Sunday, September 30, 2007

citizenship exam

Last week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released the new civics component of the citizenship test, to take effect in about a year. The new test is said to de-emphasize rote learning, and a pressing question for many in the immigration debate is: Is the new test harder than the old one? If so, hundreds of thousands, even millions of people may be stuck in the legal limbo of permanent residence, where the risk of indefinite detention and deportation never fully disappears. To help answer this question, USCIS published a question-by-question comparison (pdf) between the old and new tests. Not every question in the new test had a direct parallel in the old test. Here are a few examples:

Current Test

New Test

Q11. What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?

61. Why did the colonists fight the British?

Q72. Name the amendments that guarantee or address voting rights.

48. There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them.

Q87. Where does freedom of speech come from?

Q93.What is the most important right granted to United States citizens?

12. What is the “rule of law”?

23. Name your U.S. Representative.

49. What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?

Some of these questions are pretty difficult. I studied law for three years and I would not have been able to answer Question 72 on the current exam: “Name the amendments that guarantee or address voting rights.” Apparently there are four of them—who knew? The comparable question on the new exam is much more sensible.

Or: “Where does freedom of speech come from?” “The First Amendment” or “the Bill of Rights” would be plausible responses. But one could just as easily say something like, “Freedom of speech, in the American context, comes from a long Anglo-Saxon civic tradition culminating in the importation of French and Scottish Enlightenment ideals into U.S. charter documents, followed by two centuries of wrangling between the judicial and legislative branches over the permissible limits of individual expression.” One might discuss the protections given religious expression in Europe as moveable type led to religious fragmentation, bloody conflict, and later secularization. One might even ask the questioner to clarify whether her question was located strictly within the European historical frame or whether she would like a broader cross-cultural exploration of the foundations of free speech. I don’t know whether all that would be on the answer sheet, but it’s a pretty open-ended question.

“What is the rule of law?” Whew, that one is a doozy. Volumes have been written, and remain to be written, about the rule of law.

We see that the writers of the previous exam thought the flag was really, really important. Seven questions have now been whittled down to just one:

Current Test
New Test

Q1. What are the colors of the flag?

Q2. What do the stars on the flag mean?

Q3. How many stars are there on our flag?

Q4. What color are the stars on our flag?

Q5. How many stripes are there on our flag?

Q6. What do the stripes on the flag represent?

96. Why does the flag have 13 stripes?

Q7. What colors are the stripes on the flag?

What I am curious about is how many lifelong U.S. citizens would pass this test. This would be a ripe area for an enterprising immigration advocacy group that could get funding for some simple survey research.

My wife proposed a question be added to the exam, as USCIS seems to have overlooked a critical aspect of U.S. history:

“What is a badonkadonk?”

“Is pimpin’ easy?”

New citizens will have a tough time navigating American life without knowing the answers to these basic questions.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

immigrant-loving capitalist pigs

Originally uploaded by -Antoine-
As anyone familiar with Lou Dobbs will realize, nativism makes for strange bedfellows. Here is Brenda Walker, a blogger at VDARE, a prominent restrictionist website:
Lenin famously remarked that capitalists would sell their enemies the rope by which to hang them. These days, the capitalists are Spanish-friendly and are happy to destroy America for money by making it “bilingual.”
Those greedy capitalists, always trying to destroy America for money. Someone should tell Pat Buchanan about the Marxist undercurrent running through the restrictionist movement.

Walker continues:
The New York Times Magazine observes how a Hispanic-focused ad agency creates marketing messages that are more culturally appropriate to that audience. Business prefers a direct route to Juan’s wallet, unencumbered by waiting for him to learn English or assimilate to mainstream America.
She then goes on to speculate that, due to high brand loyalty among Hispanics, companies have a vested interest in keeping them from learning English (cue ominous music). No, really! I couldn’t make this stuff up.

pet peeve

Hilzoy posts an excerpt from a recent Roger Cohen article in the NY Times:

Between January and August this year, Sweden took in 12,259 Iraqis fleeing their decomposing country. It expects 20,000 for all of 2007. By contrast, in the same January-August period, the United States admitted 685 refugees, according to State Department figures.

The numbers bear closer scrutiny. In January, Sweden admitted 1,500 Iraqis, compared to 15 that entered the United States. In April, the respective numbers were 1,421 and 1; in May, 1,367 and 1; and in August 1,469 and 529. (...)

When Tobias Billstrom, the migration minister, says, “Yes, of course the United States should do more,” you can feel his indignation about to erupt like milk boiling over. He notes that given the huge population difference, Sweden’s intake of Iraqis “is the equivalent of the U.S. taking in about 500,000 refugees.”

While I'm sympathetic to the underlying issues here, can I just say that it is not helpful when people extrapolate “equivalent” populations in order to inflate numbers for dramatic effect? We’re talking about 12,259 Iraqis, and there’s no way that I’m aware of to physically turn 1 Iraqi into 41 Americans. 1 person = 1 person, no matter where that person happens to be or what nationality she happens to possess. We don’t need numbers of foreigners “translated into American” so that we can understand them—numbers shouldn’t change value in translation. It’s another way that Americans demonstrate their persistent need to filter any and all data through an America-centric frame of reference.

Only slightly less bothersome is the tendency to measure large numbers of deaths, such as civilian deaths in Iraq, by the 3,000 or so people who died on 9/11. Again, a life is a life; there's no need to forever reference deaths elsewhere by the national trauma of 9/11. It only underscores how infrequently Americans face tragic loss of life compared to much of the rest of the planet. This post from Arthur Silber manages to combine both the above-listed gripes:

For ease of computation, we'll use approximate figures. Assume the U.S.'s war crimes have resulted in one million deaths. That is roughly 1/26 of the total Iraqi population. An equivalent number of American deaths would be 11.5 million people. 3,000 Americans were murdered on 9/11. In terms of casualties, 11.5 million deaths represent 3,800 9/11s -- or a 9/11 every day for ten and a half years.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this analytic tool tells us that if one of the 50 residents of the Pitcairn Islands killed one of his countrymen/relatives in a barfight, that would be the “equivalent” of 6 million American deaths, or one 9/11 every day for 5 ½ years!

The horror!!!!!!

