Thursday, May 31, 2007

luck of the draw

A new study was released recently extensively analyzing decisions by asylum judges across the country. The NY Times reports:

The study, by three law professors, analyzes 140,000 decisions by immigration judges, including those cases from the 15 countries that have produced the most asylum seekers in recent years, among them China, Haiti, Colombia, Albania and Russia. The professors compared for the first time the results of immigration court cases over more than four years, finding vast differences in the handling of claims with generally comparable factual circumstances.

In one of the starker examples cited, Colombians had an 88 percent chance of winning asylum from one judge in the Miami immigration court and a 5 percent chance from another judge in the same court.

. . .

The study found that someone who has fled China in fear of persecution and asks for asylum in immigration court in Orlando, Fla., has an excellent — 76 percent — chance of success, while the same refugee would have a 7 percent chance in Atlanta. Similarly, a Haitian seeking refuge from political violence is almost twice as likely to succeed in New York as in Miami.

. . .

The wide discretion exercised by immigration judges can be disheartening to lawyers and disastrous for immigrants facing threats to their lives if they are forced to return home, immigration lawyers said.

“Oftentimes, it’s just the luck of the draw,” said Cheryl Little, a lawyer and executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, a legal assistance group in Miami that represents many asylum seekers. “It’s heartbreaking,” Ms. Little said. “How do you explain to people asking for refuge that even in the United States of America we can’t assure them they will receive due process and justice?”
I had to stop for a moment to laugh at this. You mean even in This Great Land of Ours, even in this beacon of hope to the oppressed of the world, this Shining City, Sweet Land o’ Liberty, thru’ the night with the light from above—even here, we can’t assure noncitizens that they will receive the same due process rights and reasonable expectations of a just outcome that each American enjoys? Obviously, Ms. Little, being an experienced practitioner of immigration law, knows that immigrants have limited due process rights—no right to a trial in some circumstances (such as overstaying a visa waiver or returning to the U.S. after being deported), limited right to appeal, and little recourse to the courts to challenge bureaucratic inaction or incompetence. And justice, well, there’s only so much you can expect from a neglected bureaucracy slowly stifling under its own weight like a 900 pound man. (I include the immigration courts in the term “bureaucracy” because they are not part of the judicial branch, but part of the Department of Justice). But Ms. Little is appealing to our better instincts, to the part of most Americans that believes with a fervor usually reserved for Friday night lights and Sunday sermons that America alone really knows how to dispense True Justice.
According to the study, great differences also prevail among judges sitting on the same court and hearing similar asylum cases. In the Miami immigration court, one judge granted 3 percent of the asylum cases, while another granted 75 percent.
In short, immigration judges have significant leeway to bend law and facts to fit whatever outcome they have already decided, and rarely have to justify their reasoning to an increasingly overstretched appeals system.
In 2002 Attorney General John Ashcroft made changes to streamline the work of the appeals board, reducing the number of board members to 11 from 23 and encouraging more decisions by single members and without explanation.
What he did was purge the BIA of its liberal members, making the Board both less able to hear each case properly and less likely to grant an appeal in the cases it does hear.

This was no mistake, it was a conscious decision to make an already teetering system even more dysfunctional.

The politicization of the immigration judicial system is nothing new—it was one of the first things the Bush administration turned its attention to in the first term. And the results were predictable.
Asylum applicants who were represented by lawyers received favorable appeals decisions from the board in 43 percent of cases in 2001, the year before the changes took effect. By 2005, asylum seekers with lawyers won their appeals in 13 percent of cases.

The immigration courts are a shambles. The BIA should be restored to its previous size or expanded so the federal Courts of Appeals don’t have to pick up the slack and devote all their time to resolving individual immigration appeals that would be straightened out routinely and with much less expense under a well-functioning system. The Courts of Appeals sometimes step in when due process violations are especially egregious or immigration judges particularly incompetent, but there is only so much they can do. Litigation is also the only option for many immigrants in the absence of regulations which USCIS has failed to implement, in some cases for several years.

The system is broken, and this government isn’t capable of fixing it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

the myth of the dream

Kevin Jon Heller at Opinio Juris cites from a new report that shows both that there’s less social mobility in the U.S. than in much of Western and Northern Europe and that Americans firmly believe the opposite.

Data on relative mobility suggest that people in the United States have experienced less relative mobility than is commonly believed. Most studies find that, in America, about half of the advantages of having a parent with a high income are passed on to the next generation. This means that one of the biggest predictors of an American child’s future economic success — the identity and characteristics of his or her parents — is predetermined and outside that child’s control. To be sure, the apple can fall far from the tree and often does in individual cases, but relative to other factors, the tree dominates the picture.

These findings are more striking when put in comparative context. There is little available evidence that the United States has more relative mobility than other advanced nations. If anything, the data seem to suggest the opposite. Using the relationship between parents’ and children’s incomes as an indicator of relative mobility, data show that a number of countries, including Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and France have more relative mobility than does the United States. Compared to the same peer group, Germany is 1.5 times more mobile than the United States, Canada nearly 2.5 times more mobile, and Denmark 3 times more mobile. Only the United Kingdom has relative mobility levels on par with those of the United States.

Ironically, despite this sobering data, the myth of the American dream is alive and well — Americans continue to be much more optimistic about economic mobility than their developed-country counterparts:
The underlying belief in the fluidity of class and economic status has differentiated Americans from citizens in the majority of other developed nations. As the data... suggest, compared to their global counterparts, Americans have tended to be far more optimistic about their ability to control their own economic destinies through hard work, less likely to believe that coming from a wealthy family is important to getting ahead, less likely to think that differences in income within their country are too large, and less likely to favor the government’s taking responsibility to reduce those differences.

