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A Necessary First Step
The immigration compromise reached last week is a flawed deal, an attempt to “bridge the chasm between brittle hard-liners who want the country to stop absorbing so many outsiders, and those who want to give immigrants — illegal ones, too — a fair and realistic shot at the American dream.” Yet it represents a critical first step towards fixing our shattered immigration system. Most importantly, it offers a solution for most of the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the country today — an opportunity to come out of the shadows, live and work without fear, and eventually become citizens. This process of earned citizenship is supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans (80 percent in the latest CNN poll), and is a key component of any sustainable and comprehensive immigration plan. Nevertheless, there are serious drawbacks in the compromise, and those must be addressed.
A LONG ROAD TO CITIZENSHIP: As predicted, the hard-line anti-immigrant advocates have already stamped the deal as “amnesty, amnesty and amnesty.” But as Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said this week, “for some people, the only thing that would not be amnesty is mass deportation.” This compromise offers legalization to undocumented immigrants only after a long and arduous road. To get to citizenship, eligible immigrants “would have to pay a total of $5,000 in fines and $2,000 in processing fees. Heads of households would have to return to their home country and reenter legally, and all family members would have to pass background checks.” They would also have to “wait until certain ‘trigger’ conditions on border security are met and immigration backlogs are cleared.” After four years, immigrants who want to renew these “Z visas” for four more years “would have to pass the English proficiency test given to those applying for citizenship.” Many of these hurdles are unnecessary and burdensome, but a “winding and expensive path to citizenship is still a path.”
A SECURE BORDER: The compromise plan also includes some important border security provisions: “hiring 18,000 new border patrol agents; putting in place 70 ground-based radar camera towers along the southern border; and deploying unmanned aerial vehicles and providing resources to receive and process applicants for Z visas.” These are important steps toward plugging our porous border, but recent history also shows “that border enforcement efforts only have a chance at success if pressure is taken off the undocumented flow across our borders through new well-regulated migration paths.” Overall, the Center for American Progress’s Cassandra Butts writes that “the border enforcement provisions in the bipartisan House STRIVE Act are preferable to those included in the legislation under debate today.”
EXPLOITING TEMPORARY WORKERS: The compromise “fails most dismally in its temporary worker program,” a “large, churning pool” of workers who are prohibited from laying down roots in the United States. The plan “allows 400,000 low-skilled workers to come to America for three two-year terms, but requires them to go home for a year in between.” As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said yesterday, “This is impractical, both for the workers and for the American employers who need a stable and reliable work force.” Immigrants who come under a worker program — “who play by its rules, work hard and gain promotions, respect and job skills — should be allowed to stay if they wish. But this deal closes the door. It offers a way in but no way up, a shameful repudiation of American tradition that will encourage exploitation — and more illegal immigration.”
BREAKING UP FAMILIES: The deal also includes a dramatic change to the legal immigration system by eliminating visa categories that allow U.S. citizens to petition for their families. “The proposal would eliminate several categories of family-based immigration, and it would distribute green cards according to a point-based system that shifts the preference toward those who have education and skills but not necessarily roots in this country.” Immigration rights proponent John Trasvina questioned the motivation for the change. “It was good enough for the country when other people used it, but now you see who’s using it and suddenly it’s the first thing to go. The opponents of illegal immigration say, ‘We’re okay with legal immigrants,’ but now it suddenly goes away.” Eun Sook Lee, executive director of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, added, “If we take out the future family program” that allows sponsorship, “we will be creating another problem. People will continue to come without documentation. People want to be with their family members. It’s something you can’t kill.” The “repellent truth,” the New York Times observes, “is that countless families will be split apart while we cherry-pick the immigrants we consider brighter and better than the poor, tempest-tossed ones we used to welcome without question.”
IRAQ — PENTAGON MAKING PREPARATIONS TO KEEP TENS OF THOUSANDS OF TROOPS IN IRAQ FOR ‘DECADES’: In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee this month, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace uttered a “carefully worded” statement revealing that the Pentagon had no plans to fully withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq if legislation passes Congress mandating troop redeployment. “[W]e have published no orders directing the planning for the overall withdrawal of forces,” Pace said. NPR investigated Pace’s statements and found that one scenario the Pentagon is considering would maintain a strong U.S. military presence in Iraq for several decades into the future. This so-called “lily pad” strategy entails keeping a “series of military installations around Iraq,” with tens of thousands of U.S. troops remaining in the country for as long as a few decades. “[W]hat it essentially envisions is a series of military installations around Iraq, maybe five or six of them, a total of maybe 30-40 thousand U.S. troops in Iraq for a long period of time, lasting, maybe a few decades. … And that will enable the U.S. military to maintain a presence in the country,” NPR reported. The Pentagon’s goal with the lily pads is to preserve U.S. interests in Iraq for years to come, “in the event that Congress or the administration pushes this [withdrawal plan] forward.” As NPR details, those interests are at least three-fold: 1) Training Iraq forces, 2) Preserving economic interests, as “Iraq obviously [sits] on the second largest reserve of oil in the world,” and 3) Providing a U.S. military “presence” to deter Iran and Turkey from “getting involved” after withdrawal. While 60 percent of Americans are calling for a withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq, the Pentagon is instead making preparations for an unending occupying presence.
