Donald Trump’s Lightweight Immigration Plan is for Backward Losers and Low Life Dummies

Donald Trump is a rapist. (Trigger warning: link contains detailed account of an alleged sexual assault committed by Donald Trump.) That’s the worst true thing that I can say about him. But he’s also a schoolyard bully, a silver-spoon rentier, and a monstrous reality-show carnival barker  who has been enthusiastically embraced by more than 1/3 of our country’s conservative voter base with the ugliest kind of hateful nativism. He is a man devoid of conviction, compunction, or scruple.

And we’re still talking about him, for some reason.

Here’s all you really need to know about  Trump’s immigration plan: Ann Coulter believes it to be the “greatest political document since the Magna Carta.”  Elsewise in the actual world, however, the rhetoric of the phenomenon behind it has been condemned by religious leaders, other Republican candidates, lefty Democrats, right-wing talk show hostsRepublican strategist Karl Rove, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, conservative stalwart George F. Willmainstream Republicans, corporate Democrats, and thinking people around the globe. The #TrumpEffect is real, and it has already had brutal consequences for actual people.

Most of the coverage of Trump’s proposal has focused on its most immediately controversial tentpoles: mass deportation of the undocumented, an end to birthright citizenship, and a super-classy wall on the Mexican border. We’ll get to those, but I’m going to run these down in the least Trump-like way possible: working my way up from the bottom.

“Immigration Moderation”–or Immigration Abrogation?

Before any new green cards are issued to foreign workers abroad, there will be a pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.

I’m not going to pretend to understand exactly what he’s on about, or what this would actually mean in practice–and there’s no reason to believe the candidate does either.

But read literally, Trump has saved possibly his most economically disastrous proposal for last: an apparent total moratorium on employment-based immigration. (This is not to be confused with employment-based temporary non-immigrant visas, which I assume from context here would continue.)

Read literally, a “pause” in employment-based immigration would (among many other things) kneecap Silicon Valley, discourage foreign students from enrolling in our universities, dramatically stem the flow of “extraordinary ability” self-petitioning immigrants, and have massive global ripple effects for our country’s  international reputation and economic future.

This plank in Trump’s immigration platform becomes even more warped when you try to square it against his stated goal of making sure that foreign graduates of American universities aren’t “thrown out” and have a chance to remain here and contribute. Read literally, his plan to “pause” all employment based immigration would effectively end the hopes of any foreign student hoping to immigrate through employment, let alone to start her own business and hire American workers. (Remember that anyone on a student visa is considered a “non-immigrant,” and would presumably not be counted among the “unemployed immigrant” pool mentioned above.)

It’s almost as if Trump is making this up as he goes along.

Closing the “golden door” and ending “expensive refugee programs”

Trump’s war on refugees and asylum seekers is the lowest kind of nativist dog-whistle pandering.

The United States takes in more refugees and asylees than any other developed nation, and we could easily afford to accept many more. Our refugee programs are an appropriate tribute to our long history as a haven for religious, social, and political freedom, and a model for the world. And in terms of the larger federal budget, they cost us virtually nothing.

It’s also worth remembering that the majority of the people who arrive each year in the U.S. fleeing violence and persecution are coming from places–including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central America (and Vietnam and Cambodia before them)–which were left significantly worse off through our diplomatic, military, and economic intervention.  Any reasonable person who understands both recent world history and the Pottery Barn rule should recognize that we bear a direct moral responsibility for their well-being.

And we can more than afford it.

Refugee programs are administered through a remarkable public-private partnership between the federal government and a number of “voluntary agencies” (VOLAGs)–most, but not all, of which are religious charities. The entire budget for this program adds up to less than $1 billion each year, which is in and of itself only 1/6 of the less than 1% of the federal spending on overall foreign aid. The costs of travel, resettlement, job counseling, housing, and everything else required to relocate a family from a refugee camp abroad are covered by the VOLAGs, and the travel costs are actually arranged through an interest-free loan which the refugee must repay within six months of arrival.

For perspective, Congress has continued to push through the $1 trillion F-35 fighter jet program despite the Pentagon and Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain sensibly pointing out that it is a massive boondoggle for defense contractors and “an incredible waste of the taxpayers’ dollar.” Again, that’s the difference between less than $1 billion for some of the world’s most compelling humanitarian causes vs. $1 trillion for a plane that we don’t actually need. 

