Yesterday, Al Punto, the Sunday morning political show on Univision - the network with the largest Hispanic viewership in the U.S. - featured the issue of immigration once again, as it does each week in one way or another. Immigration features prominently on the Spanish-language newscast each evening, and during Al Punto's interviews every Sunday because it is an issue that remains a top concern for Latinos, and to Americans in general.
Yesterday's show highlighted the bipartisan support that can be drawn on the issue of immigration. The first segment consisted of an interview with U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to discuss their opinion of President Barack Obama's agenda coming into office. Rep. Sanchez quickly named immigration reform as one of the top three issues she believes President Obama should move on first (along with the economy and the war in Iraq). She mentioned that she has already spoken with White House staff to discuss how to move on immigration this year, and reiterated her belief that immigration reform is imperative in order to help the economy and secure our borders. For her part, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen was more skeptical about reform passing this year, although she recognized that President Obama is in a great position to launch reform because "the American people are on his side" - polling data has consistently shown that the American people want a solution to the broken immigration system - and that the popularity enjoyed by President Obama would certainly help efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It's noteworthy that Rep. Ros-Lehtinen stated that while she might not agree on many issues with President Obama, she is on his side when it comes to immigration reform and would work with Rep. Sanchez and others in order to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The show's third segment consisted of an interview with U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid. Jorge Ramos began the interview by asking, "Barack Obama promised the Latino community that he would move comprehensive immigration reform within his first year, is there the political will to do this in the first year?" The questions denote the sense of urgency for reform felt among Latinos. Reid pointed out that in addition to addressing interior and exterior enforcement, future flow, path to citizenship, etc., any bill for comprehensive (CIR) would also include the Dream Act. This is great news, but Jorge Ramos pressed on, "As you know, this is very important for the Hispanic community; when will CIR pass?" Sen. Reid answered, "I hope that we can get it done in September, and I feel confident that we can get this done. I've spoken with John McCain," and "Sen. McCain has reiterated his commitment to providing Republican support," for the legislation. It's interesting that Sen. Reid noted, "Now we're 59 Democrats, and we need 60 votes," alluding to the new political landscape in the Senate, a landscape that requires less Republican votes for the bill than was required when legislation for immigration reform was presented in 2007. Now if we can only make sure all Democrats share the President's view and the Democratic platform for immigration reform.....Ramos ended the interview by thanking Sen. Reid and reiterating, "And we'll be checking in with you on the progress of immigration reform."
I thought Tom Friedman did a very good job this morning at capturing the moment. An excerpt from his column, Radical In The White House:
George W. Bush completely squandered his post-9/11 moment to summon the country to a dramatic new rebuilding at home. This has left us in some very deep holes. These holes - and the broad awareness that we are at the bottom of them - is what makes this a radical moment, calling for radical departures from business as usual, led by Washington.
That is why this voter is hoping Obama will swing for the fences. But he also has to remember to run the bases. George Bush swung for some fences, but he often failed at the most basic element of leadership - competent management and follow-through.
President Obama will have to decide just how many fences he can swing for at one time: grand bargains on entitlement and immigration reform? A national health care system? A new clean-energy infrastructure? The nationalization and repair of our banking system? Will it be all or one? Some now and some later? It is too soon to say.
But I do know this: while a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, so too is a great politician, with a natural gift for oratory, a rare knack for bringing people together, and a nation, particularly its youth, ready to be summoned and to serve.
So, in sum, while it is impossible to exaggerate what a radical departure it is from our past that we have inaugurated a black man as president, it is equally impossible to exaggerate how much our future depends on a radical departure from our present. As Obama himself declared from the Capitol steps: "Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed."
We need to get back to work on our country and our planet in wholly new ways. The hour is late, the project couldn't be harder, the stakes couldn't be higher, the payoff couldn't be greater.
If you have other columns, post or essays you've found you think we should post and promote on the our blog here please send them to Sam DuPont at firstname.lastname@example.org. More soon....
Ulan Bator, Mongolia -- I'd rather be spending this week in Washington, celebrating with friends and my country the politically and spiritually invigorating elevation of Barack Obama to our presidency. These feelings lie very close to the heart of patriotism, and they are an exquisite pleasure to feel again without reserve.
Instead, I find myself in one of the coldest places on earth, Mongolia's capital city of Ulan Bator, giving advice on the process of economic and social modernization. On the way, I stopped off in Beijing, where the extravagant new bones of that ancient city, from the Olympic Village to the new Ritz Carlton on Financial Street (no joke), have the signature taint of the very recent time when money was no object, prosperity seemed unending, and architectural glitz was the national emblem of conspicuous consumption. Here in Mongolia, a country perched atop huge mineral deposits, people are adjusting with difficulty to the end of ballooning commodity prices and an accompanying overconfidence that led to tax and regulatory changes for extracting as much as imaginable from the foreign mining companies developing the resources. Now that those prices have sunk, those changes could force the companies to pull up stakes from Mongolia and head for Africa's mineral deposits. So the global crisis leaves Mongolia wrestling with how to give up its most recent hopes for itself and settle for a slower route to modernization that will cost a lot more.
