Last Build Date: Sun, 12 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600Copyright: Copyright 2009
Sun, 12 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600
It wasn't long ago that Mexican government was quick to protest whenever the United States fortified its southern border. Whether it was building a fence or talking about deploying the National Guard, the memory of U.S. troops marching into Mexico City during the Mexican War more than 150 years ago would rush back and the Mexicans would say: "No mas."
Today, thanks to people like Garza -- and, more so, Calderon -- it's a new world in Old Mexico.
"One of the things that I'm proudest of is that we now have a far more direct, open and honest dialogue," Garza told me recently. "We've always gotten along. But now, more than any other time, we truly need each other. And, to me, that's the basis of an enduring partnership -- both respect and need."
One thing that Calderon needs is -- hold on -- enhanced security on the border. That not only helps block drugs and illegal immigrants from getting into the United States, but also guns and drug money from entering Mexico.
The changing paradigm caught the attention of Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who mentioned it during a recent visit to the Rio Grande Valley. "Out of necessity, they (the Mexicans) want to work with us," Cuellar told reporters after a ceremony marking additional funding for border enforcement.
I recently visited the Texas-Mexican border, and I can tell you that the locals on both sides of the line resent the fence. They're not pleased that the Obama administration plans to complete the remaining 60 miles of the security barrier approved by Congress.
But in Mexico City, the ice is melting. Suddenly, Mexican officials agree that a porous border is a security threat and see the mutual benefit in both countries scrutinizing who's crossing the border -- in either direction.
"From the Mexican perspective," Garza said, "I think now more than ever they understand -- but perhaps when the (immigration) debate was going on, they didn't appreciate how important it is that we have a safe and secure border."
As they say in Texas, that's something you can hang your hat on. And, to the degree that Garza helped bring about that change by driving that point home to the Mexicans, he deserves a share of the credit. A former Texas secretary of state and member of the Texas Railroad Commission, Garza is a loyal and longtime "FOW" (Friend of George W. Bush) and a star in GOP politics.
And yet, one thing that helped him navigate Mexico's often-choppy diplomatic waters is that he grew up in the border city of Brownsville, Texas.
"I think we're all the sum of our lives, in terms of the experiences and the perspective that we bring to bear," he said. "And mine obviously were uniquely border."
Now, with President Obama set to arrive in Mexico, Garza hopes the relationship between the two countries can become stronger.
Obama is "an extraordinarily intelligent man with a nuanced view of the world," Garza said. "And I think that will serve him well ... right here in our hemisphere."
One thing that could help Obama be warmly received in Mexico is a reported decision by his administration to push immigration reform this year.
This time, Garza will watch that fight from Texas -- and Mexico. He'll be taking up dual residences. His wife, Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala -- they met in Mexico -- is one of the world's wealthiest women. Garza can expect to be lobbied hard by Republicans to run for Texas governor or the U.S. Senate. But, he insists, he is done with politics. Instead, he wants to write, speak, and consult with companies eager to do business in Mexico and Latin America.
You could say Tony Garza has come home. But, it's more accurate to say he never left. As the line goes, home is where the heart is. And this is one man whose heart is in two places.
Wed, 08 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz told CBS News that Americans have become desensitized and immune to massacres because -- after Columbine, Virginia Tech and other tragedies -- we pretty much know what the story is about.
Not really. The truth is, we have only the foggiest idea what this story is about. Police are still trying to piece together a motive.
Of course, the fog didn't prevent people from speculating. Predictably, some were quick to make this story about gun control. And a day after the Binghamton shooting, three Pittsburgh police officers were slain by a man reportedly afraid of a potential gun ban.
But in Binghamton, however, the issue may not be about gun control. There was no unregistered assault weapon used, as has often been the case in other such shootings. Instead, the assailant had two registered handguns along with a hunting knife. Both firearms were listed on a gun permit obtained more than 10 years ago, according to Police Chief Joseph Zikuski.
Since the gunman had written a letter to a New York television station alleging harassment by police, others see this as a story about paranoia and mental illness. That may be true, but there seems to be more here than a mental breakdown.
Meanwhile, perhaps because I'm often exposed to anti-immigrant rhetoric, I naturally assumed that this was yet another "hate crime" aimed at foreigners, similar to any number of previous incidents that we've witnessed in recent years. I also heard from immigration activists who assumed the same thing.
Interestingly, at the other end of the spectrum, I also heard from immigration restrictionists who seemed to be preparing to argue that this was yet another act of violence by a crime-prone Latino immigrant, akin to the stories you hear whenever people rail against so-called sanctuary cities where local police are barred from enforcing immigration law.
Then the details surfaced. The attack didn't fit the definition of a hate crime since it doesn't seem to have been racially motivated. What's more, the assailant wasn't a nativist, but an immigrant himself. And yet, contrary to the assumptions of many Latinophobes, he hadn't come to the United States from Latin America but from Asia.
He was identified as 41-year-old Jiverly Wong, an immigrant from Vietnam who was ethnically Chinese. His family said he was angry at losing a job and not being able to find another, and that he complained about his "bad luck." They also said that Wong felt people looked down on him because of his poor English skills.
