Commentary Law and Policy

Passing the DREAM Act Would Acknowledge the Human Rights of Migrant Children and Benefit All of Us

While the Maryland ballot initiative on education is great for young migrants in that state, it highlights the fact that federal action is sorely needed to protect the human rights and dignity of migrants everywhere.

November 6th was a good day for human rights, at least in Maryland. Not only did the state’s voters support same-sex marriage, they also voted in favor of expanding access to higher education for all of Maryland’s students, regardless of their immigration status.

While the Maryland ballot initiative on education is great for young migrants in that state, it highlights the fact that federal action is sorely needed to protect the human rights and dignity of migrants everywhere.

There is some good news. In June this year, President Obama signed an executive order preventing the Department of Homeland Security from deporting undocumented immigrants under 30 who came to the United States before they were 16 years old, and who fulfill a number of other criteria regarding their moral standing and education.

However, while this change rightly was hailed as a positive development for hundreds of thousands of young people, it does not overcome the need for legislative action—President Obama himself called it a “stop-gap” measure. In fact, it is now more than decade since a bipartisan initiative proposing similar benefits first was introduced in the Senate under the title “Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.”

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The idea behind the original bill—and the various versions of it introduced over the years—was to open the possibility for higher education and ultimately citizenship for noncitizen children of good moral character, regardless of their immigration status.

And the idea is solid. The individuals potentially covered by these bills are already a positive part of their communities, and many know no other home than the United States. They are, for all intents and purposes, Americans in everything but paperwork. Moreover, maintaining the documentary limbo many of them are in does nothing but make it more difficult for them to pay tax, improve their education, or otherwise contribute constructively to society. In other words: refusing to regularize the status of undocumented children risks turning them into the pariahs they never were.

However, since the first DREAM Act was introduced in 2001, and despite the passage of a version of the bill in the House of Representatives in 2010, no final legislation has been approved by both houses. Arguments that the bill would foster illegal immigration or potentially shield gang members do not bear out in reality. For starters, the bill explicitly seeks to exclude those with a criminal background and applies equally to documented and undocumented aliens. Also, from a pragmatic perspective, most people migrate because they can’t provide for their families at home, not because they think they can “pull one over” on their host country. The lack of DREAM Act-like legislation does not make foreign-born children magically disappear or “self-deport.” Rather, it prevents them from fulfilling their potential as participants in society, thus becoming more of a burden than they otherwise would have been: a lose-lose situation if ever there was one.

But even more importantly, education is a human right. Numerous international human rights bodies have repeatedly clarified that states must protect the human rights of those living in their territory, regardless of their legal status. Certainly, states can and must independently determine their immigration and access policies, but they cannot decide whether any one individual has rights: we all do.

Up until this week, 11 states had already adopted their own versions of the DREAM Act, including California, Texas, and New York, all states with large and rapidly growing foreign-born populations. It is telling that states with large immigrant populations know that providing immigrant children with access to higher education only can be beneficial to everyone.

The ballot initiative approved in Maryland this week sends a powerful message to Congress that states are willing to provide, piecemeal, what the federal government should be providing, wholesale. It also underlines the uneven nature of legal protections for immigrants until federal law is passed, especially because immigration generally remains under federal purview. Hopefully, passing a federal DREAM Act is a priority item on the agenda of the new Congress.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Immigrant Bill Advances in North Carolina

Tina Vasquez

The bill may become law by the end of the legislative session Saturday, American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Acting Executive Director Sarah Preston told Rewire.

North Carolina’s HB 100, a bill that targets undocumented communities and aims to penalize cities not complying with local immigration laws, was sent to the house rules committee this week after passing the senate.

The bill could become law by the end of the legislative session Saturday, American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Acting Executive Director Sarah Preston told Rewire.

HB 100 expands on HB 318, the Protect North Carolina Workers Act, signed into law last year, which requires employers doing business with a “public entity” to use the federal E-Verify system to authenticate the citizenship status of job applicants, and bars government agencies and local law enforcement from verifying a person’s identity or residence using consular or embassy documents.

HB 100 will prohibit an exception in HB 318 that allows law enforcement to accept identification provided through local programs such as the FaithAction ID Initiative, which provides identification for any resident in the community “who may not have access to government issued forms of ID.”

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As ThinkProgress reported, these local ID programs were created “in partnership with law enforcement officials precisely because police wanted to make cities safer … FaithAction International House realized that undocumented immigrants were afraid to call the police when crimes occurred, fearing officers would arrest them instead because they lacked identification.”

Another bill introduced in May, SB 868, aims to prohibit law enforcement officials from being able to accept these IDs and under HB 100, these programs, popular in larger cities like Greensboro, would be illegal.

“Removing the ability to use these community IDs makes undocumented immigrants more likely to be targets of crime, because it makes them fearful to come forward and interact with law enforcement,” said Preston. “People who want to take advantage of the community know this community has very little recourse.”

What’s “incredibly troubling,” Preston said, is the reporting piece of the bill. The law allows anonymous tipsters to call the attorney general’s office and make complaints against their city, town, or local law enforcement alleging it is not following local immigration laws. As CityLab reported, a second reporting measure allows any person to “file a lawsuit asking a court to decide whether a city or county is non-compliant with state law.”