On this wondrous day of the inauguration of a serious, intelligent and deep-valued person -- all things relatively new for us and for the world to be looking to us again -- the question is how rude our own awakening will be. Like the Mongolians with their mineral deposits, President Obama has enormous resources. And much as the Mongolians could squander their assets by holding fast to a narrow-minded view that doesn't take into account new conditions, we could squander our own historic moment of extraordinary unity of purpose and faith in our new leader's capacities.
To avoid this trap, we all have to recognize not only the real nature of our deep and dangerous economic and geopolitical problems, but also the pitfalls in our own system that could divert our new leadership from the tasks history will ultimately remember them for.
President Obama's signature governing act in his first year will almost certainly be the paths he charts for the $350 billion bailout fund and the trillion dollar stimulus. The pitfall for both is politics-as-usual, while the path to meaningful, productive change will rest on transparency, accountability, and innovation. The change we need here is an end to giving the most well-connected financial institutions and interest groups whatever they ask for. The change we need for both the bailout and the stimulus are openness about who gets what and under what conditions; accountability that requires those who receive bounties from the taxpayers to actually use them for those taxpayers' benefit, by extending more credit and advancing a 21st century economy and society; and innovations that can address the underlying forces driving our problems, especially the rising foreclosure rates for the financial crisis and the stagnation of incomes that laid part of the foundation for the current Great Recession.
The other pitfall for our new president and the rest of us to begin to think about is the hangover that will hit us from the extraordinary steps we're being forced to take now. Several years of deficits topping $1 trillion, on top of what looks to be a doubling of our monetary base over just six to eight months, could ultimately produce the greatest underground, domestic inflationary pressures in more than a half-century. Moreover, they are likely to come to the surface a few years from now, just as our boomers' demands on government spending begin to add up exponentially. This could create an acute financing crisis for American government, on top of rising inflation, and the second economic crisis of the Obama presidency. Recalling John Kennedy, what we can do for our country is to be prepared to support serious entitlement reforms that will mean less for all of us and even, yes, new taxes on top of it.
But today, wherever we are, let's celebrate our own good judgment and good fortune in Barack Obama.
But the crowds on TV, the people, all braving the cold. I am off to the swearing-in soon, am already overwhelmed by what I'm seeing on TV. As Barack has been saying this new day is about him and his new team, but it is more about us, our country, our people standing up, our people putting things right (http://ndnblog.org/node/3431).
One reason why the economic recovery plan matters to immigration reform - There's been much written debatein major publications about whether the economic recovery plan is causing tension between Congress and the incoming Obama administration. With Obama not even in office yet, a major concern of mine: if the alleged tension is true, I hope this doesn't cause major rifts that could damage discussions for an overhaul of the current - broken - immigration system.
Another Example of the Broken Immigration System - Even Tim Geithner'scleaning lady couldn't keep her status in check. Again, we need to fix the current broken system that is so impossible to manage, which is why people fall out of status. And as for Mr. Geithner's appointment - this guy is going to have to help solve the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression...this whole cleaning lady controversy - let's keep our eye on the ball, people.
Debate in Congress this week - The House is set to vote on legislation to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) this week, and the Senate Finance Committee will also take up companion legislation. This bill includes provisions that would eliminate the existing five year waiting period LEGAL immigrant children must endure before qualifying for coverage. We agree this requirement only threatens the well-being of already eligible children, but this debate hasequally important political implications. I know many thought SCHIP could serve as a "mini victory" before going for the "big enchilada," comprehensive immigration reform, but I disagree. Time and time again, this Congress will try to take action on major domestic policy issues, and time and time again the issue of how these programs deal with the undocumented will come up (even though this bill deals only with legal immigrants), so the best way for Democrats to tackle this challenge is to clear the table - fix the root of the debate, a broken immigration system, and then we can actually make progress on the rest. Most of theconstituency that both Dems and Reps now admit they need to win elections - Latinos and immigrant communities - are unfortunately not monitoring the SCHIP debate, they want to be able to stop having to walk around with their passports in hand for fear of being stopped for no reason other than their appearance. That is the reality we live in. This tone will change to a great extent if Democrats seize the opportunity CIR affords them.
