Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reflections on Immigration

After such a stunning aria it is best to have a moment to reflect upon the words, the pristine sound that has come from such a powerful performer. The same should be applied to the Immigration discussion. Let us reflect, as my two previous posts have explained, the House of Representatives back in December passed a bill that dealt with border security on the issue of immigration. The House bill (HR 4437) would treat anyone in the country without a valid visa as a felon and severely punish those caught helping them. It has neither guest worker provisions nor a path to citizenship. The Senate bill is the direct opposite and includes some amendments. On May 25, the Senate voted, 51-47, to limit the number of guest workers who could stay in the country permanently. The amendment, by Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., would limit the number of prospective immigrants who could get employment-based green cards to 650,000 each fiscal year. The total would include spouses and children. The underlying bill would have capped the green cards issued to those immigrants at 450,000, but it did not include their spouses and children. Another amendment, by John Ensign, R-Nev., would bar illegal immigrants from collecting tax refunds or filing claims for the earned income tax credit or other benefits for tax years prior to 2006. It was adopted, 50-47, on May 25.

All that comity after such a rocky start. The prospects for a bill nearly crashed in April over procedural differences and were revived only after Bush brought a bipartisan group to the White House for a pep talk and followed up with a prime-time nationally televised address calling for Congress to act. Now, some senators are saying Bush needs to step even further into the fray. “The time has come for very active participation by the president,” said Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who managed the bill on the floor. “The American people are watching to see if Congress can govern, and I believe the president will put a very heavy shoulder to the wheel. . . . I predict success.” House GOP critics of the Senate bill provided a reminder of why finding a compromise will be so difficult. “It’s hard to justify legislation that would reward millions of lawbreakers, attract more illegal immigrants and depress American workers’ wages,” said Lamar Smith, R-Texas, an influential member of the House Judiciary Committee. “The Senate bill may be good for other countries and foreign workers, but it’s not good for America and American workers.” Really? In my first post on immigration, I mentioned that I had my goggles on snugly. I certainly hope so, for I am about to crash against the wave.

Let us be clear, we need to be tough on illegal immigration, but we need to be tough on the causes of illegal immigration.

Instead of using tired soldiers already strained from service overseas to watch our borders the government should see that a big portion of congressional monies given to the Department of Homeland Security is marked for the hiring of more Border Patrol Officers (estimate at least 160,000) as well a smaller portion for technology. I do not mean special laser gadgets or sensors; walkie-talkies that work across long distances will do just fine. More people on the border, covering the large expanses of desert, will be both a psychological deterrent and emotional boost for American citizens worrying about border security. Businesses need to be held more accountable by the government. My post yesterday indicated loopholes and a certain mentality that has existed for many years between the government and businesses that employ illegals as well as between illegals and business. Labor that is affordable to business often has meant cheap. It is time that cheap means responsible too. Finally, and this will upset some people who might fall upon this blog, but if America is be honest about immigration we need to look at the whole picture. The majority of illegal immigrants come from the Hispanic world, Mexico, to be exact. The US government should work more closely with the Mexican government and find economic ways to elevate the level of poverty, low-wages, and unemployment in northern Mexican states and urban cities that are often the very causes for such illegal activity. A strong Mexican economy benefits the United States. This was the rationale behind NAFTA. The Bush Administration has a unique opportunity, especially with President Bush’s prior experience as a governor of border state, to assist Mexico. As of this moment, a guest worker program, no matter duration is the best option. Massive deportation is as unpractical as it is soundly un-American. What has been the central pillar of our American ideals, a guiding tenant preached under the Capital dome; our chapel to democracy has been compromise. Over the years the compromises made have defined who we are as a people—good and bad—but the silver lining through two-hundred sixty plus years has been most distinguishable, we have always become a stronger people. Let us hope our elected officials remember their history.

Monday, May 29, 2006

An Aria on Immigration

As with any good opera we shall hear a stunning aria. The same can be said regarding our current Immigration discussion. The central question one needs to ask regarding the immigration discussion is who carries the burden?