(Noting, as above, that I agree with Silber on the underlying issues, just not on the use of this particular technique. Ironically, Silber’s principal complaint in this post is the narcissistic inward-looking tendency of American political discourse. Perhaps he is trying here to reach people in ways they have been conditioned to understand.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

excessive force used by police at SRLP fundraising event

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a legal services organization in New York City, issued a press release earlier today regarding an incident that happened last night at an SRLP fundraising event in Manhattan's East Village. The SRLP website notes that the two people who were arrested have been released and all charges dropped. Here is the release:

Police Brutality Strikes Fifth Anniversary of Sylvia Rivera Law Project

9/27/07 NEW YORK - On the night of Wednesday, September 26, officers from the 9th Precinct of the New York Police Department attacked without provocation members of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and of its community. Two of our community members were violently arrested, and others were pepper sprayed in the face without warning or cause.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project is an organization that works on behalf of low-income people of color who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or intersex, providing free legal services and advocacy among many other initiatives. On Wednesday night, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was celebrating its fifth anniversary with a celebration and fundraising event at a bar in the East Village.

A group of our community members, consisting largely of queer and transgender people of color, witnessed two officers attempting to detain a young Black man outside of the bar. Several of our community members asked the officers why they were making the arrest and using excessive force. Despite the fact that our community was on the sidewalk, gathered peacefully and not obstructing foot traffic, the NYPD chose to forcefully grab two people and arrested them. Without warning, an officer then sprayed pepper spray across the group in a wide arc, temporarily blinding many and causing vomiting and intense pain.

"This is the sort of all-too-common police violence and overreaction towards people of color that happens all the time," said Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. "It's ironic that we were celebrating the work of an organization that specifically opposes state violence against marginalized communities, and we experienced a police attack at our celebration."

"We are outraged, and demand that our community members be released and the police be held accountable for unnecessary use of excessive force and falsely arresting people," Spade continued.

Damaris Reyes is executive director of GOLES, an organization working to preserve the Lower East Side. She commented, "I'm extremely concerned and disappointed by the 9th Precinct's response to the situation and how it escalated into violence. This kind of aggressive behavior doesn't do them any good in community-police relations."

Supporters will be gathering at 100 Centre Street tomorrow [Thursday], where the two community members will be arraigned. The community calls for charges to be dropped and to demand the immediate release of those arrested.

ImmigrationProf Blog interview with Obama

ImmigrationProf Blog has posted (pdf) Obama’s answers to questions on immigration. The three co-bloggers issued a disclaimer that they have all served as members of an Immigration Policy Group for the Obama campaign, but played no role in formulating the responses.

If these immigration experts have decided to throw their lot in with Obama—which I don’t know for certain—I can’t blame them. I think he is the frontrunner with the greatest likelihood of advancing immigration policy in a productive direction.

Clinton lost me in 2002 when she voted for war. She’s not shown much interest in substantively improving her foreign policy positions since then. I can’t remember any big pronouncements she’s made on immigration—I think she is trying to avoid the issue as much as possible. Edwards so far has not impressed me with his immigration or foreign policy acumen.

Obama’s weakest point is his vote for the border wall last year. I’ve not seen him advance a good explanation for that decision. In response to a question on this topic, Obama dodges and weaves:

Deaths on the Border

In recent years, thousands of migrants have died seeking to enter the United States. Many knowledgeable observers blame the increased enforcement measures along the U.S./Mexico border over the last 15+ years for making the crossing a life-or-death proposition. Such measures have diverted immigrants away from large border cities and into remote and desolate deserts where migrants are more likely to die. What would you do to reduce the deaths along the U.S./Mexico border? Why did you vote for the Secure Fence Act in 2006, which allowed for the extension of the border fence along the U.S./Mexico border that, according to many commentators, will do little to deter undocumented immigrants while, at the same time, increase the chances that they will die during their journey?

My father came to this country from a small village in Africa because he was looking for opportunity. So when I see people who are coming across these borders, whether legally or illegally, I know that the motivation is trying to create a better life for their children and their grandchildren. That's why in the state legislature and in the U.S. Senate, I championed efforts to make sure that we could incorporate and bring people into the political process and to have access to the resources that would give them a better life. I was one of the leaders, along with several other senators, in passing comprehensive immigration reform the year before last out of the Senate and was extremely disappointed to see the House fail to act.

I agree that more fencing alone is not the answer to our immigration challenge. The Secure Fence Act sent the message that Mexico is not our friend and that immigration can be solved through enforcement alone – both points with which I strongly disagree. But I believe restoring order in the border region is necessary to winning the American people’s support for full reform. It must be done as one package, but getting the border under control will have to be part of a comprehensive solution for both practical and political reasons. I can commit to you that I will support additional fencing only where it can help discourage illegal entry and dangerous crossings over desert terrain. And I will only support additional fencing in coordination and cooperation with local communities.

I would prefer to use more manned patrols and better technology to deter illegal entry, but a large majority of Congress has agreed that some new fencing should be part of a solution. Additional fencing on the border is not a comprehensive solution, but it sometimes helps deter people from taking the risk of entering illegally. Protecting our borders is important, but it is just one step in the overall process of reforming our nation’s immigration laws.

I like the fact that Obama emphasizes his immigrant roots, if he were elected president, I think his father’s experience would shape his immigration policies in positive ways. But otherwise, this response is inadequate.

He says, “I can commit to you that I will support additional fencing only where it can help discourage illegal entry and dangerous crossings over desert terrain.” But the problem is that fences are being constructed at the safest crossing points, so immigrants are pushed out into remote and dangerous areas. Unless Obama is proposing to turn the entire border fence policy on its head by building fences where nobody crosses and leaving the border towns open, I suspect he knows these words are empty.

Alternatively, Obama knows that what he is describing is impossible and this is his way of saying he will not support additional fencing. Under that interpretation, his next statement makes more sense: I will only support additional fencing in coordination and cooperation with local communities.” Since border communities generally oppose fencing, this could mean Obama won’t support more walls.

But it’s a little late in the day to talk about “additional fencing” when you’ve already voted to authorize 700 miles of fence. Apparently, the CW is that politically, supporting the border wall is a no-brainer. This perception must change, and the change can start with Obama’s Latino constituents in Illinois. While he’s on the national stage now, Illinoisans can speak to his strengths and weaknesses in a way others can’t, and they should take advantage of this to push him to repudiate his vote. In the same way that Clinton has been bleeding credibility with progressives by refusing to revisit her support for the Iraq War in any significant way, Obama should be pushed to revisit his vote for the wall.

Obama says, “a large majority of Congress has agreed that some new fencing should be part of a solution.” It would have been a smaller majority if the junior Senator from Illinois had not joined it, especially as a candidate for president who can act as an opinion leader in a way others can’t. He knows this well from his experience opposing the “large majority of Congress” that supported the Iraq blunder, and he knows the political benefits that being an early opinion leader can bring.