That is why I think the development noted in this NY Times article is a step in the right direction:
Concerned that the barriers to elite institutions are being increasingly drawn along class lines, and wanting to maintain some role as engines of social mobility, about two dozen schools — Amherst, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Williams and the University of North Carolina, among them — have pushed in the past few years to diversify economically.

They are trying tactics like replacing loans with grants and curtailing early admission, which favors the well-to-do and savvy. But most important, Amherst, for instance, is doing more than giving money to low-income students; it is recruiting them and taking their socioeconomic background — defined by family income, parents’ education and occupation level — into account when making admissions decisions.

Amherst’s president, Anthony Marx, turns to stark numbers in a 2004 study by the Century Foundation, a policy institute in New York, to explain the effort: Three-quarters of students at top colleges come from the top socioeconomic quartile, with only one-tenth from the poorer half and 3 percent from the bottom quartile.

. . .

Mr. Jack’s high grades and test scores — a respectable 1200 on the SAT — won him a full scholarship to the University of Florida. But the median score for his Amherst class was 1422, and he would have been excluded had the admissions office not considered his socioeconomic class, and the obstacles he had overcome.

“Tony Jack with his pure intelligence — had he been raised in Greenwich, he would have been a 1500 kid,” said Tom Parker, the dean of admission. “He would have been tutored by Kaplan or Princeton Review. He would have had The New Yorker magazine on the coffee table.”

“Tony Jack is not an anomaly,” he added.

Mr. Jack, Amherst officials say, would likely not have benefited under traditional affirmative action programs. In their groundbreaking 1998 study of 28 selective universities, William Bowen, the former president of Princeton, and Derek Bok, now the interim president of Harvard, found that 86 percent of blacks who enrolled were middle or upper middle class. (Amherst was not included in that study.) The white students were even wealthier.
. . .

In Mr. Jack’s class of 413, 15 percent, or 61, students, are from families with incomes of less than $45,000 a year; about two-thirds of those are from families earning less than $30,000. He was amazed to discover how much preparation wealthier students had.

“People are groomed for the SAT,” Mr. Jack said. “They take Latin to help them with their vocabulary.”

I think it’s time to start talking about a timeframe for moving from race-based admission preferences in the U.S. to class-based preferences, or at least providing some metric for judging the success or failure of race-based affirmative action. And I don't mean "let's get rid of affirmative action and then we'll get around to figuring out a replacement just the other side of never". But just treading water like we are doing isn’t enough.

Monday, May 28, 2007

remembering the dead

Marisa Treviño, in light of 3,452 deaths in Iraq, asks why . . .

. . . we go on with our lives as if this is normal.

Losing servicepeople in numbers like this is not normal. Families losing their young sons and daughters on a daily basis half a world away is not normal.

For us all to be so detached from this war, should not be normal.

For us to accept the explanation that this country is at war with us without proof of it, is not normal.

For us to keep feeding our future generations to a gun battle that will never have an end, and is fueled more by hate between the citizens of that country than for our own soldiers, is not normal.

For us to resign ourselves to the fact that this war is normal — is not normal.

I agree that the Iraq War has been a disaster on every level, and has caused much suffering here and in Iraq.

However, I don't think "normal" is the right yardstick by which to measure satisfaction with this war. For the last 50 years, the U.S. has been involved in a major war about once every 10-15 years. By my estimates, we've been involved in a major war during 23 of the past 58 years, or roughly 40% of the time.

By 2003, it was time for another war. By historical standards for a war this long, U.S. casualties in Iraq have been quite low. By comparison, U.S. deaths (battle deaths + other deaths in service (theater)) in other major wars since WWII were these:
Korean War: 36,574
Vietnam War: 58,209
Gulf War: 529

The numbers fewer Americans bother to discuss are these:
Korean War: around 1 million Koreans killed
Vietnam War: between 1 and 5 million Vietnamese killed
Gulf War: between 22,000 and 200,000 Iraqis killed
Iraq War: between 64,405(civilians only) and 1 million Iraqis killed

Protracted wars in places we don’t belong with deaths in the native population some large, permanently indeterminate multiple of U.S. casualties are as American as baseball and apple pie.

This is normal!

race consciousness

Via IOZ, the indomitable John Derbyshire shares his concerns about the projected “majority minority” future of the United States.

As the racial generation gap opens up, with the oldsters being noticeably more white and Anglo than the kids being educated, the grumbling will escalate into action — most likely, the simple action of yet further residential segregation, the old and white-Anglo living here, the young and dark Hispanic living there.

I wonder where my fiancée and I will live, or our children (she’s black, I’m white). For that matter, where will Derbyshire’s family live, since they don’t fit the categories of "white-Anglo" or "young and dark Hispanic" either—his children being, as he puts it, “Half English coal-miner, half Chinese peasant, one hundred percent American.”
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I, at least, have looked forward glumly to my last days, most likely spent stuck, incapable, in some cruddy nursing home with a bunch of other helpless white geezers, my daily needs in the hands of resentful black and brown orderlies whose educations featured long catalogs of the wrongs done to Them by Us.

Maybe Derbyshire should consider being nicer to those youngsters in his columns.
Back of all that is the question: As white Anglos decline into a minority, will we see the rise of white-Anglo race consciousness? The common understanding at present is that open expressions of race consciousness are taboo for white-Anglo Americans, but just fine for everyone else. A leading black presidential candidate subtitles his best-selling biography “A Story of Race and Inheritance”; the main lobbying organization for Hispanics carries the proud title “National Council of the Race”; and so on. This word is, however, not available to white-Anglo Americans in reference to themselves, and white-Anglo Americans are indoctrinated from childhood to believe, or to pretend to believe, that race is an empty category.