More than 10 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, and 1,400 more arrive every day. Once concentrated in a few big states like Texas and California, they are rapidly moving into non-traditional areas such as the Midwest and South. Willing to work for low wages, the migrants are creating a backlash among some residents of the new states, which have seen a nearly tenfold increase in illegal immigration since 1990. While illegal immigrants only make up about 5 percent of the U.S. work force, critics of the nation's immigration policies say illegal immigrants take Americans' jobs, threaten national security and even change the nation's culture by refusing to assimilate. But immigrants' advocates say illegal migrants fill the jobs Americans refuse to take and generally boost the economy. Proposals to deal with illegal immigration include the Real ID bill, which would block states from issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, and “guest worker” programs granting temporary legal status to illegal workers.

Let us talk about enforcement (security) and business. A central fact of immigration enforcement, though, is that business must be a willing participant and not an impediment. By screening its job applicants, even with the help of government databases, business becomes part of the enforcement mechanism. In fact, the system would become largely self-enforcing. Without corporate cooperation, the government could resort to raids and severe penalties, but it would face long odds. The key to gaining that cooperation, and by extension any real success in controlling illegal immigration, is in the many details that members of Congress are trying to negotiate into an overall immigration bill. What exactly would business have to do? How strict would enforcement be? To what extent would business be liable for errors? How much would the government, and government-sponsored technology, be able to help separate legal from illegal job applicants and discover well-forged work documents?

Congress does not have an encouraging history in this area. Enforcement provisions of the 1986 immigration law — the last major change in policy — were weakly worded and poorly enforced. In fact, studies by both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) have found that workplace enforcement over the past decade has been almost non-existent. When Congress has had an opportunity to strengthen the law, it hasn’t. Instead, lawmakers have intervened to in effect shield companies from aggressive enforcement by immigration authorities, with the argument that immigration raids have run off workers and hurt local economies.

The House and Senate disagree about how the system should work and whether businesses should receive inducements to cooperate. Business leaders say they would be willing to go along with the verification system proposed by the Senate, but not without something in return. They want assurances that they would continue to have access to large supplies of low-wage workers, through the kind of guest worker program that President Bush has proposed. House Republicans say business is in no position to make demands, however. They are standing by their enforcement-only approach, which would require businesses to verify the legality not only of new workers but also of those already on the payroll. The House would not authorize a guest worker program. “All you need to do is have a couple well-publicized raids, where an employer has a $12.5 million dollar fine, and you will see a lot less” hiring of illegal immigrants, said Republican F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the House measure. Some business lobbyists say that unless Congress provides a secure verification system and guest workers, they will be content to let the immigration legislation die this year and try again after the elections. That is partly false bravado. A number of states have enacted their own workplace enforcement laws, and big companies will have to contend with a patchwork of differing statutes if Congress doesn’t pass an overriding federal law soon.

All this points to an unworkable system. “We can write all the laws we want,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip. “But you need to have an administration that says we will now enforce those laws. And there has been a dramatic decline in enforcement with this administration.” Well, not quite. Even when Congress has tried to get tough with workplace enforcement, business has managed to get its way. The 1986 law requires employers to complete a government document known as Form I-9, on which they verify that they have looked at and feel confident in workers’ documents showing that they have the right to employment in the United States. In 1997 the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform found that fake documents make it easy for illegal immigrants to find work. A number of GAO reports have underscored the widespread fraud. Even jobs that could pose security risks, such as those at airports, nuclear plants or military bases, have been obtained by illegal workers, according to a 2004 GAO report. Sporadic evidence and congressional testimony show that some companies just turn a blind eye to document fraud. Each year, the IRS receives tens of thousands of W-2 wage statements with inaccurate or completely bogus Social Security numbers.
This all leads to a bigger question and the topic of this post. Who carries the burden? From all the evidence provided and all the reading an informed individual must admit that it is the immigrants, after all, who carry the burden. Not businesses that use them for cheap labor or Congress that use them for photo opportunities and campaign platforms and certainly not pundits who have received their thirty-seconds of fame at an immigrant’s expense. The next question that will be discussed tomorrow is what is practical and smart? The answers are not necessarily simplistic but certainly better than the alternatives being voiced.