How would the Obama administration have dealt with the case of Elvira Arrellano, the undocumented immigrant with a U.S. citizen son who sought refuge in a church for a year to avoid deportation and, upon leaving her sanctuary, was arrested and deported to Mexico? Arellano’s U.S. citizen son remains in the United States.

I’ve met with Elvira Arellano and her son, and I understand the challenges that they and millions of other undocumented immigrants face. Although I do not condone Ms. Arellano’s defiance of the law, her plight is representative of a broken immigration system. We need comprehensive immigration reform that creates a system that is fair, consistent, compassionate, and emphasizes both maintaining the rule of law and the security of our borders while working to keep families together. I will not stop pushing Congress to pass comprehensive reform this year.

Elvira Arellano represents a vulnerability for restrictionists as Cindy Sheehan did for war supporters. Given the relative paucity in the media of antiwar voices among soldiers and their families before the summer of 2005, Cindy Sheehan’s position as the mother of a fallen soldier seemed at first unassailable to antiwar progressives. That is why she was the focus of such strenuous attacks by the right—she had to be discredited before she drained any more public support for a failing war. Similarly, Arellano represents the consequences to children and families of the damage caused by U.S. immigration policies. Arellano’s status as a single mother who took refuge in a church was enough to keep ICE at bay for an entire year—she was only captured and deported once she left the sanctuary. Her plight could especially have an impact on women’s opinions on immigration if her public image is not speedily tarnished—hence, the negative press from Fox and the restrictionist websites.

I like Obama’s statement on Arellano, and I’m glad he’s not ashamed to have met with her. I disagree with Dan Kowalski; I think Arellano does deserve support. I don’t want to see her in the same position as Cindy Sheehan found herself, where liberals bought into the conservative narrative and began discounting Sheehan’s experience and undermining from the left her effectiveness in the national discussion.

Obama’s response to a question about how he would reform the broken immigration courts was less than satisfactory, mostly because it was less than 25 words:

Improving the quality of the decisions of the immigration courts and the BIA is part of comprehensive reform and I will fight for it.

The most generous interpretation is that he is not informed about this issue enough to have an opinion at this point.

Obama expresses support for the DREAM Act and points out that he introduced the Citizenship Promotion Act to reduce application fees for citizenship and promote efforts to integrate immigrants into American life. This is a good way to address persistent (though unfounded) complaints that today’s immigrants just ain’t like they used to be in terms of learning English and integrating into American society.

Overall, I agree with Kowalski that Obama’s positions need a lot of refining, and at some point, the details should be fleshed out. But as a general matter, the candidates are reluctant on many issues to commit to details which may come back to bite them in the general election. Obama at least is reaching out to the immigrant community by participating in this interview, his border wall vote notwithstanding.

If he is successful in the primaries, pressure will be on him to repudiate some of the more immigrant-friendly positions he is taking now. The real test will be how he responds to that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

protests in Burma

Things are starting to happen in Burma:

The government of Myanmar began a violent crackdown on Wednesday after tolerating more than a month of ever larger protests in cities around the country. Security forces clubbed and tear-gassed protesters, fired shots into the air and arrested hundreds of the monks who are at the heart of the demonstrations.

A government announcement said security forces in Yangon, the country’s main city, fired at demonstrators who failed to disperse, killing one man. Foreign news agencies and exile groups reported death tolls ranging from two to eight people.

Despite threats and warnings by the authorities, and despite the beginnings of a violent response, tens of thousands of chanting, cheering protesters flooded the streets, witnesses reported. Monks were in the lead, like religious storm troopers, as one foreign diplomat described the scene.

I hope this doesn’t end up like Tiananmen or Andijan. The situation is both exciting and terrifying. Andrew Sullivan has a round up here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

bring me a sugar cookie from Queens!

Once again, an ad in the print version of the Economist caught my eye.

Posted by Picasa

The text reads:
No task is too big (or too small) for a Peninsula Page – like this request for songbirds from the street markets of Hong Kong. To view more Portraits of Peninsula and learn about the world’s most celebrated hotels, please visit us at
I couldn’t help but think of this:
Y’all gotta walk uptown to the Bronx, and get breast milk from a Cambodian immigrant.
A bit of piddling about on the internets reveals that this photo was taken by Annie Leibovitz as part of an ad campaign for the chain a couple years ago. In a BusinessWeek article that reads like a press release (maybe they all do, I don’t know), we find that:
As Paul Quinn, the Peninsula Hong Kong's Chief Concierge puts it, "We try to make the impossible possible. The golden rule is we try never to say no." During his career, Quinn has dealt with some unusual requests, from arranging a visit to Buckingham Palace to organizing a party in Regents Park with elephants (rain put a damper on the plans but Quinn arranged an alternative indoor treat). Quinn adds, "Sometimes it is more about understanding the guest as they may ask for something when it's not really what they want."
Bring me a sugar cookie from Queens! Wait, no, make it chocolate chip …
What's in it for the staff? One image in the "Portraits" campaign features three chambermaids who have been with the company for a combined total of 49 years. That's an average of more than 15 years of service each. The Peninsula Hotels believes staff stays because it truly looks after them in both good times and bad. As Zuleka Mok, the group's general manager of human resources puts it, "They are part of the Peninsula family. All of our staff members are treated with the same level of respect, dignity and consideration regardless of their position. We help them to build their career with us, instead of just providing jobs."

. . .

By its own definition, the Peninsula Hotels operates at the luxury end of the industry. Offerings such as the HK$ 110,000 (US$ 14,100) "Pen-Ultimate Experience" at the group's flagship Hong Kong property, which includes two nights' stay in a suite, transfers by chauffeured Rolls-Royce, in-suite candlelight dining while serenaded by the hotel's jazz trio, and a 30-minute sightseeing tour by helicopter among other treats, are out of reach for most.
What young Chinese boy wouldn’t love to scamper and fetch songbirds from the street markets of Hong Kong to satisfy the whim of a wealthy Westerner? He’s pulling his compatriots out of poverty, one parakeet at a time.

And we mustn’t forget this side of the tourist industry.

I found more photos from the Peninsula campaign here (pdf).

The one on the first page deserves a caption contest. Since my army of commenters may feel timid, I’ll take the first shot:
Brown-skinned children of the world: America needs you!