Everyone expects Republicans to try to bring up the old anti-immigrant mongering, but right now the Hill is actually buzzing due to Democrats that oppose eliminating this waiting period. By going for SCHIP first, if it fails, Democrats have put themselves in a position that makes them seem divided (see Sen. Baucus), opened the door for more immigrant hate-mongering, they have taken up their time "preempting" potential Republican attacks on the bill instead of leading the debate and dictating a new agenda, and lost political capital and energy that is going to be needed if CIR legislation is introduced. And if the bill passes, they have still invested political capital that will be needed for CIR, and if Republicans actually "get it" and shift their tone to an immigrant-friendly one, then that opens the door for Republicans to start making their way back among Latinos and immigrants - while certain Dems oppose this bill. Until CIR passes, there will continue to be bickering over immigrants and "illegals" on every single policy issue that hits the floor. And even if SCHIP passes, state and local governments are still left with the unfunded mandate of having to act as immigration agents, which will not stop until we have fixed our broken immigration system.
It's the economy stupid - The San Antonio Express had a piece by Hernan Rozemberg this week on why immigration reform is on the "back burner." The article accurately posits that anti-immigrant forces will argue that, "hard economic times" will impede making reform politically feasible. We argue that the broken immigration system exacerbates economic problems because - as stated by Rep. Hilda Solis - it affects all workers, not just immigrants.
The economic crisis will not be solved in two months, or in one year. And in one year, when legislators have to go back to their districts to campaign - what are they going to campaign on exactly? What major achievement? It's not likely that a tangible result like peace in the middle east, or a complete economic turnaround, or a major overhaul of the education system will be achieved in a year, but fixing the broken immigration system can happen in one year. It is a major issue, recognized by the general public as a "problem" that needs fixing. SHCIP, Equal Pay...these are all necessary and worthy achievements, but they are not recognized by voters as one of the top five major issues on their mind.
The piece also states, "Other leading national immigrant advocates said in the past week they'll wait patiently while Obama takes care of the economic mess, but they're not willing to let the crisis push the issue aside," which worries me. Again, those of us for CIR should be advocating that immigration reform is one tool to begin to solve the major economic mess! This issue cannot wait until the economy turns around in two or five years.
Rozemberg adequately points out that the anti-immigrant voices will echo Roy Beck - a prominent member of the white supremacist hate network as reported by SPLC - shifting their focus away from the "illegal" argument (because they now see that Americans don't blame the immigrants), to "protecting American workers from competing for jobs with unauthorized immigrants." And we have to preempt this strategy. Our mistake in 2007 was responding to these PR stunts as opposed to anticipating them. The truth is:
- 12 million people are currently working outside the system - these people contribute to all our lives and the lives of all Americans will benefit from bringing them out of the shadows.
- The undocumented who are already here do not compete for American jobs, those who are employed work because they take jobs Americans will not fill, for wages Americans would not accept, outside of U.S. labor laws. The economic crisis has also created many illegal immigrants - many have come into the country legally, and in hard economic times have lost their job or work less hours and thus cannot afford the ridiculous fees charged by USCIS to renew or change their status.
- Whoever argues, "temporary worker programs or visa programs would only have more immigrants in the U.S. competing for U.S. jobs," completely misses the problem. The reality is that: 1) visa programs are limited, but the current limits are unrealistic and do not meet business demands (hence 12 million undocumented). Whether we take action to accept legal immigrants or not, they will come, let's accept that. The question is: do we want them coming in legally, or illegally? 2) In hard economic times businesses might be particularly predisposed to hire workers who will work for less, and have no rights. Let's work out a system that is amenable to American workers and helps meet labor demands in specific areas - the reason we have a broken system to begin with is that we are never forward looking, we've always tried to fashion a law that meets our "ideal" as opposed to meeting reality, which is why the 1986 and 1996 laws have not worked.
Roy Beck said Obama would, "commit political suicide" if he tried to legalize millions of unauthorized workers with so many Americans out of work - that's also what everyone (including Democrats) said after he came out in favor of drivers licenses for the undocumented in the 2008 Primaries, remember? The bottom line is: the American people want Congress to solve problems. And the broken immigration system is a problem.
President-elect Obama met with President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon. Click here to see NDN's statement on yesterday's visit. The statement released by Obama spokesman, Robert Gibbs:
"President-elect Obama underscored his commitment to working with Congress to fix the broken U.S. immigration system and fostering safe, legal and orderly migration. He expressed his strongly held view that immigrants should be treated with dignity and that the immigration debate should not be a vehicle for vilifying any group, and that our two countries need to work more effectively to stop the flow of illegal immigration into the United States."
Mexico Human Rights Comission Speaks Out Again - This time, the CNDH (initials in Spanish) spoke out against the border fence during a tour of the border, explaining that a fence does not deter immigration, and criticized Mukasey's recent decision to strip immigrants of any semblance of due process during immigration proceedings (see below).
