August 24, 2008
How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy
By DAVID LEONHARDT
I. A Broken Economy
As Barack Obama prepares to accept the Democratic nomination this week, it is clear that the economic policies of the next president are going to be hugely important. Ever since Wall Street bankers were called back from their vacations last summer to deal with the convulsions in the mortgage market, the economy has been lurching from one crisis to the next. The International Monetary Fund has described the situation as “the largest financial shock since the Great Depression.” The details are too technical for most of us to understand. (They’re too technical for many bankers to understand, which is part of the problem.) But the root cause is simple enough. In some fundamental ways, the American economy has stopped working.
The fact that the economy grows — that it produces more goods and services one year than it did in the previous one — no longer ensures that most families will benefit from its growth. For the first time on record, an economic expansion seems to have ended without family income having risen substantially. Most families are still making less, after accounting for inflation, than they were in 2000. For these workers, roughly the bottom 60 percent of the income ladder, economic growth has become a theoretical concept rather than the wellspring of better medical care, a new car, a nicer house — a better life than their parents had.
Americans have still been buying such things, but they have been doing so with debt. A big chunk of that debt will never be repaid, which is the most basic explanation for the financial crisis. Even after the crisis has passed, the larger problem of income stagnation will remain. It’s hardly the economy’s only serious problem either. There is also the slow unraveling of the employer-based health-insurance system and the fact that, come 2011, the baby boomers will start to turn 65, setting off an enormous rise in the government’s Medicare and Social Security obligations.
Most of these problems aren’t immediate, which helps explain why they have gone unaddressed for so long. And the United States remains a fabulously prosperous country, relative to almost any other country, at any point in history. Yet Americans seem to realize that something has gone wrong. In recent polls, about 80 percent of respondents say the economy is in bad shape, and almost 70 percent say it’s going to get worse. Together, these answers make for the most downbeat assessment since at least the early 1980s, and underscore that the next president will be inheriting a set of domestic problems as serious as any the country has faced in a long time.
John McCain’s economic vision, as he has laid it out during the campaign, amounts to a slightly altered version of Republican orthodoxy, with tax cuts at the core. Obama, on the other hand, has more-detailed proposals but a less obvious ideology.
Well before this point on the presidential calendar, it’s usually clear where a candidate fits within the political spectrum of his party. With Obama, there is vast disagreement about just how liberal he is, especially on the economy. My favorite example came in mid-June, shortly after Obama named Jason Furman, a protégé of Robert Rubin, the centrist former Treasury secretary, as his lead economic adviser. Labor leaders recoiled, and John Sweeney, the head of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., worried aloud about “corporate influence on the Democratic Party.” Then, the following week, Kimberley Strassel, a member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board, wrote a column titled, “Farewell, New Democrats,” concluding that Obama’s economic policies amounted to the end of Clintonian centrism and a reversion to old liberal ways.
Some of the confusion stems from Obama’s own strategy of presenting himself as a postpartisan figure. A few weeks ago, I joined him on a flight from Orlando to Chicago and began our conversation by asking about his economic approach. He started to answer, but then interrupted himself. “My core economic theory is pragmatism,” he said, “figuring out what works.”
This, of course, is not the whole story. Invoking pragmatism doesn’t help the average voter much; ideology, though it often gets a bad name, matters, because it offers insight into how a candidate might actually behave as president. I have spent much of this year trying to get a handle on what is sometimes called Obamanomics and have come away thinking that Obama does have an economic ideology. It’s just not a completely familiar one. Depending on how you look at it, he is both more left-wing and more right-wing than many people realize.
II. A New Democratic Consensus, of Sorts
To understand where Obama stands, you first have to know that, for 15 years, Democratic Party economics have been defined by a struggle that took place during the start of the Clinton administration. It was the battle of the Bobs. On one side was Clinton’s labor secretary and longtime friend, Bob Reich, who argued that the government should invest in roads, bridges, worker training and the like to stimulate the economy and help the middle class. On the other side was Bob Rubin, a former Goldman Sachs executive turned White House aide, who favored reducing the deficit to soothe the bond market, bring down interest rates and get the economy moving again. Clinton cast his lot with Rubin, and to this day the first question about any Democrat’s economic outlook is often where his heart lies, with Reich or Rubin, the left or the center, the government or the market.
Obama has obviously studied this debate, and early on during the flight to Chicago, he told me a story about Reich and Rubin. The previous week, Obama convened a discussion with a high-powered group of economists and chief executives. He was sitting at a conference table, with Rubin two seats to his left and Reich across from him. “One of the points I raised,” Obama told me, “is if you just use you, Bob, and you, Bob, as caricatures, the truth is, both of you acknowledge the world is more complicated.” By this, Obama didn’t simply mean that their views were more nuanced than many outsiders understood. He meant that both have come to acknowledge that the other man is, in part, correct. The two now occupy more similar ideological places than they did in 1993. The battle of the Bobs may not be completely over, but it has certainly been suspended.
Among the policy experts and economists who make up the Democratic government-in-waiting, there is now something of a consensus. They agree that deficit reduction did an enormous amount of good. It helped usher in the 1990s boom and the only period of strong, broad-based income growth in a generation. But that boom also depended on a technology bubble and historically low oil prices. In the current decade, the economy has continued to grow at a decent pace, yet most families have seen little benefit. Instead, the benefits have flowed mostly to a small slice of workers at the very top of the income distribution. As Rubin told me, comparing the current moment with 1993, “The distributional issues are obviously more serious now.” From today’s vantage point, inequality looks likes a bigger problem than economic growth; fiscal discipline seems necessary but not sufficient.
In practical terms, the new consensus means that the policies of an Obama administration would differ from those of the Clinton administration, but not primarily because of differences between the two men. “The economy has changed in the last 15 years, and our understanding of economic policy has changed as well,” Furman says. “And that means that what was appropriate in 1993 is no longer appropriate.” Obama’s agenda starts not with raising taxes to reduce the deficit, as Clinton’s ended up doing, but with changing the tax code so that families making more than $250,000 a year pay more taxes and nearly everyone else pays less. That would begin to address inequality. Then there would be Reich-like investments in alternative energy, physical infrastructure and such, meant both to create middle-class jobs and to address long-term problems like global warming.
All of this raises the question of what will happen to the deficit. Obama’s aides optimistically insist he will reduce it, thanks to his tax increases on the affluent and his plan to wind down the Iraq war. Relative to McCain, whose promised spending cuts are extremely vague, Obama does indeed look like a fiscal conservative. But the larger point is that the immediate deficit isn’t as big as it was in 1992. Then, it was equal to 4.7 percent of gross domestic product. Right now it’s about 2.5 percent.
During our conversation, Obama made it clear that he considered the deficit to be only one of the long-term problems requiring immediate attention, and he sounded more worried about the others, like global warming, health care and the economic hangover that could follow the housing bust. Tellingly, he said that while he admired what Clinton did, he might have been more open to Reich’s argument — even in 1993. “I still would have probably made a slightly different choice than Clinton did,” Obama said. “I probably wouldn’t have been as obsessed with deficit reduction.”
The new Democratic consensus isn’t complete, obviously. Labor unions, in particular, would prefer more trade barriers than many other Democrats. During the primaries Obama nodded, and at times pandered, in this direction. Since then, he has disavowed that rhetoric, to almost no one’s surprise. Yet his zig-zagging on the issue did highlight the biggest weak spot in his, and his party’s, economic agenda. He still hasn’t quite figured out how to sell it. For all his skills as a storyteller and a speaker, he has not settled on a compelling message about how to put the economy on the right path.
The lack of such a message has contributed to several of his worst moments over the last year. Most recently, the campaign has come out with a series of small-bore, populist energy plans — a windfall-profits tax on oil companies, a crackdown on speculators, a partial opening of the strategic oil reserve — that seem more political than economic. The most glaring misstep on this score was his comment this spring about bitter rural voters clinging to guns and religion. It was, in effect, an admission that his own message about the economy hadn’t yet broken through.
III. A ‘University of Chicago’ Democrat
Starting in the early 1990s, Obama spent 12 years at the University of Chicago, mostly as a senior lecturer on constitutional law. It was a part-time job that helped him make money while he began to build his political career. But it also happened to place him inside what is arguably the intellectual center of modern American economic conservatism, the home of Milton Friedman and the laissez-faire philosophy known as the Chicago School of economics. By all accounts, Obama didn’t spend much time with Friedman’s disciples at the law school. Instead, he became friendly with another crowd: liberals who had come to think that Friedman was right about a lot, just not everything.
The Chicago School believes that markets — that is, millions of individuals making separate decisions — almost always function better than economies that are managed by governments. In a market system, prices adjust whenever there is a shortage or a glut, and the problem soon resolves itself. Just as important, companies constantly compete with each other, which helps bring down prices, improves the quality of goods and ultimately lifts living standards.
In its more extreme forms, the Chicago School’s ideas have some obvious flaws. History has shown that free markets aren’t so good at, say, preventing pollution or the issuance of fantastically unrealistic mortgages. But over the last few decades, as Europe’s regulated economies have struggled and Asia’s move toward capitalism has spurred its fabulous boom, many liberals have also come to appreciate the virtues of markets.
One of these liberals is Cass Sunstein, a prolific law professor who sometimes ate with Obama in the open, sunlit cafeteria off the lobby of the main building at Chicago’s law school. Over sandwiches in that cafeteria this spring, Sunstein told me that he didn’t think that Obama arrived at the law school as an old-style liberal or departed as anything like a Friedmanite. Yet Sunstein and other former Chicago colleagues I spoke with said they believed that Chicago had helped give Obama an intellectual framework for his instincts, at the least, and probably made him come to appreciate markets more.