Krugman spells it out

Paul Krugman (I’ll make an exception for him, since word is he has been nominated for sainthood by the progblogosphere) has an entry in the recent string of op-eds and articles that have pointed out how intent the GOP is to shoot itself in the foot with regard to the Latino vote.

One of the truly remarkable things about the contest for the Republican nomination is the way the contenders have snubbed not just blacks — who, given the G.O.P.’s modern history, probably won’t vote for a Republican in significant numbers no matter what — but Hispanics. In July, all the major contenders refused invitations to address the National Council of La Raza, which Mr. Bush addressed in 2000. Univision, the Spanish-language TV network, had to cancel a debate scheduled for Sept. 16 because only John McCain was willing to come.

If this sounds like a good way to ensure defeat in future elections, that’s because it is: Hispanics are a rapidly growing force in the electorate.

But to get the Republican nomination, a candidate must appeal to the base — and the base consists, in large part, of Southern whites who carry over to immigrants the same racial attitudes that brought them into the Republican fold to begin with. As a result, you have the spectacle of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, pragmatists on immigration issues when they actually had to govern in diverse states, trying to reinvent themselves as defenders of Fortress America.

And both Hispanics and Asians, another growing force in the electorate, are getting the message. Last year they voted overwhelmingly Democratic, by 69 percent and 62 percent respectively.

In other words, it looks as if the Republican Party is about to start paying a price for its history of exploiting racial antagonism. If that happens, it will be deeply ironic. But it will also be poetic justice.

This meme is crystallizing into CW—but whether it will it have any measurable impact on the immigration debate remains to be seen.

(Via J. Bradford DeLong)

asylum process still highly arbitrary

Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) has published a study of large persistent differences in asylum grant rates of judges in immigration courts across the country. The disparities hold when controlled for a number of factors, including nationality of the applicant.

In city after city and for national group after national group, newly available data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) document extensive hard-to-explain disparities in how the nation's immigration judges decide the thousands requests for asylum that come before them each year, according to an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

The unusual persistence of these disparities — no matter how the asylum cases are examined — indicates that the identity of the judge who handles a particular matter often is more important than the underlying facts. Because equal justice under the law is a fundamental goal of American jurisprudence, the new findings about the day-to-day operations of the immigration courts are disturbing.

. . .

This report . . . focuses on the work of 224 immigration judges, each of whom had decided 100 or more asylum matters from FY 2001 to 2006 where the applicants were represented by counsel.

Some courts are more problematic than others, with Miami being the worst.

New York. The variation among the decisions of New York's immigration judges is quite extreme. Of the 36 such judges, two denied asylum requests less than 10% of the time and another denied requests more than 90% of the time. See Figure 1.

Those with the largest proportion of denials included Judge William F. Jankun. He turned down 91.6% of the 665 requests that he considered. Then there was Judge Sandy K. Hom who declined 89.7% of 1,533 matters and Judge John Opaciuch who rejected 87.5% of 879 requests.

At the other end of the scale in New York were three judges who presumably had dealt with broadly similar kinds of applicants. Among them was Judge Terry A. Bain who only denied 9.5% of her 1,946 cases. Then there was Judge Margaret McManus who denied 9.9% of the 1,859 cases she heard. And William P. Vanwyke — with 1,181 cases — and a denial rate of 14.7%.

The use of the word "presumably" here needs a bit of explication. Since cases are assigned randomly, all the judges deal with broadly similar kinds of applicants.
Within each court, however, the Executive Office for Immigration Review has automated procedures to assign the incoming requests on a random basis. Therefore, the individual judges within a given district are thought to be dealing with the same broad mix of asylum seekers as their colleagues sitting in the same court. As a result — in each immigration court — the average grant and denial rate for the judges deciding asylum matters should be roughly similar.

. . .

Miami. With 26 judges who had handled more than 100 cases, Miami was the second busiest in the nation in terms of asylum matters decided. In that city, Judge Sandra A. Coleman's denial rate was 21.8% while Judge Mahlon Hanson's rate was 97.6%. . . . Setting aside the two judges with the lowest denial rates, the remaining 24 Miami judges' asylum denial rates still varied between 63% and 98%.

A comparison to other immigration courts around the country shows that Miami’s denial rates are significantly higher than average. This wasn't because Miami had the most cases to handle--New York had 1240 asylum cases per judge to Miami's 1131 during the period studied.

Disparities remained regardless of such factors as hearing location, type of application (affirmative or defensive), and whether or not the applicant was in custody.

Large disparities exist in denial rates within nationalities, as well:

Nationally the judge-to-judge differences in asylum rates for Chinese applicants range from a denial rate of 7% up to a denial rate of 95%.

Some judges in New York and Miami denied 99% of Haitian applications for asylum. If you are Haitian and have the misfortune to have one of these judges assigned to your case, you might as well pack your bags and skip the proceedings, because they are sending you back regardless of the facts of your case.

The study concludes:

The wide range of disparities in how asylum matters are decided — regardless of the perspective from which they are examined – points strongly to a dysfunctional system where the law is not the law. As TRAC previously documented, these disparities have existed for many years and have outlived the tenure of any number of individual judges. This strongly suggests that when it comes to decision disparity, individual judges do not appear to be the primary source of the problem. An attempt to deal with this failure by focusing only on individual judges — even those judges whose asylum decisions fall at either extreme — will in the long run do little to guarantee a fairer and more effective system without wider systemic reforms.

That is exactly right.

Monday, September 24, 2007

safer roads in New York

Chung-Wa Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, writes about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s new policy to permit out-of-status immigrants apply for driver’s licenses:

However critics of the plan may try to spin it, the governor is taking a tough stance. By expanding access to driver's licenses, he's ensuring that our roads are safe. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers with a valid license. And he's also helping law enforcement by making it easier to locate those individuals who may pose a real threat.

Spitzer's new policy will bring much-needed change. It shows the governor is brave enough to admit that tying license eligibility to immigration status has undermined the state's compelling interest in ensuring public safety.

The plan requires stringent documentation criteria for obtaining a driver's license. While more people will be able to apply for licenses, the security standards they must meet are now set higher - making a New York State driver's license one of the most secure, verifiable and tamper-proof licenses in the nation.

I wonder when drastically differing state and local immigration policies will begin to impact migration flows within the country. We’re starting to see real policy divergence, and an overstretched DHS can’t smooth over all the wrinkles.

called to serve

I’m not quite sure what’s going on with this Mormon missionary pin-up calendar. It’s often hard to tell these days (see, e.g., Donnie Davies). But it seems genuine—as in produced and distributed by active LDS, although certainly with no official church support. From the info page:

The general public is largely unaware of the selflessness and sacrifice of these missionaries. They have helped the poor, fed the hungry, built schools and homes, and provided service to many people in need.