HOMELAND SECURITY — GOVERNMENT UNPREPARED DURING HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS WEEK: Last Friday, on the verge of the 2007 hurricane season, President Bush proclaimed the week of May 20 through May 26 as National Hurricane Preparedness Week. Two leading storm experts are predicting a busy hurricane season, where “the Texas Gulf coast is twice as likely to be hit as in an average year and Florida appears four times as likely.” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director R. David Paulison, who will testify on Capitol Hill this week about “how prepared the United States really is for the next big storm,” vowed at a hurricane conference last week that FEMA be would ready for the season. “But, by their own admission, FEMA officials will not have their emergency response plans ready by the start of the hurricane season on June 1.” One reason for the incomplete plans may be a lack of sufficient funds for hurricane research. Yesterday, Bill Proenza, the director of the National Hurricane Center, “lashed out at his superiors in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” complaining that they plan to spend $4 million on a 200-year anniversary celebration while shortchanging hurricane research by about $700,000. In New Orleans, “some of the most celebrated levee repairs by the Army Corps of Engineers after Hurricane Katrina are already showing signs of serious flaws,” one expert says, warning that heavy storms may cause “tear-on-the-dotted-line levees.”
ECONOMY — FEED AMERICA’S FAMILIES ACT WOULD INCREASE FOOD STAMP BENEFIT FOR FIRST TIME IN ELEVEN YEARS: Yesterday, four members of Congress, including Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Tim Ryan (D-OH), concluded the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge, in which lawmakers chose to live “on three dollars of food per day, the same amount an average participant in the Food Stamp Program receives.” The Challenge was an attempt to raise awareness of the “crucial role the Food Stamp Program serves in the lives of 26 million Americans each month” and to garner support for the Feeding America’s Families Act, H.R. 2129. The bill, introduced earlier this month by McGovern and Emerson, would raise “the minimum benefit from 10 dollars a month…to about 30 dollars a month” and “indexes current benefit levels to the rate of inflation.” The bill would also restore food stamp “eligibility to all legal immigrants, a provision that was removed in 1996” by the conservative Congress. Ryan explained on his blog just how difficult it was to live on the current average benefit of just $21 of food per week: “[I]t is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to make due on this amount of money. … Food Stamps are meant to be a supplement to other income…but it has been 11 years since we’ve added ANY value” to them. Ryan, who broke the rules twice during the challenge, has pledged to atone by volunteering at his local food bank. All of the participants in the challenge chronicled their experiences on the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge Blog.
Iraq’s military is drawing up plans on how to respond if the U.S. military withdraws its forces. “The army plans on the basis of a worst-case scenario so as not to allow any security vacuum,” Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi said. “There are meetings with political leaders on how we can deal with a sudden pullout.”
$3.22 per gallon: The average price for regular unleaded gasoline, matching the record set in 1981. “Gasoline prices have rocketed $1.05 a gallon since the beginning of February and are up 33 cents from a year ago.”
Lt. Gen. William Boykin, “who led the Pentagon’s effort to hunt down Osama bin Laden and once likened the war on terror to a Christian struggle against Satan,” is retiring.
“At least 27 American citizens, including five U.S. servicemen and 22 private businessmen and contractors, are being held hostage by militant groups worldwide. … Nineteen of the Americans held hostage are in Iraq.”
The New York Times writes, “As more and more workers who inhaled the dust at ground zero fall ill, it has become increasingly clear that much of the problem can be traced to the Giuliani administration’s failure to insist that all emergency personnel and construction workers at the site wear respirators.”
At least 11 species of butterflies are “making their earliest recorded appearances this spring” in Great Britain, “in what will be seen as the most remarkable demonstration yet of the effects of climate change on Britain’s wildlife.” A new report also finds that “rates of carbon dioxide emission from industrial sources increased from 2000 to 2004 ‘at a rate that is over three times the rate during the 1990s.'”
“Despite a grueling pre-recess schedule, Senate Democrats may still press forward with plans to hold an unprecedented no-confidence vote at the end of this week on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But a crowded legislative calendar, plus likely opposition from Republicans, could thwart their plans and delay a vote until after Memorial Day.”
And finally: Even lawmakers need distractions. During a House debate on Thursday, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) was “waxing eloquent” on the “motion to recommit on the defense authorization bill.” Sitting right behind Skelton was Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who nodded off “for several minutes in full view of the cameras.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was also caught “signing letters on his official stationery” during yesterday’s immigration debate.
New York City’s fleet of approximately 13,000 taxis will “go entirely hybrid within five years, and all its vehicles for hire will have to meet new emissions and mileage standards by next year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday.”
TEXAS: Federal judge rules that a punitive plan banning apartment rentals to undocumented immigrants “conflicts with federal law.”
GEORGIA: State senator proposes deporting all undocumented immigrants, despite that plan being implausible and inhumane.
CALIFORNIA: California is headed for a new milestone, spending more on prisons than public universities.
COLORADO: State will cut millions from health care budget, slashing coverage for low-income residents.
THINK PROGRESS: President Bush’s chief domestic policy adviser Karl Zinmeister: “I’ll never hire another woman because they just get pregnant and leave.”
NO MORE MISTER NICE BLOG: Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers contradict his daughter’s claim that he is motivated by “what media can do in terms of empowering individuals.”
DELTOID: Right-wing pundits misrepresent facts in order to attack pioneering environmental activist Rachel Carson.
HULLABALOO: Senators should grill recess-appointed Federal Elections Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky at his June 13 confirmation hearing about abuse of voter fraud enforcement during his tenure at the Justice Department.
“Technology and threats have changed, but the law remains essentially the same. … Because the law has not been changed to reflect technological advancements, we are missing potentially valuable intelligence needed to protect America.”
— National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, 5/21/07, arguing that the current Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is outdated and needs fewer restrictions on domestic surveillance
“The bill before me takes account of the new realities and dangers posed by modern terrorists. … This new law I sign today will allow surveillance of all communications used by terrorists, including e-mails, the Internet, and cell phones.”
— President Bush, 10/26/01, on the modernization of FISA at the signing of the USA PATRIOT ACT