Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Battle over Immigration Has Unleashed a Tsunami of New Voters—Election Guide

The Battle over Immigration Has Unleashed a Tsunami of New Voters -- Election Guide
By , AlterNet
Posted on October 17, 2008, Printed on October 21, 2008

A new report suggests that "2008 will be the year of the immigrant and Latino voter," as "unprecedented numbers of immigrants are becoming citizens and registering to vote." The stakes, according to the report by America's Voice, an immigrants' rights group, "could not be higher."
Pro-immigrant groups are registering hundreds of thousands of new citizens to vote. They, along with earlier generations of immigrants, are being mobilized in large part by the passions surrounding the often heated debate over immigration.
The report calls members of these communities a "sleeping giant," awoken by the rhetoric of the anti-immigration hardliners who have often dominated debate over the issue. The We Are America Alliance -- with a $10 million field operation -- is trying to reach the ambitious goal of registering a half-million new voters an getting a million members of immigrant communities to the polls. Many are located in the crucial battleground states that will ultimately decide the election. The alliance has registered over 83,000 new voters in Florida and 35,000 in Pennsylvania. In Colorado, nearly 35,000 new voters could have a decisive impact on the Presidential contest. In Nevada, the 52,000 new voters the alliance registered are almost 2.5 times the margin of victory in that state in the 2004 presidential election (George W. Bush won Nevada by 21,500 votes). And the nearly 40,000 new registrations in New Mexico could be a major factor in a state that supported George W. Bush by less than 6,000 votes in 2004 and has an open U.S. Senate seat in 2008.
If organizers can deliver on their promises, it may signal a sea-change in American politics. As the report's authors predict, "Energized by their first leap into the political process, these new citizens will not rest after they cast their votes, and will continue to press their elected officials to enact laws that they support."
In the wake of two failed attempts to pass a Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) measure in recent years, immigrant rights advocates' worst fears have materialized. As a recent New York Times editorial put it, "the Bush administration keeps raiding factories and farms, terrorizing immigrant families while exposing horrific accounts of workplace abuses. Children toil in slaughterhouses; detainees languish in federal lockups, dying without decent medical care. Day laborers are harassed and robbed of wages. An ineffective border fence is behind schedule and millions over budget. Local enforcers drag citizens and legal residents into their nets, to the cheers of the Minutemen ."
It's is a crucially important issue -- a majority of Americans say they want the government to fix our broken immigration system -- but it's getting little attention in this year's presidential race. In large part, that's because although John McCain's positions on immigration have shifted since he launched his run for the White House, his philosophical approach is very similar to that of Barack Obama. In fact, they both co-sponsored the 2007 Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that was defeated in the Senate.
But the candidates do have some differences, and we dug deep into the their voting records and public statements to find out where they stand on seven contentious issues within the larger immigration debate.
1. A LARGE UNDOCUMENTED POPULATION
There are 12 million to 20 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. They are not subject to background checks for criminal pasts, and their entry violates U.S. law. They represent an easily exploited pool of workers, face abuses with little legal recourse and, while they contribute more in tax revenues than they cost overall, they represent a fiscal burden to the local communities in which they're concentrated.

Solution: Institute comprehensive workplace reform and immigration control that would: enforce wage, overtime and other labor laws; guarantee workers the right to organize in order to eliminate the unregulated jobs that many undocumented immigrants perform; reform the legal immigration system; reform trade and other economic policies that encourage migration; establish a process of legalization for those already in the country; and step up auditing and enforcement measures.
Obama's position: Obama was a co-sponsor of the senate compromise called 'comprehensive immigration reform,' which included a process of legalization for those immigrants already in the United States who met certain conditions, the establishment of an employer verification system and increases in workplace immigration enforcement. He supports "additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border" and has called for working more closely with the Mexican government to improve economic development in that country, the source of more than half of all undocumented immigrants in the United States. He has co-sponsored legislation that would establish an employer verification system, speed FBI background checks and assure that the fees required to go through the legal citizenship process are not out of reach. Obama would emphasize keeping families together in determining who would be eligible to migrate to the United States.
McCain's position: McCain was a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, but now he says he is "committed to a two-step process" that would first focus on "securing the borders" and would be followed by the other measures of comprehensive reform. He has proposed the construction of a "virtual border fence" and the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), along with other technologies. Once border state governors "certify that the border is secure," McCain would call for the addition of a process of legalization for those immigrants already in the country and the prosecution of "bad actor" employers who hire unauthorized workers. He would also eliminate the backlog of applicants for legal status. McCain would emphasize "America's labor needs" in determining who would be eligible to migrate to the United States. He favors a variety of temporary worker programs.
Learn more: Immigration Policy Center , Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

2. HOMELAND SECURITY'S BRUTAL IMMIGRATION DETENTION NETWORK
Absent broader reform, immigration authorities have built a costly immigration prison network in which children as young as 5 years of age have been held and human rights abuses have been reported. Through the end of the 1990s, unauthorized immigrants who had committed no other offense were released while awaiting a hearing on their case. According to the Detention Watch Network, 93 percent of those released under controlled supervision show up for their hearings, at a cost to taxpayers of as little as $12 per day. That cost shot up to $95 a day after the Sept. 11 attacks, when a new policy was instituted that forced most unauthorized immigrants to be held until their hearings. A series of investigative reports by the New York Times, the Washington Post and CBS' "60 Minutes" earlier this year found that abuses are common and that dozens of immigrant detainees have died in custody from treatable illnesses because they were denied proper health care.
Solution: Call a moratorium on workplace raids to decrease the number of migrant workers being detained within the system, and the return to a policy of releasing people who have committed no serious crime from detention while they await a hearing.
Obama's position: Obama has not articulated a specific detention policy.
McCain's position: McCain has not articulated a specific detention policy.
Learn more: Detention Watch Network , American Civil Liberties Union

3. OUR BROKEN SYSTEM OF LEGAL IMMIGRATION
The immigration system is a dysfunctional bureaucracy that encourages people to enter the country illegally. Applicants for green cards sometimes wait 20 years before they receive one; the number of people allowed to migrate legally to the United States doesn't match the demand for migrant labor; and the opportunities for those with less education and lower levels of job skills are insufficient.

Solution: Expand the number of migrants permitted to enter legally each year, and assure that family reunification is an integral part of eligibility instead of focusing on job skills as the primary criterion.
Obama's position: According to the Obama campaign site, "We must fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill." He has offered little in the way of specifics.
McCain's position: McCain has called for streamlining the legal immigration system and reducing the backlog for applications. He favors the creation of a series of guest worker programs for agricultural labor, lower-skilled non-farm labor and highly skilled workers.
Learn more: American Immigration Lawyers Association , Catholic Legal Immigration Network

4. IMMIGRATION RAIDS AS A UNION-BUSTING TOOL
Immigration enforcement has been used to break unions, harming American workers as well as undocumented migrants, but has left employers virtually untouched. Critics note that it is becoming increasingly common for immigration raids to occur when a company is facing a vote to unionize or, in some cases, being investigated for violating labor laws. These raids effectively end organizing campaigns and result in the detention of valuable witnesses who might testify against the company. Meanwhile, in 2007, the Department of Homeland Security fined only 17 employers during hundreds of workplace raids that resulted in the detentions of thousands of unauthorized workers.
Solution: A moratorium on workplace raids should be declared until more comprehensive systemic reforms are in place.
Obama's position: Obama says workplace raids are ineffective, noting that they've "placed all the burdens of a broken system onto immigrant families." He has not called for a moratorium on workplace raids.
McCain's position: While addressing the National Council of La Raza earlier this year, McCain said workplace raids are "a symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself." He has claimed that workplace raids won't be necessary after comprehensive reforms are enacted, but both proposals for comprehensive immigration reform considered by the Senate in recent years contained additional resources for workplace-based immigration enforcement.
Learn more: United Food and Commercial Workers' Commission on ICE Misconduct , Labor Notes

