Opinion

The Great Debate

Can Obama circumvent Washington?

Washington is broken,” Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, said in September 2008. “My whole campaign has been premised from the start on the idea that we have to fundamentally change how Washington works.”

There are three ways that Washington works: compromise, crisis and clout. Compromise is the way Washington is supposed to work. It’s practically mandated by the Constitution, with its complex system of checks and balances and separation of powers. It’s the way the U.S. government has worked for more than 200 years.

But it’s not working very well any more. Party positions have dug in. Deal-making is harder now that there are fewer moderates in Congress. It has taken more than two years for the House of Representatives to pass a farm bill, and it’s already under attack by both conservatives and liberals.

Congress did pass a budget deal last month, and there’s a reasonable chance that some version of immigration reform will go through this year. In both cases, the driving force is fear. Congressional Republicans are desperate to avoid another government shutdown over the budget. They are also determined to avoid a repeat of 2012, when minority voters, angry over Republican opposition to immigration reform, voted overwhelmingly Democratic.

Things can get done quickly in Washington if there’s a sense of crisis in the country. It took only a few weeks after September 11 to pass the Patriot Act, for example. The financial crisis of 2008 drove a whole slew of legislation — from the government bailouts under President George W. Bush to Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

American business needs immigration reform

One thing the overwhelming majority of Americans agree on, regardless of political party, is the need for immigration reform.  Not only is it one of the keys necessary to create a healthier national economy and critical to America’s security, growth, and prosperity, it is also an integral component for the success of American business.

The current employment-based immigration system is broken to the point of disarray — but not to a point of disrepair. The facts speak for themselves:

1. In the European Union, work-related visas account for 40 percent of immigration (excluding intra-EU movement). In the United States, only six percent of foreign workers are granted permanent entry on work-related visas. Outdated institutional quotas are shutting talent and expertise out, when other countries are ushering them in.

Will immigration reform protect workers?

As House Republicans mull maiming the Senate’s immigration bill, a thousand pundits are asking what their moves will mean for future elections. Meanwhile, far from the spotlight, some courageous immigrant workers are asking whether Congress will finally disarm employers who use immigration status to silence employees. If Congress punts on immigration reform, or merely passes an industry wish list, it will have doubled-down on complicity in a little-discussed trend that’s driving down working conditions for U.S.-born and immigrant workers alike: For too many employers, immigration law is a tool to punish workers who try to organize.

The workers watching Congress include Ana Rosa Diaz, who last year was among the Mexican H-2B visa guest workers at CJ’s Seafood in Louisiana, peeling crawfish sold by Walmart. Accounts from workers and an NGO assessment suggest the CJ’s workers had ample grievances, from the manager that threatened them with a shovel, to the worms and lizards in the moldy trailers where they slept, to the swamp fungus that left sticky blisters on their fingers as they raced through shifts that could last twenty hours.

To maintain that miserable status quo, workers allege, management regularly resorted to threats. The most dramatic came in May 2012, when they say CJ’s boss Mike LeBlanc showed up at the start of their 2 a.m. shift to tell them he knew they were plotting against him, and that he knew “bad men” back in Mexico, and to remind them that — through labor recruiters there — he knew where their families lived. Then LeBlanc ticked off some names, including Diaz’s daughter. Diaz told me the threat of violence was all too clear: “I’ve never been so afraid of anybody in my life.”

The GOP’s immigration problem

Old vaudeville joke:

Man goes to the doctor.  Says he has a pain in his arm.

“Have you ever had this problem before?” the doctor says.

“Yes,” the man answers.

“Well, you got it again.”

Bada-bing.

Now look at the Republicans’ immigration problem. Have they had this problem before? Yes. Well, they’ve got it again.

Republicans had an immigration problem nearly 100 years ago. A huge wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe – Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Jews – came to this country during the first two decades of the 20th century, before strict national quotas were imposed in 1924. These immigrants were largely Catholic and Jewish.

Republicans were the party of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment. The GOP did little to reach out to immigrants, except to try to “Americanize” them and “reform” them (the temperance movement).

from David Rohde:

How to respond to a terrorist attack

BOSTON – There is no right way to react to a terrorist attack.

Oklahoma City rebuilt after Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 truck bomb attack on the federal government. Atlanta moved on following anti-abortion activist Eric Rudolph’s 1996 bombing of the Olympics. New York displayed staggering resiliency after the September 11 attacks.

Boston, though, may have set a new standard.

Customers swarmed restaurants and businesses on Boylston Street, the site of the marathon bombings, after police reopened the area on Wednesday. There is overwhelming pride here in the public institutions – police, hospitals, government officials and news outlets (forgive my bias) – that responded so swiftly to the bombing. And there has been no major backlash against the city’s Muslim community since two Chechen-American brothers were identified as the prime suspects.