I think it is true that there is very little space for discussion of whiteness between the official fiction of a colorblind society and the ravings of white supremacist groups. I’m talking about whiteness, not “Italian-American-ness” or “Irishness” or “Jewishness”. [Noting that I'm not implying that these groups are not white, but that in recent decades, there's been little room for discussion of "whiteness" as an umbrella category similar to "blackness" or "latinitud".] This is a discussion that makes many people uncomfortable, but it needs to happen. I’m unsure how that discussion will unfold, but I place Derbyshire’s contribution towards the “unhelpful” end of the spectrum. He continues:
This taboo is left over from the old pre-1960s order of unassailable (as it then seemed) white-Anglo supremacy. It was really just a form of noblesse oblige, a patronizing courtesy from the vast-majority race, who owned and ran pretty much everything in the U.S. up to about 40 years ago, to minorities about whom they nursed a mildly guilty conscience.

Noblesse oblige is a wonderfully satisfying, self-flattering attitude: “Look at me — not only powerful and rich, but gracious and kind, too!” Whether it can survive as white Anglos dwindle to minority status is not clear to me. It might: it runs strong today among the white-Anglo inhabitants of Washington, D.C., even though they are (see above) only 32 percent of the population there. I suppose it depends how the economics shakes down.

I think Derbyshire is misreading the racial history here. As he says, back in the day, whites ran the show. Whites assumed they were superior to the other races in every way that mattered. But this presumed superiority wasn’t just politely implied, as Derbyshire alludes. It was made explicit at every level of society, from segregated public facilities to racial pseudoscience coming from the nation’s most respected universities. Before the civil rights movement, many whites did not refrain from proclaiming their racial superiority at every opportunity.

As for Derbyshire’s question, I’ll defer to IOZ once again:
Will Whitey develop "race-consciousness" as he slumps into the minority? I suspect not but hope so. In a hundred years, some well-heeled Black guy can take to the pages of The National Review to ask, "Why are they allowed to call each other cracker but I'm not allowed to call them cracker?" and to lament to glorification of spousal and alcohol abuse in degenerate country-western music.

But picking apart the writings of John Derbyshire is like shooting spam in a barrel—it seems easy at first, but soon you wonder what the hell you are doing.

The more I think about it, the more befuddled I am. The contradictions seem insurmountable. For instance, Derbyshire is a confessed illegal immigrant who steadfastly condemns illegal immigration. From Wikipedia:
Derbyshire has also expressed the opinion that foreigners who overstay their visas in the U.S. should be permanently banned from the country. Derbyshire has admitted that he overstayed his visa in the United States by nearly five years.

His own children are biracial. Yet it never occurs to him, in his examination of the racial future of America, to take into account a growing multiracial populace that increasingly defies tidy classification into “black, white, hispanic, asian, or ‘other’.”

At the magic moment that the national race counter ticks over from 50.00001% white to 49.99999% white, what exactly is supposed to happen? Will anyone notice? Will anyone care? What happens if somebody most people would classify as “white” actually considers himself to be “other”, or someone formerly known as “black” takes a DNA test and finds only Cherokee, Mayan, and Scottish genes? If a census respondent checks the box marked “asian” this time around, but upon further reflection, ticks the “white” box for the next census, will John Derbyshire’s head explode?

It must be terrifying to be John Derbyshire. He’s being displaced by his own children, and can no longer trust the younger generations to care for him in his dotage. It's a bleak future, indeed.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

109-83

I want to have Deron Williams’ babies.

I hadn’t realized they changed the “Delta Center” to “EnergySolutions Arena” but I guess when your sponsor goes bankrupt it makes sense to look for another brand. Unfortunate name, though.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

not immigration blogging

Chris Borgen at Opinio Juris brings us word of a new online venture:

Anshe Chung Studios is preparing to launch a virtual financial market, financial products and a set of services that are going to, for the first time, allow direct capital flow and investment across virtual world boundaries. This step will be the first of many in the creation of an open, cross platform Metaverse economy that transcends individual virtual worlds.

. . .

The new financial market will allow Second Life residents to invest their Linden DOLLARS (L$) directly in ventures such as banks, malls or biospheres in Entropia Universe while those who earned their fortunes in Entropia dollars will be able to easily diversify their investments into assets such as Second Life virtual land funds, virtual game development businesses or the IMVU fashion design industry.

Wow, that is cool. If I had another 20 hours of leisure time in my week, I’d join Second Life. But I think monitoring online investments would fall fairly low on my hierarchy of virtual activities. (Although somewhere above choreographing classic dance routines in machinima.) Then again, 15 years ago, I thought this was a great way to spend my weekends.



In other news, once again we turn to the BBC to find out about crucial happenings in our own back yard:
An unusual clash between a 6-foot (1.8m) alligator and a 13-foot (3.9m) python has left two of the deadliest predators dead in Florida's swamps.

The Burmese python tried to swallow its fearsome rival whole but then exploded.

The remains of the two giant reptiles were found by astonished rangers in the Everglades National Park.

The key passage appears in the ninth paragraph:
"Clearly, if they can kill an alligator they can kill other species," Prof Mazzotti said.

Yet another reason to move to Florida. They have Burmese pythons!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

the raids continue

Another hundred immigrant workers have been arrested and shipped to detention centers away from their families. Just try arranging legal representation for your mother/father/sister/child when he/she has been sent halfway across the country and may be moved again tomorrow and deported the day after. Try finding a lawyer for your parent as a six-year-old child.

Meanwhile, as usual, no charges have been filed against the employer.

Monday, May 21, 2007

another non-event

From the NY Times last week:

[A]n overloaded Haitian sloop capsized off the coast of Turks and Caicos recently. As many as 90 migrants may have died in that episode, which passengers on the vessel blamed on the aggressive tactics of the local police.