These revelations could not have been easy for either camp to swallow. I often hear nativists on the right hold up Asian-Americans as a "model minority" because they're so eager to assimilate. And obviously, those on the left had little interest in a story where the villain was an immigrant. So, as quickly as the chatter started, it tapered off.
Agendas aside, there is a lot to learn from this unfortunate episode, and some it does have to do with immigration. I've heard sociologists say that for all America offers immigrants, it also does them a grave injustice by marginalizing them and not providing enough support systems to ease the alienation that often comes with giving up your country for another.
I disagree. One of the things that make this country great is that it keeps handholding to a minimum. Immigrants sink or swim, and that's not all bad. Living in this country, they are going to learn about excuses and entitlements soon enough. Let's not snuff out the courage, initiative and self-reliance that immigrants bring with them. Some will sink. But most will swim.
Sun, 05 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Obama and Biden should get their stories straight. Then again, there is similar confusion at the Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with protecting the nation's borders.
On the one hand, Homeland Security officials recently told The Washington Post that Secretary Janet Napolitano has put the brakes on a series of planned immigration raids pending a department review of the policy. The officials said that in the event the raids resume, Napolitano has asked agents to be more careful in selecting targets and more conscious of the timing of these sweeps. One senior official said the temporary freeze signaled what will be a formal change in policy: ICE agents will be encouraged to crack down on employers and businesses instead of simply arresting low-level workers.
It is likely that this is all coming from the fallout over the administration's first worksite raid in Bellingham, Wash., several weeks ago. Activists called the action inconsistent with Obama's condemnation of such operations during the campaign. But, in truth, it was compatible with what Obama has said at other times about upholding the law.
Grass-roots immigrant activists may not be satisfied with this moratorium on raids. They tell me that they assume more raids are coming. In fact, they're already planning a new round of immigrant-rights marches for May 1 to protest the Obama administration's immigration policies.
Yet some in Congress fear that Napolitano's temporary freeze could become permanent and the raids will be discontinued. They defend these sweeps as an essential tool for preserving jobs for Americans in the midst of a recession.
Talk about being out of touch. Members of Congress are kidding themselves if they think that most Americans -- recession or no recession -- are going to be fighting immigrants over the chance to scrape the bottom of the barrel by doing jobs that are dirty, dangerous or demeaning.
Meanwhile, Mexican officials in the country's border states are alarmed that, as a result of the raids and other enforcement measures, many of their people have already been deported from the United States. Recently, Mexican officials at the local and state level have begun complaining to their American counterparts that they don't have the infrastructure or jobs to accommodate the immigrants who are returning.
How pathetic. Mexico is never going to be a player on the world stage as long as it treats its own people as a threat to the nation's economy instead of what they are: an economic engine.
Congress needs to give Napolitano time to work out a strategy on the raids. Scrutinizing employers is an important step in the right direction. This is one of the things that anger the immigration activists: Workers are scapegoats while their bosses get away scot-free. Everyone needs to be held accountable.
For now, there's tremendous confusion about what is going to happen, and whether workplace raids will emerge as an important part of the Obama immigration policy. I think they will be in the mix. Otherwise, why would Napolitano go to the trouble of developing a new policy if she didn't plan to implement it? And, if the raids do start up again, you can bet that it won't just be employers who are targeted. Illegal workers will once again be hauled off by the busload.
I'm fine with that. But civil libertarians and immigration activists won't be. Neither will many in the Latino community, which threw two-thirds of its support to Obama in 2008. It won't soften the blow that employers are also being held accountable. People will still be deported, and families will still be torn apart. That's what really has the activists up in arms. And if it all happens again under the Obama administration, the president's honeymoon with Latinos will be over.
I'm also fine with that.
Wed, 01 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0600
But then there is Obama the protectionist who, during a primary election debate last year with Hillary Clinton, tried to sweet talk displaced workers and organized labor. In that exchange, Obama demanded that the United States take steps to discourage outsourcing of jobs. Obama said that the government should "stop providing tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States of America."
How you see all this -- either a shameful flip-flop or a commendable evolution -- depends on where you stand on the Obama presidency.
I am willing to give the chief executive the benefit of the doubt and go with the latter. And, as such, I like the new Obama much better than the old one. I just hope he doesn't regress. With rising unemployment, and many Americans either out of work or worried about losing their jobs, now is the perfect time for Obama to show real leadership by telling U.S. workers the hard truth about globalization -- about how it is here to stay, even if many jobs aren't.
More often, politicians take the easy way out and try to coddle the American laborer with protectionist rhetoric while offering up countries such as China and India as convenient scapegoats. So what if Americans are in no mood to compete with foreign workers or even with one another. The contest has been long under way, whether we like it or not. We can lace up our sneakers, or we can forfeit the race.
No matter what candidate Obama said during the campaign, I think President Obama understands that basic principle. He surely understands now that American workers can't survive in the international job market as long as they're in a defensive position demanding that the government cordon them off from the rest of the world. That said, hopefully, we've heard the last echo of protectionism from this administration.