Obama, when I asked him, agreed that his years surrounded by Chicago School thinking affected him. He tends to assign his motives to more intimate narratives, though, and he said that his grandmother, a high-school graduate who rose to become the vice president of a bank and was the family’s main breadwinner, had the biggest impact. “She had to think very practically about, How do you make money?” he told me. “How does the system work? That led me to have an orientation to ask hardheaded questions. During my formative years, there was still ideological competition between a social-democratic or even socialist agenda and a free-market, Milton Friedman agenda. I think it was natural for me to ask questions of both sides and maybe try to synthesize approaches.”
There is plenty of evidence that this synthesis isn’t merely a part of a candidate’s inevitable tack to the center for a general election. In Obama’s memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” he sympathetically recounts a conversation he had with a Kenyan farmer, in which the man complains both about rich people who won’t pay their fair share of taxes and about burdensome government regulations on coffee growing. In Obama’s second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” he goes further: “Reagan’s central insight — that the liberal welfare state had grown complacent and overly bureaucratic, with Democratic policy makers more obsessed with slicing the economic pie than with growing that pie — contained a good deal of truth.”
The partial embrace of Reaganomics is a typical bit of Obama’s postpartisan veneer. In a single artful sentence, he dismissed the old liberals, aligned himself with the Bill Clinton centrists and did so by reaching back to a conservative icon who remains widely popular. But the words have significance at face value too. Compared with many other Democrats, Obama simply is more comfortable with the apparent successes of laissez-faire economics.
Sunstein, now on the faculty at Harvard, has a name for this approach: “I like to think of him as a ‘University of Chicago’ Democrat.”
It’s a useful label. Today’s Democratic consensus has moved the party to the left, and on issues like inequality and climate change, Obama appears willing to be even more aggressive than many fellow Democrats. From this standpoint, he’s a true liberal. Yet he also says he believes that there are significant parts of Reaganism worth preserving. So his policies often involve setting up a government program to address a market failure but then trying to harness the power of the market within that program. This, at times, makes him look like a conservative Democrat.
From the beginning, Obama has sought out academic economists, rather than lawyers or former White House aides. His first economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, is a young University of Chicago professor who shares Obama’s market-oriented Democratic views. This summer, Obama added Furman, who has a more traditional background, having worked for both the Clinton administration and the Kerry campaign. But he, too, has a Ph.D. in economics, from Harvard.
As anyone who has spent time with Obama knows, he likes experts, and his choice of advisers stems in part from his interest in empirical research. (James Heckman, a Nobel laureate who critiqued the campaign’s education plan at Goolsbee’s request, said, “I’ve never worked with a campaign that was more interested in what the research shows.”) By surrounding himself with economists, however, Obama was also making a decision with ideological consequences. Far more than many other policy advisers, economists believe in the power of markets. What tends to distinguish Democratic economists is that they set out to uncover imperfections of the market and then come up with incremental, market-based solutions to these imperfections. This helps explain the Obama campaign’s interest in behavioral economics, a relatively new field that has pointed out many ways in which people make irrational, short-term decisions. To deal with one example of such myopia, Obama would require companies to automatically set aside a portion of their workers’ salary in a 401(k) plan. Any worker could override the decision — and save nothing at all or save even more — but the default would be to save.
A more controversial version of Obama’s market friendliness came from his health-care proposal, which, unlike Hillary Clinton’s, would not mandate that people have health insurance. Like other Democrats, he was pushing for a big government program to deal with what he saw as market failures in health care and to bring down the price of insurance. Once the program was in place, though, he trusted a market of individuals to make its own decisions; once the government had subsidized health insurance, he thought the vast majority of the uninsured would sign up.
There are similar strains in Obama’s proposals on housing and education, and it’s worth remembering that these all came out before he was the presumptive nominee. The best example of his approach, however, may be his climate policy. By last year, Democrats in Congress essentially agreed that to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the government should place a nationwide cap on these emissions and then issue tradable permits giving companies the right to produce them (thus the term “cap and trade”). Most Congressional bills envisioned giving away many of the permits to power companies. Economists, by and large, considered this giveaway to be the worst part of the plan. It would require Congress to decide how many free permits each company should get and would set off a frenzy of corporate lobbying.
The alternative was to auction off the permits — to let the market set their value. “If you don’t auction 100 percent of the permits,” Goolsbee told me, “this could be one of the biggest pieces of corporate welfare ever.” With Congress making the decisions, the power companies with the best political connections might get the permits. With a full auction, the permits would end up with companies willing to make the highest bids. Presumably, these would be the most efficient companies, the ones able to produce the most energy (and profits) for a given amount of greenhouse-gas pollution.
The auctions would have another big advantage too. They would raise billions of dollars for the government, money that could then be returned to taxpayers to offset the higher energy prices created by the emissions cap.
It seems likely that a President Obama would sign a cap-and-trade bill even if it did give away some permits. But candidate Obama has at least moved the debate toward a more pro-market solution.
IV. The End of the Age of Reagan?
“The market is the best mechanism ever invented for efficiently allocating resources to maximize production,” Obama told me. “And I also think that there is a connection between the freedom of the marketplace and freedom more generally.” But, he continued, “there are certain things the market doesn’t automatically do.” In other words, free-market policy isn’t likely to dominate his agenda; his project would be fixing the market.
And it does seem to need fixing. For three decades now, the American economy has been in what the historian Sean Wilentz calls the Age of Reagan. The government has deregulated industries, opened the economy more to market forces and, above all, cut income taxes. Much good has come of this — the end of 1970s stagflation, infrequent and relatively mild recessions, faster growth than that of the more regulated economies of Europe. Yet laissez-faire capitalism hasn’t delivered nearly what its proponents promised. It has created big budget deficits, the most pronounced income inequality since the 1920s and the current financial crisis. As Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary and Rubin ally from the Clinton administration, says: “We’ve probably done a better job of the last 20 years on the problems the market can solve than the problems the market can’t solve. We’re doing pretty well on the size of people’s houses and televisions and the like. We’re not looking so good on infrastructure and education.”
The closest thing to an Obama doctrine on market regulation was a speech he gave in March at Cooper Union in New York, called “Renewing the American Economy.” It included his usual praise of market forces, and his prescriptions for regulating the financial system were mostly mainstream Democratic fare, like tougher penalties for loan fraud, tighter rules and closer oversight for Wall Street. These steps might or might not prevent the next crisis, but they would certainly place a bigger emphasis on trying to do so. And the speech, if anything, probably placed Obama on the more aggressively liberal side of the Democratic platform. Afterward, Robert Kuttner, an unabashedly left-leaning Democrat, praised Obama for going “well beyond the current Democratic Party consensus.”
Shortly before Obama’s speech, the Federal Reserve made emergency loans to investment banks that hadn’t officially been under its supervision. Obama argued that, going forward, the Fed had to be given permanent oversight of any such institutions, because their executives would henceforth assume that the government would come to their rescue. If taxpayers were going to be on the hook for those banks when they failed, he suggested, the government should have the chance to minimize the risk of failure. (Since March, Fed officials themselves have inched toward a similar position.)
There is, plainly, a big potential conflict between the University of Chicago side of Obama and the regulator side. A regulation that sounds sensible today can end up having nasty unintended consequences. But in Obama’s view, the risks to market-based capitalism now have more to do with too little regulation than too much. He can sound almost righteous on this point. He talked to me about the need for a moral element to capitalism and said that the crony capitalism of recent years should be the nightmare of any market-loving economist. At times, this part of his message can seem to overwhelm his respect for the market. Obama’s aides have justified his proposed windfall-profits tax on oil companies, for example, by saying that it makes up for the unjustifiable tax breaks the energy industry has received in the past. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a tax targeted at a specific industry, which, as some economists have pointed out, is just the sort of tinkering that the Chicago School detests.
V. Spreading the Wealth
The most tangible way that today’s economy feels unfair is the lack of real income growth for most families. Earlier this year, when I interviewed Obama during the primaries, he was careful to say that he didn’t think President Bush deserved all that much blame for the stagnant incomes of the current decade. Income growth for most families began to slow in the 1970s, and the causes of the great pay slowdown were complex. Obama didn’t name them all, but a decent list would look something like this: new technologies that have made some blue-collar work obsolete; a slowing in the nation’s educational attainment; the shriveling of labor unions; the increase in one-parent families, which are far less economically secure; and the rise of other countries that have huge low-wage work forces.
What Obama blamed the current administration for, he said, was aggravating these trends with the tax code. To a large extent, Obama’s own economic agenda revolves around reversing Bush’s tax policies and then going a bit further in the other direction. Here, more than in his regulatory approach, Obama stands on the left side of the Democratic Party, but not exactly in the traditional tax-and-spend ways.
It’s helpful to start with a little history. When Reagan was elected, in 1980, tax rates on top incomes were so high that even liberal economists now say the economy was suffering. There simply wasn’t enough of an incentive for rich people to start new companies or expand existing ones, because so much of their profits would have gone to the federal government. Someone making the equivalent of $5 million in 1980 — in inflation-adjusted terms — would have paid a combined federal tax rate of almost 60 percent, according to research by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, two academic economists. (These calculations cover not only income taxes but also payroll taxes, capital-gains taxes and others.) Reagan, by the end of his second term, had cut this rate to about 35 percent. Clinton raised it above 40 percent, but the current President Bush has reduced it to 34 percent. So over the same period that the rich have been getting much richer before taxes, their tax rates have also been falling far faster than the rates of any other income group.