. . .

With a police boat on the scene in rough waters, the Haitian boat went over on its side. Screams filled the air and bodies hit the water. In all, 61 dead Haitians were plucked from the sea, some of them with shark bites. Twenty or so others were never found.

“The closest thing I could compare it to was Katrina, with that many people floating in the water,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Arko, a Coast Guard helicopter pilot who responded to the scene and who had done search-and-rescue work over post-hurricane New Orleans.

. . .

But Haitians have it harder than others. They are not allowed to stay if they reach American soil, like the Cubans. They are not granted temporary protected status while their countries recover from war and natural disasters, like those who have fled Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Haitians have the bad luck to be located at the conjunction of two of the most odious American (or simply human) traditions: racism and nativism. Hence a Cuban has merely to land on our shores, introduce himself to a law enforcement officer, stay for a year and a day, and he will be handed a green card with a smile. That’s the God’s honest truth. Haitians have been coming here since the sixties, even earlier than many Central Americans, but Haitians have never been granted Temporary Protected Status. While Haiti suffers through some of the most sustained savagery this side of Iraq, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans continue to renew their TPS status as their countries move towards the end of a second decade of peace. Haiti was an American ally during the Cold War, but Haitians had the misfortune to be (a) ruled by run-of-the-mill capitalist dictators and (b) black.

Those 90 drowned Haitians barely caused a ripple in the American consciousness, though they died on our doorstep.

It’s a bum deal.

a cautious endorsement

Duke1676 at Migra Matters looks at the merit-based points system proposed under the new immigration bill and sees it is weighted heavily against family connections and low-skill workers. No surprise there. This, along with the guest worker program, is why many immigrant advocates oppose the bill.

However, industry is not too happy about the bill in its current state, either. From the NY Times:

Employers, who helped shape a major immigration bill over the last three months, said on Sunday that they were unhappy with the result because it would not cure the severe labor shortages they foresee in the coming decade.

In addition, employers expressed alarm as they learned that the Senate bill would require them to check a government database to verify that all current and former employees — aliens and citizens alike — were eligible to work in the United States.

. . .

Robert P. Hoffman, a vice president of Oracle, the business software company, endorsed that goal but said the bill would not achieve it.
“A merit-based system for allocating green cards may sound good for business,” said Mr. Hoffman, who is co-chairman of Compete America, a coalition of high-tech companies. “But after reviewing the proposal, we have concluded that it is the wrong approach and will not solve the talent crisis facing many U.S. businesses. In fact, in some ways, it could leave American employers in a worse position.
“Under the current system,” Mr. Hoffman said, “you need an employer to sponsor you for a green card. Under the point system, you would not need an employer as a sponsor. An individual would get points for special skills, but those skills may not match the demand. You can’t hire a chemical engineer to do the work of a software engineer.”

David Isaacs, director of federal affairs at the Hewlett-Packard Company, said in a letter to the Senate that “a ‘merit-based system’ would take the hiring decision out of our hands and place it squarely in the hands of the federal government.”

Employers of lower-skilled workers voiced another concern.
“The point system would be skewed in favor of more highly skilled and educated workers,” said Laura Foote Reiff, co-chairwoman of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, whose members employ millions of workers in hotels, restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals and the construction industry.

At least one conservative blogger thinks the bill deserves conservative support because, among other reasons, the current situation is untenable and restrictionists are unlikely to get a better bill anytime soon given the general political environment. I agree with both those points.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has also come out against the bill in its current form because it eliminates several existing family-based immigration categories, changes the employer-based system without an adequate replacement, will produce future out-of-status immigrants through the temporary worker program, doesn’t include enough green cards to meet demand, and includes too many obstacles to legalization of current immigrants.

The New York Times editorial page also argues against accepting the bill in its current form, raising some of the same concerns as AILA.

However, I generally agree with Publius's recent post at Obsidian Wings that political conditions may not improve in the next few years to permit a more favorable bill to be passed:
That’s why the White House’s strong support for comprehensive support is so important. On the one hand, it gives enormous political cover to the Democrats. Notice, for instance, how much of the conservative base’s relative wrath is being channeled toward the White House rather than Dems. In addition, White House support gives cover to nervous Republicans and frees them to do either what they think is right, or what their corporate patrons want them to do. Substitute Hillary Clinton for Bush, and you’d see a lot more GOP opposition.

The White House then is really the glue holding this compromise together. And the White House support is itself unique (and fleeting). It’s not just that it’s a Republican administration, it’s that this particular administration — for somewhat contingent reasons (roots in Texas; Rove’s demographic faith; etc.) — has made progressive immigration reform a top priority that it will spend capital on. None of the major Republican candidates in 2008 should be expected to do the same if they win. People like Romney are already running against “amnesty,” while McCain’s precarious relationship with the base would limit his freedom of movement.

Bottom line — the stars are truly aligned. The current Republican administration supports immigration reform, and this support provides the political cover necessary for both Congressional Democrats and Republicans to strike a deal. When Bush leaves (or perhaps ascends), immigration reform leaves with him.

Right now, nobody—not restrictionists (a group that largely overlaps with the Republican base), not immigrant advocates, not the business community—is happy with the bill in its current form. (This bill has sent the GOP base into the stratosphere.) But each of these groups is unhappy with the bill for different reasons. Many restrictionists object to any increase in green card levels or any path to legalization for existing out-of-status immigrants. Employers don’t care much about the elimination of family-based categories, which is very important to the immigrant community. There are a couple of overlapping interests, but nothing that all three groups can agree on. For instance, restrictionists and immigrant advocates could agree on stricter enforcement of sanctions on employers who break the law. Employers, understandably, are not so keen on this. Immigrant advocates and employers agree on the need for more green cards for both low-skill and high-skill industries—restrictionists are obviously not on board.