Much of my sourcing came from:

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Realizing the ocean of opinion, emotion, and true faith in beliefs that for this particular issue amount to nothing short of ideology I wade into the Immigration discussion with my goggles snug over my eyes.

Yes, in a series of posts on the subject, I have decided to hit, head-on, the waves of rhetoric of this discussion, and lets be honest, that what this should be--a discussion of ideas. Unfortunately it has not become so.

Similar to acts in an opera this is becoming just as tragic. First, the pundits talked, the immigrants and their supporters marched, then the "minute-men" marched, and Congress realizing they had little to show of accomplishment before they recessed for the summer, which this being the year 2006, means elections in November, where almost all of them are up for reelection, decided to act. The president attempting, in a rare, display of pragmatism; split the difference by addressing the nation, proposing a guest-worker program--path to citizenship--and the use of National Guard troops on the border. This has led to the second act, opening with the House of Representatives passing a bill that would almost require the deportation of every illegal immigrant in the nation. Granted the House did not address the issue of comprehensive immigration like the president had, but with so many constituants back home smelling blood, they had to throw some kind of red meat at the masses. Now the United States Senate took up the issue of immigration, attempting to follow the intent of the president's speech, while calming their siblings in the other chamber. A vote of 62-36 favoring an overhall of immigration laws, passed this past Thursday. The Senate bill (S 2611) deals with four major issues in the immigration debate: border security, interior enforcement, guest workers and the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country. It differs markedly from the bill (HR 4437) the House passed in December, which included no provisions on guest workers or legalization of those who are already in the United States. The response of the siblings across the hall? Wails of indignation. As one senior Represenative said, "according to what's going on now, in calling it a pathway to citizenship or earned legalization, is not honest because it is amnesty." This from Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who is running for reelection in November. For a brief summary of the Senate bill:

Both chambers now see the Senate bill (S 2611) as DUA, dead upon arrival, to the conference room where both bills are to be reconciled. Back in the House, Rep. Mike Pence is editing his own version of an immigration bill that would not offer any "amnesty" and leave the operating of any guest-worker program to the private sector. To see the full context of the speech that he gave at the Heritage Foundation where he introduced his ideas on immigration reform, please go to:

Upon reading his remarks and his proposed bill I will not be cynical in this post. My intent for this blog is to be non-partisan and apolitical. However, let me bend my own rule a bit to make this one comment. I wonder what Mr. Pence's dead Irish immigrant forebearers are thinking of him now?

The one question that no one has asked, except my wife, is this: why? Why this issue and more importantly why now when we have so many more important issues to discuss like health care, the national debt, our various trade deficits, Iran and, of course, Iraq?

Since we are not discussing the above issues, rather we are focusing on having a dicussion on Immigration let us turn our attention to an important question hardly asked, but essential to this discussion: Who Carries The Burden?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Da Vinci Code

I have decided to post something lite for today. Talking to our neighbors last week my wife and I decided to spend a few hours over Memorial Day weekend and see the Da Vinci Code.

I had read the book recently, probably the last person in this country, as had our neighbor's spouse. My wife and our neighbor had not, so after agreeing on a time and mode of transportation--we walked--the four of us saw the movie.

This blog will not be a critique. The web is full of them, posts, editorials, live webcasts, etc. on this subject. Rather, I am going to say two things.

The first of which is that the screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman did an excellent job! If one is to believe what has been in the news months before its release having a screenwriter not consult the author of the book that the film is based on is heresay, on the level that this particular book postulates. With that said, the writing and thus the film, follow the book religiously. How flashbacks, memories, internal conversations characters have with themselves, to an impressive ghost-like transformation of London from 2006 back to the nineteenth-century smoothly jump from page to screen is truly remarkable. Word of advice to J.K. Rowling--hire this guy to transform your 900+ book five to the silver screen. Heavy subject matter was dealt with professionally, least we say reverently, leaving the viewer the opportunity to be entertained by the tale. And folks that is what it is.