Also, as the casual reader might miss, they proselytized ceaselessly. Selflessness and a sacrifice, yes, but let’s not forget the “missionary” part of the two-year religious mission.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

the nuclear threat

Mushroom cloud
Originally uploaded by Octoferret
The U.S. has enough nuclear firepower to destroy any potential enemy many times over. This is enough to make even neighbors and allies nervous. Apparently the prospect of some of those nukes being transported across our own soil is enough to make Americans uneasy. Imagine how the rest of the world feels!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

national security implications of state IDs for immigrants

Nina Bernstein of the NY Times reports on a happy development for immigrants:

New York State, home to more than 500,000 illegal immigrants, will issue driver’s licenses without regard to immigration status under a policy change announced yesterday by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

The change rolls back rules adopted four years ago under the Pataki administration that made it difficult, if not impossible, for tens of thousands of immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses because they could not prove legal status. Under the new rules, the Department of Motor Vehicles will accept a current foreign passport as proof of identity without also requiring a valid yearlong visa or other evidence of legal immigration.

This is good news for many out-of-status immigrants who have established lives here in New York but can’t drive and have difficulty opening bank accounts, getting credit cards, or doing any number of things incidental to daily life which require a state-issued ID. The article continues:

But the new policy drew immediate fire from groups that had welcomed the Pataki administration rules as a needed crackdown on license fraud and as the kind of national security measure demanded by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Peter Gadiel, the president of 9/11 Families for a Secure America, whose son died in the World Trade Center, released a scathing statement even before the official announcement yesterday.

“Governor Spitzer will demonstrate abject stupidity and breathtaking disregard for the victims of 9/11 if he hands these powerful ID’s to people who sneak across our borders,” he wrote. “Terrorists here illegally used licenses to kill my son and thousands of others in the World Trade Center; if they do it again using New York licenses issued by this governor, the blood of the victims will be on Mr. Spitzer’s hands.”

Curious on this point, I looked and found this fact sheet (pdf) from the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a nationwide public education campaign created by the ten members of the 9/11 Commission:

What happened in the 9/11 plot:

The hijackers obtained 13 driver’s licenses (two of which were duplicates) and 21 USA or state-issued identification cards (usually used for showing residence in the U.S. or a state).

The driver’s licenses themselves were all legal, that is, they were not forged. But they were not all legally obtained. Seven hijackers used fraudulent means (false statements of residency) to acquire legitimate identifications in Virginia.

Their fraud in obtaining driver’s licenses did not arise from them being undocumented aliens. All the hijackers entered the United States with proper immigration documents, but several had committed fraudulent acts to get them.

One hijacker who obtained a driver’s license when he was in status was out of status on 9/11. Another hijacker whose documents clearly showed that he was out of status and had overstayed his 30-day visitor’s visa did not seek or obtain a driver’s license. He used his passport to prove identification and board the aircraft.

In the fact sheet, the Commission went on say that it had recommended “strong federal standards for the issuance of birth certificates and other sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses,” but pointedly

did not make any recommendations to state governments about which individuals should or should not be issued a driver’s license. . . . Specifically, we did not make any recommendation about licenses for undocumented aliens. That issue did not arise in our investigation, as all hijackers entered the United States with documentation (often fraudulent) that appeared lawful to immigration inspectors. They were therefore “legal immigrants” at the time they received their driver’s licenses.

So the 9/11 Commission disagreed with Mr. Gadiel's position. The National Immigration Law Center, an immigrants’ rights group, has this to add (from a 2005 fact sheet—pdf):

National security experts make clear that imposing immigration status–based restrictions on who can obtain a driver’s license actually undermines national security.1

a. Immigration status–based restrictions will create a larger “haystack” in which terrorists can hide. Effective counterterrorism strategy is based on sorting potential terrorists out from the general population so that security resources can be focused on this smaller pool of suspects. The fewer the people who are identified through the licensing process, the larger the population of unidentified people that law enforcement must sort through.

b. Immigration status–based restrictions will increase the incentive for noncitizens to buy fraudulent documents on the black market.

1. See statement released by the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy on Dec. 17, 2004, at [Ed. note: here is the correct link:]

. . .

As stated in a fact sheet created by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, which is a public education campaign created by members of the 9/11 Commission, immigration status–based driver’s license restrictions would not have prevented the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. All of the hijackers who committed the attacks were in the United States lawfully when they were issued the driver’s licenses they were found to have obtained.2

The fraud the 9/11 hijackers committed in obtaining their licenses did not arise from the fact that they were undocumented immigrants. Some of them obtained licenses by submitting false affidavits stating that they were residents of the state that issued the licenses, or on their applications they provided a hotel address as their residence address.

In fact, state driver’s license records provided critical information about where the hijackers had traveled and stayed in the U.S.

Unlike the majority of immigrants who work hard at low-wage jobs, sophisticated terrorists have the resources to travel. They aren’t deterred by lawful presence restrictions but can use their foreign passports to prove identity for almost any purpose, and they have access to technology to produce fake identity documents.

2 For a copy of the fact sheet, see

Much of the anti-immigrant position rests on purported national security grounds, but upon closer inspection, the real targets are usually low-income Latin American immigrants like this Peruvian quoted in the Times article:

One member of the group, who would identify himself only as Cesar, an immigrant from Peru, said he had been afraid of driving without authorization and had had to depend on friends to drive him to work. “Now, thank God, I won’t have this difficulty in my life,” he said.

work, save, build a house

Henry at Crooked Timber quotes Patrick Deneen:

[T]he combination of local economies, nearby productive farmland outside every town, viable public transportation and widespread use of alternative energies points to a culture that has never abandoned sustainable communities in the way that America willfully and woefully has done over the past fifty years. You can also get some sense why there is even resentment here toward America’s wastefulness: the Europeans pay higher prices for everything in an effort to use less, and whatever “give” there is in the worldwide production of resources is a kind of unintended sacrificial gift that many Europeans are making so that America can continue its energy gluttony. That said, the last laugh will be theirs, I think, when our civilization corrodes with increasingly worthless suburban housing tracts, our incalculable debt, and our inability to finance the American way of life. … Here’s something funny: my German father-in-law – no friend of big government, and about as anti-60s one could find – describes this way of life (including the solar panels, etc.) as conservative. And what could be more conservative than the Swabian motto – “schafe, spare, Häusle baue” (work, save, build a house)?