In short, any tweaking of the current bill to make it acceptable to one group will simply inflame another. Waiting another two or three years will not resolve any of these fundamental conflicts of interest. Neither will passing the bill in its current form—however, as a temporary fix, this may be as good a bill as can be expected. I doubt anything radically different from what’s been proposed will make it through the negotiation process. If this bill fails, then 12 million out-of-status immigrants will bear the brunt of increasingly harsh state and local anti-immigrant measures and, at least for the remainder of the Bush administration, harsher federal enforcement of immigration laws. I think now is the time for Democrats to push for as much as they can get in negotiations, then bite the bullet and pass the bill.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

more on the draft Senate immigration bill

My dilemma tonight: Should I post extensive comments about the new immigration bill on Ob-Wi (in reaction to this post by the wonderful Hilzoy) that may actually be read but are less appropriate for comments than for a full post, or post them here where no one will read them.

I’ll take the easy way out and post them both places.

Hilzoy and multiple commenters hammered on the importance of employer sanctions with teeth. This is something pretty much everyone except for employers (and presumably some immigrants themselves) agrees upon. But the one article of faith I have about any immigration bill is that there will not be any serious employer enforcement. I think the glue holding together the bipartisan coalition in the Senate is not so much hope for future Hispanic votes as concern for the needs of the business community. The draft bill contains stiff penalties for employers (see below), but the real question is not what is on the books, but what will be enforced. There are penalties on the books now, but they’ve generally not been enforced.

The bill is here on the AILA website. Regarding employer penalties, see:
Section 302(e)(4) - civil penalties for employers of up to $75,000 per violation and Section 302(f) - criminal sanctions for employers of up to 6 months in prison

I see the guest worker program as a quid pro quo for legalization. Without the former, I don’t think this bill would contain the latter. However, I agree with Ob-Wi commenter Gary: many guest workers are likely to simply disobey the law and stay in the U.S. illegally.

Real enforcement of immigration laws would make the guest worker program even more desirable for businesses, since in the absence of illegal workers who can be paid very little, employers would simply have to pay higher wages. Therefore they need a guest worker program so they can pay guest workers lower wages. The business community might accept stepped-up enforcement if there is a guest worker program; it will not accept stepped-up enforcement and no guest worker program. And without the support of the business community, there is no bill.

I agree with Hilzoy that sibling petitions are a marginal issue. The current wait for a visa number in this category is 11 years and if you’ve been here illegally or worked without authorization, you are ineligible to get a green card from a sibling petition anyway. Losing this category is not the end of the world. I am not against the idea of moving towards a merit-based system—it seems to have worked well for Canada.

CIS is underfunded because Congress decided to fund it through fees charged to immigrants. The only practical way to eliminate backlogs is to have citizens bear more of the costs. That will be a serious political challenge for whoever attempts it, and I don’t know whether it’s included in the current bill.

In response to Hilzoy's argument that the best argument against legalization is the message it would send to future illegal immigrants, I'd say believe it or not, lots of people would like to stay where they are born and grew up, where people speak their language and don’t despise them as outsiders. Some immigrants come here to start new lives in the U.S., but many others don’t come here for citizenship. They come here to work hard for 5-10 years, then go back home to buy a home or start a business there. Denying a path to citizenship for those already here won’t do much to stop lots of Mexicans and Central Americans from coming here to make money and then go back home.

What now causes many who would otherwise leave to stay illegally is that once they leave (to visit family, for instance) they can’t get back in.

In general, the causes of illegal immigration are not insufficient border security or lack of employer sanctions, they are structural imbalances in the global economy. Poor nations will always bleed workers into richer nations. Until those fundamental issues are addressed, each new bill passed every 10 years is just fiddling at the margins.

On the other hand, if history is any indicator, each new generation of immigrants will soon forget what it was like to immigrate and move to keep out later immigrants. Given the needs of the global economy and the persistent social need to exclude the “other”, I think the problems we face now will be around until (1) we seriously revisit our conceptions of citizenship and nationality and (2) we move to rectify global economic imbalances. 1 and 2 are intricately related. That said, this bill is as good a temporary fix as we are likely to get. No bill is going to solve the major problems because immigration is itself caused by factors this legislation doesn’t begin to address.

Friday, May 18, 2007

initial immigration compromise reached

The NY Times reports on the new immigration bill coming out of committee in the Senate:

Senate negotiators from both parties announced Thursday that they had reached agreement on a comprehensive immigration bill that would offer legal status to most of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants while also toughening border security.

If the bill becomes law, it would result in the biggest changes in immigration law and policy in more than 20 years. That would provide President Bush with a political lift and a tangible accomplishment for his second term. It would also be a legislative achievement for the new Democratic leaders in Congress, though they said they would seek changes in the measure.

At the heart of the bill is a significant political trade-off. Democrats got a legalization program, which they have sought for many years. Republicans got a new “merit-based system of immigration,” intended to make the United States more competitive in a global economy.

But the politics of the deal are precarious. Democrats are already trying to tamp down concerns of Hispanic groups, who fear that the bill would make it more difficult for immigrants to bring relatives from abroad. At the same time, Republican negotiators face blistering criticism from some conservatives, who say the bill would grant a virtual amnesty to people who had broken the law.

Ezra Klein uses his reporting chops and talks to people about the bill. If he'd asked me, I'd have said the same thing:
The folks I talked to believe this is the year. Two years from now isn't an option. The particular political circumstances we're in are nearly unique: Bush has nothing left to lose but his involvement still provides cover for Republicans, Democrats can get an immigration bill without full ownership over it, the space is open for the subject because the President won't allow action on other liberal priorities and the Congress won't countenance any conservative agenda items, and so on. You have the RNC defending a bill that, were it offered under a Democratic president, they'd be tearing apart. Meanwhile, this just won't be a priority for the next president: President Democrat will want to do health care, not amnesty, and President Republican will want to get reelected someday. So this is the shot.