Dating back to Reagan, Republicans have packaged tax cuts on high earners with more modest middle-class tax cuts and then maneuvered the Democrats into an unwinnable choice: are you for tax cuts or against them? Obama, however, argues that this is the moment when the politics of taxes can be changed.
To do this, he is proposing tax cuts for most families that are significantly larger than those McCain is offering, along with major tax increases for families making more than $250,000 a year. “That’s essentially a major part of our economic plan,” Obama said. “But it’s also a political message.” Economically, he is trying to use the tax code to spread the bounty from the market-based American economy to a far wider group of families. Politically, he is trying to drive a wedge through the great Reagan tax gambit.
The Tax Policy Center, a research group run by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, has done the most detailed analysis of the Obama and McCain tax plans, and it has published a series of fascinating tables. For the bottom 80 percent of the population — those households making $118,000 or less — McCain’s various tax cuts would mean a net savings of about $200 a year on average. Obama’s proposals would bring $900 a year in savings. So for most people, Obama is the tax cutter in this campaign.
If there is a theme to the Obama tax philosophy, it’s that the tax code is not quite as progressive as you think it is. Most of the public discussion about taxes tends to focus on the income tax, which taxes the affluent at a considerably higher rate than anyone else. But the income tax doesn’t take the biggest bite out of most families’ annual tax bill. The payroll tax does. And even as the federal government has been reducing income taxes over the last few decades, it has allowed the payroll tax, which finances Social Security and Medicare, to creep up. That’s a big reason that overall tax rates for the bottom 80 percent of earners have not fallen as much as rates for the affluent.
Obama’s second-most-expensive proposal, after his health-care plan, is the equivalent of a $500 cut in the payroll tax for most workers. (It is actually a credit that is applied toward income taxes based on payroll taxes paid.) In a speech this month in Florida, he proposed that the cut take effect immediately, in the form of a rebate, to stimulate the economy. For most workers, it would be the first significant cut in the payroll tax in decades, if not ever.
The other way that he would cut taxes involves a series of technicalities. But since the campaign began, Goolsbee has been arguing that those technicalities offer one of the best glimpses of how Obama thinks about the tax code. Right now, several big tax breaks that sound broad-based — like those for child care and mortgage interest — don’t always benefit middle-income and lower-income families. Another example is the Hope Credit for college tuition, a creation of the Clinton administration. Obama wants to more than double the credit, to $4,000. More to the point, he would make it “fully refundable.” As a result, a family with an income-tax bill of $3,000 wouldn’t merely have that bill eliminated; it would also receive a $1,000 check. Increasingly, the income-tax system becomes a way to transfer money to poor families.
All told, Obama would not only cut taxes for most people more than McCain would. He would cut them more than Bill Clinton did and more than Hillary Clinton proposed doing. These tax cuts are really the essence of his market-oriented redistributionist philosophy (though he made it clear that he doesn’t like the word “redistributionist”). They are an attempt to address the middle-class squeeze by giving people a chunk of money to spend as they see fit.
He would then pay for the cuts, at least in part, by raising taxes on the affluent to a point where they would eventually be slightly higher than they were under Clinton. For these upper-income families, the Tax Policy Center’s comparisons with McCain are even starker. McCain, by continuing the basic thrust of Bush’s tax policies and adding a few new wrinkles, would cut taxes for the top 0.1 percent of earners — those making an average of $9.1 million — by another $190,000 a year, on top of the Bush reductions. Obama would raise taxes on this top 0.1 percent by an average of $800,000 a year.
It’s hard not to look at that figure and be a little stunned. It would represent a huge tax increase on the wealthy families. But it’s also worth putting the number in some context. The bulk of Obama’s tax increases on the wealthy — about $500,000 of that $800,000 — would simply take away Bush’s tax cuts. The remaining $300,000 wouldn’t nearly reverse their pretax income gains in recent years. Since the mid-1990s, their inflation-adjusted pretax income has roughly doubled.
To put it another way, the wealthy have done so well over the past few decades, with their incomes soaring and tax rates plummeting, that Obama’s plan would not come close to erasing their gains. The same would be true of households making a few hundred thousand dollars a year (who have gotten smaller raises than the very rich but would also face smaller tax increases). As ambitious as Obama’s proposals might be, they would still leave the gap between the rich and everyone else far wider than it was 15 or 30 years ago. It just wouldn’t be quite as wide as it is now.
VI. Is He a European-Model Neoliberal?
Even some Republicans have started to wonder whether the Reagan strategy on taxes has run its course. Earlier this year, two young conservative writers, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, came out with a book called “Grand New Party.” Their basic thesis is that the Republican Party, for all its successes over the past generation, has failed to cement its majority because of economics. If the party’s agenda continues to revolve around tax cuts that mostly benefit the well off, the book argues, Republicans risk allowing a generation-long Democratic majority, like the kind that ruled the country from F.D.R. to L.B.J. To avoid this outcome, the authors offer an agenda of what they call Sam’s Club Republicanism, focused on the working class.
For now, the people running the party, be they in the Bush administration or the McCain campaign, evidently do not share this concern. They have responded to Obama’s tax proposals with the same kind of attacks that the party has been using since the 1980s. First, they have argued that Obama’s tax increases would end up hitting every income group. Strictly speaking, this is true. Obama’s increase on the corporate income tax would ultimately fall on all stockholders, even poor ones. In practical terms, though, most families own little enough stock that the other features of the tax plan would matter far, far more. That’s why the Tax Policy Center numbers, which include the corporate tax increase, come out as they do.
The second criticism is that Obama’s tax increases would send an already-weak economy into a tailspin. The problem with this argument is that it’s been made before, fairly recently, and it proved to be spectacularly wrong. When Bill Clinton raised taxes on upper-income families in 1993, his supply-side critics insisted that he would ruin the economy. As we now know, Clinton presided over the longest economic expansion on record, the fastest income growth most workers had experienced in a generation and the disappearance of the federal-budget deficit. His successor, Bush, then did exactly what the supply-siders wanted, cutting upper-income tax rates, and the results were much worse. Economic growth wasn’t quite as strong or nearly as widespread, and the deficit returned. At the very least, Clinton’s increases did no discernible economic damage. Rubin, citing academic work on tax rates, made the case to me that rates under an Obama administration would not be nearly high enough to stifle innovation.
There is, however, a more philosophical critique of Obama’s tax policies. It’s one that Douthat and Salam make in “Grand New Party.” The book doesn’t mention Obama by name, but it contains one of the best summaries of his economic policy that I have read. The authors describe a new-model liberal consensus that weds “the free-market centrism of the Clinton years to a revived push for European-style social democracy.” This neoliberalism, as they call it, wouldn’t involve the big-government programs of the postwar years, but the government would come to play a larger role in the economy and would redistribute much more income from the rich to everyone else. “This is, in many respects, a deeply un-American solution to the problems facing our country,” the authors write, “one that would emphasize dependence over self-sufficiency and bureaucratic condescension over self-help.”
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office who has been advising McCain since the primaries, made a more specific version of this same point to me. Since Social Security was founded, its benefits have been based on the amount of payroll taxes that an individual worker paid over his or her lifetime. The system is progressive, in that the rich contribute more than the poor and do not get out everything they put in. But Obama would make it vastly more progressive. Currently, only income up to $102,000 is subject to the tax. After a decade, he would leave income between $102,000 and $250,000 untaxed, but would begin taxing income above that. The people paying this new tax probably would not get any additional retirement benefits in return. “As a political matter,” Holtz-Eakin argued, “it reveals a lack of judgment.” A program with almost unrivaled political support, he added, could turn into yet another government transfer program.
During my recent conversation with Obama, he mentioned Sam’s Club Republicanism in a different context, and I asked him if he had read “Grand New Party.” He hadn’t, he said, so I read him the line about dependence and condescension and asked for his reaction.
He said it made him think of Warren Buffett, an Obama supporter, who, if anything, might argue that he wasn’t going far enough to change the tax code. “If you talk to Warren, he’ll tell you his preference is not to meddle in the economy at all — let the market work, however way it’s going to work, and then just tax the heck out of people at the end and just redistribute it,” Obama said. “That way you’re not impeding efficiency, and you’re achieving equity on the back end.” He continued by saying that he thought there was some merit in Buffett’s argument. But, he said: “I do think that what the argument may miss is the sense of control that we want individuals to have in determining their own career paths, making their own life choices and so forth. And I also think you want to instill that sense of self-reliance and that what you do will help determine outcomes.”
VII. The New New Deal
Last summer, just before a highway bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, Obama was meeting with a small group of economists. At one point, according to several people who were at the meeting, Obama said he agreed that blue-collar workers were struggling primarily because their skills weren’t as much in demand as they used to be. Technology has remade the economy, and education and retraining were the best ways for workers to keep up. But any public-policy response couldn’t be about just education; it also had to take account of the psychology of the workplace, Obama continued. Some laid-off steelworkers might indeed be able to go back to school to become health-care workers. But many of them don’t want to work in health care or any service job. Factory workers, he said, want to make something. It’s part of their identity.
From there, Obama moved the conversation toward a discussion of how the government could improve the nation’s infrastructure — its backbone of bridges, roads, tunnels, airports and the like, much of which has seen better days. Since the dawn of the Age of Reagan, the idea that government spending can be a good thing for the economy has been out of favor, even among Democrats. But it’s now making something of a comeback, particularly within Obama’s camp. His agenda calls for about $50 billion in new annual spending on various investments, including infrastructure, alternative energy and scientific research. (To put that in perspective, the cut in the payroll tax would cost about $70 billion a year.)
These investments might pay off in all sorts of ways. They are a classic form of stimulus that could help the economy emerge from the housing hangover. They would provide jobs for former factory workers and others without college degrees, many of whom have struggled over the past generation, and for whom the current home-building slump has been yet another blow. Above all, the investments would have the potential to pay big long-term dividends, in the form of a national economy that operated more smoothly.