I’m reminded of my skinflint landlord in Rome, who drank $2/bottle wine, recycled diligently, and told me I ate spaghetti like a dog. I remember the horror in his eyes when I brought Chef-Boyardee ravioli from the embassy commissary into the apartment. He wasn’t particularly religious. But traditional, conservative? Certainly.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

there's no crying in court!

Nina Bernstein at the NY Times reports today:

A New York immigration judge who rebuked a Chinese man for weeping during his asylum hearing has been rebuked herself by a federal appeals court that took the rare step of ordering her off the case.

In a decision issued on Friday, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, ruled that the judge, Noel A. Ferris, had mischaracterized the evidence and the demeanor of the asylum seeker when she ruled his testimony not credible.

The man, Jian Zhong Sun, testified at his asylum hearing in 2004 that the authorities in China had forced his wife to get an abortion in her first pregnancy, and that he had been beaten and threatened with sterilization during her second pregnancy in 1993, causing him to flee to the United States before his daughter was born.

The court found that Judge Ferris’s decision to deny Mr. Sun’s claim for asylum was “not supported by substantial evidence.”

The court also found “most troubling” Judge Ferris’s “note for the record” that the petitioner’s emotional reaction to questions about his daughter was “way out of proportion.”

Asked about his tears at the asylum hearing, Mr. Sun, a restaurant worker, had said, “I’m crying because I have not seen my daughter after 11 years.”

A little later, when Mr. Sun wept again as he answered questions about the forced abortion, Judge Ferris interrupted the hearing, complaining on the record of “the respondent’s disproportionate behavior in this courtroom.”

The Second Circuit vacated the lower Board of Immigration Appeals’ affirmation of the immigration judge’s decision and remanded the case to a different IJ. The court was not kind in its description (pdf) of the IJ’s mistakes:

The IJ’s decision, which was speculative and conjectural, was not supported by substantial evidence. Without any basis in the record for doing so, the IJ hypothesized an economic motive for Sun’s departure from China and grounded her conclusion on conjecture. The IJ’s findings are a product of the IJ’s own beliefs about what is and is not plausible in China, without any record support for these conclusions. These findings are based on improper assumptions. For example, the IJ determined that it was implausible that Sun’s wife would be allowed to give birth while her husband was a fugitive from justice, despite being in possession of the requisite approval of the family planning office. Also, the IJ believed, on no basis other than her personal views, that the letter from Sun’s wife failed to demonstrate sufficient concern for his well-being, in a manner that allegedly undermined his claims of having been beaten in China. This is not substantial evidence that provides adequate support for an adverse credibility determination.

The rest of the decision reads in a similar vein, challenging the judge’s inappropriately strict importation of the Federal Rules of Evidence into the asylum process when “asylum applicants can not always reasonably be expected to have an authenticated document from an alleged persecutor.” In other words, police officers who beat, threaten, and torture an asylum applicant are sometimes reluctant to provide the victim with a signed affidavit describing their actions.

The Times article continues:

The appeals court generally defers to an immigration judge’s assessment of a petitioner’s demeanor, the three-judge panel noted.

But in this case, it said, “a credibility finding rooted in flawed reasoning cannot stand.” Besides rejecting the judge’s decision as “speculative and conjectural,” and faulting her exclusion of important documents in the case, it said her comments and her conduct raised doubts about the fairness and reliability of the record, requiring that another immigration judge hear Mr. Sun’s case.

Immigration lawyers in New York said they could recall no other case of such a decision except for Jeffrey S. Chase, another immigration judge in New York City, who was relieved of court duties in March and assigned to a desk job after he was repeatedly rebuked by federal appeals judges for his hostile questioning of asylum seekers.

Judge Ferris, 56, an immigration judge since 1994, has a distinguished legal background.

She has a track record of granting asylum in nearly half the cases she handles, but she is also known among courtroom veterans for displays of anger and impatience. Theodore N. Cox, Mr. Sun’s appeals lawyer, said several more appeals seeking review of Judge Ferris’s hostile commentary from the bench were “in the pipeline.”

. . .

A transcript of Mr. Sun’s hearing shows that Judge Ferris repeatedly faulted him for responding “Sorry,” “O.K.” and “Yeah” in English rather than speaking only in Chinese, and threatened that he would lose his case if he hesitated in his answers.

. . .

Even Judge Ferris’s supporters in New York acknowledge that she has been known for reducing people in her court to tears — not only petitioners, but lawyers, translators and clerks. But they say her anger is often directed at lawyers who are not prepared or interpreters who fail to translate properly, and that she has become more civil in the last year or two.

It would be nice if immigration judges were more civil to immigrants and their representatives. But the real problem is not the rudeness of judges—in any field, lawyers can be brash and judges can be bullies. The real problem is the atmosphere of impunity which allows both abusive behavior from judges and near-complete discretion in determining outcomes.

As the Times article explains:

The appeals courts have been overwhelmed with asylum cases since the Bush administration curtailed an internal immigration appeals process. The federal judges have complained of a pattern of biased and incoherent decisions and bullying conduct by immigration judges, who are Justice Department employees, not part of the independent federal judiciary.

As I wrote earlier this year when Judge Chase received a similar rebuke from the Second Circuit:

As I noted here, the difference between the highest and lowest asylum denial rates among New York judges from 2000-2005 was 86 percentage points. Some asylum claims, no matter how strong on the merits, have virtually no chance of approval simply because of the judge who happens to be assigned to the case. And advocates of a stricter asylum system can’t be happy with the immigration judges who approve 80 or 90 percent of their cases. Pinning the blame on Judge Chase for acting uncivilly in his courtroom only distracts from the greater obscenity of a system with these outcomes.

The same could be said of Judge Ferris. The immigration courts are underfunded and overstretched. In an asylum proceeding I once observed in New York, the judge dryly commented that he would have his “crack legal staff” draft a decision in the case. There are over 200 immigration judges in the country, and only 45 law clerks to assist them all. This judge knew he was basically on his own to work through an average of 1,400 cases per year—at least he has a sense of humor about his work.

The Board of Immigration Review, normally the first line of appeal of an IJ’s decision, is even more swamped as a result of John Ashcroft’s purge of its liberal members, cutting the BIA’s size in half, a sort of Court-packing Scheme in reverse.