5. BORDER FENCE BOONDOGGLE
A "virtual fence" has been proposed, which would divide border communities, waste tax dollars and damage fragile ecosystems. This is part of a larger push to "militarize" the border with Mexico, an effort supported by defense contractors and immigration hardliners but rejected by majorities in those communities that would be the most affected. Environmental regulations have been suspended in order to build parts of the barrier.
Solution: Focus on systemic reforms that address the incentives that drive immigration rather than fences and high-technology monitoring equipment.
Obama's position: In 2006 and 2007, Obama voted for two measures calling for the construction of hundreds of miles of fence on the Southern border, but he voted against a measure to expand the project in late 2007 and 2008. He has said, "The key is to consult with local communities (in) creating any kind of barrier."
McCain's position: Since entering the Republican primaries, McCain has stressed "securing the borders" before implementing any systemic immigration reforms. He favors doing so "with UAVs, with vehicle barriers, with walls and with high tech and cameras." He told Vanity Fair, "I think the fence is (the) least effective (option). But I'll build the goddamned fence if they want it."
Learn more: Texas Border Coalition, San Diego Union-Tribune

6. TRADE AND IMMIGRATION
U.S. trade policy displaces workers in other countries, destroying jobs abroad and, by doing so, creates incentives for increased immigration. For example, according to a Pew Study, immigration to the United States from Mexico "grew very rapidly starting in the mid-1990s, hit a peak at the end of the decade, and then declined substantially after 2001." That surge in new immigrants from our southern neighbor corresponded with the signing of NAFTA, which allowed subsidized U.S. corn to flood previously protected Mexican markets. That flood of corn caused the loss of millions of agricultural jobs in Mexico and drove unknown numbers of agricultural workers to migrate to the United States in search of work. It's just one example in which Washington's economic policies abroad have a relationship with increased immigration at home.
Solution: Renegotiate existing trade agreements, and require that an immigration impact assessment be carried out on all future agreements, as well as for proposals being considered at international economic forums like the World Bank and IMF.
Obama's position: Obama has acknowledged the relationship between NAFTA and the increased levels of immigration from Mexico since its passage. He has called for the deal to be renegotiated to "protect American jobs" and said he would withdraw from the pact if Mexico and Canada didn't agree to reopen it for further discussion.
McCain's position: John McCain has defended NAFTA, saying, "We need to stand up for free trade with no ifs, ands or buts about it. We let trade and globalization be politicized at our own peril."
Learn more: Citizens Trade Campaign, Global Exchange

7. BIG BUSINESS ABUSES THE LEGAL IMMIGRATION SYSTEM
Firms have abused the H1B and H2B visa programs, bringing in foreign workers in order to lower their labor costs. The H1B program (for highly skilled workers) and H2B program (for temporary, non-agricultural workers) were established to allow companies facing genuine labor shortages to sponsor migrant workers in the United States. While companies were required to pay the "prevailing wage" and go through a process to certify that there were not enough qualified native workers to fill those positions, abuses of the system have been rampant. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that "in almost every case (examined), H2B-certified wages were lower than the prevailing wage reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics."
Solution: Reform the system of certification and give the Department of Labor the authority to investigate companies' efforts to hire American workers. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has proposed legislation that would bar firms that had laid off U.S. workers from eligibility for the H2B visa program.
Obama's position: Obama favors expanding the H1B and H2B visa programs and streamlining the application process, but he has also come out against companies that "game the system" by using the program to bring cheaper high-tech workers to the United States. He has said he would do more to protect native wages and job opportunities but has offered few specifics to date.
McCain's position: McCain has proposed expanding these programs based on "market demand" but has also promised to "ensure available and qualified American workers are given adequate and fair opportunities to apply for available positions."
Learn more: Information Week; Economic Policy Institute

The Battle over Immigration Has Unleashed a Tsunami of New Voters—Election Guide

The Battle over Immigration Has Unleashed a Tsunami of New Voters -- Election Guide
By , AlterNet
Posted on October 17, 2008, Printed on October 21, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/102821/
A new report suggests that "2008 will be the year of the immigrant and Latino voter," as "unprecedented numbers of immigrants are becoming citizens and registering to vote." The stakes, according to the report by America's Voice, an immigrants' rights group, "could not be higher."
Pro-immigrant groups are registering hundreds of thousands of new citizens to vote. They, along with earlier generations of immigrants, are being mobilized in large part by the passions surrounding the often heated debate over immigration.
The report calls members of these communities a "sleeping giant," awoken by the rhetoric of the anti-immigration hardliners who have often dominated debate over the issue. The We Are America Alliance -- with a $10 million field operation -- is trying to reach the ambitious goal of registering a half-million new voters an getting a million members of immigrant communities to the polls. Many are located in the crucial battleground states that will ultimately decide the election. The alliance has registered over 83,000 new voters in Florida and 35,000 in Pennsylvania. In Colorado, nearly 35,000 new voters could have a decisive impact on the Presidential contest. In Nevada, the 52,000 new voters the alliance registered are almost 2.5 times the margin of victory in that state in the 2004 presidential election (George W. Bush won Nevada by 21,500 votes). And the nearly 40,000 new registrations in New Mexico could be a major factor in a state that supported George W. Bush by less than 6,000 votes in 2004 and has an open U.S. Senate seat in 2008.
If organizers can deliver on their promises, it may signal a sea-change in American politics. As the report's authors predict, "Energized by their first leap into the political process, these new citizens will not rest after they cast their votes, and will continue to press their elected officials to enact laws that they support."
In the wake of two failed attempts to pass a Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) measure in recent years, immigrant rights advocates' worst fears have materialized. As a recent New York Times editorial put it, "the Bush administration keeps raiding factories and farms, terrorizing immigrant families while exposing horrific accounts of workplace abuses. Children toil in slaughterhouses; detainees languish in federal lockups, dying without decent medical care. Day laborers are harassed and robbed of wages. An ineffective border fence is behind schedule and millions over budget. Local enforcers drag citizens and legal residents into their nets, to the cheers of the Minutemen ."
It's is a crucially important issue -- a majority of Americans say they want the government to fix our broken immigration system -- but it's getting little attention in this year's presidential race. In large part, that's because although John McCain's positions on immigration have shifted since he launched his run for the White House, his philosophical approach is very similar to that of Barack Obama. In fact, they both co-sponsored the 2007 Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that was defeated in the Senate.
But the candidates do have some differences, and we dug deep into the their voting records and public statements to find out where they stand on seven contentious issues within the larger immigration debate.
1. A LARGE UNDOCUMENTED POPULATION
There are 12 million to 20 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. They are not subject to background checks for criminal pasts, and their entry violates U.S. law. They represent an easily exploited pool of workers, face abuses with little legal recourse and, while they contribute more in tax revenues than they cost overall, they represent a fiscal burden to the local communities in which they're concentrated.

Solution: Institute comprehensive workplace reform and immigration control that would: enforce wage, overtime and other labor laws; guarantee workers the right to organize in order to eliminate the unregulated jobs that many undocumented immigrants perform; reform the legal immigration system; reform trade and other economic policies that encourage migration; establish a process of legalization for those already in the country; and step up auditing and enforcement measures.
Obama's position: Obama was a co-sponsor of the senate compromise called 'comprehensive immigration reform,' which included a process of legalization for those immigrants already in the United States who met certain conditions, the establishment of an employer verification system and increases in workplace immigration enforcement. He supports "additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border" and has called for working more closely with the Mexican government to improve economic development in that country, the source of more than half of all undocumented immigrants in the United States. He has co-sponsored legislation that would establish an employer verification system, speed FBI background checks and assure that the fees required to go through the legal citizenship process are not out of reach. Obama would emphasize keeping families together in determining who would be eligible to migrate to the United States.
McCain's position: McCain was a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, but now he says he is "committed to a two-step process" that would first focus on "securing the borders" and would be followed by the other measures of comprehensive reform. He has proposed the construction of a "virtual border fence" and the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), along with other technologies. Once border state governors "certify that the border is secure," McCain would call for the addition of a process of legalization for those immigrants already in the country and the prosecution of "bad actor" employers who hire unauthorized workers. He would also eliminate the backlog of applicants for legal status. McCain would emphasize "America's labor needs" in determining who would be eligible to migrate to the United States. He favors a variety of temporary worker programs.
Learn more: Immigration Policy Center , Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

2. HOMELAND SECURITY'S BRUTAL IMMIGRATION DETENTION NETWORK
Absent broader reform, immigration authorities have built a costly immigration prison network in which children as young as 5 years of age have been held and human rights abuses have been reported. Through the end of the 1990s, unauthorized immigrants who had committed no other offense were released while awaiting a hearing on their case. According to the Detention Watch Network, 93 percent of those released under controlled supervision show up for their hearings, at a cost to taxpayers of as little as $12 per day. That cost shot up to $95 a day after the Sept. 11 attacks, when a new policy was instituted that forced most unauthorized immigrants to be held until their hearings. A series of investigative reports by the New York Times, the Washington Post and CBS' "60 Minutes" earlier this year found that abuses are common and that dozens of immigrant detainees have died in custody from treatable illnesses because they were denied proper health care.
Solution: Call a moratorium on workplace raids to decrease the number of migrant workers being detained within the system, and the return to a policy of releasing people who have committed no serious crime from detention while they await a hearing.
Obama's position: Obama has not articulated a specific detention policy.
McCain's position: McCain has not articulated a specific detention policy.
Learn more: Detention Watch Network , American Civil Liberties Union

3. OUR BROKEN SYSTEM OF LEGAL IMMIGRATION
The immigration system is a dysfunctional bureaucracy that encourages people to enter the country illegally. Applicants for green cards sometimes wait 20 years before they receive one; the number of people allowed to migrate legally to the United States doesn't match the demand for migrant labor; and the opportunities for those with less education and lower levels of job skills are insufficient.

