David Bennion: May 2008 Archives

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[Image: AP/Wide World Photos - Donald Rumsfeld and Islam Karimov]

Sabrina Tavernise wrote yesterday in the NY Times about how the U.S. is starting to remember that Uzbekistan is resource-rich and strategically located while starting to forget that its government slaughtered hundreds of its own citizens three years ago at Andijan. 

Western governments say further ostracizing Uzbekistan by extending sanctions -- America's come up for consideration in June -- will cause it to close back up, increasing instability in a region of vital energy transportation routes and strategic proximity to the war in Afghanistan.

A newly softened tone has already paid political dividends. After Andijon and a volley of criticism from Washington, Uzbekistan ejected the United States from a military base that was supplying the war effort in Afghanistan. Though there are not yet plans for the base to reopen, the Uzbeks have allowed the Americans limited access to a German base at Termez, and Uzbekistan recently offered NATO the use of its railway to ship goods to Afghanistan.

That highlights the difficult questions that relations with Uzbekistan raise for American foreign policy: How much influence should the United States try to exercise -- if any at all -- over another country's behavior? And will that country be receptive, given the abuse, indefinite detentions and closed tribunals that have been part of the United States' record in recent years?

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Leslie Kaufman and Dan Frosch at the Times have a story today about the effects on young FLDS children of separation from their parents after the Texas state government raided the compound.  

As they await a ruling by the highest court in Texas on whether child-welfare authorities had the right to take 468 children from the ranch early last month, the mothers have started speaking out more forcefully about what they think the separation has already done to their children.

The mothers and their lawyers are undoubtedly trying to make their best pitch for public sympathy as the Supreme Court of Texas deliberates on the fate of their children. Last Thursday, an appeals court in Austin found that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had illegally removed the children without sufficient evidence that they were in immediate danger.

I think the state went too far in this instance, but my purpose here is not to get into the complicated issue of weighing the best interests of the children against the individual rights of members of the community.  (Though it appears that the state of Texas has not fully considered the scarring effects of separation from parents in its calculation of the children's best interests.)

Instead, I want to focus on what the article says about the severe mental and emotional consequences of removal on small children.

A few weeks back, I ran across the story at RaceWire of Armando, a Honduran who had lived all but 9 months of his 26 years in the U.S.  Armando wrote to RaceWire's Raha Jorjani from immigration detention about his thoughts and experiences:

I have been "detained" by the Department of Homeland Security for over ten months now, as I had been fighting my deportation case and hoping for a second chance. I really don't like the word detained because I feel it is a word used by "them" in an attempt to lessen the truth; that I am their prisoner.

It seems all I have been doing in my life is adapting to major changes, one after the other. From the loss of my father at seventeen, to adapting to military life, to getting used to a 6x9 cell. I have had to make some major adjustments and I have come to learn that change is inevitable.

However, I never would have guessed that I would now be getting ready to be deported to a country I know nothing about. I never thought I would be preparing to be banished from the only country I have known, the country I volunteered to fight for, and not to mention the country that my family lives in.


Julia Preston at the New York Times reported yesterday on an alarming development in the Postville debacle:

In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds here, 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.

The prosecutions, which ended Friday, signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration's crackdown on illegal workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested in a May 12 raid. Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration officials for civil violations and rapidly deported.

nativism: a global problem

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I posted last week about an Italian man who was locked up by Customs and Border Patrol for 10 days without cause and then sent back to Italy. (We had one commenter with what appeared to be inside knowledge of CBP procedures come to defend CBP's actions and cast aspersions on the NY Times reporter who broke the story, the detained man, and his girlfriend's father.)  This story was just one more bit of evidence of our deeply warped immigration policy.  The problematic Postville raid and the disclosure of scores of deaths in immigration detention over the past few years are two more.

But for anyone who thought that nativism and government overreach were strictly American phenomena, the last week has shown otherwise. 

Nina Bernstein at the New York Times brings us another story of government immigration overreach.

He was a carefree Italian with a recent law degree from a Roman university. She was "a totally Virginia girl," as she puts it, raised across the road from George Washington's home. Their romance, sparked by a 2006 meeting in a supermarket in Rome, soon brought the Italian, Domenico Salerno, on frequent visits to Alexandria, Va., where he was welcomed like a favorite son by the parents and neighbors of his girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper.

But on April 29, when Mr. Salerno, 35, presented his passport at Washington Dulles International Airport, a Customs and Border Protection agent refused to let him into the United States. And after hours of questioning, agents would not let him travel back to Rome, either; over his protests in fractured English, he said, they insisted that he had expressed a fear of returning to Italy and had asked for asylum.

Ms. Cooper, 23, who had promised to show her boyfriend another side of her country on this visit -- meaning Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon -- eventually learned that he had been sent in shackles to a rural Virginia jail. And there he remained for more than 10 days, locked up without charges or legal recourse while Ms. Cooper, her parents and their well-connected neighbors tried everything to get him out.

Mr. Salerno's case may be extreme, but it underscores the real but little-known dangers that many travelers from Europe and other first-world nations face when they arrive in the United States -- problems that can startle Americans as much as their foreign visitors.

An immigrant community in Iowa was shattered yesterday by a huge ICE raid that appears to still be in progress.  Susan Saulny of the New York Times reports:

In the biggest workplace immigration raid this year, federal agents swept into a kosher meat plant on Monday in Postville, Iowa, and arrested more than 300 workers.