Predictably, the purge drastically reduced BIA asylum approval rates from 43% in 2001 to 13% in 2005. As a result of the vacuum created by the reductions at the BIA, along with more vigorous enforcement in the past 10-15 years, the federal courts have been swamped by immigration cases and have trouble managing their normal caseloads. Knowing that they are unlikely to be challenged either by the BIA or by federal courts, IJs operate with impunity in an area of the law which already allows great discretion.

I repeat: the immigration courts are broken and this administration is incapable of fixing them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

an appropriate degree of uncertainty

In the course of arguing that the next time we invade Iraq, we should make sure to do it right, James Dobbins writes (behind a subscription wall):

Over more than two centuries, the United States has conducted dozens of military campaigns, only two of which were in response to attacks on U.S. soil. This record should leave few in doubt that the United States will employ force to protect itself, its friends, and its interests without necessarily waiting to be struck first. To enshrine this principle in publicly proclaimed national doctrine, however, only makes any subsequent resort to force more controversial and hinders the process of attracting allies and securing international sanction for such actions; other nations will never be prepared to exempt the United States from the internationally recognized restraints on the unprovoked use of force. This international resistance to declared U.S. policy was clearly on display when the decision was made to attack Iraq soon after the Bush administration formally adopted preemption as the cornerstone of its new national security strategy. Washington therefore needs to drop “preemption” from the lexicon of its declared national security policy (as the Bush administration has already begun to do) while leaving an appropriate degree of uncertainty in the minds of any potential foes about how the United States might respond to a mounting threat.

Shorter James Dobbins: Do it, just don’t talk about it. Ix-nay on the ee-emption-pray. Shhh, I told her if she is quiet until after Jeopardy is over, she can have a C-O-O-K-I-E.

This plan is foolproof.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

the company you keep

nicolawells blogs about a restrictionist event planned in Alabama:

A Ku Klux Klan chapter in Athens, Alabama is planning an anti-immigration rally in front of the Athens townhall this Saturday.

The Klan is not marching side-by-side with Mexican lettuce pickers and Guatemalan housekeepers. They have picked sides in the immigration debate, and it’s the “illegal means illegal” side. This should tell us something.

Monday, September 17, 2007

thank you, New York Times . . .

. . . for breaking my daily habit of reading your opinion columnists by putting them behind the paywall two years ago. I missed them at first—especially Nick Kristoff’s reliably internationalist views—but got over that quickly. Now I’m glad to be untethered from the narrow foreign policy spectrum of establishment, exceptionalist sycophancy exhibited in the short distance from Brooks to Friedman.

Don’t worry, I won’t be back now that I can read them for free again. Going cold turkey can be the most effective way to kick a nasty habit—it was for me.

keeping count

Over the weekend, the Times reported:

Pima County, which includes the Tucson area, is one of the busiest areas for illegal crossings along the 2,000-mile border. The medical examiner’s office handled 177 deaths of border crossers in the first eight months of this year, compared with 139 over the same period last year and 157 in 2005, the year the most such deaths were registered.

The death of Ms. Martínez in July illustrates a primary reason that immigration scholars, the Border Patrol and government officials in the United States and Mexico believe people continue dying at such high rates: As they increasingly avoid heavily patrolled urban areas, they cross with little or no knowledge of the desert, whose heat, insects, wildlife and rugged terrain make it some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet.

. . .

The Government Accountability Office, in a report last year that analyzed Border Patrol statistics, said the annual number of reported deaths of border crossers doubled to 472 between 1995 and 2005, with the majority of those deaths in the desert near Tucson.

The report suggested the agency has undercounted deaths because of inconsistent classification.

That sounds familiar. One might suspect that the U.S. government doesn't consider all life as being of equal value, if one didn't know that the U.S. is always a force for good in the world. Undercounting (or simply not counting) deaths is how this government promotes a culture of life--if the government doesn't report a death, it may or may not have really happened. The GAO needs to get on board with the administration line if we're going to keep Mexican terrorists from bringing down American democracy and keep our troops in Iraq for the next 20 years.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

don't get personal

In a post today discussing HRC and OHB's relative foreign policy strength, Kevin Drum wrote:

Judgment and temperament are the most important attributes in foreign affairs, not experience
This seems wrongheaded. Sound policy views derived from solid principles are the most important attributes in foreign affairs, just as they are in domestic policy. When discussing the positions of the candidates on the health care plans they have or haven’t put forward, the analysts worth listening to don’t talk about whether or not Clinton has enough experience, whether her experience in this area is a liability or an asset, or whether her judgment and temperament will produce a sound health care plan or a flawed one. They talk about whether the actual policies she proposes are likely to succeed or likely to fail, who will benefit from those policies and who will pay for them, and how they stack up against concrete policies announced by other candidates. They evaluate the candidates’ stated policies in terms of principles: utility, rights, and values. To a large extent, the policies are divorced from the person, and the best candidate is only the sum total of the best policies.

This is often not how the media evaluates candidates, and critics of media political coverage like Atrios and Eric Boehlert have argued persuasively that this has harmed American democracy.

But even otherwise sensible people like Kevin Drum treat foreign policy differently for some reason. When it comes to foreign policy, suddenly the watchwords are “experience,” “judgment,” and “character.” Reagan and Truman had “it,” whatever “it” is; Carter and Nixon didn’t.

As it turns out, “it” usually means “unwarranted belligerence towards outsiders and unquestioning nationalistic fervor.”

Reagan’s policies led directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Central America. Truman used nuclear weapons against innocent civilians and embroiled the country in the Korean quagmire.

Carter helped mainstream human rights and signed the Camp David Accords. Nixon defused needless hostility between the U.S. and China, further isolating the Soviet Union and laying the groundwork for China to become a major trading partner with the U.S.

Carter and Nixon had their screw-ups as well, especially Nixon, but the idea that Reagan and Truman were foreign policy maestros and Carter and Nixon masters of disaster is largely a product of this mindless, personality-based evaluation of foreign policy. This approach is problematic. Good policies deserve support. Bad policies deserve condemnation. If particular leaders (George-cough-cough Bush-cough-cough) espouse a large number of bad policies (invading Iraq, building up the military, running roughshod over international trade rules, dissing foreign leaders, denying global warming) and only a few good policies (liberalizing immigration, increasing aid to Africa), then they should not be entrusted with managing foreign policy. Choosing leaders based on foreign policy should be an inductive process, not a deductive one. If candidates don’t have actual foreign policy experience, they should be judged based on what they have said about policies others have enacted and what actions they propose to take if elected. The existing narrative frame for evaluating candidates is flawed and counterproductive, and leads to unhelpful adjectives like “Reaganesque” or “Trumanesque.”