Solution: Expand the number of migrants permitted to enter legally each year, and assure that family reunification is an integral part of eligibility instead of focusing on job skills as the primary criterion.
Obama's position: According to the Obama campaign site, "We must fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill." He has offered little in the way of specifics.
McCain's position: McCain has called for streamlining the legal immigration system and reducing the backlog for applications. He favors the creation of a series of guest worker programs for agricultural labor, lower-skilled non-farm labor and highly skilled workers.
Learn more: American Immigration Lawyers Association , Catholic Legal Immigration Network

4. IMMIGRATION RAIDS AS A UNION-BUSTING TOOL
Immigration enforcement has been used to break unions, harming American workers as well as undocumented migrants, but has left employers virtually untouched. Critics note that it is becoming increasingly common for immigration raids to occur when a company is facing a vote to unionize or, in some cases, being investigated for violating labor laws. These raids effectively end organizing campaigns and result in the detention of valuable witnesses who might testify against the company. Meanwhile, in 2007, the Department of Homeland Security fined only 17 employers during hundreds of workplace raids that resulted in the detentions of thousands of unauthorized workers.
Solution: A moratorium on workplace raids should be declared until more comprehensive systemic reforms are in place.
Obama's position: Obama says workplace raids are ineffective, noting that they've "placed all the burdens of a broken system onto immigrant families." He has not called for a moratorium on workplace raids.
McCain's position: While addressing the National Council of La Raza earlier this year, McCain said workplace raids are "a symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself." He has claimed that workplace raids won't be necessary after comprehensive reforms are enacted, but both proposals for comprehensive immigration reform considered by the Senate in recent years contained additional resources for workplace-based immigration enforcement.
Learn more: United Food and Commercial Workers' Commission on ICE Misconduct , Labor Notes

5. BORDER FENCE BOONDOGGLE
A "virtual fence" has been proposed, which would divide border communities, waste tax dollars and damage fragile ecosystems. This is part of a larger push to "militarize" the border with Mexico, an effort supported by defense contractors and immigration hardliners but rejected by majorities in those communities that would be the most affected. Environmental regulations have been suspended in order to build parts of the barrier.
Solution: Focus on systemic reforms that address the incentives that drive immigration rather than fences and high-technology monitoring equipment.
Obama's position: In 2006 and 2007, Obama voted for two measures calling for the construction of hundreds of miles of fence on the Southern border, but he voted against a measure to expand the project in late 2007 and 2008. He has said, "The key is to consult with local communities (in) creating any kind of barrier."
McCain's position: Since entering the Republican primaries, McCain has stressed "securing the borders" before implementing any systemic immigration reforms. He favors doing so "with UAVs, with vehicle barriers, with walls and with high tech and cameras." He told Vanity Fair, "I think the fence is (the) least effective (option). But I'll build the goddamned fence if they want it."
Learn more: Texas Border Coalition, San Diego Union-Tribune

6. TRADE AND IMMIGRATION
U.S. trade policy displaces workers in other countries, destroying jobs abroad and, by doing so, creates incentives for increased immigration. For example, according to a Pew Study, immigration to the United States from Mexico "grew very rapidly starting in the mid-1990s, hit a peak at the end of the decade, and then declined substantially after 2001." That surge in new immigrants from our southern neighbor corresponded with the signing of NAFTA, which allowed subsidized U.S. corn to flood previously protected Mexican markets. That flood of corn caused the loss of millions of agricultural jobs in Mexico and drove unknown numbers of agricultural workers to migrate to the United States in search of work. It's just one example in which Washington's economic policies abroad have a relationship with increased immigration at home.
Solution: Renegotiate existing trade agreements, and require that an immigration impact assessment be carried out on all future agreements, as well as for proposals being considered at international economic forums like the World Bank and IMF.
Obama's position: Obama has acknowledged the relationship between NAFTA and the increased levels of immigration from Mexico since its passage. He has called for the deal to be renegotiated to "protect American jobs" and said he would withdraw from the pact if Mexico and Canada didn't agree to reopen it for further discussion.
McCain's position: John McCain has defended NAFTA, saying, "We need to stand up for free trade with no ifs, ands or buts about it. We let trade and globalization be politicized at our own peril."
Learn more: Citizens Trade Campaign, Global Exchange

7. BIG BUSINESS ABUSES THE LEGAL IMMIGRATION SYSTEM
Firms have abused the H1B and H2B visa programs, bringing in foreign workers in order to lower their labor costs. The H1B program (for highly skilled workers) and H2B program (for temporary, non-agricultural workers) were established to allow companies facing genuine labor shortages to sponsor migrant workers in the United States. While companies were required to pay the "prevailing wage" and go through a process to certify that there were not enough qualified native workers to fill those positions, abuses of the system have been rampant. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that "in almost every case (examined), H2B-certified wages were lower than the prevailing wage reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics."
Solution: Reform the system of certification and give the Department of Labor the authority to investigate companies' efforts to hire American workers. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has proposed legislation that would bar firms that had laid off U.S. workers from eligibility for the H2B visa program.
Obama's position: Obama favors expanding the H1B and H2B visa programs and streamlining the application process, but he has also come out against companies that "game the system" by using the program to bring cheaper high-tech workers to the United States. He has said he would do more to protect native wages and job opportunities but has offered few specifics to date.
McCain's position: McCain has proposed expanding these programs based on "market demand" but has also promised to "ensure available and qualified American workers are given adequate and fair opportunities to apply for available positions."
Learn more: Information Week; Economic Policy Institute

Sunday, October 19, 2008

As the Violence Soars, Mexico Signals It's Had Enough of America's Stupid War on Drugs

By Silja J.A. Talvi, AlterNet
Posted on October 14, 2008, Printed on October 14, 2008

Even on his most homicidal of days, Al Pacino's character in Scarface couldn't even approach the level of drug trafficking-related brutality bleeding down Mexico's streets. It is no longer unusual for the Mexican news media to report on yet another, freshly decapitated head stuck atop a fencepost or a metal spike, or a garbage bag filled with body parts, usually with a hand-scrawled note or placard attached. That amounts to a cartel's calling card, and it's usually delivered in the form of a warning to a rival cartel, or for the Mexican authorities to stay away and stop seizing their drugs. Other times, it's just a chilling placard intended to strike terror into the hearts of the people who come across the gory scene and the text: "Ha Ha Ha." To be sure that their message is heard, cartels are known to send regular text messages to newspaper reporters, place newspaper advertisements, or to even upload their own killing videos (sometimes accompanied by narco-corridos as background music) to YouTube.
Mexican drug cartels are, rather effectively, fighting the government's War on Drugs with their own War of Terror, often swelling their ranks (and combat/terror tactics) with former members of law enforcement. The Zetas, for instance, are members of former Mexican counter-narcotics squads (some with U.S.-assisted training under their belts), who have become the self-proclaimed and much-feared hit men of the Gulf cartel.

So far this year, roughly 3,500 murders have been directly attributed to the drug war in Mexico, surpassing last year's estimate of 2,500. (These numbers include the murders of at least 500 soldiers, cops, judges, politicians -- and their family members -- in nearly two years. The drug war rages across Mexico's urban and (mostly) rural terrain, and murders are usually targeted toward pronounced rivals, but increasing numbers of victims are innocent bystanders, including women and children who were previously considered off-limits where acts of drug war-related retaliation were concerned.