But the bill is already getting flak from left and right. This will be a bitter battle, and an important one. The bill is far from perfect, but on balance, I think immigrant advocates should take it. Anti-immigrant advocates should take it too, for that matter. Out-of-status immigrants aren't going anywhere and the problems of the current system won't solve themselves. The longer restrictionists wait, the worse it will be for them as immigrants naturalize in record numbers, Democrats take over the country, and the business community gets increasingly worried.

However, paradoxically, just because this is the best shot restrictionists are likely to get (and they are almost certain to reject this bill, as they would any bill that ever had a chance of passing) doesn't mean immigrant advocates should stall for time. In the meantime, immigrants will suffer and the next bill may not be an improvement and might not come for quite some time.

Of course, a lot depends on the result of the upcoming negotiations.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

warning

Do not let your kids read this post.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying I never expected to read “Snuffleupagus” and “felching” in the same sentence.

All Good Soldiers (1993)

all good soldiers crack like boulders,
the sun climbs up to a razor,
violins, new boots, and numbers on a chain,
all good soldiers
all good soldiers fall in line,
when they march and shout
are a spectacle,
marching and singing
will go anywhere the president says,
because the president believes in god,
like all good soldiers should

all good soldiers wait like warheads,
when the fighting starts,
who will be accountable,
a cannibal, a cannonball,
six a.m. I can see my breath
and the clay dirt
is laughing at the weakling boy,
today is the day
that I'll write my friends
something I've been trying to remember,
I had a dream of a wall
that was twenty-one stories tall...

all good soldiers fall in line,
marching and singing,
will go anywhere the president says,
because the president believes in god,
like all good soldiers should

Monday, May 14, 2007

git ‘er dun!

Fourth frame of the Editors' latest comic installment. Effin’ el, I almost peed myself.

decline

While I was traveling (the always-useful “slacking and blaming it on work” defense), IOZ was busy writing:

Still, it isn't really the Third Reich on which the US is currently modeled, but the very USSR from whose titanic corpse Putin is reanimating a respectable giant. Doddering, unweildy, and self-deluded. Publicly grandiose, but rusty within. Bedevilled by dusty revolutionaries. Confounded by Islam.

There’s some truth to that, but I don’t believe the U.S. is quite as close to collapse as IOZ does. I think the situation the U.S. finds itself in at some point in the next 20 years may be more akin to Britain and France’s humiliation in Egypt in late 1956, in which the former great powers spectacularly misjudged the balance of power and world opinion at a crucial juncture, leading to a harsh devaluation of the national brand. (Perhaps we’re living through our Suez now, and will only realize it later.) But those societies didn’t then fold in upon themselves, rotten to the core, as did the USSR. They remained quite wealthy and still today retain influence disproportionate to their population and output. They even managed later, first in Algeria and then Iraq, to pick ill-advised fights with impoverished nations and get their asses handed to them. I see something similar in our future, but probably not wholesale disintegration.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

cure worse than disease

There is an incredible story in the NY Times today. It seems that the combined corruption of the Chinese and Panamanian governments and business communities allowed 46 barrels of poison to work their way through the supply chain and end up in cough syrup manufactured and distributed to its citizens last year by the government of Panama. An estimated 365 people died as a result, possibly more.

In the early 1990s, thousands and possibly tens of thousands of people, most of them children, died from a similar poisoning in Bangladesh.

Beyond Panama and China, toxic syrup has caused mass poisonings in Haiti, Bangladesh, Argentina, Nigeria and twice in India.

In Bangladesh, investigators found poison in seven brands of fever medication in 1992, but only after countless children died. A Massachusetts laboratory detected the contamination after Dr. Michael L. Bennish, a pediatrician who works in developing countries, smuggled samples of the tainted syrup out of the country in a suitcase. Dr. Bennish, who investigated the Bangladesh epidemic and helped write a 1995 article about it for BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, said that given the amount of medication distributed, deaths “must be in the thousands or tens of thousands.”

Why is this happening?

An examination of the two poisoning cases last year — in Panama and earlier in China — shows how China’s safety regulations have lagged behind its growing role as low-cost supplier to the world. It also demonstrates how a poorly policed chain of traders in country after country allows counterfeit medicine to contaminate the global market.

But why are we hearing about this story now? Why is it on the front page of today’s New York Times when the deaths occurred last year or 15 years ago? The answer is simple enough.

China is already being accused by United States authorities of exporting wheat gluten containing an industrial chemical, melamine, that ended up in pet food and livestock feed. The F.D.A. recently banned imports of Chinese-made wheat gluten after it was linked to pet deaths in the United States.

Evidently it takes the deaths of thousands of pets—tragic in its own right, no doubt—for the American public to take notice of the deaths of thousands of people in places where, after all, people die in large numbers all the time with barely a mention in the U.S. media.

Nevertheless, I think this story is a great piece of journalism, and I hope it leads to some pressure from the U.S. government and business community on China to look at how absence of rule of law in China could seriously impact the bottom line of businesses there and here, and hence, the viability of the Chinese government in its current form.

While primary responsibility for this particular cock-up rests with the counterfeiting poisoner himself, then with the Chinese government, the corrupt Panamanian traders, and the ineffective government of Panama, there’s more to this story than that.

If American businesses make loads of money from low-cost Chinese imports, and the low cost of those imports is based in part on the malleability or absence of a regulation or twenty, then American businesses and consumers are reaping the benefits of a system that kills an unknown number of people each year in parts of the world without effective rule of law or regulatory safeguards.