I came to think of this part of Obama’s agenda as the Virginia model, thanks to Tim Kaine, Virginia’s governor, who was one of the first Democrats to endorse Obama. Last year, Kaine began making the case to Goolsbee that the campaign should view Virginia as a model for the rest of the country. In just a few decades, the state has managed to transform itself in precisely the way that economists think the United States now must — to a higher-wage economy with a more-educated population, a place that has prospered even while losing many of its old-line manufacturing jobs. And it did so with a crucial shove from the government.
For much of the 20th century, Virginia was a poor state, but after World War II, with the cold war under way and the military growing, well-paying defense contractors began to sprout up around the Pentagon, in northern Virginia. By the 1970s, Darpa, the Pentagon’s research arm, began working on a computer network, which soon spawned a new form of communication: electronic mail. That computer system eventually became the Internet, and Northern Virginia suddenly had the beginnings of a brand-new industry. In recent decades, Virginia has also invested money in the port near Norfolk and has vastly expanded its colleges and universities. Today the state’s per-capita income is 7 percent higher than the national average.
The trick for someone trying to replicate Virginia’s success is figuring out which investments to make. As any Chicago School economist would remind you, the federal government has made its share of mistakes in this area, a recent example being subsidies for ethanol, which Obama, a farm-state senator, has championed and McCain has opposed. But Obama at least seems to have learned one lesson from the experience: His proposed new infrastructure spending would be overseen by a bipartisan board of unelected officials, rather than members of Congress.
More important, perhaps, is the fact that a single success, like the Internet or the Interstate highway system, can make up for a lot of failures. Jason Grumet, a Washington lawyer who is the Obama campaign’s lead environmental adviser, made this point to me after I asked him why anyone should have confidence in the government’s ability to pick winners. “We all talk about Apollo 11, but there were some pretty public, pretty awful failures along the way,” Grumet said. “The United States didn’t say: ‘Well, we had some failures. We’re going to give up getting to the moon.’ ”
VIII. Lots of Beef, Shortage of Message
When Obama gives a speech about his economic plan, there is often a moment when you can sense him shift from poetry to prose. He can be inspiring when talking about how the country ended up being the envy of the world. But when he comes to the part about what he wants to do next, how he wants to keep America the envy of the world, it can sound a little like a State of the Union laundry list.
His advisers are divided about how much of a problem this is. Some of them told me that he did have a unifying theme — the middle-class squeeze — and that it would become clearer to voters as they began paying closer attention to the race. Others said they didn’t think Obama had yet come up with a simple way to explain how he would alleviate that squeeze. Obama himself seems well aware of the stakes. In 2005, on a call-in public-radio show, he told a listener that Democrats hadn’t been as effective in telling a story about the country as Republicans. In the end, he said, people voted not for a hodgepodge of position papers but for someone who could explain to them where the country should be going.
So I asked Obama whether he thought he had been able to tell an effective story about the economy during this campaign. Specifically, I wondered, did he think he had a message that compared with Reagan’s simple call for less government and lower taxes.
He paused for a few seconds and then said this:
“I think I can tell a pretty simple story. Ronald Reagan ushered in an era that reasserted the marketplace and freedom. He made people aware of the cost involved of government regulation or at least a command-and-control-style regulation regime. Bill Clinton to some extent continued that pattern, although he may have smoothed out the edges of it. And George Bush took Ronald Reagan’s insight and ran it over a cliff. And so I think the simple way of telling the story is that when Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over, he wasn’t arguing for an era of no government. So what we need to bring about is the end of the era of unresponsive and inefficient government and short-term thinking in government, so that the government is laying the groundwork, the framework, the foundation for the market to operate effectively and for every single individual to be able to be connected with that market and to succeed in that market. And it’s now a global marketplace.
“Now, that’s the story. Now, telling it elegantly — ‘low taxes, smaller government’ — the way the Republicans have, I think is more of a challenge.”
Even if Obama does figure out how to meet the challenge well enough to get elected, there are any number of ways in which his plans could fail. He has never run any government entity — no state, no city, not even a municipal agency — and he may not prove to be good at doing so. The economy could deteriorate further, leaving him with a Clinton-like choice between manageable deficits and direct help for the middle class. Or maybe the many economists who like his agenda are simply wrong. Maybe his health-care program won’t bring down costs. Maybe the Virginia model won’t work for the rest of the country.
But it’s not entirely clear what the alternative is, at least in the broad sense and at least for the time being. A much more left-wing agenda than Obama’s would consist of erecting new trade barriers, reregulating various industries and otherwise getting the government even more involved in the economy than Obama would. This program has the dubious distinction of being disliked by both voters and experts alike. Populism hasn’t won a national election, or even the Democratic nomination, in decades, and economists can point to any number of ways why it wouldn’t work anyway.
Republicans, on the other hand, have an economic strategy that may still sell politically. But is there much reason to think that it would lead to a very different result from Bush’s? There have now been two presidents in the last 30 years — Bush and Reagan — who cut taxes and promised that deficits would not follow. But the deficits did come, and they went away only after two other presidents — George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton — raised taxes. It also seems fairly clear by now that tax cuts for the affluent do not necessarily trickle down to everyone else.
For Democrats who want to think the worst about their opponents, McCain’s reliance on these ideas may be affirming. But it’s really a shame. For the time being, only one party is applying the lessons of history to the country’s biggest economic problems. There is no great battle of new ideas, and that can’t make it more likely that those problems will be solved.
Shortly after I boarded Obama’s campaign plane this month, one of his press aides warned me that the conversation might not last long. She explained that he was exhausted from two days of campaigning in Florida and might decide to nap as soon as he got on the plane. But a few minutes later he summoned me to the plane’s first-class section, evidently choosing an economics discussion over a DVD of “Mad Men,” which was sitting on his side table. His eyes were tired, and he looked a good deal older than he had only four years ago, on the night that he became famous at the 2004 Democratic convention. But we ended up talking for an hour. After I returned to my seat, the press aide walked back to tell me that Obama had more to say.
“Two things,” he said, as we were standing outside the first-class bathroom. “One, just because I think it really captures where I was going with the whole issue of balancing market sensibilities with moral sentiment. One of my favorite quotes is — you know that famous Robert F. Kennedy quote about the measure of our G.D.P.?”
I didn’t, I said.
“Well, I’ll send it to you, because it’s one of the most beautiful of his speeches,” Obama said.
In it, Kennedy argues that a country’s health can’t be measured simply by its economic output. That output, he said, “counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them” but not “the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.”
The second point Obama wanted to make was about sustainability. The current concerns about the state of the planet, he said, required something of a paradigm shift for economics. If we don’t make serious changes soon, probably in the next 10 or 15 years, we may find that it’s too late.
Both of these points, I realized later, were close cousins of two of the weaker arguments that liberals have made in recent decades. Liberals have at times dismissed the enormous benefits that come with prosperity. And for decades some liberals have been wrongly predicting that economic growth was sure to leave the world without enough food or enough oil or enough something. Obama acknowledged as much, saying that technology had thus far always overcome any concerns about sustainability and that Kennedy’s notion had to be tempered with an appreciation of prosperity.
What’s new about the current moment, however, is that both of these arguments are actually starting to look relevant. Based on the collective wisdom of scientists, global warming really does seem to be different from any previous environmental crisis. For the first time on record, meanwhile, economic growth has not translated into better living standards for most Americans. These are two enormous challenges that are part of the legacy of the Reagan Age. They will be waiting for the next president, whether he is Obama or McCain, and they’ll probably be around for another couple of presidents too.
David Leonhardt is an economics columnist for The Times and a staff writer for the magazine.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
August 24, 2008
Posted by Angela Valenzuela at 8:54 AM
Monday, September 1, 2008
Nota: The essay that follows discusses the Latino-Black relationship centered around the related questions of immigration, citizenship, race, civil and human rights. See, Mark Sawyer, "Commentary: On Black Leadership, Black Politics, and the U.S. Immigration Debate," Souls 10:1 (2008): 42-49. The online version of the essay is illustrated with several black and white photographs of immigrant civil and human rights marchers. The text below did not reproduce these. To view these photographs, go to the following website of the National Association of Senior Scholars of Color (NASSC). This is a long reading, enjoy.
To access the essay directly go to:
Roberto R. Calderón
Historia Chicana [Historia]
This article was downloaded by:[University of California Los Angeles]
On: 27 March 2008
Access Details: [subscription number 769788043]
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954
Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:
Commentary: On Black Leadership, Black Politics, and
the U.S. Immigration Debate
Online Publication Date: 01 January 2008
To cite this Article: Sawyer, Mark (2008) 'Commentary: On Black Leadership, Black
Politics, and the U.S. Immigration Debate', Souls, 10:1, 42 - 49
To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/10999940801937755
Black leadership has failed to grasp what is at stake in the debate and struggle over anti-immigration legislation. There are social, economic, and moral grounds calling for Black people to take a stance on the side of immigrant populations. The responsibility for Black people to be the guiding light for freedom and human
dignity is clearly revealed in the work of DuBois. The Black perspective is unique for recognizing when people are conceptually placed outside the ‘‘American’’ people. Some Latinos have helped foster confusion by attempting to identify Latinos as just another ‘‘ethnic’’ group to distinguish them from the Black ‘‘racial group.’’ Among other shortcomings this conceptualization fails to recognize ‘‘Afro-Latinos.’’ The creation of a service Latino underclass threatens the wellbeing of the whole working class and organized labor. As the Latinos expose the hypocrisy of U.S. society, Black people must join them in righteous struggle. Black people are the most egregious victims of that hypocrisy. Keywords: black leadership, black politics, immigration, Latino=a politics
We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.—Martin Luther King Jr.
