- Reports in Review -
REPORT OF THE MONTH
On Immigration: Clearing Smoke, Cracking Mirrors
Since Minutemen border vigilantes burst onto U.S. television sets in the spring of 2005, the anti-immigrant movement has successfully utilized national news outlets to exaggerate—and to build—its size and momentum. Various cable news pundits serve as virtual mouthpieces for anti-immigrant groups (e.g. Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck) and until the financial crisis and presidential campaigns eclipsed coverage, mainstream news venues regularly featured stories on the growing anti-immigrant backlash—even as polls indicated that a majority of the population favored a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated twelve million undocumented immigrants. The Progressive States Network’s recent report, "The Anti-Immigrant Movement that Failed", comes as a welcome—if partial—corrective to the media hype.
Given the impasse of federal immigration reform, over the past few years most policy action has been at the state and municipal levels. By the end of the most recent legislative season in June, 39 states had enacted 175 bills and resolutions regulating immigrants from 1, 267 such measures introduced, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2007, 46 state legislatures passed 240 of the 1,562 measures introduced that year—triple the number enacted in 2006. Anti-immigrant policy appears to be sweeping the nation.
Not so fast! argue Caroline Fan and Nathan Newman of the Progressive States Network. In 2008, the authors find that only 14 states enacted “punitive or somewhat punitive” policies, whereas seven states passed “mixed” and seventeen passed “integrative or somewhat integrative” packages. More telling, “Only 11 percent of undocumented immigrants live in states that have enacted comprehensive Punitive policies” on immigration. By comparison, over 50 percent of undocumented immigrants live in states in which they are eligible for in-state college tuition.
Shifting the emphasis from the number of states with reactionary immigration policies to the numbers of unauthorized immigrants affected by such policies, the authors see a glass half full: “The states with the largest numbers of undocumented immigrants…have been quietly promoting a whole range of policies based on integration of new immigrants.”
The report argues that only states dominated by rightwing leadership won more punitive laws in 2008. This glosses over the fact that national policy campaigns often build off momentum generated in the states, where campaigners pick the low-hanging fruit at sympathetic legislatures. As important, this backlash has framed the terms of debate well beyond a few retrograde statehouses, putting new immigrant communities on the defensive even in “integrative” locales like New York, where in ’07 then-Governor Spitzer withdrew his driver’s license plan for the undocumented under a hailstorm of criticism. The creation of an anti-immigrant climate, in which unauthorized immigrants are reduced to the criminal label “illegals,” is itself an achievement for the White nationalists who comprise the backbone of the movement.
Some readers may also take exception to the report’s state rankings. While a “mixed” Colorado did manage to repeal a one-year residency requirement of those seeking hospital treatment for tuberculosis, only the chronically optimistic would consider the state’s ’08 immigration record to be anything other than harsh. Indeed, rights activists describe being on the defense in the legislature’s toxic environment, where nothing pro-immigrant passed and “victory” was killing 19 anti immigrant measures even nastier than those ultimately enacted.
The report’s title, "The Anti-Immigrant Movement that Failed", raises hopes that, alas, remain unfulfilled. Deflating exaggerated media characterizations of the anti-immigrant movement’s size and momentum is important, and this report makes a valuable contribution. As the issue of immigration resurfaces post-election, we can permit ourselves the audacity to hope for great things if we also commit to the tremendous organizing challenge we face—in our communities, our legislatives bodies, and, yes, the news media.
–Tarso Luís Ramos
Other Reports in Review
Charitable War on Terror
The financial war on terror has been a directionless, misguided disaster with philanthropic and charitable foundations receiving a big hit, according to this report. The financial anti-terror campaign under the USA PATRIOT Act gave the executive branch and the U.S. Treasury Department clearance to blacklist disfavored individuals and groups, and impose guilt by association. Broad surveillance powers combined with unregulated and evolving standards allow the Treasury Department to skirt due process.