Still No Commerce Secretary - There are many rumors regarding potential appointees - I think the thought of Federico Pena as Secretary of Commerce sounds excellent. Not only does Secretary Pena - member of NDN's Hispanic Advisory Board - enjoy a wealth of executive experience, he is a community and business leader, he's pragmatic, respected, and most importantly, he is an ally in the fight for immigration reform. Secretary Pena has acted as advisor to Barack Obama on this issue, and has submitted four key points for immigration reform.
Immigration reform legislation affords opportunities - In 2008, Republicans lost 3 of the 5 seats in the Senate opened by retiring members. In 2010, Republicans must defend 16 incumbents and 3 open seats, while Democrats have to defend 15 incumbents and two open seats. Passing comprehensive immigration reform in order to solve the very broken immigration system affords Democrats an enormous opportunity to demonstrate a solid achievement as they battle for these Senate seats in states that do not clearly favor either party. The seats up for grabs:
Jeb does not go to Washington - Jeb Bush had been mentioned as a contender for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, but this week he announced he is in fact not going to run for U.S. Senate in 2010. One can only speculate as to Mr. Bush's reasons for not running, but I have the feeling a major factor is discontent with what the Republican brand currently stands for - or lack thereof. In part it is a shame because he might have followed Sen. Martinez's moderate Republican voice in the Senate, and like Martinez, supported immigration reform. Bush governed one of the states with the largest Latino populations in the country, and as husband to Columba Bush - an immigrant from Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico - is inclined to be more sympathetic to immigrants than most of his colleagues. On the other hand, given the Democratic win in Florida during the 2008 Presidential, maybe this paves the way for Democrats to make new inroads into what used to be the Republican solid south.
Someone else who won't be seeking reelection - U.S. Sen. Kit Bond announced this week that he will not seek re-election in 2010. The Republican party is also losing U.S. Sens. Mel Martinez (Florida) and Sam Brownback (Kansas). These retirements provide Democrats - and those in favor of CIR - major openings (both Bond and Brownback acted as voices against immigrants and immigration reform). Missouri voters have been unpredictable in statewide elections lately. They handed Democrat Jay Nixon an easy victory last year in the governor's race, then backed Republican John McCain in the presidential election. Two years prior, Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, managed to win her seat by a slim margin.
Friends in high places - President-elect Obama officially introducedthe new DNC Chair, Gov. Tim Kaine, last week - good news for pro CIR advocates. A little known fact about Gov. Kaine, of Virginia, is that he began his career in public service outside of the U.S., as a missionary in Honduras. He is still fluent in Spanish. Virginia has suffered among the highest number of anti-immigrant policies and legislation at the state and local level, but Gov. Kaine has remained committed to respecting the rights and humanity of immigrants in Virginia, arguing for comprehensive immigration reform, and ending divisive and ineffective tactics in Virginia.
George is schizophrenic on immigration - Since early December, NDN reported on President Bush's recognition that not passing immigration reform was among his biggest disappointments. He repeated the same idea yesterday during his final interview as President, adding that the GOP must be "compassionate and broad-minded," in order to return from its 2008 electoral defeat, and the President highlighted that the immigration debate was particularly harmful because those opposed to reform made it appear that, "Republicans don't like immigrants." At the same time, he turns around and strips immigrants of their rights through the Attorney General's last major act in office:
GTMO for Immigrants - On Wednesday, Michael Mukasey ruled that aliens have no constitutional right to challenge the outcome of their deportation hearings based on their lawyers' mistakes. This effectively scraps a 15-year old precedent set in a case referred to as the Matter of Lozada, which stated that while "aliens" have no 6th Amendment right to counsel, Lozada recognized their right to effective assistance under due process. This is absolutely abominable, and we hope Eric Holder's first act in office is to reverse this ruling. NDN and other major organizationswill be interested in seeing whether Mr. Holder is asked about his position on this issue during confirmation hearings.
Immigration and Race: Demography is Destiny (continued) - This week The Atlantic and Ron Brownsteintalk about race. Brownstein goes into detail on how Democrats' efforts to pursue the vote of minorities paid off in 2008:
"The biggest source of Hispanic population growth is not immigration, but from the children of recent immigrants. And, by definition, they are voting citizens once they turn 18."
The Atlantic has a very interesting piece, "The End of White America?" While I agree with the article's general premise that the future will belong to those who can navigate what we at NDN consider a new racial construct of America, I disagree that we live in a "post" racial America. The Atlantic piece also weaves in the role of race in pop culture, is it "cool" to be white? Will other ethnic groups grow to be considered more "American" now? The article explores how the role of race has changed as our demographics have changed - you no longer need to be "white" to be included, incorporated into society, to be able to run for office or to be a Hollywood star. An excerpt:
Whether you describe it as the dawning of a post-racial age or just the end of white America, we're approaching a profound demographic tipping point....those groups currently categorized as racial minorities-blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians-will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023.......it's now very cool and in to have multicultural friends. Like you're not really considered hip or 'you've made it' if you're rolling with all the same people."