If the attorney general confirms a report that a city is not complying with the state’s anti-immigrant policies, whether these violations are intentional or inadvertent, the city’s transportation and education funding will be withdrawn for the year.

“These complaints would be anonymous and confidential and could take shape in many different ways, like someone at the county clerk’s office helping an undocumented person access records or seeing an undocumented person in court that a North Carolina resident doesn’t think is being treated as badly as they should be,” Preston said.

The attorney general would investigate “no matter how frivolous or incomplete it may be,” Preston told Rewire.

HB 100 comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s split ruling on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which would have provided an estimated 3.6 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident children with a renewable work permit and exemption from deportation for two years. At a time when advocates are calling on cities to provide more local protections for undocumented immigrants in light of the ruling, Preston said this measure represents the “unnecessary targeting” of a community that has already been under attackboth nationally and in North Carolina—for years.

A recent series of immigration raids hit North Carolina’s undocumented communities, which comprise 7.6 percent of the population, hard. The state doesn’t have any sanctuary cities, which are regions that do not work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the detainment and deportation of undocumented community members.

HB 100 would actually make sanctuary cities illegal, explained Preston. And the inability by undocumented community members to access any form of identification would erode any relationship local law enforcement has been able to build with this community.

“I can’t answer why the state is going after such a vulnerable population,” Preston said. “I think it’s wrong and misguided, but I don’t have an answer. I wish I knew.”

Commentary Violence

The Orlando Massacre Response Must Not Obliterate the Realities of LGBTQ People of Color

Katherine Cross

Even in the wake of violent death, the reality of our community is erased. Omar Mateen's actual motives, the lives and very names of the dead, and the realities of gay, queer, and trans people of color who yet live are obliterated under a bigoted yearning for more brutality.

The thumbnail image of a news piece posted on my Facebook timeline was just a Puerto Rican flag. As soon as I saw it, I knew what the headline would be: “Over half of the dead in Orlando were Puerto Rican.” Upon seeing what I was looking at, my partner wordlessly swaddled me in one of her best hugs, the kind that could keep the whole world at bay, breaking upon her strong back like a tide. Though Latinxs are often stereotyped as uniquely patriarchal, we nurse large and thriving queer communities in the tenement houses, projects, and barrios of this nation, in the shadows of broader stereotypes about who LGBTQ people are and what we look like.

Until I came out, I never knew that my old aunt Iris had several trans woman friends who often came to her home to drink, laugh, and smoke. Her acceptance of me was mirrored by much of my wider family, the same people who might seem gauche to middle-class whites who imagine themselves so much more tolerant and might pity me for my ancestry. When I think about the fact that it was precisely Latinx LGBTQ people—those often hidden by the mainstream—who fell to Omar Mateen’s bullets, numbness takes hold. Its grip tightens when I see that even in the wake of violent death, the reality of our community is erased, save for a few comprehensive news reports sprinkled amidst the unending grind of rolling news’ speculations and non-updates.

What leaves me without breath is when that erasure is the first part of a larger gesture that asks us to lay this crime at the feet of the whole of Islam and anyone who might be thought to belong to it. In the wake of this demand, Mateen’s actual motives, the lives and very names of the dead, and the realities of gay, queer, and trans people of color who yet live are obliterated under a bigoted yearning for more brutality.

This tragedy joins many others that have taken place over the last decades. What these crimes all share is less a religious motive than a hateful, fearful one, which manifests in the profound violation of open, welcoming spaces that model a pluralistic society.

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How these acts of mass violence are framed says a lot. I needn’t cite any examples of Omar Mateen being called a terrorist; the word has become like the air we now breathe, inescapable in its consensus usage. From random tweets to the words of powerful leaders and writers, Orlando has become an act of “terrorism” by dint of the shooter’s name alone, in the midst of a discourse where the appellation “terror” is only applied to the political violence of self-professed Islamists.

But what is terrorism if not politically motivated violence? Why, then, is Thomas Mair, who was arrested for the murder of Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox just last week, already being painted as a “loner,” with the word “terrorism” conspicuous by its absence? The lips of the British elite seem unable to pronounce it, suddenly. Eyewitnesses suggest the handgun Mair allegedly wielded looked homemade—a craft he might have learned from a handbook he purchased from the neo-Nazi National Alliance, of which he was a longtime supporter.

In Mateen’s case, meanwhile, much has been made of his claim to support Daesh in his final phone call during the attack. Though details of the case continue to emerge, a more thorough look at his history suggests a more mundane explanation for this: Like so many of the shooters in these types of crimes, he seems to have sought to puff himself up and make himself appear more frightening, if only for the sake of his ego. Indeed, some investigators now suggest that he made his widely discussed Daesh pledges simply to ensure more media coverage, a strategy that some in the press have rewarded by posthumously crowning him a “jihadi.” His past flirtations with expressing meaningless support for Hezbollah and al-Qaeda would tell anyone well acquainted with foreign affairs just how confused this man was; those two organizations and Daesh are all enemies motivated by different types of extremism.