In the wake of the massive mobilization of immigrants in the U.S. in the Spring of 2006, I have looked in fascination and sometimes concern at the lack of response from Black leadership. While for some the response to anti-immigrant legislation has been formally clear, given the potential for racism and human rights abuses the response from Black leadership has been extraordinarily muted. In the context of that vacuum, the media has portrayed the feelings of African Americans as ranging from anti-immigrant to ambivalent. Many African Americans are fearful, some are hateful, and some just do not care. Black leadership has failed to grasp what is at stake in this debate and continues to fail to articulate a clear message on a number of social and economic issues of relevance to the African American community. On moral grounds, African Americans must stand by their tradition of being the guiding light for freedom and human dignity in the U.S. and around the world and support the legalization of the more than 12 million people in the U.S. struggling for basic rights and desperately trying to obtain what so many Americans take for granted: their citizenship. However, we as a community and leaders of our community must educate ourselves and make sure the media do not allow fear to drive our choices.
But how do we fill the vacuum?
The immigration debate engages age-old questions for African Americans. Booker T. Washington in his famous Atlanta Exposition address urged U.S. industrialists not to turn to unknown foreigners who might take the country in unknown and negative directions, but to work closely with the known quantity of African Americans (Washington 1995). However, Washington and current Black leadership both have failed to understand the ongoing nexus between conceptions of race, nation, and citizenship and the dynamics of racial exclusion and class issues. These are especially salient in the post–civil rights era. When Washington’s counterpart (and sometimes nemesis) W.E.B. Du Bois proposed the concept of double consciousness, it was in profound recognition of the tension between a Black identity placed outside of the boundaries of being authentically American (Du Bois 1987). The same has been the case for Latinos and Asians, who are consistently constructed both as racialized and colonial subjects within the U.S. Thus, while we recognize that Latinos are not a ‘‘race,’’ not even in our non-scientific folk conception of such, we still understand that Latinos—and especially Mexican Americans—have in many cases what is known as racialized ethnicity (Martin Alcoff 2000; Grosfoguel 2003). That is, they are perceived to be endowed with a set of negative and immutable characteristics that, like African Americans, make them unassimilable and therefore unworthy of full citizenship rights. Why then is this not seen as a civil rights issue?
Much of Black leadership, academia, and the media have accepted a hegemonic definition of the Civil Rights Movement that focuses primarily on the social dimensions of racial exclusion and thinks of civil rights in entirely domestic terms. This narrative ignores the more inclusionary aspects of racial domination, i.e., the process of labor exploitation, cultural appropriation, colonial disruptions, and forced and semi-forced migrations that have been the hallmark of the development of Western nations in general and the U.S. in particular (Sawyer 2006). Thinkers and activists like W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Robeson, A. Philip Randolph, James Baldwin, Ella Baker, and others saw the process of racial oppression of African Americans in the U.S. as intimately
related to earlier processes of slavery, colonialism and the aggressiveness of U.S. foreign policy in the region (Plummer 1996; Von Eschen 1997; Dudziak 2002; Singh 2005). African Americans were not brought to this country simply to be the object of racial hatred, genocide, and cultural destruction, but also in order to integrate them into a political economy of race that allowed them to be simultaneously dehumanized and exploited for their labor (Robinson 1991; Du Bois 1995).
There is nothing new about Mexican migration or migration from Central America and the Caribbean, and it all follows a similar pattern. The racist and nativist rants against Mexicans in particular but, also against Dominicans, Asians, and other migrants demonstrates this integrative process. The employability of Latinos in America’s worst jobs demonstrates how the construction of illegality and its maintenance through the racialized rhetoric of the perpetual and inferior colonial foreign subject, both legally and in practice marks undocumented migrants (particularly brown, indigenous ones) for labor exploitation and segmented participation in labor markets.
This is not to deny the psychological, and at times psycho-sexual, nature of racial animus. However, it is to note that if we make the mistake of thinking of racial oppression as only about creating social distance, we miss the workings of political economies of race that seek to extract labor at an unfair price from racialized domestic and immigrant populations. Thus, the history of U.S.–Mexico relations and programs like the Bracero Program, as well as U.S. colonial adventures in Central America and the Caribbean, demonstrate the link between our current immigration debate and the inextricable connection between race, racism, and nation. If we understand U.S. racism and white supremacy in their international forms in relation to colonialism, slavery as well as in racial constructions of national belonging that repeat themselves in places like the U.S., Canada, and Europe, we then understand that the struggle for rights for immigrants and against labor and other forms of exploitation is not a struggle that is alien
or beyond the concern of African Americans. It is only if we hold a domestic and social definition of the civil rights movement that we can turn a deaf ear on the concern for immigrant human rights.
We also must recognize the racialized and frequently racist language that has characterized the immigration debate in ways that should give African Americans pause. Samuel Huntington’s ‘‘Who are We’’ set off a profound debate on Latinos and immigration (Huntington 2004). Singling out Latinos (and especially Mexican migrants), Huntington suggested that they are unassimilable and pose a threat to the Anglo-Protestant culture that has made America the great country it is. Pundits like Lou Dobbs and Patrick Buchanan have taken a similar line in attacking Latinos. However, some Latino academics and commentators and their liberal defenders have made a tremendous mistake in response. In order to reply to Huntington, rather than denounce the obvious racism of his attacks, they have taken to emphasizing Latinos’ worthiness for citizenship by casting them as ‘‘ethnics’’ in a process of assimilation, similar to Italians and the Irish and in negative contrast with Blacks. These authors never challenge either Huntington’s implicit construction of a ‘‘white’’ dominant culture in America or his argument that race no longer plays a role in the life-chances of people of color.
Authors like Richard Alba, David Hayes Bautista, and Gregory Rodriguez also take this line and suggest that Latinos are the quintessential hardworking Americans who are seeking to assimilate into the norms and ideals of the U.S. They emphasize that—unlike African Americans–Latinos do not seem to be adopting a ‘‘culture of poverty.’’ The picture is clear. For these pundits Latino acceptance depends upon assimilation, racial distancing from Blacks, and not adopting an oppositional racial consciousness similar to Blacks. African Americans are rightly upset by these responses. However, these scholars are wrong on both normative and analytical grounds. Clearly, they do not speak for the entire Latino community. There is nothing ‘‘new’’ about Latino immigrants: Mexicans
in particular have been a part of the American landscape for a long time and have consistently been racialized as both other and inferior. The virulent reactions to Mexicans and their children by white racist and mainstream organizations speaks to their ongoing racialization in American society. Similarly, these debates ignore the existence of Afro–Latinos and Black migrants from Africa and the Caribbean.
Thankfully, people on the street are not adopting this stance. Unlike pundits and some academics, the people on the street at the immigrant marches saw what they were struggling against as racism. Their signs expressed anti-racist slogans and also challenged the exploitation of their labor. They made the connection between the idea that current immigration policy makes them available for labor exploitation, just as Jim Crow and other manifestations of racism continue to make African Americans available for labor exploitation. As African Americans have learned to use their citizenship rights to challenge exploitation, employers have shifted to a new source of exploitable labor: undocumented immigrants.
While this might lead one to believe that Latinos are ‘‘taking African–American jobs,’’ the reality is far more complicated. There is no clear economic data that suggests that Latinos have taken African–American jobs where there have been cases of employer preferences for Latinos. These employers have tended to use undocumented Latinos’ lack of rights in order to guarantee their exploitation. The nexus between race, class, gender, and citizenship status reveals a complex web in which employers ‘‘prefer’’ the most exploitable labor, not individuals whom they see as equals, co-ethnics, or co-nationals. Thus, preference for immigrant labor should not be interpreted as a form of assimilation for Latinos. Further, these employers do not see, nor are they creating a path for upward mobility for Latino laborers. This is why whites in places like Orange County, California simultaneously exploit Latino gardeners, nannies, and pool cleaners while developing ordinances to increase deportability, deny educational access for their children, and restrictive zoning to maintain their marginality (Lacayo 2007). In this way, Latino barrios are far more similar to South African Bantustans than any of us might care to admit. The sting of de facto apartheid is felt just as sharply.
However, this alone does not overcome concerns from the African–American community. One major fallacy that is repeated often is the idea that Latinos have either taken African–American jobs or are responsible for African–American unemployment. The history of Los Angeles and other places that have received large numbers of immigrants tells a different story. African Americans moved from the South to the North and West in massive numbers, not in order to work as domestics, gardeners, and busboys, but to work in a growing manufacturing sector that offered middle-class wages and opportunities for upward mobility. Those jobs that helped build the Black middle class, have gone overseas. They have not been ‘‘taken’’ by Mexican workers. Further, Black teachers, postal workers, and bus drivers in the unionized public service sector have benefited from immigration. Immigrants curbed the slide in urban populations around the country that was causing cut-backs in city budgets and reducing public services and jobs for the Black middle class. A recent PPIC study reveals that workers benefit from immigrant labor in both jobs and wages. These direct effects are masked by the countervailing forces mentioned above.