Second, the issues addressed in the book and likewise on screen deal not with religiousity or theology, but rather the lesson, if there is one to be taught, about belief. The main character Robert Langdon mentions this to his counterpart at the very end of the film. For those viewers out there who have strong beliefs, this movie will not change anything. For those viewers who read the book and got caught up with the hysteria, there was just enough time between initial book publication and blockbuster release for logic to reasert itself. The movie will not change that either. What the movie will do that is productive and that the hyseria did not is force an inner dialogue within oneself from which stems individual faith.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Reflective Memorial Day

On the eve of the Memorial Day weekend I am in a reflective mood. Like most holiday's it has become over commercialized. On the calendar, most people look forward to it because of the vacation implications and the time it affords one to spend with friends and family. Citizen's less civic minded see a four day weekend as two opportunities: an extra day off of work and a extra day to eat and drink more than the previous year. In this respect, Memorial Day has become no different than Thanksgiving or to sound a bit irreverent, Christmas.

The day was started to honor those who fought to preserve the Union back in 1861 when thirteen southern states seceded after the election of Abraham Lincoln. Subsequent generations have forgotten this point ceding it to a historical footnote and when Veteran's Day became a national holiday, the meaning and significance of both blurred into one holiday "where we honor those in uniform" and wave the American flag.

In the present context of this nation engaged in a global war I find it particularly poignant to remember. I do not wish to discuss foreign policy but rather would like to issue a request. This weekend after ones journey has safely and successfully been completed, the first drink consumed and small talk begun, take a silent moment to reflect sometime this weekend. To those of us in geographic locations with warm temperatures think about those Civil War soldiers in wool uniforms, to those with rain this weekend think of European trenches and the jungles of Asia, to those in cold temperatures, our grandfather's frostbite in the Ardennes forest and at the Chosen Reservoir. Also, those of us where the weather is unpredictable regardless of state of the art satellite meteorology, think to our men and women overseas sweating under the oppressing day time sun while shivering at night. Finally, take a moment to reflect upon those who have died.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Human Stain

This week, Lakhdar Brahimi, a UN official, went to Sudan to try to persuade the government in Khartoum to let a UN peacekeeping force into its western Darfur region. Violence has persisted there since a peace deal between the main rebel group and the government was signed three weeks ago.

It is sad that such news once more has been heard, read, digested by the concerned world and forgotten. There is ambivalence to be sure about Sudan not only geographically speaking for many Americans but also psychologically and financially. A relative of mine bluntly informed me a couple of years ago (unfortunately, Sudan has been in the news for almost a decade) when we were discussing Sudan, the trouble in Darfur, and the massive humanitarian aid issue throughout the country that he did not care. My face must have registered my initial shock and confusion and he explained that he was more concerned with domestic issues and could not understand a problem overseas when the problems in this country were not being addressed first. I sympathized with him, took a sip of my beer and we moved onto another topic. Rest assured I was not weak nor was I a coward. I have for the better part of four years been stressing the need for action, ANY action to be taken in Sudan. This particular relative had heard my comments before and so I decided to spare him a rebuttal.

The very basic issues that form the core of the problems facing the people of Sudan, the refugees of Darfur, and the citizens of Sudanese border nations should not be brushed aside. Water IS important. Food IS important. Shelter AND protection against the hot African sun and the rape gangs and militia ARE important. Diplomacy can be a force for good and it can also be used for unsavory purposes--stalling decisions, gaining additional time for military preparation, etc. The diplomacy that has occurred at the United Nations, including the varying degrees of engagement between the Warring factions within the country that has produced muddled language praised in the International press, but that does not do anything for the Sudanese people, that very language is supposed to protect. Hence, the continued violence. A peace deal is only effective if it can be enforced. The African peace keeping force has shown that its size and ambiguity of its mission perimeters can not be the enforcing instrument that powerful countries like America and the EU had hoped.