If we are to take the concern trolls at their word and have a “serious conversation” about Islam in the wake of this massacre, then we should critically examine how knowledgeable and pious Mateen actually appeared to be.

Mateen committed his killing during the holy month of Ramadan, a time when observant Muslims typically refrain from even uttering swear words, much less killing; there is no evidence he was fasting in observance of Ramadan, either; Pulse patrons say Mateen was a drunkard who became belligerent and had to be ejected more than once, but alcohol is forbidden to practicing Muslims.

Just as I felt my Latinx queer community rendered invisible in the wake of its own tragedy, so too do I empathize with the many queer and LGBT Muslims who feel the same way—their sexuality, their genders, their piety washed away by the caricature of Mateen that has emerged in recent days.

Mateen’s motivations seem to have been, based on available evidence, garden-variety self-loathing and prejudice inflected by violent, masculine, and homophobic demands placed upon him. A former colleague described Mateen as making so many racist and homophobic remarks that he complained to his superiors about the matter—who promptly did absolutely nothing.

Perhaps Mateen felt hatred and envy for those who appeared to live without the internal conflicts he had; perhaps his own noted racism against other people of color played into his choice of target. What seems clear, from his time in a police academy, to his love of NYPD shirts, to the fact that his job at the time of the shooting was working as an armed security guard for G4S, is that Mateen sought to affiliate himself with entities that often demonstrate strength and inspire fear, as a way of making up for his own inadequacies and quashing any self-loathing over his sexuality. His pledge to Daesh in his final moments appears to have been, then, less a statement of religious belief than his final way of pathetically latching himself onto another gaggle of armed strongmen in an attempt to make himself seem more frightening, more manly. His boast about having known the Boston Marathon bombers, which the FBI later found to be empty, can be understood in the same way.

All the same, the portrait of Mateen as a pathetic wannabe-badass-cum-possible-closet-case should not individuate his crime. He was born and raised in the same United States that brings the homophobia and transphobia of many violent men to a boil. None of the people who have literally threatened gun violence against trans women using washrooms this year were Muslim (many were ostentatiously Christian, as it happens). This is, after all, the year of North Carolina’s HB 2; that is part of the context in which this mass killing must be understood, in which this murder has now become a one-word threat issued by plenty of non-Muslim homophobes. Take, for example, this man in New York who, upon being kicked out of a gay club promised “I’m going to come back Orlando-style!” The cultural issue here is not Islam as a faith, but men who feel that any slight must be avenged by mass violence.

Yet beyond this, we must return to the streets of Britain, where makeshift memorials for Jo Cox are blossoming as I write this. She was killed as she was leaving her constituency surgery—a kind of public, face-to-face meeting with the people she represents that is both a requirement and tradition of MPs in the UK. All and sundry could come to her and discuss their views, grievances, and problems. Such events are free and open to the public, lightly guarded, and easily accessible by design.

They appear to be the polite, respectable mirror image of a gay club’s beats and grinds, but both sites speak to something about our aspirations as a liberal democratic society: pluralism and openness. Much has been written about gay bars and clubs as shelters from a hateful world; they are our little utopias amidst the chaos of our times, a brief flash of what we would like to see and feel everywhere: safe, accepted, in community, loved as ourselves. The constituency surgery, meanwhile, is an attempt at correcting the signature failing of representative democracy, providing a forum for people to speak directly to their elected officials and influence their government.

Each in its way is an innovation athwart darker times and darker impulses, a way of building community through trust and openness. This, too, was at the heart of Mother Emanuel in Charleston, South Carolina, and the prayer meeting that welcomed in a young and listless white stranger a year ago this month; the people Dylann Roof killed had accepted him into their spiritual home for prayer and healing, had placed their trust in a stranger, and invited him to join them, unguarded and without fear.

All three places—the surgery, the church, and the gay nightclub—were paragons of openness and trust, open to all who observed only a most basic compact of decency and tolerance. All three were shattered by the overflowing hatred of men who needed to write their will in someone else’s blood.

It is actually true that our democratic societies face a mortal threat, but it does not come from Islam. It overwhelmingly comes from within: the unchecked entitlement and easily stoked rage of rudderless men who keep being told that women, people of color, and queers are taking something away from them that they need to violently reclaim. They believe they are entitled to a birthright that immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ people and religious minorities, are pilfering from them.

We should open society further in response. For instance, we can do that by eliminating these divisive and prejudicial bathroom bills and allowing LGBTQ people to fully participate in society by protecting them from discrimination in all areas. Or, for that matter, increasing support for victims of domestic violence while identifying and rehabilitating abusers before they do worse might also go a long way toward preventing this from happening again.

The open and pluralistic society that many of us dream of is under threat from men with guns who feel that violence is the only way to solve their problems, making a public tragedy of their internal traumas. If we allow our focus to drift to Islam, we shall only hasten that demise: a dramatically upscaled version of the bigot’s extroverted suicide that must claim the lives of innocents even as we destroy our own.