Reports of attacks are rolling in daily, sometimes several times a day. This Sunday, unidentified gunmen shot up the United States consulate in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. While no injuries were reported there because the consulate was closed, six young adults attending a private celebration were killed on Saturday in the violence-and-drug-plagued Mexican border state of Chihuahua, in Ciudad Juárez. Those murders, as yet unsolved, followed on the heels of 11 homicides in a Chihuahua bar, when a gunman opened fire on unsuspecting patrons, including a prominent journalist who may or may not have been a specific target.

It should be of note that much of the worst drug war violence is happening right at the border: Tijuana, adjacent to San Diego, saw nearly 40 people murdered in the last week of September alone, in addition to nearly 25 deaths of male and female prisoners the previous week due to two major riots at the vastly overcrowded Tijuana State Prison. (Prisoners alleged frequent incidents of torture and sexual violence, sometimes leading to death, at the hands of guards.)

American newspapers located in border cities and states tend to report some of the more gruesome events and mass killings, but the rest of this country seems remarkably in the dark about what's happening to our Mexican neighbors, much less the fact that the violence has increased dramatically since U.S. drug war dollars have increased in the form of support for Mexican President Felipe Calderón's militarily-minded crackdown on trafficking, with the goal of dismantling the cartels' leadership apparatus, as well as breaking apart close alliances between local authorities, cops, and drug traffickers. (Corruption in Mexican law enforcement and military is epidemic; consider that many police officers in Mexico make no more than $5,000 per year.)

Since President Calderón took office in December 2006, he has authorized large-scale troop deployments (roughly 30,000 troops), in an attempt to diminish the power lorded over Mexico and its citizens by rival Gulf and Sinaloa cartels, as well as affiliates like La Familia, which has earned a reputation for particularly memorable and gruesome acts, including the night that five decapitated heads were thrown onto a dance floor packed with people.

Seizures of illicit drugs, particularly cocaine, have indeed increased. But so has the bloodshed and the level of fear: a national poll published on October 4th indicated that more than 40% of Mexicans felt less secure since Calderón's drug war offensive began. Another poll published by the Mexico City daily, Reforma, showed that more than half of Mexicans believed that the cartels, not the government, were winning the drug war.
Still, as one would imagine, the Bush Administration has responded favorably to Calderón's crackdown on drug cartels, ushering in the three-year "Merida Initiative" to support counter-narcotics efforts in Mexico and Central America: "The Merida Initiative complements U.S. domestic efforts to reduce drug demand, stop the flow of arms and weapons, and confront gangs and criminal organizations," as the State Department explained in April 2008.
This past June, Bush struck a deal with Calderón to approve $400 million toward additional drug war assistance (representing a 20% increase in the Mexican anti-narcotics budget) -- for still more helicopters, military training, ion scanners, canine units, and surveillance technology.

Considering their close ties, President Calderón's announcement earlier this month must have come as a bit of an unwanted surprise to the Bush Administration. On October 2, Calderón proposed legislation that would decriminalize drug possession, ostensibly for personal use. Not just for marijuana, as one might have expected in a country where pot smoke has not been demonized to the same degree as in the U.S., but for cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin, as well.

To be more specific, Calderón's proposed legislation, supported by the Mexican attorney general's office, is intended to address a different kind of drug crisis on Mexican soil: a growing number of addicts. Cocaine once solely destined from Columbia and other Andean nations toward the U.S. is still flowing in such great supply that it has ended up attracting more users -- and abusers. In addition, meth lab crackdowns in the U.S. have allowed narco-cartels to step in and fill the void, so that speed is now more readily available in Mexico, as well. The impact has been dramatic: according to the government's own statistics, the number of drug addicts in Mexico is estimated to have doubled in just six years to 307,000, while the number of people who have tried drugs at some point rose from 3.5 million to 4.5 million.

If passed, Calderón's legislation would decriminalize up to 2 grams of marijuana, 500 milligrams of cocaine, 40 milligrams of meth, and 50 milligrams of heroin. To qualify, any individual arrested with those drugs would have to agree to a drug treatment program to address admitted addiction or enter a prevention program designed for recreational users. Those who refused to attend one of these kinds of programs would be subject to a fine.
This proposal isn't the first of its kind in Mexican political history. In fact, former President Vicente Fox also supported limited decriminalization just over two years ago, but his efforts were quashed in the wake of unrelenting pressure from the White House and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. It's a safe bet that pressure of this kind has already started up where Calderón's proposal is concerned.

"President Calderón's proposal to decriminalize personal possession of illicit drugs is consistent with the broader trend throughout Western Europe, Canada, and other parts of Latin America to stop treating drug use and possession as a criminal problem," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance , a national drug policy reform organization. But it contrasts sharply with [the approach taken in] the United States [the U.S. government] should think twice before criticizing a foreign government for its drug policy, much less holding out the U.S. as a model. Looking to the U.S. as a role model for drug control is like looking to apartheid South Africa for how to deal with race."

Or, for that matter, looking toward U.S. intervention in Columbia as a model for how to deal with Mexican drug cartels. In effect, the U.S. government waded into a long-running civil war when it started to throw money toward anti-narcotics military training, aviation training, weaponry, surveillance technology, and the availability of Monsanto's coca-killing herbicide, Round-Up. Ostensibly, all of this assistance was for the "good guys." American taxpayers, as always, were expected to overlook the death squad part of the equation, the part about the right-wing paramilitary leaders who took their U.S.-supplied training and weapons and turned them into family and local economy-displacing attacks akin to, or worse, than that of their sworn enemies, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC).

The end result: Columbia's cities, towns, jungles, and streets were turned into even more militarized, more deadly versions of themselves. The U.S. government still declared victory when the leadership of the cocaine-producing Medellín Cartel was dismantled (or killed) from the 1980s to the early 1990s.

That particular cartel was brought down, and city streets are safer today than they were in the 80s and 90s, but Columbia's problems have hardly gone away. Blood still flows as a result of territorial battles between FARC and right-wing militias, often over the control over land suitable for growing plentiful coca crops. At this very moment, there are some 300,000 displaced Columbians, meaning the country has the second-worst internal refugee crisis in the world, right behind Sudan.

Since 2000, in fact, the U.S. has continued to pour huge sums of money into Columbia: over $5 billion since 2000, making it the biggest recipient of drug war funding (from the U.S. to a foreign country) in the 21st century. Has it paid off? Consider that in June, the United Nations released data indicated that coca cultivation actually increased nearly 30% in 2007 to 244,634 acres.

Columbia not only remains the world's largest coca producer, but its farmers have apparently succeeded in creating herbicide-resistant hybrid coca plants that defy Monsanto's poisons. Ninety percent of the cocaine consumed by Americans (half the cocaine consumed in the world goes up American noses) is now flowing this way from Columbia. And much of that cocaine is, indeed, passing through Mexico. (It is estimated that 80% of methamphetamine reaching the U.S. is coming from Mexico directly.)

Last week, the two-day security meeting of the Organization of American States kicked off with the frank admission that Mexico's narco-cartels are primarily buying their cocaine from FARC and right-wing paramilitary groups.

So, too, are Mexican cartels using what were once considered to be Columbian narco-terror tactics, including the use of "Columbian neckties" and the killing of innocent civilians. In fact, the drug war in Mexico is beginning to look, feel, and sound like the worst of the drug war in Columbia in the 1980s and 1990s. In late August, eleven headless, shirtless bodies were found handcuffed together in the Merda suburb of Chichi Suarez, in Yucatan State. The nature of the as-yet-unsolved crime is considered to be one drug cartel's "warning sign" to a rival group.
Mexican civilians have even become the recent victims of explosives detonated in public spaces, something that had not previously been a concern. The use of larger-scale explosives as a method of terrorist attack started just two months after Calderón took office, leading up to last month's terrifying explosion in a crowded plaza in Morelia, the capital city of Michoacn. The attack in broad daylight was timed to coincide with Mexican Independence Day festivities: over 100 people, primarily working-class men and women who had gathered for the free celebration, were wounded in the attack. Eight people were killed, including a 13-year-old.
As was the case in Columbia, journalists are being increasingly targeted for exposing narco-cartels (or links with officials and law enforcement, as the case may be). The Chihuahua bar shooting last Thursday claimed the life of David Garcia Monroy, a well-respected columnist at the daily newspaper, El Diario de Chihuahua. That same day, the editor of La Noticia de Michoacn, Miguel Angel Villagomez, was kidnapped as he left work in the port city of Lazaro Cardenas. And, on September 23, a popular Mexican radio host, Alejandro Zenn Fonseca Estrada, was shot to death with AR-15 rifles, at close range, in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco. According to witnesses, a van pulled up alongside Fonseca as he was hanging anti-violence posters on a major street. (According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, one of the posters read, "No to Kidnappings"). The murder remains unsolved.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

, Mexico ranks 10th on CPJ's "Impunity Index," a list of countries where journalists are attacked or slain on a regular basis and those crimes consistently remain unsolved.