Instead, we could use more of the accountability we saw this week in how the Obama administration handled the fate of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner. In an extraordinary but easily justifiable move, it forced Wagoner's resignation as part of the bailout plan for the ailing automaker. In a statement posted on the GM Web site, Wagoner acknowledged that Obama administration officials had asked that he "step aside" as CEO and that he complied.
The government has loaned GM a staggering $13.4 billion, and it plans to dish out billions more. Yet, the automaker hasn't improved. The Obama administration this week gave GM -- and Chrysler -- failing grades for their efforts to turn themselves around and threatened extensive overhauls of both companies.
Don't feel bad for Wagoner, who still could walk away with a retirement package worth more than $20 million, although some officials are trying to block that compensation. If Wagoner ends up with the money, you can expect more public outrage from American taxpayers. What happened to reserving the rewards for those who succeed?
Meanwhile, what some Americans are most worried about is the government taking the unusual step of pushing out the CEO of a private company. But GM stopped being purely private when it accepted billions in bailout money. With taxpayer funding comes the strings. You can't have one without the other.
That's another important message that Americans need to hear right about now. And who better to convey it than the president of the United States?
Sun, 29 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600The Mexican tourism industry, which usually takes in more than $12 billion annually, is suffering. The spring break crowd has been light this year at coastal resorts, with Americans cautiously avoiding even the safe parts of Mexico due to the violence on the border. The timing couldn't be worse. Mexico is also experiencing declines in other sources of foreign income: exports, oil revenue, and remittances from Mexicans living in the United States. As the Mexican economy flounders, expect more folks to enter the drug trade. The drug war has caught Washington's attention. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon to show support for his war against drug traffickers. This week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are due to attend an arms trafficking conference in Mexico. And in a couple of weeks, President Obama will meet with Calderon to discuss how the United States can help defeat the cartels. The White House has also released a plan to send 500 more agents to the U.S.-Mexico border. It intends to crack down on the large quantities of guns and ammunition being smuggled from the United States into Mexico. Tapping into $700 million of funds approved by Congress to aid Mexico under the Merida Initiative, the Obama administration said it would provide five helicopters for the Mexican army and air force, and a surveillance aircraft for the Mexican navy. That's a good start. But the administration could also deploy the National Guard to help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border to keep drugs from coming in and guns from going out. It could even -- as a U.S. naval commander told me recently -- authorize U.S. special forces to go beyond training the Mexican military and engage in combat operations if Calderon requested it. If only the American people were taking this as seriously. We should stop using illicit drugs and then romanticizing the drug lords who supply them. At the moment, Mexican officials are fuming over the fact that Forbes magazine listed Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the reputed head of the Sinaloa cartel, as the 701st richest person in the world. Forbes claims that Guzman is worth about $1 billion -- at best a "guestimate," since drug lords aren't known for their bookkeeping. Calderon criticized the U.S. media for "not only attacking and lying about the situation in Mexico, but are also praising criminals." Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora blasted Forbes for "comparing the deplorable activity of a criminal wanted in Mexico and abroad with that of honest businessmen." Americans are not innocent bystanders in this crisis. "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," Clinton said Wednesday on her way to meeting Calderon. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians." Calderon is fighting a brave and lonely battle against long odds. And contrary to the impression one might get from the U.S. media, there is some evidence that he is winning. Law enforcement agencies have made more than 20,000 arrests. They've cut into the profit margins of the cartels by seizing tons of drugs and cash. The criminals must be feeling the pinch. Why else would the drug lords be terrorizing the Mexican population with one hand and bribing it with the other -- all in an attempt to undermine support for the government? As with all Mexican presidents, Calderon can only serve one six-year term. So the political strategy of the cartels seems to be to deal the president's party a crushing blow in the July midterm elections in the hopes that a divided Congress will curtail Calderon's crime-fighting for the rest of his term. Good luck with that. Those of us who know Calderon -- and I have since we were graduate students together a decade ago -- understand that, no mat[...]
Wed, 25 Mar 2009 00:10:00 -0600
Obama echoed that theme before a crowd of about 1,300 people who recently gathered for a town hall session in Southern California. When asked about immigration, the president said the United States has to beef up its border enforcement but also give undocumented immigrants a path to earned legalization. Obama even argued that legalizing such immigrants helps U.S. workers by eliminating a two-tiered system where employers can exploit those without papers and in the process lower wages for everyone.
I'm glad to hear that Obama is planning to address the immigration issue sooner rather than later. I'm just a little surprised. Immigration isn't an issue that Obama has talked much about since the election. Just a few months ago, it looked to many observers as if he would likely put off immigration reform until 2011, or maybe until a second term.
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Obama has been trying to fix everything else -- from the economy to education to health care. Why not also try to do something that some political observers say is next to impossible? Fix the immigration system.
Congress has struck out on that before. From 2005 to 2008, it took several swings at the immigration issue -- with no luck. Not that we didn't learn a lot in the process about why Congress can't seem to solve this problem. We learned plenty.
We learned that business interests would use their clout to force lawmakers to import guest workers for jobs that Americans wouldn't do, but that organized labor would consider that concept a deal-killer. We learned that immigrant advocacy groups wanted an unconditional path to legalization for the undocumented, but that law and order conservatives would object to what they call amnesty. Although we need a new round of tougher and easier-to-enforce employer sanctions, it seems only right that they be accompanied by a tamper-proof identification card so employers know who is legally eligible to work. Conservatives fought the sanctions while liberals fought the ID card. In the end, we were back at square one.