What is true is that Black and Latino workers share similar difficulties. Blacks and Latinos are dropping out of high school at alarming rates. Far from realizing the immigrant American dream, Latinos are fast becoming an intergenerational group of lowskilled exploitable workers who in subsequent generations face rates of incarceration similar to that of African Americans. To all of our detriment, Black and Latino political leadership have not pushed a policy agenda that challenges exploitation, deportability, and mass incarceration for Black and brown youth. Further, to the extent that wages for low-skilled workers are declining, the prudent response is to support unionization, human and labor rights, and a higher minimum or living wage. The recent efforts to improve the minimum wage and to support ‘‘card check’’ unionization that allows workers to overcome intimidation tactics by
employers who fear workers with rights are steps in the right directions, but how often do African American political elites place these issues at the top of the agenda? These are the issues that also link the concerns of African Americans and Latinos together in ways that move beyond perceptions of group difference and/or threat. Unfortunately, there has been a significant retreat from these issues on the agendas of national and state politics. As the Latino high school drop-out rate approaches and tops fifty percent in many communities, we are not seeing the next great American success story, but a group who will likely be left behind as the new economy moves forward. Black leadership must redouble its efforts on central issues like job development, fair wages, prison reform, sentencing reform, crime prevention, universal health care, and quality education. These issues that are rarely on
the front of the national political agenda are essential to both African Americans and Latinos. Further, an enforceable ‘‘living wage’’ is also in the interests of African American and immigrant workers of all colors and consistent with values of fairness and ethical assistance. Work should pay in America and too often for Black, brown, white, and yellow workers, legal or undocumented, it does not.
Even if you don’t agree with what I have written so far, it is clear that turning 12 million people in the U.S. into felons will not be good for African Americans. It will redirect scarce resources towards the capture and incarceration of such people. It will make them more vulnerable to employer exploitation and is simply inconsistent with values of human rights embodied by the African–American struggle. The racism inherent in such a policy fuels a beast that again will consign African Americans to irrelevance and will cast Latinos into further exploitation. The ordinances being passed by cities and towns to prevent renting to the undocumented and that turn migrants into virtual fugitives invites not only discrimination against immigrants, but discrimination against all Latinos regardless of status. Re-legalizing racial discrimination is a profoundly dangerous road. Further, the policies are not, as anthropologist Nicholas de Genova suggests, to actually achieve deportation of Latino immigrants but, to produce ‘‘deportability.’’ Deportability relegates Latino immigrants (and natives too) to a fugitive status from which they can be freely
exploited since they cannot exercise normal citizenship rights under fear of deportation. Note that we have been here before with the Fugitive Slave Act, Plessy v. Ferguson, and myriad aspects of Jim Crow that—while not mentioning race—were no less directed at a particular racial group and were no less pernicious.
Perhaps our leaders do not understand how far in reverse we may go. In 2007, the Texas state legislature began considering the possibility of challenging the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment such that children born of undocumented immigrants would not be considered citizens. This radical change in the U.S.’s citizenship regime strikes at a core thread that guarantees those born in the U.S. the rights and some version of the privileges of citizenship. Jus solis rather than jus sanguine citizenship rights have been the hallmark of American democracy since the abolition of slavery. This is in jeopardy. We are looking towards a citizenship regime that will create new forms of racially stratified citizenship that will in turn condemn multiple generations of Latinos and other immigrants to marginal status.
Further, the racialized language that casts Latinas as having ‘‘anchor babies’’ in order to stave off deportation and attempt to guarantee their own ability to remain in the U.S. bears a striking resemblance to the racist rhetoric that characterizes African–American women as having children in order to obtain welfare benefits. This racialized and racist language should be shocking to those concerned about America’s racial history. The prospect of creating new and overtly racial forms of citizenship at the local and/or federal level is a dangerous slippery slope that is not merely about policies, but about fundamental principles of fairness and human rights. This shocking attack on a community and the proposals to convert millions of people living in our midsts into felons drew the convulsive response that constituted some of the largest protests in American history. I attended the May 1st (2006) rally in Los Angeles and the marchers saw their struggle as one for citizenship and empowerment and against racism, as many of their signs read. Others were in solidarity with displaced African Americans from Hurricane Katrina. Immigrants fighting for their rights are not picking a fight with Black folks. Do we, as African Americans, think we can go it alone and achieve our political goals in the future? What about the fact that a good 2 million of Latinos are ‘‘Black,’’ not to mention African and Caribbean immigrants? What have African Americans ever gained from joining with white racists? How will it harm African–American interests to have 12 million more voters who will likely support more social spending, unionization, and a range of other policies that are in line with the policy preferences of African Americans and especially the poorest among us?
By supporting this movement and fair, humane and rational immigration policies, a living wage, unionization, and battling racism wherever it exists, African Americans can make long-term and powerful political allies. Together, we can transform politics in this country, rather than playing a game of divide and conquer. Like it or not, African Americans are no longer the largest minority in the United States. That is a fact that will remain unchanged. If we don’t stand for our principles and we stand with racists, we guarantee our own future irrelevancy and moral decline. The bottom line is that African Americans need to help move the immigration debate and stand on principle rather than on narrow ‘‘interests’’ or ‘‘ethnic competition.’’ That means attacking racism and mobilizing around issues that will help African Americans advance. If we can’t stand with Latinos on this issue we will all fall.
The perfect example of this lack of vision was in the ultimately successful Proposition 187 campaign in California, that attempted to strip basic rights from immigrants and garnered a majority of African–American votes. It gave momentum to the conservative ballot initiative movement and paved the way for Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action initiative, now being considered in other states as a result of its wins in California, Washington, and Michigan. There is a domino effect we need to understand. African Americans unwittingly sowed the seeds of our own destruction by not standing with Latinos on this issue.
On the other hand, victories by forces for democracy, rights, and citizenship can have the same momentum. Just as the victory for civil rights by African Americans helped create minimum wage laws, more humane and (less) racist immigration policies and other positive reforms in the United States, this movement can have the same effect. Now that Latinos are fighting racism and for citizenship rights, we—as African Americans—have a stake in their winning. If they=we win, our next fights will be for unionization, expanded voting rights, living wages, more funding to public education, and universal health care. These are all issues that immigrants, Latinos, and African Americans share. Further, we will also fight for affirmative action together because Latinos have been and continue to be supportive of these policies.
Currently, the immigrant rights movements are the most vocal element shattering the immoral right wing orthodoxy in America and fracturing the Republican Party. It is great that Latinos are, in many ways, exposing the hypocrisy of the Republicans and their failed policies by carrying the struggle to the streets. The power structure fears this movement, but if we are righteous we have nothing to fear. No one imagined that such a mass mobilization of people was possible in this era. ‘‘Americans are too apathetic, too comfortable, to try to change the world,’’ they say. But there are those among us who see the injustice of racism and exploitation and through their own lack of basic rights are best positioned to remind us of how tenuous, incomplete, and threatened those rights are. We have all lamented this apathy, but we must be ready to act when we see a movement that challenges injustice.
This is an enormous opportunity for us, both politically and analytically. As academics we must understand the growth and diffusion of this movement and develop strategies and tactics to understand how so many people can be mobilized so quickly. Further, we must take advantage of the opportunity to educate members of the African–American and Latino communities about our shared struggles for meaningful citizenship rights and against either their denial or proffering as second-class citizenship of any kind. It is a living struggle and we must struggle with our friends who share our values for justice and who also struggle against racism. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’’ Thus, it is both pragmatic and righteous to support legalization now for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and to support a rational immigration policy that respects human and labor rights above ethnic pride and national purity.
Black leadership must now stand on principle. These principles must guide Black leadership even if in some local contexts Latino labor may mean short-term harm to vulnerable Black workers. The basic bedrock principles of racially equality and universal rights have been too hard-fought for African Americans to throw them away over a few minimum wage jobs. This is the trade-off that must be discussed in moral terms and in terms that articulate what has been our strongest high ground as African Americans.
Du Bois, W. E. B. 1987. The Souls of Black Folk. New York.
Du Bois, W. E. B. 1995. ‘‘Does Race Antipathy Serve Any Good Purpose? In F. L. Hord, & J. S. Lee, eds.,
I Am Because We Are: Reading in Black Philosophy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Dudziak, M. L. 2002. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press.
Grosfoguel, R. 2003. Colonial Subjects: Puerto Ricans in a Global Perspective. Berkeley: University of
Huntington, S. P. 2004. Who Are We? The Challenges to American’s National Identity. New York: Simon &
Lacayo, C. O. 2007. Santa-Ana: The REAL-ity of Orange County. National Conference of Black Political
Scientists Crowne Plaza, San Francisco, California.
Martin Alcoff, L. 2000. In J. J. E. Gracia, & P. De Greiff, eds., ‘‘Is Latina/o Identity A Racial Identity?’’
Hispanics/Latinos in the United States, 23–44. New York: Routledge.
Plummer, B. G. 1996. Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935–1960. Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press.
Robinson, C. J. 1991. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. London: Zed Books.
Sawyer, M. Q. 2006. Racial Politics in Post Revolutionary Cuba. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Singh, N. P. 2005. Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy. Cambridge: Harvard
Von Eschen, P. M. 1997. Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957. Ithaca:
Cornell University Press.
Washington, B. T. 1995. The Atlanta Exposition Address. In F. L. Hord, & J. S. Lee, eds., I Am Because We
Are: Reading in Black Philosophy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Posted by Angela Valenzuela at 9:32 PM
By David Bacon, New America Media
Aug 31, 2008
LAUREL, Miss. -- On August 25, immigration agents swooped down on Howard Industries, a Mississippi electrical equipment factory, taking 481 workers to a privately-run detention center in Jena, Louisiana. Some 106 were also arrested at the plant, and released wearing electronic monitoring devices on their ankles, if they had children, or without them, if they were pregnant. Eight workers were taken to Federal court in Hattiesburg, where they were charged with aggravated identity theft.
Afterwards Barbara Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stated the raid took place because of a tip by a 'union member' two years before. Other media accounts focused on an incident in which plant workers allegedly cheered as their coworkers were led away by ICE agents. The articles claim the plant was torn by tension between immigrant and non-immigrant workers, and that unions in Mississippi are hostile to immigrants.