People should be recognized as individuals, not for their color or creed (and as Obama said, we're all muts anyway). At the same time, we're not there yet. Just because we're in a new, very exciting, stage of the racial construct of America, does not mean that we are "post" racial.
Hence the current case before the Supreme court trying to do away with the landmark Voting Rights Act is absolutely preposterous. The act ended literacy tests and other state measures that had kept blacks from the polls, and now helps ensure that all minorities are ensured the right to vote. Obama's election reflects an enormous advancement in race relations, but voting, particularly in the South, remains significantly polarized. Exit polls from the Nov. 4 presidential election show whites in many Southern states heavily favored John McCain to Obama. In Texas, 73% of whites favored McCain, in Georgia, 76%, and in Alabama, 88%. Nationally, the percentage of whites for McCain was 55%.
The Wall Street Journal joins the White Supremacist groups who have changed their strategy from openly demonizing Hispanics to arguing that "population control" is needed and that overcrowding - largely caused by "immigrants" - is the reason we have a climate change problem. Now the WSJ joins the chorus by blaming us (Hispanics) for the economic crisis, namely the Latino members of Congress, Joe Baca and the CHC. Deplorable.
Muslims and Hispanics - Victims of racial profiling. Thanks to the Bush fear mongering machine, we are "suspect" just by virtue of being in a room. After an American family who happens to be of Muslim faith was detained last week due to overzealous passengers who thought they "posed a threat" because of "suspicious" remarks (yeah, I'm sure it was the remarks), DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton calls for a hearing to look into the way these people were treated when detained.
U.S. to collect immigrants' DNA - Beginning on Friday, the U.S. government will collect DNA samples from people arrested and detained for suspected immigration violations (which are not criminal, immigration violations are civil). Key word: SUSPECTED, previously the government only obtained DNA from persons convicted of certain crimes.
Setting the Record Straight - Great, updated version of IPC's fact sheet on the myths of immigrants and criminality released this week. Keep it handy.
In case you missed it - The GAO released a report on USCIS’s processes for screening individuals applying for permanent residence, and found vulnerabilities that need to be addressed, like backlogs and improved collaboration with FBI in the case of FBI checks.
NDN President Simon Rosenberg and NDN Vice President for Hispanic Programs Andres Ramirez today said President-elect Barack Obama's meeting with Mexico President Felipe Calderón this afternoon signifies more than long-standing protocol; it also reflects the realities of deeply rooted economic, cultural and political ties betweenthe two countries.
"Never before has a U.S. President been elected by such an overwhelming number of Hispanics in the United States," Rosenberg said. "The United States now has the third largest Latin population in the Americas and the futures of the United States and Mexico are bound together as never before. Hemispheric relations have taken a backseat for too long. Today's meeting is the first step to a genuine and sustained partnership that addresses pressing regional and global challenges. It is the start of a new day for U.S.-Mexico relations."
"This meeting follows the commitment expressed by President-elect Obama and his advisors throughout the 2008 presidential campaign and during the presidential debates to make it a priority to build a more profound and engaged bilateral relationship with Mexico," Ramirez said. "This meeting also occurs at a time when Mexico is better positioned as a partner of the United States. Since the 2000 election in Mexico, that country has demonstrated major progress in governance, in its democratic institutions and it has developed increasingly diverse international economic and political relations."
Click here for additional background information on NDN's work in studying Latin America foreign policy.
Almost before the echoes of Barack Obama's Grant Park victory speech had died away, pundits and the blogosphere began to keep score about the effectiveness of his transition. In a way, a presidential transition is like a political spring training that gives the incoming manager and his team a chance to prepare and set the tone for what amounts to a four-year long regular season. Every transition presents opportunities for an incoming Administration to put together a game plan to deliver hardball policy ideas to give the new team an early lead in the beginning of the regular season. One danger the new team faces during the transitional pre-season is being suckered by the other side into playing for keeps before opening day. With President-elect Obama’s Cabinet and White House policy team largely in place, and the maneuvering over various economic bailout options mostly behind us, it’s time for some preseason analysis of the management decisions the Obama team has made.
This upcoming season is a particularly important one to get ready for because the new president is taking office during a political realignment. Realignments are rare events in U.S. politics, occurring only about once every four decades; the 2008 realignment is only the sixth in American electoral history. During and after a realignment, the old political truths–and the standards for judging presidential transitions–that appeared axiomatic during the preceding era no longer apply and the President-elect has to manage the process with an acute sensitivity to what the times demand.
As we indicated in our book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, You Tube and the Future of American Politics, all political realignments are produced by the coming of age of a large, dynamic generation and the emergence of a new communication technology that effectively mobilizes the rising generation. All realignments give American politics an extreme makeover. However, because they are caused by different types of generations, either "idealist" or "civic," not all realignments are the same. Consequently, the standards for judging the success or failure of a presidential transition vary from one type of realignment to another.