It didn't help that congressional leaders on both sides of the issue asked for too much and poisoned the debate with hyperbolic rhetoric. Some conservatives flirted with nativism and wound up trying to keep out both legal and illegal immigrants. Some liberals couldn't seem to get behind necessary and legally permissible enforcement measures, which advanced the perception that they favored an open border.
As evidence of the latter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still won't condone the raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She has been telling groups -- most recently, the U.S.-Mexico Border Issues Conference -- that these operations are "not the American way" because they sometimes separate families.
Correction. Enforcing the law is the American way. Pelosi struck a more inspiring note when she told attendees: "Every person who comes here, and certainly for the Hispanic community, when they come here, they make America more American."
If Americans are really going to take another stab at immigration reform, we need more talk like that. We also need more concessions from both sides and leaders who will settle for half a loaf rather than go for it all and wind up fighting for crumbs.
President Obama deserves credit for raising the immigration issue. But he doesn't seem the type of leader to compromise on matters he considers important. That's too bad because the key to this debate is compromise.
Sun, 15 Mar 2009 00:25:00 -0600The re-enactment was probably a welcome diversion. Most days, in Columbus and all along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, dealing with reality means wondering if today is the day that a town's luck runs out and the violence that is tearing Mexico apart spills across the border and takes American lives. In an attempt to prevent that, President Obama recently told reporters that he is considering sending National Guard troops to the border to help contain the drug violence. Although Obama claimed that he is "not interested in militarizing the border," the president is not messing around. "I think it's unacceptable if you've got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing U.S. citizens," Obama said. You're on the right track, Mr. President. It makes sense to send the National Guard to the border, with orders to stop the guns going out of the U.S. as well as the drugs coming in. Just one thing: We don't have "drug gangs" crossing the border. San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne told me that, most often, Mexican drug traffickers contract with gang members already on this side of the border -- and often born in the United States -- to carry out murder and mayhem. The gangs aren't imported. They're domestic. What are being imported are drugs and spillover violence. According to the Justice Department, Mexican drug cartels have set up shop in at least 230 U.S. cities. USA Today recently reported that Atlanta has become the Mexican drug cartel's principal distribution center for the eastern United States. Meanwhile, there has been a rash of drug-related kidnappings in Phoenix. And there have been murders in San Diego and Houston that authorities believe were carried out on orders from drug traffickers in Mexico. Don't kid yourself. This isn't just a border problem. You'll find traces of the Mexican drug trade as far north as Alaska, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. And even across another border. According to the Globe and Mail, Canadian authorities are worried that they could be facing a national security threat because of what one official called a "river of drugs" that connects Mexico, the United States and Canada. It's NAFTA for narcos. With less cocaine coming from Mexico because of the government crackdown, the river is drying up. Rival gangs in Canada are fighting over what little gets through. Meanwhile, along the Mexican border, much has changed since the days of Pancho Villa. Today, the outlaws don't have to steal machine guns and ammunition. They pay cash. And they find plenty of Americans eager to sell them all the AK-47s, grenade launchers, shotguns, 9mm handguns, and bullets the narcos can haul back to Mexico by the truckload. According to The Dallas Morning News, one of the must-have items for the cartels is a Belgian-made handgun known in Mexico as mata policias -- cop killer -- because the bullets penetrate the body armor worn by law enforcement officers. Or maybe the drug dealers use "straw" purchases where U.S. citizens can earn $100 per transaction to act as proxies by procuring weapons for the traffickers. But gee, that sort of thing is illegal, say the gun lovers I've been hearing from who want to downplay the role that U.S. weapons are playing in the Mexican drug war. Illegal? You don't say. These are drug dealers! Get serious. Every aspect of their industry is illegal. The drug traffickers aren't playing games, and so neither should Americans. They're destroying; we're debating. They take lives; we refuse to take responsibility. They're trying to control Mexico and the drug business; we think this is about gun control. Luckily for both countries, Obama isn't playing. And to prove it, before this is over, he might just send American troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Goodbye, Baghdad. Hello, El Paso.[...]