This is typically because foreign policy is complicated and most people don’t know much about it. But the same could be said of tax policy or health care policy, yet debates on those issues are normally less retarded than what we’re treated to on foreign policy.

immigration after 9/11

Immigration policy has been impacted in far-reaching ways by the 9/11 attacks. Here is one, from Raha Jorjani of UC Davis:

I received a disturbing call from an ICE detainee in Florence, Arizona this afternoon, September 7, 2007. He informed me, and I’ve confirmed, that approximately two days ago, roughly 60 men were transferred from Florence Service Processing Center to the Pinal County Jail facility with which ICE holds a new contract for detainee bed space. Over half of those men are on hunger strike as a result of the conditions they have been subject to as a result of the transfer.

According to the individual I spoke to, the detainees were promised that their transfer to the Pinal County Jail facility would not result in any loss of rights or privileges, however they encountered a thoroughly different reality upon arrival. The account has been that the new transferees have been on 23 hour lock down in 2-man cells, and that there is no outside recreation area. There have also been very serious complaints about food and water quality. Additionally, Pinal County Jail carries out family visitation in the form of video conferencing. Some who had been ordered deported had planned family visits during which they believed they would have contact visits for the last time with their loved ones. That is no longer an option as a result of this transfer. Detainees were woken up in the early hours of the morning and many were not allowed to gather their personal property. Many were forced to leave behind legal documents relating to their ongoing cases.

Many seem to feel that as a result of their detention by ICE in a non-ICE facility, they are neither subject to compliance with the ICE standards nor to privileges available to county inmates. This appears to leave detainees in a peculiar legal limbo with regards to conditions of their confinement.
This isn’t viewed as news by the media since treatment of noncitizen prisoners is routinely abusive and of little concern to most Americans. Immigrant detainees are not covered by many due process rights that Americans take for granted and may be moved from facility to facility around the country without notice in order to make legal representation as difficult as possible.

This is the face of post-September 11 America.

Monday, September 10, 2007

just in time for your mid-September family vacation . . .

From ImmigrationProf Blog:

Before the summer, a passport crunch had U.S. citizens in a tizzy as summer vacations were put at risk. A Congress unable to pass immigration reform passed the Passport Backlog Reduction Act. The Department of State recently issued a media note that the DOS has restored passport service to the standard six to eight week processing time for routine passport applications, and no more than three weeks for expedited service.

el debate en español

Watching the Democratic debate Sunday night on Univision was a bit of a struggle, as it turns out that, for someone of my abilities, listening to a Spanish translation over the English original is more difficult than listening to either separately. (See Latina Lista’s take on the debate here.) I was eager to see how the candidates would react to questions about immigration in front of a nationwide Hispanic audience, knowing that they would be treading on thin ice with some percentage of independent restrictionist voters.

My favorite moment of the debate was when moderator María Elena Salinas asked Senators Clinton, Obama, and Dodd why, since none of the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. undocumented across the Mexican border, they had voted to build a wall there instead of a wall along the Canadian border. I had been wondering the same thing. They all ducked the question, instead reasserting their support for the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that failed earlier this summer. Nearly everyone felt compelled to reiterate the need for “border security,” just as every Democratic statement on Iraq is accompanied by a reflexive bleating of “support the troops.”

The NY Times reported (no permalink available yet):

Richardson, who has opposed the wall, said he would commit to comprehensive reform in the first year.
''If you're going to build a 12 foot wall. You know what's going to happen? A lot of 13-foot ladders.''
I also enjoyed the moment that Richardson, speaking to a Hispanic audience in Miami of which presumably some substantial portion was Cuban-American, called for a repeal of the Cuban embargo. The crowd was conspicuously quiet when he finished. Later, Chris Dodd asserted that he would also lift the embargo, since 50 years and a ruined Cuban economy later, Fidel is still in power.

Chalk one up for Richardson and Dodd: like Obama telling that crowd in Michigan that the U.S. auto industry is broken, they told a sympathetic audience exactly what they didn’t want to hear. Too bad Obama couldn’t do the same this time.

Mike Gravel had a refreshing take on the immigration debate. He said that people are using undocumented immigrants as scapegoats for the failings of the government in education, health care, and jobs. We have to blame somebody, and that ends up being immigrants. This is a point that should be made more often.

And I missed this bit, which certainly makes a good soundbite:
Clinton criticized the immigration bill proposed in the last Congress, dominated by Republicans. That legislation would have penalized those who help illegal immigrants. ''I said it would have criminalized the good Samaritan. It would have criminalized Jesus Christ,'' she said.
Whoah! That’s strong stuff! FAIR, the Minutemen, and Tom Tancredo will be sure now to think twice before trying to criminalize the nonprofit agencies helping out José, María, and Jesús down at the community center.

To sum up, by appearing at the first-ever Spanish-language presidential debate on an increasingly influential niche media outlet, the Democrats have collectively effectively picked sides in this immigration battle. They know their words to a Hispanic audience could be used against them in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina by their opponents, and later by Republicans. They went ahead with the debate because of a political calculation that the Hispanic votes they’ll receive outweigh the restrictionist votes they probably wouldn’t get anyway. The secondary calculation each candidate (except Biden) made was that the debate was too important to miss. Each Republican candidate except for McCain came to the opposite conclusion: a debate in Spanish on Univision would be too risky to join. In spite of Karl Rove’s best efforts, Democrats have decided to campaign for the votes of Hispanics and Republicans have decided to campaign for the votes of restrictionists. It’ll be easier for the GOP once Bush is out of office—he muddied the water on this issue and alienated many otherwise faithful voters.

But the political lines are being drawn ever more clearly. Ironically, Rove’s political calculations in polarizing the national security debate had the unintended effect of torpedoing his hopes for a viable long-term appeal to Hispanic voters. One effect of 9/11 was increased border restrictions and widespread conservative anti-immigrant sentiment, which in turn polarized the immigration debate and drove Hispanics from the GOP.

Time will tell which voting bloc—Hispanics or restrictionists—will be more influential, but for the foreseeable future, politicians in both parties will have little choice in the matter. They will be swept along in this debate as the distance between the two sides grows ever wider.

Update: The final version of the NY Times story is now available, and it includes this:
None of the Democrats made any especially bold moves, although Mr. Dodd and former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska said they would take steps to end the trade embargo with Cuba, and Mr. Richardson said he would consider it if President Fidel Castro released political prisoners.