My guess is many readers of the Times piece will have the same reaction I did when I first read it: Dear lord, first pets and now people! When will this end? And: Watch out for cheap chemicals from China. Worry for your personal safety or that of your family is a natural first thought when presented with something like this. But hopefully a secondary reaction would be concern for the thousands (millions?) who’ve died or are at risk abroad from a global trading system built and run according to the specifications of the United States for the greater prosperity of its people.

Friday, May 04, 2007

an honest question

Matt Yglesias has a question for Rudy:

Giuliani said the only thing worse than an American-led military offensive against Iran would be Iran having nuclear weapons, which he called "the worst nightmare'' of the Cold War. The way to stop Iran, he said, was resolute American leadership facing down the Iranian president.

"He has to look at an American president, and he has to see Ronald Reagan,'' Giuliani said.

Is that the version of Ronald Reagan who sold the Iranians weapons, or it is the version that sought to check Iranian power by sending Don Rumsfeld to Baghdad to assure Saddam Hussein that the United States didn't really mind if he used poison gas to attack the Kurdish civilian population?

the regenerative property of scandal

Josh Marshall directs us to this article from McClatchy:

According to a congressional aide, McNulty said he attended a White House meeting with Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, and other officials on March 5, the day before McNulty's deputy William Moschella was to testify to Congress about the firings.

White House officials told the Justice Department group that they needed to agree on clear reasons why each prosecutor was fired and explain them to Congress, McNulty said, according to the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the transcript of McNulty's interview hasn't been made public.

McNulty said that White House officials never revealed during the meeting that they'd been discussing plans to replace some prosecutors with Gonzales aides, the congressional aide said.

McNulty recalled feeling disturbed and concerned when he found out days later that the White House had been involved, the congressional aide said. McNulty considered the extent of White House coordination to be "extremely problematic."

Government operatives do something bad. Then they cover it up. Then they lie about it. Then they lie about the coverup. Then they lie about lying about the coverup. Then they are investigated by Congress, providing fresh material to cover up and lie about later on, leading to further investigations. Restart cycle.

This could continue for quite some time.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

more on The Mormons

A few more scattered thoughts about the PBS special earlier this week . . .

Journalist Ken Verdoia, whose voice was one of those heard most frequently in the film, implied at one point that contemporary Mormons are ashamed of the heritage of polygamy. That is untrue in my experience. Polygamy is generally tolerated in Utah, principally because most Utahns had polygamist ancestors. Sometimes at family gatherings where our ancestors were discussed, I heard relatives reflect on the hardship the sister wives dealt with and what a sacrifice it was that they made for their faith, but just about everyone in 19th century Utah suffered hardship. Growing up in the church, I never got the sense that “the Principle” is something that is regretted by today’s membership. It is generally acknowledged as something that was appropriate in another time, a time which has passed. Most Jews or mainstream Christians aren’t ashamed of David or Solomon, if they even realize that those two kings had thousands of wives and concubines.

I appreciated how viewers heard more from the women commentators on the issue of Joseph Smith and polygamy. The official line is that Joseph Smith reinstituted the ancient practice to build up the population of the church at a crucial point in its history and so that women who would otherwise be single could partake of the blessings of the family. The less charitable view is that the prophet was a horny bugger who obscured his many infidelities with religious hoohaw and abused his position of power to bend the social norms of the day to suit his urges.

Given the church’s obsession with having/pretending-not-to-have sex and its stunted views on gender, this is a big issue for many women in the church that is seldom discussed in church settings. Not that I would necessarily know if it was—many church meetings and activities were gender-segregated. This is yet another controversial issue which has more or less been successfully pushed under the surface of official dialogue.

I gained a new appreciation of how actively Mormons were vilified in American public discourse throughout the second half of the 19th century. Apparently it was entered into Senate testimony at one point that Mormons were practicing human sacrifice on the altars of the Salt Lake temple. (In case you're wondering, the claim was false.) One talking head on the show, I forget who, made the comparison to the treatment of Muslims in contemporary media. The dynamic seems similar in some ways—a poorly understood minority religious group clashes with the mainstream in some highly violent but rather limited engagements, fear and hyperbole are ramped up on both sides, and any hope for a common dialogue goes out the window. Except that the Utahns—maybe simply by virtue of being out of reach of military technology of the day—managed to fend off the invading troops long enough to assimilate. Iraqis and Afghanis haven’t been so lucky.

On the issue of blacks and the church, I learned something astonishing. Sometime in the middle of the last century, a Ghanaian man stumbled across a copy of the Book of Mormon and independently converted an entire local community to the LDS faith. This would be any missionary’s dream, except that at the time, the church had a worldwide stricture in place prohibiting blacks from receiving the priesthood. Receiving the priesthood for male Mormons is like being baptized or bar mitzvahed--it's a universal rite of passage. The Ghanaians petitioned the Church leadership to send missionaries to baptize them en masse—according to the film, this request was refused for some 20 years due to the priesthood ban. Incredible.

While I think there is still some lingering racism in Utah, which has historically been a very white community, the diffusion of the great majority of the church’s religiously active young men to every corner of the globe, combined with official multiracial/multicultural rhetoric I can only describe as Sesame Street-esque, the trajectory of the church on racial issues seems clear: the church will lumber along with the mainstream towards something better than before.

Perhaps I’ll have some final thoughts on these matters in the next couple days. In the meantime, IOZ enjoys some well-deserved snark at the expense of Mitt Romney, but in the process unwittingly reveals that he may have read Battlefield Earth. All the way through (dear God). Thankfully, whatever mindnumbing effects such an exercise may have inflicted seem to have worn off.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mountain Meadows

One of the chapters of the first part of the recent PBS special on the Mormons dealt with the Mountain Meadows massacre of 1857, in which over 100 settlers from Arkansas were systematically killed by local residents as the settlers passed through southern Utah. In my 19 years growing up in the church, I never heard this subject dealt with in any meaningful fashion. Those who want to know more about it, and most people inside the church don’t, must search outside the faith.