Wed, 11 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600Gomez, a professor of law and American studies at the University of New Mexico, might be onto something here. Latinos are neither black nor white, and yet there are black Latinos and white Latinos. There is no Latino race, yet what many Latinos were subjected to in the 20th century -- including being barred from hotels, restaurants, and public swimming pools -- and continue to be subjected to today in subtler forms would have to be called racism. Still, in America's great racial debate, Latinos have been consigned to the sidelines. There is a lot that Gomez, who holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Stanford, could teach Attorney General Eric Holder. The AG isn't a sociologist, but he played one during Black History Month. Spelling out how far we still have to go to achieve racial nirvana, Holder called the United States "a nation of cowards" who are reluctant to talk about race. President Barack Obama recently critiqued the nation's top law enforcement officer for his choice of words. "I think it's fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language," Obama told a reporter. "I think the point that he was making is that we're oftentimes uncomfortable with talking about race until there's some sort of racial flare-up or conflict." As an Obama supporter, Gomez didn't have any problem with the main thrust of Holder's comments. What bothered her was that his narrative was so incomplete as to be irrelevant. "Holder's speech is very much in black-and-white terms," she said. "Almost everywhere he mentions specifics, he's talking about blacks and whites." Like when Holder said: "The study of black history is important to everyone -- black or white," or when he rattled off a list of African-American civil rights figures as "people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude." It wasn't exactly the inclusive and multiracial tone that Obama struck in his poetic speech on race in Philadelphia during the presidential campaign. Gomez understands the context of Holder's remarks. "Granted, this (was) Black History Month," she said, "and there's an important reason to talk in those terms ... but I think it does raise a question: Where are Latinos in this?" For Gomez, it's a familiar story. "We're presumed invisible from the racial past of the United States," she said. Gomez mined that past in her book, "Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race," which traces the origins of Mexican-Americans as a racial group in this country. Today, stuck somewhere in between whites and nonwhites, Latinos are often ignored -- in entertainment, politics, media, business, etc. Television networks will do a series on race or ethnicity in America, and still sketch out the storyboard in black and white. When Latinos are noticed, they're usually a footnote, an afterthought, or an accessory -- as when a well-meaning politician is talking about race relations, equal opportunity or civil rights, and mentions "blacks and whites ... and browns." Another concern for Gomez is that, even when other Americans do see Latinos, a lot of people aren't always sure what they're seeing. Consider the immigration debate. "There's this almost hyper-visibility of Latinos," she said. "But it's a narrow and often wrong kind of hyper-visibility because it is the 'illegal alien.' Every Latino is presumed to be an immigrant and secondly to be an undocumented Mexican." Ah yes. There is nothing like people whose ancestors have been here for six generations being told to "go back to Mexico" by those whose ancestors are relative newcomers. Granted, it's not easy to turn a blind eye to an ethnic group that, according to Census estimates, could represent one in four Americans by the year 2030. But some people -- li[...]
Sun, 08 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives estimates that 90 percent of the firearms confiscated in drug crimes in Mexico come from the United States, and some of the shipments can be enormous. Both Americans and Mexicans tend to think of the border as the end of the earth. It isn't. It's a turnstile. When someone goes north looking for work, Mexicans naively assume they have seen the last of him. And when guns go south looking for trouble, Americans assume the same about the havoc they create. Wrong on both counts. Immigrants are going back to Mexico because of a bad U.S. economy. Meanwhile, the gun violence that Americans subsidize south of the border is boiling over onto U.S. soil. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano didn't get the memo. She recently told a Senate committee that Mexico's drug violence had not spread to the United States. But only a few days earlier, Texas' Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw told the Texas Legislature that violence from the drug cartels had -- "no question about it" -- spilled into Texas. Then there is Napolitano's own state of Arizona, where its largest city -- Phoenix -- is now considered the nation's kidnap capital because of spillover violence from Mexico. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard is prosecuting gun-trafficking cases put together by the federal ATF. According to the Justice Department, Mexican drug traffickers have a presence in at least 230 U.S. cities. No wonder the Obama administration is getting serious about helping Mexican President Felipe Calderon fight the drug cartels. Napolitano has promised to increase the Homeland Security Department's cooperation with Mexico to help curb the southward export of assault weapons. And, on that topic, Attorney General Eric Holder caused a stir when he turned the drug war into a debate on gun control. "As President Obama indicated during the campaign," Holder said, "there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons (which expired in 2004). I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum." That was all it took. Those who love their guns more than their neighbor to the south were eager to believe CNN's Lou Dobbs when the fear-monger and Mexico-basher declared: "Attorney General Eric Holder is willing to sacrifice our gun ownership rights under the Constitution for the benefit of a foreign government, in this case Mexico." Suddenly, the anti-Mexico crowd had a new warning for America. And like the rest of their gibberish, this bit of nonsense fit on a bumper sticker: "Obama will take away your guns -- to please Mexico." So now laudable efforts by U.S. law enforcement agencies to crack down not on gun ownership but on gun smuggling -- through initiatives such as "Operation Gunrunner," which the ATF launched a little more than a year ago -- are an infringement on Americans' right to bear arms under the Second Amendment? Somehow, I doubt that James Madison, the father of the Constitution, would cosign that assertion. This is a serious issue worthy of serious discussion, without hyperbole or distortions. Congress certainly thinks so, which is why it approved $10 million for Operation Gunrunner in the economic stimulus bill. Sarukhan, in a recent interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, cited one bust last year in the city of Reynosa, across the border from Texas' Rio Grande Valley. "In a single seizure," the ambassador said, "we detained half a million rounds of ammo, 270 semi-automatic assault weapons, fragmentation grenades and ... sniper rifles. And they were all coming from the U.S. side of the border." No point in denying it. Much of the death and destruction south of the border is stamped: [...]