Calderón's call for decriminalization won't put a direct dent in this kind of violence, but former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Expos of the Dark Side of American Policing, says that it's a step in the right direction toward alleviating the overflow of non-violent drug offenders in Mexican courtrooms, jails, and prisons -- something that's beginning to resemble the criminal justice landscape of the United States. Stamper, an active member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) , says that those comparisons need to be drawn. "Our drug policy, predicated on the prohibition model, has caused far more harm than good, locally and globally, " he says. "The results? The same as Mexico's: higher potency drugs, more readily available, and at cheaper prices than ever."

Statements like these, particularly coming from prominent members of law enforcement, would have been almost unheard of in the not-too-distant past. But these days, American public is sending strong signs that they, too, are ready for a truly different approach to drug and sentencing policies, as well as strategies on mental illness and/or substance abuse treatment. According to a nationwide Zogby poll released on October 2, three out of four U.S. voters believe that the war on drugs is failing, while over one-quarter agree that legalizing at least some drugs is the best alternative to the current strategy.

While Stamper supports Calderón's call for decriminalization, fellow LEAP activist and board member Terry Nelson says that he doesn't believe in "incremental steps," explaining that nothing short of complete legalization will bring an end to the profit-driven violence associated with the global drug trade, valued at around $500 billion per year. "To use a drug is not to abuse a drug," says Nelson. "Calderón is just trying to take some pressure off the court system with legalization, [most] of the actual crime and violence would be taken away, almost overnight."
A 32-year veteran of the military and various branches of law enforcement, Nelson's career took him on narco-traffic interdiction training and surveillance missions across Mexico, Central and South America. Nelson admits that he was involved in the Mexican Aviation Training Initiative, "designed to improve our counterparts in Mexico's professionalism in enforcing Mexican drug laws."

Some of the people Nelson helped to train ended up as Zetas, as he later found out.

Now retired and living in Fort Worth, Texas, Nelson served for five years as the Field Director of Surveillance Support Branch East (SSB East). During that time, he says, SSB East successfully seized of over 230,000 pounds of cocaine throughout Latin America. Nelson's biggest, personal drug trafficking bust happened off the coast of Ecuador, resulting in the seizure of 30,000 pounds of cocaine.

Much to his dismay, even such a large-scale bust yielded absolutely nothing by way of a drop in street supply -- or an increase in price. "If that big a bust doesn't affect the street trade," he muses, "what chances do you have doing it a gram or a kilo at a time?"

To put it another way, he asks, "if we hadn't called it a war to begin with, could we admit that we're not winning?"
Silja J.A. Talvi is an investigative journalist and the author of Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System (Seal Press: 2007). Her work has already appeared in many book anthologies, including It's So You (Seal Press, 2007), Prison Nation (Routledge: 2005), Prison Profiteers (The New Press: 2008), and Body Outlaws (Seal Press: 2004). She is a senior editor at In These Times.

The Sleeping Giant Awakes: Latinos are Ready to Vote

By Duke1676, Daily Kos
Posted on October 16, 2008, Printed on October 19, 2008

In the spring of 2006 millions took to the streets in cities, large and small, across the nation. Carrying signs proclaiming, "Today We March - Tomorrow We Vote," they voiced their opposition to legislation intended to criminalize 12 million undocumented immigrants, divide families, and foster a climate of fear and intimidation. They demanded instead that meaningful, humane, and responsible, immigration reform be enacted.
Two and a half years later, no such legislation has passed, replaced instead by a toxic and divisive debate that has led to increased raids, illegal detentions, hate crimes, and the very climate of fear and intimidation the marchers took to the streets to oppose. These events have galvanized the Latino community like never before and set the stage for what could be a seismic shift in the American electorate.
Recently released data on voter registration points to the dawn of a new political reality.
Unable to pass new restrictive and punitive legislation, the Right resorted to a mix of increased discriminatory local regulation, increased workplace raids, reinterpretation of federal statutes to allow for civil rights violations, and a media campaign to attempt to legitimize their deportation agenda with the general public. And while they have had some success in riling up their base and redirecting their fears and prejudices towards a fabricated "brown menace" and away from failed economic and foreign policy decisions, the issue has proven to be an electoral non-starter. Campaigns that have relied on restrictionist rhetoric have been utterly unsuccessful..
But now it appears that the dogs of hate unleashed by the anti-immigrant crowd are about to turn around and bite their masters. It's now becoming evident that they woke a sleeping giant and ignited a flame that has fired up the nation's largest minority like never before. This November, Latinos, and other ethnic groups with large immigrant populations, hold the key to victory in not only the obvious swing states, but a few that some might find surprising:
The passion of the immigration debate has galvanized immigrants and motivated them to apply for citizenship in record numbers. As a result, millions of new voters are preparing to cast their first ballots in November. These new citizens are joining long-time U.S. citizens of Latino background who are newly energized to turn out for the first time in years. Combined with the U.S.-born children and grand-children of immigrants who are coming into voting age, this wave has created a formidable force of Latino voters in 2008. Political scientist and Latino voting expert Matt Barreto of the University of Washington predicts turnout of over 9 million Latino voters in 2008, compared with 7.6 million Latino voters in 2004
Link
The protests of 2006 were the largest in US history and elicited different reactions from various groups. Knuckle draggers on right, like Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan, saw the marches as the greatest threat to "White European" hegemony in the history of the republic and went ballistic riling up their base to oppose the "brown menace." Progressives and the rest of the liberal chattering classes sat there, jaws agape, wondering how this ragtag group, seemingly without formal organization, or inside-the-beltway guidance, managed to put millions in the streets while they had had such limited success in mobilizing their own forces for similar efforts in opposition to the war.
Latino, immigrant advocacy, and civil/human rights organizers saw something different. They saw the birth of a movement. A movement Washington insiders played little, if any, roll in organizing - a true grassroots effort, born of the streets. Organizers across the spectrum, from well established DC advocacy groups to local community organizations to grassroots groups that sprung up in the wake of the marches, all saw the potential of this new movement and quickly started to mobilize.....particularly in the areas of naturalization of new immigrants and voter registration. And they are now about to reap the rewards of those efforts.

In 2008 alone, over 900,000 new naturalization petitions were approved. Of those, the vast majority plan on voting.
The We Are America Alliance (WAAA) expects significant Latino turnout for Election Day 2008. ...(and) is in the process of registering 500,000 new citizen voters and mobilizing one million to cast ballots on Election Day. WAAA is focusing its efforts on thirteen states with a high number of immigrant and Latino citizens, aided by last year's surge in naturalization applications. Link
WAAA's numbers are impressive:
Over 83,000 new voters in Florida
70,000 in California
35,000 in Pennsylvania
25,000 in Texas
25,000 Illinois
18,000 in Arizona
17,000 in New York
35,000 in Colorado
52,000 In Nevada (almost 2.5 times the amount that state was decided by in the 2004 presidential election - George W. Bush won Nevada by 21,500 votes).
40,000 in New Mexico (George W. Bush won by 6,000 votes in 20040


And these numbers reflect the efforts of only one group focusing mostly on new immigrants. Others, such as Voto Latino are concentrating on the broader Latino community and Latino youth vote. And then there are the efforts of the various campaigns and political parties to register Latino voters.
Yesterday, Democracia USA, one member of the We Are America Alliance, announced the final tallies of it's registration efforts in 7 States.
Democracia U.S.A. (D-USA), a national non-partisan Hispanic voter registration and civic engagement organization, today released its final Hispanic voter registration figures for 2008, which enumerate the organization's efforts over the past year and shows an average 7.6% increase in voter registration in the seven states where it operates, totaling a one percent increase in the entire Hispanic electorate. D-USA operations in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania reported the following increases in registrations:
Arizona 2%