Many Mississippi activists and workers, however, charge the raid had a political agenda - undermining a growing political coalition that threatens the state's conservative Republican establishment. They also say the raid, which took place during union contract negotiations, will help the company resist demands for better wages and conditions.
Jim Evans, a national AFL-CIO staff member in Mississippi and a leading member of the state legislature's Black Caucus, said he believed 'this raid is an effort to drive immigrants out of Mississippi. It is also an attempt to drive a wedge between immigrants, African Americans, white people and unions - all those who want political change here.' Patricia Ice, attorney for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), agreed that 'this is political. They want a mass exodus of immigrants out of the state, the kind we've seen in Arizona and Oklahoma. The political establishment here is threatened by Mississippi's changing demographics, and what the electorate might look like in 20 years.'
In the last two decades, the percentage of African Americans in the state's population has increased to over 35%, and immigrants, who were statistically insignificant until recently, are expected to reach 10% in the next decade. Mississippi union membership has been among the nation's lowest, but since the early 1980s, workers have joined unions in catfish and poultry plants, casinos and shipyards, along with those at Howard Industries.
Evans, other members of the Black Caucus, many of the state's labor organizations, and immigrant communities all see shifting demographic as the basis for changing the state's politics. Over the last seven years their growing coalition has proposed legislation to set up a Department of Labor (Mississippi is the only state without one), guarantee access to education for children of all races and nationalities, and provide drivers' licenses to immigrants. MIRA organized support in the state capitol for those proposals and Evans, who sponsored many of them, chairs the MIRA's board.
Earlier this year, however, the legislature passed, and Governor Haley Barbour signed, a law making it a state felony for an undocumented worker to hold a job, punishable by 1-5 years in prison and $1,000-10,000 in fines. Employers are given immunity for employing workers without papers, so long as they vet new hires through an ICE database called E-Verify. It is still not known whether the people arrested at Howard Industries will be charged under the new state law. Evans says the law and the raid serve the same objectives. 'They both just make it easier to exploit workers. The people who profit from Mississippi's low wage system want to keep it the way it is,' he alleged.
In the week before the raid, MIRA organizers received reports of a growing number of ICE agents in southern Mississippi. They began leafleting immigrant communities, warning them about a possible raid and explaining their rights should people be questioned about their immigration status. When agents finally showed up at the Howard Industries plant, many workers say they tried to invoke those rights, and warn others that a raid was in progress. One woman, later detained and then released to care for her child, began to call workers who had not yet come to the factory on her cell phone, warning them to stay away. 'She first called her brother, and then began calling anyone else she could think of,' explained her mother, who works in a local chicken plant. Both feared being identified publicly. 'An agent grabbed her arm, and asked her what she was doing, so she went into the bathroom, and kept calling people until they took her phone away.'
Howard Industries, like most Mississippi employers, has a long record of opposing unions. Workers there chose representation by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on June 8, 2000, by a vote of 162-108. Employment at the plant, which manufactures electrical ballasts and transformers, grew considerably after the election, and the company now employs over 4000 workers at several locations in Mississippi. In 2002 it received a $31.5 million subsidy for expansion from the state government, and at one point state legislators were all given HI laptop computers. 'The company is very well-connected politically,' says Evans, who noted that its owners donated to the campaigns of former Democratic governor Ronnie Musgrove, and then to Mississippi's current Republican governor Haley Barbour.
As it grew the company hired many immigrant Mexican and Central American workers, diversifying a workforce that was originally primarily African American and white. The company has declined to comment, and released a press statement that said, 'Howard Industries runs every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for jobs. It is company policy that it hires only U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.'
During the organizing drive the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging intimidation and violations of workers' rights. After the union and company agreed on a contract, more charges followed. NLRB Region 15 issued a complaint against the company for violating the union's bargaining rights. Roger Doolittle, attorney for IBEW Local 1317, says other charges allege that the company threatened a union steward for trying to represent workers in the plant. In June the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it intended to fine the company $123,000 for 36 violations of health and safety regulations at the Pendorf plant, where the raid took place, and another $41,000 in fines for a second Laurel location.
Tension between the company and union increased after the collective bargaining agreement expired at the beginning of August. According to one immigrant worker, who was not detained because he worked on swing shift and did not want to be identified, the union was asking for a wage increase of $1.50/hour and better vacation benefits. Company medical benefits are also an issue among workers, he said, because family coverage costs over $100/week, putting it out of reach for most employees.
Mississippi is a right-to-work state, and labor contracts cannot require that workers belong to the union. Instead, unions must continually try to sign workers up as members. In past years, according to other union sources, IBEW Local 1317 had a reputation as a union that did not offer much support to its immigrant members.
According to the swing shift worker, who did not belong to the union, there were just a few hundred members at the Pendorf plant, and in negotiations the company used that low membership as a reason not to sign a new agreement.
To increase its ability to negotiate a contract, Local 1317 began making greater efforts to sign up immigrant members. Spanish-speaking organizers were brought in, and they handed out leaflets in Spanish explaining the benefits of membership. They visited workers at home so they could talk about the union without being overheard or seen by company supervisors. According to the swing shift worker, many began to join, especially the immigrants who'd been hired most recently. IBEW's national newspaper, Electrical Worker, reported that over 200 had signed up last April, according to Local 1317's African-American business manager Clarence Larkin. 'It's a constant process to keep the union alive and growing,' he told the paper.
That's when the plant was raided. Local 1317 will now have to try to negotiate a contract after the loss of many of its members, who were among those detained. Those members, who joined the union in hopes of better wages and treatment, instead have been imprisoned for days in Jena, Louisiana, a two-hour drive from Laurel. ICE spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez would not provide an estimate of how long they might be jailed, but said 'the investigation of their cases is ongoing.'
The day after ICE agents stormed the factory MIRA began organizing meetings to provide legal advice, food and economic help. According to MIRA director Bill Chandler, Howard Industry representatives told detainees' families, and women released to care for children, that the company wouldn't give them their paychecks. On August 28 MIRA organizer Vicky Cintra led a group of workers to the Pendorf plant to demand their pay. Managers called Laurel police and sheriffs, who threatened to arrest her. After workers began chanting, 'Let her go!' and news reporters appeared on the scene, the company finally agreed to distribute checks to about 70 people.
The swing shift worker was so frightened by the raid that he hadn't gone back to work after almost a week, and wasn't sure he'd have a job waiting if he did. 'Everyone is still really scared,' he said. The Hattiesburg American reported Friday that Howard Industries sent a letter to customers two days after the raid, assuring them that production would be back to normal by the end of the week, and noting that the company has not been charged.
Spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez claimed ICE waited two years after receiving a call from a 'union member' before conducting the raid, because 'we took the time needed for our investigation.' She declined to say how that investigation was conducted, or what led ICE to believe their tip had come from a union member. The picture of a plant in which union members were hostile to immigrants was reinforced after the raid by media accounts of an incident in which workers 'applauded' as their coworkers were taken away.
'It's hard to believe that a two-year old phone call to ICE led to this raid, but whether or not the call ever took place, that possibility is a product of the poisonous atmosphere fostered by politicians of both parties in Mississippi,' says MIRA director Chandler. 'In the last election Barbour and Republicans campaigned against immigrants to get elected, but so did all the Democratic statewide candidates except Attorney General Jim Hood. The raid will make the climate even worse.'
NAM associate editor David Bacon is the author of Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants.
Posted by Angela Valenzuela at 9:31 PM
Immigrant raid divides a Mississippi town
Many black and white residents of Laurel applaud the crackdown; it sends fear through the Latino community. Political change may end such raids.
By Miguel Bustillo and Richard Fausset
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
August 31, 2008
LAUREL, MISS. - Fabiola Pena considered running away from her factory job when she realized she was being targeted in a federal immigration raid. She was deterred when she noticed the helicopters hovering overhead.
But helicopters were not what shocked Pena the most on her last, fateful day at Howard Industries, the largest employer in this small Southern town. It was the black co-workers who clapped and cheered, Pena said, as she and hundreds of other Latino immigrant laborers were arrested and hauled away.
"They said we took their jobs, but I was working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.," said Pena, 21, a day after the raid last week that resulted in the arrest of nearly 600 suspected illegal immigrants. "I didn't see them working like us."
The raid at Howard Industries, a manufacturer of electrical distribution equipment, was the largest of its kind in many years,and it exposed some of the rawest emotions that fuel the illegal immigration debate.
It was also carried out during a period of political limbo: Polls suggest that for voters, the immigration issue has been eclipsed by the sputtering economy, and neither of the two major presidential candidates has made much of the topic during the election season.
As the Bush administration winds down its tenure in Washington, it has made efforts to step up immigration enforcement, especially after Congress last year failed to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. Since then, thousands of people have been arrested in raids at dozens of facilities in the nation, generating considerable controversy. Immigrant advocates howl over the coarse treatment of suspects and the breakup of families, and anti-immigrant groups laud the raids, which they say allow for long-overdue enforcement of existing laws.
But the raids might not have much of a future after the swearing-in of Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama, both of whom have staked out moderate-to-liberal stances on immigration reform.
If the next president decides to curtail or end raids similar to the one at the Howard Industries, it will not sit well with many residents of Laurel. The raid was welcomed by a number of native-born residents in this manufacturing hub of about 25,000 people that has been transformed in recent years by the influx of Latino workers, many of whom are undocumented.
"They need to go and do this in every little town," Tonya Jackson said.