Wed, 04 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600And where does the Obama administration come down on all this? It's hard to tell. People are confused. The president has promised to make comprehensive immigration reform a top priority. Just last month, during an appearance on the Spanish-language radio show hosted by Los Angeles-based Eddie "El Piolin" Sotelo, Obama pledged to "begin the process of dealing with the immigration system that's broken" by making it easier for legal immigrants to become citizens. As for comprehensive reform, Obama assured Sotelo that this too was on his agenda. "It's going to take some time to move that forward," Obama said. "But I'm very committed to making it happen. And we're going to be convening leadership on this issue so that we can start getting that legislation drawn up over the next several months." Yet just one week later, Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out the first major worksite raid under the Obama administration. ICE agents swarmed Yamato Engine Specialists, a plant in Bellingham, Wash., and arrested 28 illegal immigrants. A pro-immigrant organization, America's Voice, condemned the raids as being "in stark contrast to the president's vision for common-sense immigration policies." Testifying recently before Congress, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claimed that she didn't know about the Bellingham raid beforehand and that she has asked ICE for a review of the operation. But that was as far as Napolitano was willing to go. She didn't disavow the raids. In fact, she appears to support worksite enforcement efforts as long as they focus on employers as well as workers. I bet she will continue the raids but tidy them up by arresting a few employers and making sure anyone apprehended has access to legal counsel. Amy Kudwa, acting press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, told me in an email that "if the process is corrected, then it is not a question of halting" the raids but rather adhering to priorities. "ICE needs to be focused on criminal aliens and employers first," she said. That won't be good enough for those on the far left. In fact, some immigration activists who want to voice their opposition to the raids and prod Obama to tackle the immigration issue are planning another round of immigration marches on May 1. This time, many of the same people who supported Obama in the last election could be condemning him for keeping up the raids and dragging his feet on immigration reform. Of course, because a spattering of Mexican flags never seems to win the hearts and minds of the American people, the marches could backfire. Yet the marchers don't seem anxious to stand down. Personally, I'm not sure what the conflict is about. One can support both comprehensive immigration reform and worksite raids. One has nothing to do with the other. If employers or workers are breaking the law, it's the job of ICE, a law enforcement agency, to arrest them. What's the other option -- that one should be free to violate federal law with impunity while lawmakers come up with a policy? Besides, even if we had a conditional path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, we would still need enforcement measures such as raids. How else would you deal with those who don't meet the conditions? Then again, for me, worksite raids don't represent the moral quandary they do for others. For instance, I never saw eye to eye with the lawmaker who, last year, lamented a situation where "communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids -- when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing." That person was Barack Obama, whose administration has just carried out a raid of its own. No wonder people are confused. [...]
Sun, 01 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600Consider a recent article in The New York Times about what many college students expect from the grading process. According to the professors, students and researchers who were interviewed, a major expectation on campuses these days is that those who try hard and attend all their classes -- regardless of how well they perform -- deserve high marks. Under this thinking, students seem to believe that the pursuit of excellence is overrated. Effort counts for everything, and that's what should be rewarded. In other words, they are entitled to good grades. An English professor at the University of Maryland who was quoted in the article said he tells his classes that anyone who does just the bare minimum to meet course requirements will earn a C. Yet many students think an A would be a more appropriate default grade. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine have produced a study called "Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors." It found a third of students surveyed said they expect B's just for attending lectures and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading. Nearly two-thirds said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, their effort should factor into their grade. The article quotes a senior at the University of Maryland who wonders: "What else is there really than the effort that you put in? If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point? ... If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher's mind, then something is wrong." Oh, something is wrong all right. The lead author of the study speculates that this sense of entitlement comes from parental pressure, peer competition, or increased anxiety about achieving good grades. Other academics suggest that maybe the entitlement culture begins at the K-12 level, where students learned how to take tests and developed an expectation that they'd receive high marks just for passing them. One reader who commented on the article via the Times' Web site blamed "the high cost of university education" and the philosophy that "the customer is always right -- especially when that customer is paying $50,000 a year." Personally, I don't think it's any of the above. I think most if this comes from how these young people were raised. There are a lot of parents out there who spoil and coddle their kids, constantly telling them they're special and the center of the universe. They instinctively use praise to inject them with high self-esteem but often fail to teach them that the best way to feel good about yourself is by working hard and accomplishing something in life. College professors and administrators are seeing one frame of a long movie. For many students, this sense of entitlement was there before freshman orientation, and it'll be there long after graduation. Just listen to employers talk about hiring and managing 20-somethings who never learned about paying dues and want to sprint up the corporate ladder. Not long ago, I heard from a subcontractor who said that many of his younger employees were requesting that they only work three days a week so they could have more leisure time. Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao hit the nail on the head in 2007 when she noted that young workers "have to be able to accept direction ... (since) too many young people bristle when a supervisor asks them to do something." One would hope that the current recession would change some of that thinking and teach young people to bring their attitudes down a notch. That would lead to a stronger work ethic and less sense of entitlement. And, before they enter the work force, college is as good a place as any to learn an important lesso[...]
Wed, 25 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Yet in a time of crisis, it would be irresponsible for our elected officials to stubbornly take any remedial action off the table and refuse to even discuss it. And in that vein, it's obvious from the raucous budget debate in California -- and the populist fallout since -- that Golden State Republicans would be wise to reconsider their absolute hard line against any tax increases, even in dire straits. In the state Senate, only three Republicans voted for the package. And it could cost them their careers.