Florida 6%

Nevada 11%

New Jersey 6%

Pennsylvania 10%
These increases demonstrate an overall trend across the country of emerging political activism and interest among Hispanics as their numbers increase state-by-state.
In Florida, the Hispanic voting population in the Orlando media market quadrupled between 1990 - 2008 from 66,000 to 234,000 and Central Florida Hispanics show an acute tendency to vote for the candidate not the party, making it the most swing prone voting bloc in the nation. The percentage of Miami Dade's overall Hispanic electorate grew from 44% in 2000 to 50% in 2008, while the percentage of native-born Cubans within this group fell from 75% in 2000 to 58% in 2008.
In Pennsylvania, a D-USA Hispanic voter trend study noted an increase of 84,000 Hispanics registering to vote between 2006 and 2008 with a statewide Hispanic electorate total of 294,000. Democracia USA's three regional offices in Philadelphia, Reading and Pennsauken, NJ. registered over 50,000 new voters in Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey in that same timeframe.
Finally, since 2000, Hispanic voters in Nevada have more than doubled, now making them 11% of the state's total electorate.
Link
According to Jorge Mursuli, President and CEO of Democracia U.S.A., new registrants in Florida have been trending decidedly Democratic. In 2004, 47% of registrants listed themselves as Independents, with the remainder splitting relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans. In 2008, 58% of new registrants are registering as Democrats, with Republicans garnering numbers in the low 20% range.
We won't know the full effects of all these efforts until after the election, but it's become quite obvious to most following these trends that the Republican Right and their media lapdogs have overplayed their hand, underestimating the blowback their anti-immigrant/anti-Latino rhetoric would cause.
A recent poll from NDN, conducted by Bendixen & Associates, asked Latinos, "How important is the immigration issue to you and your family?" In Florida, 79% of Latinos viewed immigration as important (51% "very important"); in Colorado, 74% viewed immigration as important (42% "very important"); in New Mexico, 80% viewed immigration as important (43% "very important"); and in Nevada, 86% viewed the issue as important (58% "very important").

... In 2004, George W. Bush won approximately 40% of the Latino vote nationwide, but polls today show weaker support for the Republican Party among this demographic. The Pew Hispanic Center recently found that Latinos favor Senator Obama over Senator McCain 66% to 23%.x In their research, 76% of Latino registered voters rated Senator Obama favorably, in comparison to a 44% favorability rating for Senator McCain.i Obama leads among Latinos in the Gallup daily tracking poll by an average of 59% to 30% over the past month. And a Wall Street Journal poll shows Latino voters favoring Obama over McCain 63% to 30%, while the poll shows the candidates tied with the general electorate.
These numbers are repeated in the hotly-contested "battleground" states. In Colorado, Senator Obama leads McCain among Latinos 56% to 26%; in Nevada, 62% to 20%; and in New Mexico, 56% to 23% according to the NDN poll. In Florida, a state where George W. Bush won a majority of Latino support in 2004, Latino voters' preference is now evenly divided between the two candidates. And a new NALEO Educational Fund survey shows Latino voters who have made up their minds favoring Obama 63% to 15% in Colorado; 55% to 14% in Nevada; and 61% to 20% in New Mexico, with the candidates in a near statistical tie in Florida. Link
Obama's strong showing among Latino voters follows a general trend where Democrats are viewed as more concerned about issues that effect Latinos ... and particularly the hot button topic of immigration.
When asked "which party has done a better job on immigration" by NDN/Bendixen, Latino voters favored generic Democrats by the following margins: in Florida, 48% to 29%; Colorado, 48% to 14%; New Mexico, 46% to 19%; and Nevada, 58% to 20%.
The NALEO Educational Fund poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Latino voters in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada believe the Democratic Party has the most concern for the Latino community, while only 6%, 4%, and 7% respectively chose the Republican Party. In Florida, 40% of Latino voters say the Democratic Party has more concern for the Latino community, while 20% choose the Republican Party and one-third say there is no difference. And a Pew Hispanic Center survey found that 49% of Latinos "say that the Democratic Party has more concern for Hispanics, while just 7% say the Republican Party has more concern. Since 2004, the share of Hispanics who say that the Democratic Party has more concern for Hispanics has increased by 14 percentage points."
Link
For many Latinos, their concern about immigration has just as much to do with the tone of the debate as policy specifics. Polling shows that Latinos favor a comprehensive approach immigration reform at about the same rates as the general population. But as Cecilia Muñoz, Senior Vice President at the National Council of La Raza recently said, immigration "tends to determine who the good guys are and the bad guys are for Latinos."
This is perhaps most evident in one of the most conservative groups within the Latino community; Evangelicals ... a group that according to the Pew Hispanic Center accounted almost entirely for Bush's increased share of the overall Latino vote in 2004, which grew from 35% in 2000 to 40% in 2004.
Evangelicals are one of the fastest growing segments of the Latino community. In 2004, they represented about one-third of the Hispanic electorate (up from one-quarter in 2000), and 63 percent voted for Bush-the first time on record that a Republican presidential candidate won the Latino evangelical vote.
Latino evangelicals are a distinctive demographic. They tend to be more affluent, more educated and more acculturated than other Hispanics. They're also more likely to be citizens and more likely to vote. "They punch above their weight when it comes to electoral impact," says Luis Lugo of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Politically, they tend to be highly conservative on social issues like abortion and gay marriage-in fact, more conservative than white evangelicals, according to various studies-but liberal on economic matters, such as publicly funded health care

... This year, the trend lines are disconcerting for Republicans. Bush was an appealing figure to Hispanic evangelicals-full of religious ardor, devoted to a conservative "life" agenda and appreciative of Latino culture. Yet many of them have soured on him as a result of the economic crisis and the war in Iraq. Moreover, GOP stridency on illegal immigration has made the party appear anti-Hispanic. The platform Republicans adopted at their convention didn't help. It called for declaring "English as the official language in our nation," and with regard to immigration, it emphasized border security and rejected "en masse legalizations." (Rev. Samuel) Rodriguez uses adjectives like "xenophobic," "nativist" and "anti-immigrant" to describe it. McCain has struggled in this environment. Though he championed immigration reform for years, he dialed back his support during the primaries.
Link
Today, a coalition of leading Latino Evangelical organizations released a report looking at polling trends among Latino Protestants, 80 percent of whom self-identify as born-again and/or attended an Evangelical denomination.
"The Biblical mandate to welcome the immigrant could not be clearer and we draw our values from our Bibles," said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who spoke during the press conference announcing the survey results. "This poll powerfully demonstrates that immigration is a profoundly religious issue for Hispanic evangelicals. We will vote our faith and we will vote our values. It's time that all candidates take notice."
"Latino Protestant voters are demonstrating a faith-based politics that puts moral solutions above ideology and sound bites," added Katie Paris, Director of Communications Strategy at Faith in Public Life, a sponsor of the poll. "Consequently, they are commanding the attention of both parties and defying the outdated stereotype that people of faith are mired in partisanship," she concluded.
Latino Protestant registered voters favor Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain by a 17-point margin (50.4 percent to 33.6 percent with 10.4 percent still undecided). This margin of support for Obama is slightly lower than his lead among the Latino population overall.
This is a dramatic shift from 2004 when George W. Bush soundly won the Latino Protestant vote. According

to 2004 post-election survey data, Bush won 63 percent of these voters, up from 32 percent in 2000
76.8 percent say their religious beliefs are important in influencing their views on immigration (54.6 percent say very important). Only 19 percent say their religious beliefs are not important in influencing their views on the issue.
Like all other voters, Latinos are most concerned about the economy, healthcare, education and Iraq. But the underlying specter of the xenophobia and racism that marked the immigration debate has led them to more readily question if they have any future in the Republican party.
Back in 2005, when there was still talk of "the permanent Republican majority" and Jim Sensenbrenner and his colleagues in the House Immigration Reform Caucus were pushing through Tom Tancredo's deportation bill, HR4437, one must wonder if they had any idea what waking the sleeping giant would really mean to their party's future.

