Monday, December 1, 2008

Janet Napolitano and Obama's Immigration Policy

The first concrete indication of President-elect Barack Obama's thinking on immigration policy came with today's formal announcement that he will nominate Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a former federal prosecutor, for Secretary for Homeland Security. Consistent with the rest, the choices suggest not much change and not much hope. (Bush's Secretary of Defense? Hillary Invade-Iraq-Bomb-Iran Clinton as Secretary of State??? These are the two best qualified people in the entire United States for these positions?)

An excellent review of Napolitano's immigration record by Daniel González and Sean Holstege appeared a few days ago in the Arizona Republic. Napolitano seems happy to militarize the border; she has called for the national guard and more spending on border infrastructures, on the one hand.

But Napolitano also held back, Gonz├ílez and Holstege write, “$1.6 million in state funding from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to blunt his efforts to arrest illegal immigrants through crime sweeps that critics said were terrorizing immigrant communities and violating civil rights.” In other words, Napolitano is no brown shirt. She, along with candidate Obama, also opposed state legislation that would deny drivers' licenses to residents without legal documentation of residency.

The current game plan for the Obama administration's immigration policy, as indicated on the webpages for the campaign and the 21 page report by the Center for American Policy, the Democrats' think tank while waiting for regime change that Obama has relied on for many of his advisors and positions, seems fairly close to the two immigration bills twice rejected in 2007.

The report hightlights neo-liberal goals of employment and free trade, not human rights or civil rights, and overall echoes S. 1348 and S. 1639. (For detailed analysis of the respective bills' contents and the voting on these, click on tags below.)

Obama's popularity may allow him to overcome the populist, nativist appeals of CNN anchor Lou Dobbs and other rightwing talk radio jocks to push through an immigration bill. If this happens, it could well harm immigrants, and citizens without the lawyers to prove their status, as did the Clinton Adminstration's 1996 reforms.

Any future bill will include this mix of enforcement with civil rights protections, and toward that end, here are three no-brainers:

1) End mandatory criminal deportation. This policy results in longtime residents with minor criminal records being removed to countries they may not have even visited since they were infants.

2) End “early release on condition of deportation” policies in state prisons. This has been implemented in such a manner as to falsely classify as aliens people who are US citizens and it has resulted in the extended and heightened sentencing above what inmates would receive without the alien designation.

3) Require the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office of Immigration Review to maintain and periodically release statistics on the legal claims for residence made by those apprehended. In particular, every claim of US citizenship should be noted. At present there are no government records with this information.

More on each forthcoming.

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