The authorities said the workers were suspected of being in the United States illegally or of having participated in identity theft and the fraudulent use of Social Security numbers.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not say how many people had been rounded up beyond the initial 300 or whether the management and owners of the plant, AgriProcessors, would face criminal charges.

The plant has 800 to 900 people and is the country's largest producer of meat that is glatt kosher, widely regarded as the highest standard of cleanliness.

Gretchen Morgenson at the NY Times has a story today about the strategic harassment of tenants--many of them migrants--by big real estate companies in New York City.  I posted about this last month here.  

As Morgenson explains, it's part of a financial plan to make big bucks on the backs of low-income tenants. 

Private investment firms have been amassing what may seem like unusual stakes in New York real estate: they have bought hundreds of apartment buildings with thousands of rent-regulated units across the city that produce decidedly meager returns.

As regulatory filings and promotional materials show, the companies expect to generate higher returns quickly by increasing rents after existing tenants vacate their units. Their success depends upon far higher vacancy rates than are typical in rent-regulated apartments in New York.

Some residents and tenant advocates say that they began seeing what they consider a pattern of harassment of low-income tenants this year and suspect that it is a result of the new owners' business models. Tenants have been sued repeatedly for unpaid rent that has already been received by the landlords; they have been sent false notices of rent bills, lease terminations and nonrenewals; and they have been accused of illegal sublets.

One consequence of the myth of sovereignty propagated through our current international political system is the war in Iraq.  Another is our broken immigration system.  Yet another is the skyrocketing death toll in Burma, caused in part by the massive storm and entrenched poverty, but in large part by an incompetent and corrupt government that makes George Bush look like Cory Booker.

It may comfort some in the U.S. to imagine that the first two problems listed above are rooted in the misdeeds of a particular leader, or a particular political party, or even in the dysfunction of the contemporary American political system 

However, these diagnoses are mistaken.  The dysfunctional international political system permits an unconstrained superpower like the U.S. or warped polities like Burma or Zimbabwe to push far past the bounds of civilized conduct, but while culpability may lie with leaders and the voters who support them, the framework that allows such bad actions to persist is structural. 

Immigration attorney Greg Siskind drew the ire of Lou Dobbs, who recently featured on his show an item Siskind had posted on his blog a while back.  Dobbs didn’t like Siskind’s research showing that Dobbs’ repeated claim that he supports legal immigration—a common misleading tactic of restrictionists—is false.

DOBBS: The pro-amnesty lobby at it again, telling all-out lies about my position on illegal immigration and our border security crisis. The latest example of the pro-illegal aliens' movements' lies coming in a letter to the "Wall Street Journal" today. Douglas Rivlin, director of communication for the National Immigration Forum, says quote, "research by attorney Greg Siskind suggests that 96 times Lou Dobbs talked about legal immigration on his nightly CNN show, dating back to 2001, 92 times he painted legal immigration in a negative light."

Well, Mr. Rivlin, here's a little research you might add to your own. The vast majority of Greg Siskind's analysis is based on my justified criticism of abuses in the system for temporary work visas, specifically H1B visas in nearly every case, not legal immigration.

Dobbs’ point here turns on a distinction of legal terminology between immigrant and non-immigrant visas.  Immigrant visas are green cards, non-immigrant visas are inherently temporary and include student visas, tourist visas, and H-1B visas.  One key difference between “immigrant” and “non-immigrant” visas is that the former category permits “immigrant intent,” or the objective of living in the U.S. permanently, while the latter does not.  However, Dobbs doesn’t acknowledge that the H-1B visa allows for “dual intent,” which means that an H-1B visa holder can also apply for a green card through his or her employer without violating the terms of his/her status.  Probably most H-1B visa holders do try to become permanent residents.  So the H-1B visa program is de facto one of the major sources of legal immigration.  Also, most readers or viewers are likely not aware of the immigrant/non-immigrant distinction and apply the common usage of “legal immigration” to anyone who comes to the country legally, including those who use the H-1B program.

Here are my belated scattered observations from the May Day rally at Union Square in New York City last week. 


This was the first May Day march I had participated in.  It was a lot of fun, and emotionally and (in a strictly secular way :-)   ) spiritually uplifting, but I kind of felt like I had missed the party.  I heard about crowds exponentially larger in 2006 and substantially larger last year.  But apparently, frustration in the pro-migrant community with the lack of progress toward comprehensive reform and fear instilled by widescale raids over the past year-and-a-half had combined to ratchet down participation in this year's march.  (With my own eyeballs, I estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 marchers--not something you see every day parading down Broadway, but certainly not the numbers seen in recent years.)  It's a shame, because things are about as bad now as they've ever been for migrants in the U.S.  It's a shame, because the "Operation Return to Sender" raids that have terrorized migrant communities across the country were a direct response to the restrictionist backlash resulting from the remarkable pro-migrant rallies of early 2006.  DHS Secretary Chertoff has explained that the raids are a tool to push businesses and migrant groups towards a comprehensive solution.  It's also part of the "enforcement by attrition" policy promoted by restrictionists and adopted in recent years by the Bush administration.  If Bush is a pro-migrant president, he sure has a funny way of showing it. 

The low numbers, then, are a clear indication that the restrictionists--backed squarely by the U.S. government--currently have the upper hand in the public square.  But that's not the whole story by any means . . .