Jackson, who is black, said that over the years she had applied numerous times for a job at the locally owned manufacturer, which employs about 4,000 workers. Jackson, 30, said she never received a callback. The raid, she said, was a welcome purge of illegal Latino laborers who had taken jobs they didn't deserve.
"We've been here all our lives," she said. "And it seems like they have just arrived and are getting the nice cars and the good homes."
Her stance puts her at odds with Obama. The Democratic presidential nominee's website describes such raids as "ineffective" measures that have "placed all the burdens of a broken system onto immigrant families."
It is unclear if raids would increase or decrease under a McCain administration. Like Obama, McCain wants to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and beef up border security. (McCain, of late, has emphasized that border security must come first).
But some illegal-immigration opponents worry that the raids and other enforcement efforts will decline once illegal residents are offered a path to citizenship, since the government will be focusing more on accommodating rather than punishing them.
Immigration advocacy groups, meanwhile, are just as worried that McCain, who has tinkered with his views on immigration, would choose to continue the raids.
The crackdown in Laurel upended the new reality here. The old lumber town, about two hours northeast of New Orleans, boasts a few stately mansions and other remnants of a quaint Southern past. More recently, the city has been transformed by taquerias and grocery stores catering to Latino immigrants who came to work at the electrical equipment factory and nearby chicken plants. The town's population in 2000 was about 18,000, according to census figures, but the Latino newcomers have helped swell that number by thousands.
Their arrival created tension in the town, with black and white residents accusing the undocumented workers of taking the few available jobs and depressing wages.
Monday's raid, part of a two-year investigation of Howard Industries, was triggered by a complaint from a union member, said Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency conducting the inquiry.
Of the 595 people arrested, about 106 were released and fitted with monitoring devices until their trial date. Among them was Pena, who was freed so she could care for her 2-year-old daughter. A number of 17-year-old workers were put into the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the remaining workers were taken to a detention center in Jena, La., about four hours away.
Most of the workers were charged with noncriminal immigration violations and faced possible deportation; eight of them faced criminal charges of identity theft.
No managers were arrested in the raid, said Gonzalez, who noted the case remained open. Immigrant advocates often complain that workers bear a disproportionate brunt of the punishment from such raids, whereas the employers are sometimes overlooked.
Howard Industries released a statement the same day the raid took place, saying that the company performs "every check allowed" to determine the immigration status of all applicants.
After the raid, the company put up a billboard on 16th Avenue, the busy commercial thoroughfare on which it resides, that said: "Howard Industries is now hiring!"
The raid, along with rumors of further enforcement actions, has sent a wave of fear through the Latino community. A number of workers have skipped their shifts at the poultry plants. Mexican restaurants refused to open their doors, with one citing an unexplained "plumbing problem" on a sign to customers.
"There ain't a Mexican place open in this town," said Mark Childress, 49, as he went to a taqueria, only to find it closed.
Childress, a Laurel native, said he was not upset by the Latino immigration, but others said they were glad to see it being rolled back. James Warren, 33, worked at Howard Industries for a few months in 2000. But he quit because of the low wages and because he said none of the co-workers during his shift spoke English.
"It was long overdue," Warren said of the raid. "Everybody knew what was going on in there. There weren't a lot of white or black people left in there anymore, it was all Mexicans."
With both presidential candidates pledging to give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, Warren said he couldn't imagine the raids continuing for long.
At Peniel Christian Church one night last week, about two dozen Latino immigrants were milling around. Some held hands in a circle and prayed.
A few were waiting for lawyers; others were unaffected by the raid, but too scared to go home. Children ran through the pews, oblivious to their parents' grief.
"These people are not terrorists, communist or criminals," said pastor Roberto Valez, 58, a native of Puerto Rico. "They are here because they are hungry and in search of a better life, and they were caught working."
Pena, the former Howard Industries worker, said that not everyone treated her poorly. Her supervisor, a black woman, consoled her during the raid, she said.
"She even called my mother to let her know what happened," Pena said. "But it was in English and my mother had no idea what she was trying to say."
Posted by Angela Valenzuela at 9:30 PM
THE NEW MEXICO INDEPENDENT
September 1, 2008
McCain in a bind
As GOP convention gets underway, Latino leaders take aim at John McCain on immigration.
Immigrant rights rally in Albuquerque's Civic Plaze, 2006
By Marjorie Childress 09/01/2008
ALBUQUERQUE -- On the eve of the Republican National Convention, leading Hispanic national organizations sent a bluntly worded letter to Sen. John McCain about his party’s platform positions on immigration.
Authored by John Trasviña of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), the letter was co-signed by 19 organizations, including the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the National Council of La Raza, the National Institute for Latino Policy, MALDEF and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Trasviña’s letter urged McCain to ”...lead your party’s platform away from the deportation and detention path” which he says repudiates McCain’s past positions on immigration:
The Republican Party Platform language regarding immigration repudiates your efforts to provide a legal opportunity for immigrants who have lived steady, productive and crime-free lives in the United States to come forward, pay a fine, and demonstrate they are learning English.
The Republican Party’s 2008 platform places immigration with national security issues at the beginning of the document. It emphasizes border security, immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants “without delay,” and explicitly opposes “amnesty.”
McCain co-sponsored with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a highly debated bill in 2005 that called for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. It called for strengthening border security coupled with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already working and living in the United States, rather than deportation.
Conservatives in the Republican party base reject this “pathway to citizenship,” calling it “amnesty,” and hammered McCain for his position on immigration on the campaign trail during the Republican primary. He has since back-tracked from comprehensive reform, going so far as to say in January 2008 during a debate that he would not vote for the bill he authored in 2005 if it were introduced today.
Trasviña’s letter to McCain also takes aim at additional platform proposals that if implemented would have a significant impact on New Mexico.
Specifically, the platform calls for the denial of federal funds to “sanctuary cities.” It would also deny in-state tuition and drivers licenses to undocumented residents. The platform says these positions are consistent with the “rule of law”, although it does not clarify what law it is referring to:
It [the rule of law] means requiring cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement and real consequences, including the denial of federal funds, for self described sanctuary cities, ... It does not mean driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, nor does it mean that states should be allowed to flout the federal law barring them from giving in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens…
In the letter sent August 30, Trasviña said that such policies would split families, close the door on education for young people, and unwisely place federal immigration enforcement responsibilities on local police. Plus, he said, the platform also wades into the "divisive English Only debate:"
The platform language would split families, make our communities less secure by placing federal responsibilities to enforce immigration law on local police thereby harming police/community relations, and close the door to higher education to young people who have been raised here and graduated from local schools and whose parents or themselves paid local and state taxes. It also wades into the divisive English Only debate but fails to emphasize the importance of more English language classes for adults and youth.
Sanctuary Cities in New Mexico
In New Mexico, which is one of the states in which the Latino vote is expected to be highly contested in 2008, several places are considered sanctuary cities, including Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba County. New Mexico also does not check immigration status when a person applies for in-state tuition, and it’s policies do not preclude undocumented workers from obtaining a drivers license.
Essentially, a sanctuary city takes a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to immigration status. This means that police officers and other law enforcement entities don't inquire into the immigration status of people unless they are being actively investigated for a crime. They are also not allowed to arrest someone based on their immigration status, or report a person to federal authorities.
Proponents of this policy argue that if police officers are allowed to check immigration status on the basis of suspicion, it will lead not only to racial profiling due to the subjective nature of the request, but also will prevent people from calling the police for assistance or to report a crime, due to fears that their immigration status will be checked.
On a more nuts and bolts level, authorities say, it isn’t the responsibility of local and state level police officers to enforce federal law, nor are federal funds provided to do so.
In an Albuquerque Tribune article last year, former state Republican Party spokesman Scott Darnell characterized sanctuary city policies as “incentives” to undocumented residents. The Tribune also reported that Bernalillo County does allow it’s sheriff’s deputies to check immigration status, plus it requires them to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement those who they arrest and also suspect of being undocumented.
“That’s the way it should be,” Sheriff Darren White, a Republican, told the Albuquerque Tribune last year. “If there’s one thing we should have learned in this era, it’s that there are people trying to come into this country to harm us.”
White is currently running against Martin Heinrich for Heather Wilson's vacated First Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Heinrich, a former Albuquerque City Councilor, voted for a sanctuary city resolution while on the City Council in 2004. That resolution was titled "Opposing the Enactment of Federal Legislation Calling for State and Local Police to Enforce Federal Civil Immigration Laws," and passed with 7 votes -- the two other councilors weren't present. It was then signed by Mayor Martin Chavez.
Latino Leaders say the Republican platform positions are harmful to the Hispanic Community
In his letter to McCain, Trasviña clearly states that the Republican party’s platform positions on immigration are harmful to the Hispanic community as a whole:
Now is the time for you to stand with the aspirations of Latinos and against platform positions that would harm the Hispanic community and the nation.
And Trasviña urged him to support “solutions on the issues of most importance to the growing Latino community” that are provided in the 33-page National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.
The NHLA does not endorse candidates but we provide an agenda that candidates and parties can endorse that demonstrates they understand what federal policy is needed to foster Latino participation in all walks of life and an end to economic and social disparities that impair Latino advancement.
That document promotes comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. Here is the complete list of organizations that co-signed the letter to McCain:
American GI Forum
Dominican American National Roundtable
Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
Hispanic National Bar Association
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
League of United Latin American Citizens
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
National Association of Hispanic Publications
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
National Council of La Raza
National Hispanic Council on Aging
National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts
National Hispanic Media Council
National Hispanic Medical Association
National Institute for Latino Policy
Southwest Voter Registration Education Project
U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
U. S. Hispanic Leadership Institute
Posted by Angela Valenzuela at 9:29 PM