Rather than be considered “innocent until proven guilty,” the Bush Administration assumes philanthropic organizations are at fault. Charities are shut down immediately, without given the latitude of for profit companies to pay fines and defend themselves. One example is the charity Kind Hearts USA, which closed in February 2006 after the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) alleged the organization was created from Holy Land and the Global Relief Foundation (GRF)—two groups shut down in 2001.
The writers suggest charities like Kind-Hearts cannot predict what constitutes illegal behavior given the flaws in the Treasury’s guidelines for nonprofits, the Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines: Voluntary Best Practices for U.S.-Based Charities and the Risk Matrix for the Charitable Sector. Charities must probe their associates and donors, but have no legal protection despite adherence to their voluntary self-inspection. An organization may not automatically defend itself when investigated: its attorney must first procure a special license from the Treasury Department before representing the accused charitable foundation. Criminal prosecutions routinely employ shoddy evidence, manufacturing the link between non-profits and terror groups.
The report suggests that the solution in part can be found in the U.S. Department of State’s existing Guiding Principles for Government Treatment of NGOs which would allow the government to fight terrorism without harming the philanthropic world’s ability to do its work.
One More Band-Aid
The high-deductible health plan is the latest quick-fix scheme to expand healthcare coverage that we should avoid, according to Families USA. Low premium payments make such plans attractive, but the cost of deductibles forces families to pay large sums of money out-of-pocket when they actually seek health care.
FamiliesUSA uses hard data and statistics to show that high-deductibles are greatly beneficial— but largely to relatively healthy Caucasians. Communities of color are reported as being in poorer health than whites of similar income, with more chronic diseases and illnesses. In the end, the high-deductibles burden people with more healthcare costs. The bottom line is high deductible plans are just too expensive for many low income people and especially people of color. Rather than seek out aid, they will avoid receiving medical attention.
In the end, this band-aid approach ultimately will exacerbate and worsen the healthcare access gap.
Homophobia and the Power of the Media?
Seven strangers have made “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” obsolete, or so Peter Singer would have you believe. MTV’s popular reality show The Real World, premiering the same year President Bill Clinton enacted the military policy letting gays and lesbians remain in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation a secret, features a youthful, seven member cast ranging in age from 18 to 25. This group represents different races, genders, religious and political beliefs, and sexual orientations. Singer uses the reality show’s discussions about homosexuality as a barometer of national feelings about gays in the military.
Singer lists LGBT strides in the media such as Ellen De Generes’ talk show and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and credits this visibility for shifting public opinion. When the military policy was first enacted, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military was controversial. By 2007 CNN found that 79 percent of Americans think people who are openly homosexual should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military.
The 18 to 25 demographic is not only MTV’s intended audience, but also accounts for the age range of prospective service men and women in the U.S. military. What is clear is that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” isn’t working. Unit cohesion in the military is more threatened by banning homosexuality than accepting it, and the military simply cannot afford to discharge any more members. Hit especially hard are the “high demand/low density” positions, including pilots, combat engineers, and Arab linguists. With only 15 percent of American youth deemed as “qualified military available,” Singer urges the military to embrace the cultural changes and start “getting real.”
Muslims and the Media
This report profiles twelve of the most vitriolic anti-Muslim pundits, exposing a loose, albeit powerful, network of prominent right wing commentators who regularly broadcast misinformation, lies and innuendo through the mainstream media that marginalizes Muslim Americans and manipulates public attitudes.
Among the “dirty dozen” are Daniel Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum think tank, who claimed that the “enfranchisement of American Muslims” entailed “true dangers for American Jews” and led a campaign to oust the principal of an Arabic language public school in Brooklyn. Prolific blogger Michelle Malkin referred to Islam as “the religion of perpetual rage,” and Rev. Pat Robertson, on his Christian Broadcasting Network, referred to Islam as a “worldwide political movement” determined to “subjugate all people under Islamic Law.” Political commentator Bill O’Reilly made the list for justifying greater surveillance of Muslim Americans, labeling it “criminal profiling.”
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