Idealist generations, like the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), whose coming-of-age produced a realignment centered on Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign of 1968, try to impose their own personal morality on the country through the political process. Political debate in eras dominated by idealist generations often tends to focus on social or moral issues, not economic or foreign policy concerns. Because idealist generations are highly divided, ideological, and uncompromising, during these types of realignments, the most successful transitions are those that advance the ideological goals of the new president and his winning team.
The current realignment however, is a "civic" realignment, produced by the political emergence of America's newest civic generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). Civic generations react against the efforts of divided idealist generations to advance their own moral causes. They expect their team to unify the country, focus on reenergizing political and governmental institutions and using those institutions to confront and solve pressing national issues left unattended and unresolved during the previous idealist era. The transition efforts of President-elect Obama should be measured against this set of expectations, not those of an idealist era like the one just ended.
Honest Abe's and FDR's Transition Lessons for Barack Obama
Previous civic realignments occurred in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln and in 1932, when the Millennials' civic generation great grandparents, the GI Generation, put Franklin Roosevelt in the White House. It's no coincidence that these civic presidents, along with George Washington, top all lists of our greatest presidents. All three led the United States in resolving deep crises by inspiring and guiding new civic generations and creating, revitalizing, and expanding the country's civic institutions. It is this high historical standard that will set the bar for history’s evaluation of Obama’s presidency, making his preparation for the new season all the more challenging.
An incoming president during a civic realignment must avoid exacerbating the national crisis that he will soon inherit but also avoid being tied to the failed policies of the outgoing Administration. So far, President-elect Obama has been able to maneuver through this political thicket as deftly as Lincoln and FDR did after their own realigning elections.
Southern states began seceding from the Union within days of Lincoln's election. Lincoln attempted to reassure the South that he would do nothing to tamper with slavery in states where it already existed, but he could not keep secessionist states in the Union without acceding to their demands to permit slavery in new territories. That would have required him to reject his own principles and those of his Republican Party, something he was unable and unwilling to do.
The outgoing Democratic President, James Buchanan, argued that secession was unconstitutional, but also that he had no power to prevent it. Consequently, he did virtually nothing when the seceding states took control of federal institutions throughout the South and blockaded Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. Lincoln waited until South Carolina actually fired on Fort Sumter before he announced his intention to use military force to relieve the federal garrison there. Not being precipitous or overly anxious made it easier for Lincoln to prepare for, rally, and lead the country in the war that followed.
The transition between the Administrations of Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt was far more strained. In contrast to Buchanan, Hoover made a number of post-election attempts to persuade or, in the view of pro-FDR historians, entrap Roosevelt into endorsing Hoover's monetary and fiscal policies. Hoover presented to FDR an offer to share power in the public interest, but what he really wanted Roosevelt to do was commit to killing the New Deal before it even started. In letters to conservative Republican senators, Hoover said that if the president-elect agreed to what Hoover wanted, "he will have ratified the whole major program of the Republican administration; that is it means the abandonment of 90 percent of the so-called new deal." More specifically, Hoover wanted his successor to renounce, among other things, aid to homeowners unable to pay their mortgages, public works projects, and plans for the Tennessee Valley Authority. FDR studiously avoided making any policy commitments or even responding to the outgoing president's efforts to contact him, going so far as to claim that a secretary had misplaced a letter to him from Hoover. FDR's ability to preserve his political independence and policy flexibility made the historically high-scoring first 100 days of his presidency possible.
Obama Is a Good Student of History
Both the Bush Administration and the Obama team seem to be well aware of the rocky Hoover-Roosevelt transition during which an already bad economy worsened. Both Obama and Bush wanted to avoid open conflict and strained to be, or at least appear, cooperative on issues such as the auto company bailout and the use of TARP funds to stabilize the nation’s financial system. This approach fits the promise of Barack Obama to avoid excessive partisan confrontation. It fits the desire of the Bush Administration to shape a historical record as positive as possible.
It is also clear, however, that Obama is attempting to follow in FDR’s footsteps by seeking to avoid collaborative policy making or commitments to continue any Bush Administration policies. For example, Obama’s economic team has resisted overtures from the Bush Administration to coordinate more fully on a financial sector rescue package or endorse the release of the second tranche of TARP funds. Instead, the Obama team has kept its focus on the next political season by pushing Congress to quickly pass an Obama-designed stimulus program even before January 20, 2009.
From the beginning of the transition, Obama and his team have repeated the mantra that the United States has "only one president at a time,” a nice way to say, “wait until spring training is over and the regular season starts before we start playing for real." Based upon the professionalism and historical sensitivity he has demonstrated during the transition, his team should be not only a pennant contender, but also one capable of winning the World Series of a civic realignment.