This is Wikipedia’s description of the events that took place near Cedar City 150 years ago:

On Friday, September 11 two Mormon militiamen approached the Fancher party wagons with a white flag and were soon followed by Indian agent and militia officer John D. Lee.[34] Lee told the battle-weary emigrants he had negotiated a truce with the Paiutes, whereby they could be escorted safely to Cedar City under Mormon protection in exchange for leaving all their livestock and supplies to the Native Americans.[35] Accepting this, they were split into three groups. Seventeen of the youngest children along with a few mothers and the wounded were put into wagons, which were followed by all the women and older children walking in a second group. Bringing up the rear were the adult males of the Fancher party, each walking with an armed Mormon militiaman at his right. Making their way back northeast towards Cedar City, the three groups gradually became strung out and visually separated by shrubs and a shallow hill. After about 2 kilometers the prearranged order, "Do Your Duty!" was given.[36] Each Mormon then turned and killed the man he was guarding. All of the men, women, older children and wounded were massacred by Mormon militia and Paiutes who had hidden nearby. A few who escaped the initial slaughter were quickly chased down and killed.

Judith Freeman, an author of Mormon ancestry whose comments were included in the documentary, said, “The Mormons in the 19th Century really believed that the end was nigh.” They thought they stood on the brink of the apocalypse, and believed they would soon find themselves fighting for their lives in the battles preceding the Second Coming of Christ. They may have believed that their community’s very existence was threatened by hostile outsiders. Without Haun’s Mill, a massacre of 18 Mormons in Missouri in 1838, would there have been a Mountain Meadows? Perhaps not. Fear begets fear; violence produces more violence.

More importantly, Freeman commented, “If you can get men to believe they are doing God’s will, you can get them to do anything.” One of the LDS church’s foundational passages of scripture deals with Nephi’s murder of Laban. Nephi was a young prophet described in the Book of Mormon who led his family from Israel across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. While still in Israel, he came upon a man named Laban who has passed out blind drunk in an alley. Laban was a wealthy man who possessed the sacred scriptures, the brass plates, that would enable Nephi to carry the Lord’s work to the New World and plant the seeds of the gospel there, founding a new nation in the process. Nephi and his brothers had previously offered the riches of their family to Laban in exchange for the plates. Instead, Laban drove off Nephi and confiscated the family wealth. The Spirit of the Lord commanded Nephi to kill Laban in cold blood, issuing this rationale: “[T]he Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” 1 Nephi 4:13. Nephi at first resisted, but then obeyed the voice of the Spirit.

This scripture is still taught today to children to show that the Lord at times requires mysterious things of his followers, and that when faith is tested, one must simply obey.

The men of Cedar City lured out the settlers with the promise of safe passage, then slaughtered between 100 and 140 of them. I would be surprised if Nephi’s slaying of Laban was not specifically discussed in the community meetings held before the massacre. As Nephi was absolved by the Lord of all guilt in his murder of Laban, so the killers likely believed they would be absolved of guilt for their actions.

The killers spared 17 children under the age of eight. To me this shows that the massacre was carefully planned and executed and that every action taken had a specific religious justification. According to Mormon doctrine, a child is not accountable for her sins until the age of eight, when she is old enough to be baptized.

A vow of silence was taken so that no one outside the community would learn the truth. There is some dispute over how high up the church leadership the decision to kill off the wagon party went. In my view, it matters less who ordered the executions than the ease with which the entire community carried them out. We know who pulled the triggers—it was the faithful men of Cedar City and the surrounding communities.

I don’t remember ever hearing about the massacre until after high school. Even after I left the church, it was not something I ever felt compelled to think about or deal with or become better informed about. The events were shrouded in “controversy” and I knew that they made people uncomfortable, to the extent that anyone talked about them at all. My mother’s ancestors lived in that area. Some of them may have been involved in the massacre for all I know. It is one of several sensitive topics of church history that the general membership has yet to really address or acknowledge.

I suppose alarms should be raised when people in a community come to a consensus that an outside group poses such a threat that they must be exterminated. I tend to be especially skeptical when we’re meant to believe that God is directing his followers to smite a foreign population, but no more so than if the smiters believe it’s their neighbor’s black Labrador issuing the orders. Killing because the voices in your head told you to do it is never ok.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

a blanket of grey

In the two-part PBS special on Mormonism that ran last night and tonight, Harold Bloom said something along these lines: All religion depends upon revelation; all revelation is supernatural. If you wish to be a hard rock empiricist, you should not entertain any religious doctrine whatsoever.

This makes sense to me. But as Bloom implies, the matter of religious belief is not quite as simple as many would have you believe. Religion cannot be easily separated from the community in which it finds expression. I watched the special initially with some trepidation, expecting to be aggravated or, at best, simply annoyed. I’ve been told that there’s literally nothing one can say to me about the LDS church that will not cause me to get my panties in a twist. If someone defends the church, I will attack it. If someone attacks the church, I will defend it.

So I wasn’t expecting to be as profoundly moved as I was. Part of it must be the narcissist's gratification of seeing one’s community on display for the world to see and discuss. Look how much controversy and thoughtful discussion this topic induces among even the most learned people! This must be something important; consequently, I must be somehow important.

But the special was utterly fascinating just the same. I have some thoughts swirling about on church-sanctioned violence, blacks and the priesthood, gays in the church, family, and polygamy that I'd like to post here in the next few days. For those who missed the documentary and are interested, it’s available on the PBS website.