The bigger worry is what the budget deal will cost California. Rumors of the state's demise have been greatly exaggerated, and it remains a highly desirable -- if, at times, crushingly expensive -- place to live and do business. While many people are leaving, others continue to move in. No matter what happens with the budget wrangling in Sacramento, tourists will still come here to spend money, and companies will still move here to make money.
Still, the figures don't lie. California has a budget deficit of $42 billion, and it's one of the states that have been hit hardest by the mortgage crisis. Republicans have made some bad choices, such as alienating Hispanics over issues like immigration and language. So now California is controlled by Democrats, and those Democrats are beholden to public-sector unions -- representing everyone from teachers to prison guards to sanitation workers -- that have a knack for putting their interests before the common good.
Then there is what is unfolding in the national arena. Future generations of Californians will have to pick up their share of the cost for the gargantuan $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress. Whatever else the emergency legislation accomplishes -- and unfortunately, it might not accomplish much -- it has already managed to tighten the screws on Republican governors who blasted the deal and yet are eager to claim their chunk of the federal bailout. It seems that nothing turns a fiscal conservative into a tax-and-spend liberal quite like the allure of free money -- even if it isn't really free. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to mind. He was elected as an economic reformer but is now eagerly awaiting his share of the stimulus money.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal deserves credit for being one of the Republican governors who, at least at this point, walk it like they talk it. A critic of the stimulus package, Jindal doesn't want his state to accept $98 million to expand unemployment benefits for people who wouldn't normally be eligible to receive them. Taking the money would also require a permanent change in state law that Jindal says would cost more in the long run.
Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger would probably also take Louisiana's share if he could. He has praised President Obama for helping put together what he called a "terrific package" that could bring as many as 400,000 new jobs to California. The governor is also pleased with his state's budget deal, which he claims was completed because lawmakers put the interests of Californians ahead of the agendas of either party. He called the agreement "the perfect medicine for our ailing economy."
We'll see about that. Perfection is not often seen in politics. For now, it's enough to say that the California budget deal, while not pretty, represents a realistic stab at something that neither political party seems to care much about: fiscal responsibility.
Washington, take note.
Sun, 22 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600This dynamic is not lost on Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, who recently sat down with the editorial board of The San Diego Union-Tribune. I asked the ambassador about the rocky marriage between the United States and Mexico, and whether anything could be done short of counseling to smooth things out. "I think that a lot of the mutual recrimination is being thrown out the side," Sarukhan said. "You have a president in Mexico, Felipe Calderon, who ... has plainly and equivocally stated that Mexico has a responsibility in preventing people from crossing the border -- by creating jobs, creating opportunities, de-incentivizing those crossings from taking place. And you have ... the Obama administration, which has said, yes, we have a responsibility in shutting down the flow of guns going into Mexico." Not so fast. This isn't just about Mexico creating jobs so people don't have to go north to feed their families. It should certainly do that, but not because it owes it to the United States. Mexico owes it to its own citizens -- including the millions of migrants living abroad who send home more than $20 billion annually in remittances. What many Americans would like is for Mexico to use stepped-up enforcement on its side of the border to physically prevent its people from illegally entering the United States. After all, the Mexican government is asking that U.S. law enforcement agencies do more to prevent guns from entering Mexico by stepping up efforts to indict gun-runners headed south. Isn't it fair to ask Mexico to show reciprocity on immigration? "I don't think there's a quid pro quo in that regard," Sarukhan said." The bodies are piling up on our side of the border, our people are getting killed because of drug consumption in this country. I don't think we should strike a deal -- 'you stop the guns and we stop immigrants.' First of all, I don't think immigrants are a threat to the national security of the United States." In fact, Sarukhan insisted, if anything, the continued illegal immigration of Mexicans into the United States threatens Mexico. "Our loss is your gain," he said. "If Mexico can't hold on to 300,000 men and women who on average have been crossing the border into the United States without papers every year, we're losing bold, entrepreneurial, talented people. And Mexico will not be able to grow if we can't hold on to those women and men." Still, Sarukhan said, the Mexican Constitution does allow "for the free transit of Mexicans within Mexican territory." Of course, he noted, the document also states "that Mexicans must enter and exit Mexico through designated ports of entry." So Mexico is fine with people going into the United States illegally as long as they do it in an orderly fashion? Absolutely not, Sarukhan said. "Mexico needs to take a deep look at how it can ensure that every single Mexican that crosses the border into the United States does so legally," he said, "whether because he's crossing through a designated port of entry, because he's carrying a passport, because he's carrying a visa, or because he's participating in the temporary worker program in the United States." Good luck with that, neighbor. Besides the logistical difficulties of securing the border, there are the angry elites in Mexico City who flat-out resent that los americanos would dare ask them to keep their people penned in as if they were behind the Iron Curtain. Even so, Sarukhan is optimistic that a new and better relationship between the United States and Mexico is just around the corner, despite what he called "the loonies" who want to pit one country against the other. "We have them in this [...]