Intervention from both the EU and the United States is needed! I can not stress this enough. A problem initially thought of and equally dismissed as an "African" problem has become a "humanity" issue. Our actions in Sudan will long be remembered on the scale of our actions after World War Two with the discovery of the Holocaust. The longer we wait the greater the stain upon those who were in positions of power and influence to act as well as those of us who cared.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Gamble Worth Making

The world with all of its troubles seems to be moving towards conflict with Iran. A problem, created from issues, of both countries choosing, mind you, but as the diplomat's talk the rest of the world waits with fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong. In brief, Iran wants nuclear power. Most of the world, the US, in particular, is categorically against it. Iran in recent months has raised the level of rhetoric and continued its scientific attempts. After some reading and thoughtful analysis I wish to offer President Bush a suggestion.

Meet Iran's hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Look him in the eyes and into his soul (It worked with Mr. Putin). Accept his letter as an olive branch.

You, sir, have made your reputation based on gambles. Your first run for Texas governor, the White House (when your own father expressed hope that your brother, Jeb, would carry on the political tradition) and as president you have vacationed and campaigned in varying degrees throughout 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005 against the advice of your staff, newspaper columnists, and presidential historians.

This is a gamble. The stakes, as with anything in politics, particularly international politics, are high. The rewards are equally large. First, you will have the opportunity to meet a man and get a "gut" reaction, something your morning intelligence briefings can never come close to. Second, from an ideological (political and religious) point of view, after this meeting, whatever is agreed upon will not be accepted by the Radical clerics in Iran (the real rulers of the country) which will give you two strategic options. 1. Take a tactical retreat from the likely criticism of the right-wing of your party and 2. Turn the rebuff into propaganda points not only in the US but in every moderate Muslim country in the world fighting against radical (fundamentalist) Islam. Basically, you can say, "we tried for peace, but they did not want it."

Since any such meeting would be a nightmare to agree upon if held in the US or in Iran, use a page out of President Reagan's playbook with the old Soviet Union. Meet somewhere neutral. President Reagan did not travel to Moscow to meet with President Gorbachev, rather the two met in Reykjavik. In this case, neutral, means also symbolic, thus: Istanbul, Turkey. In one swift stroke you assist in that country's continued bid for EU membership (Brussels can not look down on such a "player" now) appease the moderates AND the radicals in that country, tip your hat to Iran's religious symbolism and sensibilities, while preserve a psychological element that such a meeting is still occurring in the "west" and not say in Jordan or Egypt (not to say both those countries would not be good too).

Of course, the ultimate reward from such a gamble, Mr. President is that upon meeting Mr. Ahmadinejad you can reach an agreement, resolve the brewing conflict, and move onto other issues, foreign and domestic.


Lloyd Bentsen, a former congressman, senator, vice presidential candidate and treasury secretary, died Tuesday at his home in Houston, Texas, his family announced. He was 85.

Secretary Bentsen was an expert on such bread-and-butter issues as tax legislation, interest rates and health care. After retiring from the Senate in 1993, Bentsen joined President Clinton's Cabinet as treasury secretary. He held the job for two years, during which he advocated for the North American Free Trade Agreement, cutting capital gains taxes and making the country more competitive in the international marketplace.

Politic's is a tough profession. Secretary Bentsen was considered by friend and opponent alike as a decent man.

A friend of mine who was intimately involved with Democratic politics throughout much of the last thirty years, a former Congressman, spoke nicely of him and of the legacy Bentsen left. I wonder about that word, its implications for our current politicians, as well as an electorate that is increasingly more partisan and bitter.

emersondarcy is back

Call it a sabbatical. I do not wish to think of it as laziness nor do I wish to explain my lapse of posting for over a month an extended holiday.

After several re-tooling sessions and the aid of a friend I am back to blogging. My confidence, though never really lacking, is nonetheless, restored, and I look to the future with hope that many months from now a visitor or a loyal reader will stop on this post in my archive and smile.