA–Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It allowed a defined subset of young undocumented immigrants to get temporary Social Security numbers and deportation protection. They had to pass criminal background checks, pay taxes, and renew their DACA status every two years. The program was a temporary fix, but during the campaign, Clinton vowed to maintain it.

Trump, of course, made anti-immigrant rhetoric the centerpiece of a campaign that pandered, bigly, to rightwing bigotries.

It is heartbreaking to read the comments of DACA recipients interviewed in the Vox article. These are good people who are in an untenable situation because for years, Congress has consistently failed to pass an immigration bill. Most recently, rather than give President Obama a political “win,” the GOP simply blocked efforts to negotiate a legislative solution to a problem everyone recognized.

Now we have a President whose terrifying ignorance of government is matched only by his inability to think of anyone but himself. If Congress cannot be moved to action by the plight of 800,000 innocent DACA immigrants, there’s no reason to believe they will ever summon the moral courage to defy this bigot-in-chief.

This is a test, and I’m very much afraid America will fail it.

As a current Internet meme puts it: It’s no longer about whether Trump has any decency. It’s about whether we do.

The Three “I”s

Let’s deconstruct the issue of economic growth.

If there is one thing all politicians support, at every level of government, it is growing the economy. Unfortunately, few of those political figures recognize the economic effects of their other policy preoccupations. Here in Indiana, that disconnect was on vivid display during then-Governor Mike Pence’s effort to privilege religious discrimination against LGBTQ citizens; it was equally obvious in North Carolina in the wake of the so-called “bathroom bill.”

It’s somewhat less obvious–but no less consequential–in Trump’s efforts to slash the budget and to drastically reduce immigration. A recent report from the Brookings Institution considered what it would take to achieve 3% growth in GDP, if that level of expansion is even possible: “There are three I’s that can do this: immigration, infrastructure, and investment.”

Infrastructure is the most obvious: not only does America desperately need to improve our deteriorating roads and bridges, not only do we need massive improvements to rail and public transportation, but cities and states across the country need the jobs a comprehensive infrastructure program would generate. As the Brookings Report notes,

Infrastructure jobs are disproportionately middle-class (defined as wages between the 25% and 75% percentiles, so this is the real middle-class and not the upper-middle class; there is no Dream Hoarding going on here).

Investment is harder to discuss, because far too many lawmakers fail to distinguish between investment and  routine expense. Conceptually, however, most of us understand that we must invest in order to grow–it’s the difference between payments on your home mortgage and the amount you spent at that fancy restaurant. Trump’s budget may not reflect that understanding, but many lawmakers do recognize the difference. Unfortunately, many self-identified “fiscal hawks” do not.

We need to increase our nation’s investment in research, development, and people. The federal government’s investment as a share of total research and development has fallen to multi-generational lows. Increasing the federal government’s investment will not bust the budget. Currently, the federal government’s entire investment in R&D (as measured by the OECD) is equal to only about one-tenth of our nation’s defense budget. Investments like these have proven track records of increasing economic growth.

When it comes to the importance of immigration to economic growth, however, American xenophobia is far more influential than economic reality.

Comprehensive immigration reform, such as the bipartisan legislation which passed the Senate in 2013 (Schumer-Rubio), would increase our nation’s work force, bring economic activity out of the shadows and into the mainstream, increase our nation’s economic and physical security, and boost our GDP. One estimate sees an increase in $1.5 trillion in GDP cumulatively over the next decade, as compared to the status quo. That same study contrasts with the deportation-only policy that appears to be favored by some in the Trump Administration, which would reduce economic output by over $2 trillion.  Even scholars from the CATO Institute argue that immigration reform could be used to boost GDP, with an earlier estimate of an increase of over 1.25% of GDP.