Wed, 18 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600
If such a trend is developing, it would be quite a departure from what occurred during the great immigration scare of the last few years. You'll recall how many state legislators, mayors and city council members, county supervisors and sheriffs -- just about anyone who stood for re-election and wanted to distract voters from other issues -- used the presence of illegal immigrants as a way to establish their toughness bona fides.
Meanwhile, the local crackdowns the politicians proposed must have been terribly confusing to the illegal immigrants, given that, in their view, these places invited them in by offering them jobs. Then they want them out? And, when some leave -- either to neighboring states or back to their own countries -- employers want them back? In Arizona and Colorado, where lawmakers tried to make their states inhospitable to illegal immigrants, they're now devising plans for their own labor agreements with Mexico.
Many of the efforts were so clumsy and imprecise that they seemed aimed at all foreigners in general. As such, they appeared to be motivated less by a desire to enforce the law than a desperation to turn back the clock and return communities to what they were before the latest immigrants arrived.
A prime example is any law or ordinance that declares English the official language of a city or state. That has nothing to do with securing the border or running off illegal immigrants. It's about making English-speakers feel comfortable amid changing demographics. In Iowa, lawmakers declared English the state's official language and required that most government documents be printed solely in English. Democratic state Rep. Bruce Hunter now wants to repeal the law because he thinks it sends "the wrong message about the state of Iowa." There was similar concern in the small town of Oak Point, Texas, about 35 miles north of Dallas. The town adopted an English-only resolution in 2007 -- only to rescind the measure a year later amid worries about negative publicity.
In both Utah and Alabama, officials have tried to tone down or delay implementing laws that crack down on those who hire illegal immigrants. At a time when states are hurting financially and desperate to keep businesses from relocating elsewhere, anything that might scare off companies risks being tossed overboard. Something similar happened in Arizona, where voters recently passed a ballot initiative to soften one of the toughest employer-sanction laws in the country. Whereas employers previously could lose their business license for repeatedly hiring illegal immigrants, now that only happens if they "knowingly" do so.
And so, in what has to be seen as a positive development, more and more local officials seem eager to put the illegal immigration issue back where it belongs -- in the hands of federal authorities.
That's the point. Just because you don't think that English-only laws should be mixed up with immigration reform doesn't mean you support an open border. We should be tough on illegal immigration. We should speed up deportations, continue workplace raids, stiffen penalties for smugglers, crack down on employers, create a tamper-proof ID card for employees, and give the Border Patrol agents on the front lines the tools they need to do their jobs.
We should do all that and more -- as long as we do it at the federal level.
Sun, 15 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600Our topic of conversation was the Employee Free Choice Act now before Congress. One of the most hotly contested pieces of legislation in recent memory, the bill would allow workers to register their desire to join a union by simply signing a card -- as opposed to an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. Rep. Hilda Solis, President Obama's pick for secretary of labor, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Shulman is a huge proponent. Employers are trying to defeat the measure, claiming it would essentially eliminate secret ballots. Shulman insists that workers can still have an election with secret ballots if they want one. She contends the current system is broken because employers, through intimidation, effectively have "veto power" over whether workers can join a union -- a "card check" system would "put the choice (to unionize) back in the hands of workers rather than the employer." I won't deny that some employers might improperly try to discourage workers from organizing. It's just that, in this scenario, I see the employee like a tugboat caught between two icebergs -- the employer and the union. It's easy to get crushed. I asked Shulman whether employees couldn't be just as intimidated by union supporters as by their boss. Let's just say it wasn't her favorite question. "The employer has total control over the workplace," Shulman said. "They can fire you anytime they want. They can change your schedule. This idea that there is equal intimidation is just ridiculous, truly ridiculous." She claimed that the reality of union organizing isn't at all like what many folks imagine. "There is this idea of big union organizers standing around," she said. "But often, it is workers organizing other workers. It's not some big outside force coming in." Wait a minute. America is a big country and there are lots of different workplaces and lots of different unions. Certainly Shulman didn't really want to go out on a limb and say that pressure and intimidation by unions never happens. She said she didn't, but insisted that there were safeguards to prevent unions from pushing too hard. Besides, she added, what is important is that the process is fair, regardless of the outcome. "If there really is a free way of people deciding without intimidation, without any coercion or whatever," she said, "then I'm happy -- whatever that vote is." Finally, to make her point about how bad the current system is, Shulman mentioned the case of a poultry processing plant in North Carolina where, to hear her tell it, the employers acted more like feudal lords. "The employers fired and harassed people," she said. "They brought in the immigration service to scare immigrants." That sounds familiar. Calling in (BEG ITAL)"la migra"(END ITAL) to raid a workplace was an old trick of the United Farm Workers Union, where -- according to several historical accounts -- the devotees of Cesar Chavez would often stoop that low to get rid of scabs. The point is, anyone can pick up the phone and call Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And once those illegal immigrant workers get deported, it doesn't matter who made the call. All the workers care about is that they will have to pay a smuggler another $3,000 to get back across the border where they will try their chances again. Shulman seemed a bit taken back when I told her about the history of UFW officials calling immigration. But she didn't defend the practice. "If it happened, that kind of behavior is unconscionable," she said. "Period." How about that? We finally agree on something. [...]