The Sleeping Giant Awakes: Latinos are Ready to Vote

By Duke1676, Daily Kos
Posted on October 16, 2008, Printed on October 19, 2008

In the spring of 2006 millions took to the streets in cities, large and small, across the nation. Carrying signs proclaiming, "Today We March - Tomorrow We Vote," they voiced their opposition to legislation intended to criminalize 12 million undocumented immigrants, divide families, and foster a climate of fear and intimidation. They demanded instead that meaningful, humane, and responsible, immigration reform be enacted.
Two and a half years later, no such legislation has passed, replaced instead by a toxic and divisive debate that has led to increased raids, illegal detentions, hate crimes, and the very climate of fear and intimidation the marchers took to the streets to oppose. These events have galvanized the Latino community like never before and set the stage for what could be a seismic shift in the American electorate.
Recently released data on voter registration points to the dawn of a new political reality.
Unable to pass new restrictive and punitive legislation, the Right resorted to a mix of increased discriminatory local regulation, increased workplace raids, reinterpretation of federal statutes to allow for civil rights violations, and a media campaign to attempt to legitimize their deportation agenda with the general public. And while they have had some success in riling up their base and redirecting their fears and prejudices towards a fabricated "brown menace" and away from failed economic and foreign policy decisions, the issue has proven to be an electoral non-starter. Campaigns that have relied on restrictionist rhetoric have been utterly unsuccessful..
But now it appears that the dogs of hate unleashed by the anti-immigrant crowd are about to turn around and bite their masters. It's now becoming evident that they woke a sleeping giant and ignited a flame that has fired up the nation's largest minority like never before. This November, Latinos, and other ethnic groups with large immigrant populations, hold the key to victory in not only the obvious swing states, but a few that some might find surprising:
The passion of the immigration debate has galvanized immigrants and motivated them to apply for citizenship in record numbers. As a result, millions of new voters are preparing to cast their first ballots in November. These new citizens are joining long-time U.S. citizens of Latino background who are newly energized to turn out for the first time in years. Combined with the U.S.-born children and grand-children of immigrants who are coming into voting age, this wave has created a formidable force of Latino voters in 2008. Political scientist and Latino voting expert Matt Barreto of the University of Washington predicts turnout of over 9 million Latino voters in 2008, compared with 7.6 million Latino voters in 2004
Link
The protests of 2006 were the largest in US history and elicited different reactions from various groups. Knuckle draggers on right, like Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan, saw the marches as the greatest threat to "White European" hegemony in the history of the republic and went ballistic riling up their base to oppose the "brown menace." Progressives and the rest of the liberal chattering classes sat there, jaws agape, wondering how this ragtag group, seemingly without formal organization, or inside-the-beltway guidance, managed to put millions in the streets while they had had such limited success in mobilizing their own forces for similar efforts in opposition to the war.
Latino, immigrant advocacy, and civil/human rights organizers saw something different. They saw the birth of a movement. A movement Washington insiders played little, if any, roll in organizing - a true grassroots effort, born of the streets. Organizers across the spectrum, from well established DC advocacy groups to local community organizations to grassroots groups that sprung up in the wake of the marches, all saw the potential of this new movement and quickly started to mobilize.....particularly in the areas of naturalization of new immigrants and voter registration. And they are now about to reap the rewards of those efforts.

In 2008 alone, over 900,000 new naturalization petitions were approved. Of those, the vast majority plan on voting.
The We Are America Alliance (WAAA) expects significant Latino turnout for Election Day 2008. ...(and) is in the process of registering 500,000 new citizen voters and mobilizing one million to cast ballots on Election Day. WAAA is focusing its efforts on thirteen states with a high number of immigrant and Latino citizens, aided by last year's surge in naturalization applications. Link
WAAA's numbers are impressive:
Over 83,000 new voters in Florida
70,000 in California
35,000 in Pennsylvania
25,000 in Texas
25,000 Illinois
18,000 in Arizona
17,000 in New York
35,000 in Colorado
52,000 In Nevada (almost 2.5 times the amount that state was decided by in the 2004 presidential election - George W. Bush won Nevada by 21,500 votes).
40,000 in New Mexico (George W. Bush won by 6,000 votes in 20040


And these numbers reflect the efforts of only one group focusing mostly on new immigrants. Others, such as Voto Latino are concentrating on the broader Latino community and Latino youth vote. And then there are the efforts of the various campaigns and political parties to register Latino voters.
Yesterday, Democracia USA, one member of the We Are America Alliance, announced the final tallies of it's registration efforts in 7 States.
Democracia U.S.A. (D-USA), a national non-partisan Hispanic voter registration and civic engagement organization, today released its final Hispanic voter registration figures for 2008, which enumerate the organization's efforts over the past year and shows an average 7.6% increase in voter registration in the seven states where it operates, totaling a one percent increase in the entire Hispanic electorate. D-USA operations in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania reported the following increases in registrations:
Arizona 2%

Florida 6%

Nevada 11%

New Jersey 6%

Pennsylvania 10%
These increases demonstrate an overall trend across the country of emerging political activism and interest among Hispanics as their numbers increase state-by-state.
In Florida, the Hispanic voting population in the Orlando media market quadrupled between 1990 - 2008 from 66,000 to 234,000 and Central Florida Hispanics show an acute tendency to vote for the candidate not the party, making it the most swing prone voting bloc in the nation. The percentage of Miami Dade's overall Hispanic electorate grew from 44% in 2000 to 50% in 2008, while the percentage of native-born Cubans within this group fell from 75% in 2000 to 58% in 2008.
In Pennsylvania, a D-USA Hispanic voter trend study noted an increase of 84,000 Hispanics registering to vote between 2006 and 2008 with a statewide Hispanic electorate total of 294,000. Democracia USA's three regional offices in Philadelphia, Reading and Pennsauken, NJ. registered over 50,000 new voters in Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey in that same timeframe.
Finally, since 2000, Hispanic voters in Nevada have more than doubled, now making them 11% of the state's total electorate.
Link
According to Jorge Mursuli, President and CEO of Democracia U.S.A., new registrants in Florida have been trending decidedly Democratic. In 2004, 47% of registrants listed themselves as Independents, with the remainder splitting relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans. In 2008, 58% of new registrants are registering as Democrats, with Republicans garnering numbers in the low 20% range.
We won't know the full effects of all these efforts until after the election, but it's become quite obvious to most following these trends that the Republican Right and their media lapdogs have overplayed their hand, underestimating the blowback their anti-immigrant/anti-Latino rhetoric would cause.
A recent poll from NDN, conducted by Bendixen & Associates, asked Latinos, "How important is the immigration issue to you and your family?" In Florida, 79% of Latinos viewed immigration as important (51% "very important"); in Colorado, 74% viewed immigration as important (42% "very important"); in New Mexico, 80% viewed immigration as important (43% "very important"); and in Nevada, 86% viewed the issue as important (58% "very important").

... In 2004, George W. Bush won approximately 40% of the Latino vote nationwide, but polls today show weaker support for the Republican Party among this demographic. The Pew Hispanic Center recently found that Latinos favor Senator Obama over Senator McCain 66% to 23%.x In their research, 76% of Latino registered voters rated Senator Obama favorably, in comparison to a 44% favorability rating for Senator McCain.i Obama leads among Latinos in the Gallup daily tracking poll by an average of 59% to 30% over the past month. And a Wall Street Journal poll shows Latino voters favoring Obama over McCain 63% to 30%, while the poll shows the candidates tied with the general electorate.
These numbers are repeated in the hotly-contested "battleground" states. In Colorado, Senator Obama leads McCain among Latinos 56% to 26%; in Nevada, 62% to 20%; and in New Mexico, 56% to 23% according to the NDN poll. In Florida, a state where George W. Bush won a majority of Latino support in 2004, Latino voters' preference is now evenly divided between the two candidates. And a new NALEO Educational Fund survey shows Latino voters who have made up their minds favoring Obama 63% to 15% in Colorado; 55% to 14% in Nevada; and 61% to 20% in New Mexico, with the candidates in a near statistical tie in Florida. Link
Obama's strong showing among Latino voters follows a general trend where Democrats are viewed as more concerned about issues that effect Latinos ... and particularly the hot button topic of immigration.
When asked "which party has done a better job on immigration" by NDN/Bendixen, Latino voters favored generic Democrats by the following margins: in Florida, 48% to 29%; Colorado, 48% to 14%; New Mexico, 46% to 19%; and Nevada, 58% to 20%.
The NALEO Educational Fund poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Latino voters in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada believe the Democratic Party has the most concern for the Latino community, while only 6%, 4%, and 7% respectively chose the Republican Party. In Florida, 40% of Latino voters say the Democratic Party has more concern for the Latino community, while 20% choose the Republican Party and one-third say there is no difference. And a Pew Hispanic Center survey found that 49% of Latinos "say that the Democratic Party has more concern for Hispanics, while just 7% say the Republican Party has more concern. Since 2004, the share of Hispanics who say that the Democratic Party has more concern for Hispanics has increased by 14 percentage points."
Link
For many Latinos, their concern about immigration has just as much to do with the tone of the debate as policy specifics. Polling shows that Latinos favor a comprehensive approach immigration reform at about the same rates as the general population. But as Cecilia Muñoz, Senior Vice President at the National Council of La Raza recently said, immigration "tends to determine who the good guys are and the bad guys are for Latinos."
This is perhaps most evident in one of the most conservative groups within the Latino community; Evangelicals ... a group that according to the Pew Hispanic Center accounted almost entirely for Bush's increased share of the overall Latino vote in 2004, which grew from 35% in 2000 to 40% in 2004.
Evangelicals are one of the fastest growing segments of the Latino community. In 2004, they represented about one-third of the Hispanic electorate (up from one-quarter in 2000), and 63 percent voted for Bush-the first time on record that a Republican presidential candidate won the Latino evangelical vote.
Latino evangelicals are a distinctive demographic. They tend to be more affluent, more educated and more acculturated than other Hispanics. They're also more likely to be citizens and more likely to vote. "They punch above their weight when it comes to electoral impact," says Luis Lugo of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Politically, they tend to be highly conservative on social issues like abortion and gay marriage-in fact, more conservative than white evangelicals, according to various studies-but liberal on economic matters, such as publicly funded health care