According to a release today from the Presidential Inaugural Committee,
In keeping with his commitment to make this inaugural celebration open and accessible to all Americans, President-elect Barack Obama will host the first-ever "Neighborhood Inaugural Ball" during this year's inaugural celebration. The ball will be the premier event of inauguration evening on January 20th and will take place at the Washington Convention Center.
With tickets available free or at an affordable price, it is the first official inaugural ball of its kind to be held during a presidential inauguration. A portion of tickets for this event will be set aside for District of Columbia residents. The ball will also feature a robust interactive component, including webcasting and text messaging, to link neighborhoods across the country with the new President and this premier event. The PIC will release more details soon about using technology to allow Americans who are attending neighborhood balls across the country to participate actively in this celebration.
This is a great move on President-elect Obama's part. Symbolically, it reinforces his message of creating a more open, "bottom-up" Washington; inaugural balls are usually highly exclusive and/or prohibitively expensive, and making this experience available to everyone is a great gesture. At the same time, it is also a great way to maintain and expand his technological presence and keep the momentum he built up during the campaign. Like the text-message VP announcement, this will surely help Obama down the road as he tries to build broad-based public support for his initiatives.
On yesterday's Meet the Press, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid discusses hopeful prospects for immigration reform in 2009:
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about politics. This is what you told Roll Call two days after the election of Barack Obama.... "‘I think the country has moved to the center,'... ‘I think people want us to get things done.'" Let me test that proposition. On immigration, do you have a deal between the president-elect and Senator McCain for immigration reform?...
...SEN. REID: "We need comprehensive immigration reform." That was a conversation I had with John McCain. Yes, we need comprehensive immigration reform. And what does that mean? It means we have to make sure our borders are protected, our northern and southern borders. We have to do something about the millions of people here who are undocumented. We have to put them on, on a pathway to legalization. Does that mean that they get to the head of the line? Of course not. They'd have penalties and fines and learn English and stay out of trouble. We have to also do something on a guest worker program and we have to do something about the employer sanctions that works. John McCain believes that should happen. I believe that should happen. That's...
MR. GREGORY: And he's discussed it with the president-elect?...
MR. GREGORY: McCain has?
SEN. REID: I don't know, but he's discussed it with me.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. You think you've got a deal, a prospect of a deal.
SEN. REID: I have, I have John McCain's word that he's going to work real, real hard on immigration reform....
...SEN. REID: And I'll, and I'll work with him.
Gov. Bill Richardson Withdraws From Consideration as Commerce Secretary - This newsis not only unfortunate for the President-elect and his team and for the country as a whole, it is bad news for immigration reform. This Governor's support of reform and criticism of half-measures (such as "enforcement-only"), his legislative, executive, and international experience made him particularly qualified to put a great deal of weight behind comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) legislation in a time of economic crisis as Secretary of Commerce. Luckily, we still have strong champions for CIR in the administration with Gov. Napolitano as DHS Secretary and Rep. Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor. The confluence of immigrants and labor is exactly what the current administration has not been able to get right. What Ms. Solis and the President-elect seem to understand is that by upholding workers' rights, even for the undocumented, you uphold wage and labor rights for all working Americans. It is indespensable that Barack Obama name a new nominee for Secretary of Commerce that posseses the same passion and ability of Gov. Richardson to strengthen coalitions in favor of CIR in order to pass CIR in 2009.
An article in The Hill comments on what will likely be early tests on immigration for Barack Obama upon assuming the Presidency, and Spanish-language media demonstrates that the Hispanic community has not forgotten Obama's commitments in this area. Univision's Sunday morning program, Al Punto, aired an "end of the year" summary that featured five stories - four of the five had an immigration focus. Next to job creation, immigration reform is the top issue on the minds of Latinos for 2009. The analysts on Al Punto highlighted that as the economy improves, there will be a need to address the economic demand for workers so that businesses can meet their needs legally, and to ensure labor and wage standards for all workers.
The Hispanic community won't forget the promise of immigration reform - This Sunday,Al Punto had a feature on immigration reform in 2009 and re-played an interview with Barack Obama from May 28, 2008. When asked whether he was committed to passing immigration reform "in his first year," he replied, "yes, in my first year." Frank Sharry appeared on this segment commenting on the current climate of fear among immigrant communities.
President-electObama on Raids - During the same interview that took place in May and was replayed this Sunday, Obama was asked how he would handle raids. He responded that he considered raids a "good public relations move," to make it seem like the government is doing something, but they don't solve the problem in the long-term. He recognized the terror that affects communities as something to be given due consideration, "I don't think it is the American way to capture a mother and separate her from her child," and not think of the consequences. Clearly raids are a part of the general review the President-elect will undertake. Rather than demand or expect him to issue an order "halting raids," I think we can expect Obama to shift the focus of enforcement to going after unscrupulous employers, criminal aliens, and human traffickers.