There have been missteps, of course. The FBI apparently failed to follow up aggressively enough on warnings from Russian officials about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother accused in the attack. Police fired on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his younger brother, when he was unarmed, wounded and hiding in a boat. And a transit police officer, who was gravely wounded in a firefight with the brothers, may have been mistakenly shot by a fellow officer.

How complexity hinders immigration reform

The immigration bill being drafted by Congress has bipartisan support on three broad concepts ‑ a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, streamlining legal immigration and more stringent enforcement of the laws against hiring illegal workers. Each presents complex problems to solve, however, and obtaining consensus on the details will be far more problematic than agreeing on the principles.

Partially unpacking these three concepts shows why.

Streamlining the legal immigration system is no easy matter; there is no single approach that can produce a fair, workable, efficient and equitable immigration system. If the approximately 11 million undocumented persons in the United States are to be given a place in line to obtain residency and then citizenship, they are competing with millions of others already in line.

Even that statement is overly simplistic. For starters, there is no single “line” but rather multiple pathways and categories – and every immigrant must be eligible for one or more categories, wait to receive one of a limited number of visas in that category and satisfy a number of criteria at the time the visa becomes available. In addition, there are  six categories of family-based immigrants for which visas are allocated, with a certain number of visas set aside (and capped) each year, plus five employment-based categories with yearly caps.

Republicans won’t embrace same-sex marriage anytime soon

In the wake of Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s  announcement that his son is gay, and his son’s coming out prompting  the senator to support gay marriage, it has become  commonplace to assert that Republicans are about to flip-flop on the gay marriage issue. Activists on both sides seem to agree. The Log Cabin Republicans triumphantly declared: “If there was any doubt that the conservative logjam on the issue of civil marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples has broken, Senator Portman’s support for the freedom to marry has erased it.” On Sunday, Karl Rove appeared to take leave of his senses when he said he could imagine the 2016 Republican presidential nominee supporting legal same-sex marriage. And with the Supreme Court set to hear a challenge to gay marriage bans this week, many observers are predicting that one or more conservative justices will join with the Court’s liberal wing to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, and possibly California’s Proposition 8 as well.

On the other side, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has warned that, “If the RNC abandons marriage, evangelicals will either sit the elections out completely – or move to create a third party. Either option puts Republicans on the path to a permanent minority.”

Both sides are getting way ahead of events. I can’t predict the Court’s ruling, but I can predict the Republican Party’s stance on gay rights for the foreseeable future: hostile opposition. Many observers lump gay rights with immigration – an issue on which the GOP has begun to shift leftward – as social issues on which the Republicans must modernize or die. Presumably, the logic follows, they will choose accommodation over death.

Focusing U.S. immigration detention costs

There was much controversy last week about federal officials releasing hundreds of immigrants from detention centers ahead of the looming budget cuts. But the real issue should be that U.S. taxpayers foot the steep bill to detain more than 30,000 people every day — not that a group of immigrants who pose little threat to public safety were transferred out of federal facilities last week.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding the move out of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, the result is smarter enforcement that could save the federal government tens of thousands of dollars per day, if not hundreds of thousands, based on data from the president’s most recent budget request.

We are all for detaining criminals. But those now on supervised release are the kind of people who should never have been in detention in the first place. Miguel Hernandez, for example, had been detained after being pulled over for not using his car’s turn signal. Not exactly a criminal offense.

Obama mobilizes his New America

There’s a reason why President Barack Obama has chosen to put gun control at the top of his second-term agenda. No issue draws as bright a line between the Old America and the New America as the gun issue. It will keep his coalition mobilized – the New America coalition that delivered for him in the election: working women, single mothers, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jewish and Muslim voters, young people, gays and educated professionals.

Obama paid tribute to the New America in his second Inaugural Address on Monday. “We possess all the qualities,” Obama declared, “that this world without boundaries demands, youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”

Obama insisted “our journey is not complete” until the country finds a “better way to welcome striving hopeful immigrants,” until “our wives, mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” until “our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law” and until all our children – including those on “the quiet lanes of Newtown” – know that they are “always safe from harm.”

Demography as destiny: The vital American family

Recent reports of America’s sagging birthrate ‑ the lowest since the 1920s, by some measures ‑ have sparked a much-needed debate about the future of the American family. Unfortunately, this discussion, like so much else in our society, is devolving into yet another political squabble between conservatives and progressives.

Conservatives, including the Weekly Standard’s Jonathan Last, regularly cite declining birth and marriage rates as one result of expanding government ‑ and a threat to the right’s political survival. Progressives, meanwhile, have labeled attempts to commend a committed couple with children as inherently prejudicial and needlessly judgmental.

Yet family size is far more than just another political wedge issue. It is an existential one – essentially determining whether a society wants to replace itself or fall into oblivion, as my colleagues and I recently demonstrated in a report done in conjunction with Singapore’s Civil Service College. No nation has thrived when its birthrate falls below replacement level and stays there – the very level the United States are at now. Examples from history extend from the late Roman Empire to Venice and the Netherlands in the last millennium.

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