... This year, the trend lines are disconcerting for Republicans. Bush was an appealing figure to Hispanic evangelicals-full of religious ardor, devoted to a conservative "life" agenda and appreciative of Latino culture. Yet many of them have soured on him as a result of the economic crisis and the war in Iraq. Moreover, GOP stridency on illegal immigration has made the party appear anti-Hispanic. The platform Republicans adopted at their convention didn't help. It called for declaring "English as the official language in our nation," and with regard to immigration, it emphasized border security and rejected "en masse legalizations." (Rev. Samuel) Rodriguez uses adjectives like "xenophobic," "nativist" and "anti-immigrant" to describe it. McCain has struggled in this environment. Though he championed immigration reform for years, he dialed back his support during the primaries.
Link
Today, a coalition of leading Latino Evangelical organizations released a report looking at polling trends among Latino Protestants, 80 percent of whom self-identify as born-again and/or attended an Evangelical denomination.
"The Biblical mandate to welcome the immigrant could not be clearer and we draw our values from our Bibles," said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who spoke during the press conference announcing the survey results. "This poll powerfully demonstrates that immigration is a profoundly religious issue for Hispanic evangelicals. We will vote our faith and we will vote our values. It's time that all candidates take notice."
"Latino Protestant voters are demonstrating a faith-based politics that puts moral solutions above ideology and sound bites," added Katie Paris, Director of Communications Strategy at Faith in Public Life, a sponsor of the poll. "Consequently, they are commanding the attention of both parties and defying the outdated stereotype that people of faith are mired in partisanship," she concluded.
Latino Protestant registered voters favor Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain by a 17-point margin (50.4 percent to 33.6 percent with 10.4 percent still undecided). This margin of support for Obama is slightly lower than his lead among the Latino population overall.
This is a dramatic shift from 2004 when George W. Bush soundly won the Latino Protestant vote. According

to 2004 post-election survey data, Bush won 63 percent of these voters, up from 32 percent in 2000
76.8 percent say their religious beliefs are important in influencing their views on immigration (54.6 percent say very important). Only 19 percent say their religious beliefs are not important in influencing their views on the issue.
Like all other voters, Latinos are most concerned about the economy, healthcare, education and Iraq. But the underlying specter of the xenophobia and racism that marked the immigration debate has led them to more readily question if they have any future in the Republican party.
Back in 2005, when there was still talk of "the permanent Republican majority" and Jim Sensenbrenner and his colleagues in the House Immigration Reform Caucus were pushing through Tom Tancredo's deportation bill, HR4437, one must wonder if they had any idea what waking the sleeping giant would really mean to their party's future.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Braceros set to finally get back wages

The Los Angeles Daily News, October 16, 2008
By Rachel Uranga, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 10/15/2008 09:14:54 PM PDT

Nearly 60 years after coming from Mexico to do the back-breaking work of this country's wartime effort, bracero Jose Rangel Belcazar will finally get paid the back wages owed him.

After a long battle with the Mexican government, Belcazar and thousands of his countrymen are eligible to receive about $3,500 each under a landmark settlement approved by a federal judge in San Francisco last week.

'They were robbing us,' said Belcazar, now 82 and in poor health. 'We were fighting this for so long. It's good that they are finally able to give us the money.'

Braceros were Mexicans who worked on U.S. farms, railroads and in mines to replace Americans who were fighting overseas during World War II. As part of the bracero program, the Mexican and U.S. governments withheld a portion of the men's wages with the promise that it would be distributed to them when they returned to their homeland.

It never was.

Under the settlement, the Mexican government agreed to pay about $14.5 million out to braceros and their descendants who live in the United States and worked for the program between 1942 and 1946.

Belcazar, who recalls picking lemons in Santa Paula under blistering heat and peaches and apples in Idaho, was among the 250,000 to 300,000 who came to fill the labor shortage in the fields mostly in California and along railroads during World War II.

Braceros like Belcazar or their widows can apply for payment at any of the dozens of Mexican consulates in the United States between Oct. 23 and Dec. 23.

'It's an outrage this thing took 60 years,' said Matthew Piers, a Chicago-based lawyer who filed the lawsuit seeking class-action status on behalf of former braceros. 'I am simply sorry we weren't able to do this 40 years ago. It's a shame but better late than never.'

The government's failure to distribute the money became a symbol of both governments' poor treatment of them.

The binational program was extended after World War II and lasted until 1964 with five million Mexican nationals participating.

Despite accusations that the practice lasted for years, Piers said there was no evidence the Mexican government violated an agreement with the United States after 1946.

'This is a decision that appears to be good on paper but is not good in fact for all ex-braceros,' said Juan Jose Gutierrez, a spokesman for the Braceroproa Alliance, representing surviving braceros and their families.

'From our point of view, this is not a gigantic legal victory because it is not going to benefit the majority of the ex-braceros.'

Several years ago, the Mexican government approved a budget of nearly $900 million to reimburse braceros, but advocates contend only a third has been released and many applicants are denied.

For more information on the case visit www.casobracero.com or call 877-436-9359.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Human Rights and the Border Wall

by MELISSA DEL BOSQUE

October 1st, 2008 at 4:24 pm

An international commission on human rights is in Texas today taking a closer look at the border wall and at immigrant detainee rights. Lawyers from the commission are speaking with former detainees from the Hutto immigration facility and other immigration detention facilities. They will also visit Brownsville and other parts of the Rio Grande Valley tomorrow to speak with landowners, lawyers, and UT Brownsville faculty about the border wall.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the commission is appointed by the general assembly of the Organization of the American States. The OAS is an international body, similar to the United Nations, that is comprised of 35 members states from North, Central, South America and the Caribbean. Created in 1959, their headquarters are based in Washington D.C., and in Cost Rica. Every four years, seven international experts on human rights issues from the member states are appointed to serve on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The commission examines and monitors allegations of human rights abuses by its member states, including the United States. The commission has investigated some of the worst human rights abuses in the Americas, including the Plan de Sanchez massacre of 250 villagers in Guatemala, and the murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez.

Denise Gilman, a clinical professor at the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic requested in August that the commission conduct a hearing on human rights abuses and the border wall. The hearing will be held in Washington D.C. on October 22nd. Gilman and others will attend the hearing along with landowners affected by the border wall. The commission will also ask that a high ranking official from Department of Homeland Security attend the hearing.

The UT law clinic and other legal groups also asked the commission to hold a hearing on immigrant detainee rights. The hearing will be held in Washington D.C., on October 28th.

Interestingly, Gilman says commissioners had planned to visit Texas to tour some of the detainee facilities in Raymondville. The State Department, however, told the commissioners that it wanted the name of every detainee they spoke with. “There was concern about reprisals against the detainees,” Gilman says. So commissioners decided they would not visit the facilities and jeopardize detainees. Instead the UT law clinic is setting up interviews between two staff attorneys from the commission and former detainees from the Hutto facility and other detention facilities in Central Texas.

While the commission may not force a change in Homeland Security’s policies toward the border wall and immigration detainee rights, Gilman hopes it can enrich the immigration debate in the United States. “They bring a unique perspective and look at immigration and the border wall issues from a rule of law and compliance with international norms on human rights,” she says.

Ultimately, Gilman hopes that during an increasingly negative election season in which immigration reform has so far not been a major issue, the commission can help inform candidates about immigration and human rights concerns. “I’m hopeful that this might help frame the issue for the next presidential administration,” she says.