As another Brookings report notes,

President Trump claims that legal immigration levels should be cut in half and that greater priority should be placed on those with high skills. Both of these claims fly in the face of census statistics that show that current immigration levels are increasingly vital to the growth of much of America, and that recent arrivals are more highly skilled than ever before. Current immigration is especially important for areas that are losing domestic migrants to other parts of the country including nearly half of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

Well, that’s what happens when you elect a man who has no idea how the economy works, and for whom facts are meaningless…

 

 

Never Thought I’d Cheer States’ Rights…

It has been somewhat lost among all his other bluster, and more recently by the diversion of his air strike against Syria, but Trump has reiterated his threat to withhold federal monies from so-called “Sanctuary” cities and states. (As many people have pointed out, the sudden onset of humanitarianism that purportedly prompted those airstrikes has yet to prompt a willingness to accept children fleeing the hellhole that is today’s Syria.)

Trump’s threats are evidently as empty as his compassion. Talking Points Memo reports that, thanks to a Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit brought by Republicans opposed to the ACA, Trump can’t withhold funds from states acting humanely. It would be illegal.

File under “be careful what you wish for”….

In 2012, the Supreme Court forced the Obama administration to make Medicaid expansion voluntary for states instead of mandatory, ruling that when the federal government “threatens to terminate other significant independent grants as a means of pressuring the States to accept” a federal policy, it is unconstitutionally coercive.

Conservative groups that celebrated this victory over “infringement on state sovereignty by the federal government” may now be dismayed to learn that it could throw a wrench into the Trump administration’s current plan to punish sanctuary cities.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently warned local officials that continued refusal to co-operate with federal immigration authorities would jeopardize approximately $4 billion dollars in unrelated grants; those grants currently support local programs addressing everything from human trafficking, sexual assault, and gang violence to mental health, gun crimes and various public safety issues.

Sessions evidently neglected to research the Administration’s authority to follow through on that threat.

Stripping the cities and counties of this funding, however, is easier said than done. Doing so could violate the 10th Amendment, which protects states’ rights against federal intrusion, and a number of Supreme Court cases, including the 2012 case that struck down Obamacare’s mandatory Medicaid expansion, legal experts warn.

“It may be unconstitutional on several grounds,” said George Washington University Law School professor John Banzhaf III.

Banzhaf argues that U.S. law dating back to the mid-1800s bars the government from “commandeering” local officials to enforce federal law in almost all instances. The 2012 Supreme Court ruling in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius expanded on this principle, holding that “states could not be required to expand Medicaid programs under threat of a loss of federal funds—the same coercive method threatened by Sessions—except where the threat was one mandated by Congress and signed into law, not a mere presidential order,” Banzhaf said.

Two other cases–one in 1987 and one from 1997–reinforce the limits on federal coercive power.

In the 1987 decision South Dakota v. Dole — which concerned a government attempt to cut highway funding to states that tried to lower the federal drinking age — the Court said the federal government can only cut grants related to the policy they are trying to enforce. Though the federal government’s argument trumped the state’s in that case, the ruling significantly narrowed the kind of funding the federal government can withhold when attempting to incentivize local governments to carry out a certain policy….

The Court went even further in 1997, ruling in Printz v. United States that “the Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program.”

Sessions has now indicated that future grants will be conditioned upon compliance with federal immigration law, a tacit admission that– his threats notwithstanding–he cannot reach previous awards issued without such provisions.

I’m sure those staunch defenders of states’ rights–the ones who were so sincere when they explained that their opposition to civil rights laws had nothing to do with racial animus–will applaud this current application of federalism doctrine.

On the other hand, perhaps I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their applause….

The Bully Pulpit

I recently attended the bat mitzvah of a cousin’s daughter at the synagogue in which I grew up.  My cousin’s daughter did a great job with her Torah portion, but I was particularly struck by the sermon, in which Rabbi Dennis Sasso forcefully and eloquently connected those ancient teachings to America’s contemporary challenges.

I sometimes need to remind myself that for every judgmental scold or religious con-man, there is a religious leader like Rabbi Sasso wrestling with the nature of human community and authentic moral behavior.

He was kind enough to share a copy of his remarks.

 Judaism is not just a set of general principles or lofty ideals. It is the living out of those values in the here and now, in the everyday of human encounter between a person and his/her neighbor, a man and woman, parents and children, elected officials and the people, nation and nation.