How to convince Barack Obama that reform is needed this year? - This question was posed on the Sunday morning Spanish-language show. I would posit that the bigger question is how to make sure we educate legislators in both chambers on this issue. The bottom line is that American voters voted for Obama and for a large number of Democratic legislators as a repudiation of the inaction of the past eight years. CIR provides the opportunity to demonstrate a will to govern, to take action and solve problems - particularly at a time of economic crisis. The economy and immigration go hand in hand. Immigration is a national security issue, it is an economic issue with economic roots and consequences. By ignoring the undocumented and those who are wanted as workers, you encourage the exploitation that erodes working conditions and job security everywhere. In a time of economic crisis, the stability and dignity of the work force are especially vital. This is also why CIR must not be limited to addressing the legalization of the undocumented - CIR must address issues of future flow and it must revamp the entire visa system. The existing visa system is outdated, unfair, and clearly unrealistic given that most of the undocumented came into the country legally and overstayed their visas. With the amount of work immigration reform will take, it is vital that it is truly "comprehensive."
Re: A long road back for the GOP - An interesting article in the CQ, "The Republican Search for Self Better Find Something Quickly," echoes what NDN has been writing about in Simon's post on their "long road back" and my post on how the current GOP is so out of touch - intentionally or not - with 21st century America. John Bicknell writes: "Republicans are going to have to figure out who they are, and how that identity is relevant to modern America. And they are going to have to do it in less than two years. Otherwise, they could well find themselves on their way to another 40 years in the wilderness." For Democrats, CIR represents a great deal of opportunities to prove their ability to govern, and for Republicans, passing CIR can be the first step out of the wilderness.
More Examples of our Broken Immigration System: All of which exacerbate undocumented migration - 1) Marriage Fraud -CQ covers aCIS study as part of a larger piece on marriage fraud and immigration. While CIS is a known hate group as identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and even though we have no factual basis with which to accept their data, even one fraudulent marriage is one too many, and it demonstrates the insufficient legal means for immigration in our laws.
"The real problem with marriage and immigration law and policy is how the government disrespects the marriages of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who obey the rules," Paul Donnelly, spokesman for American Families United, which works to reunite Americans' foreign spouses and children, said in an interview....Legal permanent residents have to wait almost five years - nearly eight years for Mexicans - to bring a foreign-born spouse or child into the United States. Americans who marry foreigners that have overstayed prior visas or have been discovered in the country illegally cannot bring that spouse or child into the country for at least three years, with a maximum 10-year term of inadmissibility if the visa overstay is greater than one year or the foreigner is deported.
2) Immigrants priced out of legal status - Only about half of all Central American immigrants eligible for a renewal of their temporary protected status actually filed for their renewals. Many of these immigrants could not afford the filing fees due to having been laid off or having their number of work hours cut in this time of economic recession.
3) The Face of Slavery - As long as there are insufficient legal channels for immigrants to come into the country, and as long as those existing channels remain slow and bureaucratic, we will continue to see crimes against humanity like those shown in this New York Times feature - examples of human trafficking and slavery into which women and children fall as they try to achieve the American dream.
The State of Courts - Chief Justice Roberts provided his annual report on the state of the federal courts, which showed bankruptcy filings rose by 30%, filings concerning criminal charges in immigration cases jumped by 27% (the cases are concentrated in the Southwest). "Criminal charges" could mean criminal activity, or they could mean cases like the one that occurred in Iowa, where many undocumenteds with no IDs or social security numbers unkowingly signed guilty pleas for identity theft. In the meantime, prosecution of sex offense cases grew by only 9%, and the number of drug cases actually dropped by 7%. Chief Justice Roberts explained, "Those reductions occurred when investigative agencies shifted their focus from drugs to terrorism and sex offenses."
Hate Crimes - Two Hispanic youths assaulted a 28 year-old Hispanic woman in San Francisco. The woman is a lesbian who lived with her partner near the boys, the crime has been qualified as a hate crime. This horrific crime is made more appalling by the fact that it occurs at a time when Hispanics are crying out in protest against the hate crimes that resulted in the murders of several Latino immigrants and as communities are fighting for their right to be free of fear of having hate crimes perpetrated. How can we demand certain behavior of other communities if we don't begin with our own?
Speaking of Border Security - A couple, their children, and family of 7 were killed en route from Dallas, TX to Mexico. As they were about to cross the border in Texas, they drove on a bridge half of which had collapsed during rain storms. There were no road blocks, not a single sign warning of the end of the bridge, so as the family drove during the night they fell over the edge of the bridge into a river, only one grandmother survived.
Al Franken to the Senate - It is expected that Al Franken will be declared the winner today in his race against Norm Coleman. This is good news for immigration reform, click here to see Sen.-elect Franken's position on CIR. UPDATE: Franken declared winner.