And so, in this week’s Torah portion, entitled Mishpatim (“Ordinances”), we have the fleshing out of the Ten Commandments. We find here the beginnings of a constitutional biblical tradition, upon which future post-biblical (rabbinic) legislation will evolve, not just as a faith tradition but as a religion of ethical nationhood.

The Rabbi noted that the book of Exodus contains many laws that mirror those of our civil state, including, most significantly, “laws forbidding the oppression of the powerless, the weak, the widow, the orphan, the poor and the stranger — the disenfranchised members of society.”

The commandment to “love your neighbor” occurs in Leviticus 19. However, the commandment to “love the stranger,” the foreigner, the immigrant, (a much more difficult task) – occurs here twice and 36 times in the Torah (“Love the stranger…” “for you know the heart of the stranger, as you were strangers in the land of Egypt”).

The heart of the sermon–at least to me–was the explicit application of Jewish teaching to matters pending at the Indiana legislature.

Reading through this week’s portion we can find guidance regarding many bills currently before our State and Federal Legislatures.

There is SB 439 – regarding Hate Crime Laws – likely not to pass in Indiana because of the pressure of conservative forces that feign to promote themselves as religious.      Well, they are quite out of sync with the biblical heritage they purport to uphold – a heritage that teaches – “You shall not hate your neighbor in your heart.”

The growing vitriol expressed in words and acts of anti-Semitism, Islamphobia and other ethnic and gender directed prejudice speak of an epidemic of hate that must be contained. We should be alarmed by what is happening to words in our times – particularly in the political and religious arenas. Language has become shrill, offensive and misleading. Words, angry and hostile weapons.

Then there are legislative initiatives to curtail rights for LGBTQ+ citizens and to impose doctrinal understandings of reproductive health and abortion rights. Interestingly, this week’s Torah portion contains the key passage that defines miscarriage and abortion not as murder, but as a civil matter (Ex. 21:22-24).

Abortion is a painful and serious decision to be made by a woman in consultation with her physician, loved ones and in keeping with her religious values. In the Jewish legal and moral tradition, termination of pregnancy is never defined as homicide, and it is not only permissible, but required to protect the life and health of the mother, in some cases even her mental health. In Jewish law, the fetus is not defined as a “person,” with independent legal and moral status, until the moment of delivery. Judaism does not share the view that human life begins at conception. Throughout pregnancy the fetus is potential life, to be honored and protected, but dependent on and subordinate to the life of the mother.

To impose particular doctrinal restrictions on abortion constitutes not only a violation of privacy and civil rights, but a limitation of religious rights, by imposing beliefs and values that counter the faith traditions of others. And certainly to muddle legislation with unscientific and potentially injurious information is a pious fraud.

Consider the higher health risks for women and infants that proposed legislation – which includes threats to cut funds for Planned Parenthood – would involve. Our state’s infant mortality rate, already among the highest in the country, would rise dramatically.

Ironically, some of the same groups that counter hate crime laws, and advance restrictions on health care and civil rights, piously advocate for prayer in public schools and, paradoxically, promote liberalization of gun laws – guns that can kill in schools, domestic settings and hateful social encounters…

Today, our nation struggles with the issue of immigration, our response and responsibilities to the stranger in our midst. Our deepest Jewish convictions tell us that protecting the humanity of immigrants, who have come to the United States to better lives for themselves and their children, puts our communities on a path towards strengthening families and society and ultimately, the moral values of our nation. By all means, we need to ensure the safety of the homeland, and guard the security of our borders, but not in ways that discriminate, intimidate and create a siege mentality and police state.

Keeping families together, allowing immigrants to fully contribute to our communities, providing relief for millions of aspiring Americans from unnecessary deportation and family separation, these are at the heart of the Jewish legislative and moral traditions. It is also the best of the American tradition which we as Jews have helped to shape and from which we have benefited.

The Rabbi closed with this profound and increasingly relevant quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:

When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; … its message becomes meaningless.

Words applicable to both religion and political ideology–and definitely worth pondering.