None of this is to say that we couldn’t actually create and fund the gimmicky “refugee program for American children” that Trump proposes. (N.B.: while I completely support spending whatever it takes to get inner-city kids out of crime and poverty, calling them “refugees” is both legally inaccurate and a semantic disservice to actual refugees.) But presenting it as a zero-sum game in which foreign refugees fleeing persecution and torture are somehow taking resources from vulnerable American kids is  cheap, cynical, and patently un-American.

It’s almost as if Trump doesn’t understand the first thing about the federal budget.

Ending the J-1 student exchange program (for some reason)

Trump’s proposal would terminate the J-1, a special non-immigrant visa for foreign exchange students and certain other seasonal workers. This is the first time that I’d seen anyone anywhere publicly suggest this, probably because the J-1 is a totally innocuous program which costs the U.S. virtually nothing and is a critical tool in our diplomatic and foreign relations. It’s a totally uncalled-for solution to a totally non-existent problem.

It’s almost as if Trump has no sense of perspective as to the actual problems in our broken immigration system.

Mass deportation

As written, Trump’s actual immigration plan does not include reference to his proposal to strictly enforce immigration law against every undocumented human being in the United States–but all you have to do is ask him, as Stephen Colbert did as recently as last night.

In calling for the removal of the entire undocumented population and their U.S. citizen children, Trump is swinging for the extreme nativist fences.  Americans have consistently expressed significant majority support for a reasonable path to citizenship for the undocumented, and mass deportation would be an unprecedented (and self-inflicted) economic, fiscal, social, and humanitarian disaster, a monumental own goal for the ages.

Trump has repeatedly explained that he would allow “the good people” to “come back” after they were deported, presumably through some kind of merits-based application system. (Or… not! It’s actually possible from the way that he talks about it that, like most of America, he believes that we already have such a system.) This is absolute unmitigated nonsense, obviously: why waste the enormous expenditure of time and money in the single greatest deportation effort in human history rather than sorting out “the good people” before tearing them away from their families and communities? Isn’t it “amnesty” whether you’re changing the rules for them while they’re here or while they’re abroad?

It’s almost as if Trump hasn’t ever stopped to think about the words that are coming out of his mouth.

Doubling down on “the wall”–and the fear

We already have a wall. We’ve already paid for it. And whether it’s actually working or not (an open question), we do know that Mexican migration is at a net negative (with more Mexican nationals leaving the US than entering) for the first time since the ’70s, enforcement has skyrocketed, and Border Patrol’s budget  [PDF] has nearly doubled under the Obama administration. We now spend far more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement (including actual anti-terrorism efforts) combined.

But none of this tough talk is about building an actual wall. It’s about building hate, fear, and distrust of people who don’t like or sound like “us.” Trump is playing on the worst assumptions of heartland Americans who have never actually met or spoken with a Latino immigrant. He won’t tell you that recent immigrants are far healthier, work much harder, are learning English faster than previous generations, and commit crimes at drastically lower rates than those of us who had the good sense to be born here. He won’t tell you about the actual lives and families involved, the shameful American trade and foreign policy choices which destroyed most of Central America, or the inevitable unintended consequences of effectively ending all legal Mexican migration (including millions of seasonal workers) with the Immigration and National Act of 1965.

It’s almost as if Donald Trump is a hatemongering baboon who should never come anywhere near any political office.

New bipartisan immigration reform plan doubles down on “The Line”

“Do you think we should tell them it’ll take 165 years?” (Senators John McCain, Charles Schumer, and Marco Rubio at today’s press conference)

Today’s announcement from the bipartisan “Gang of 8″ was an exciting step forward toward meaningful immigration reform. They have released a basic four-page working framework which summarizes their intentions for legislation to be shored up within a few months and possibly enacted by the end of the year.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the most controversial (but least surprising) provision of this framework would provide a path to lawful permanent residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

How long will this path be?  Today’s announcement did nothing to help answer that question:

“Individuals who are present without lawful status… will only receive a green card after every individual who is already waiting in line for their green card, at the time that this legislation is enacted, has received their green card.”

This sentence is so problematic that it is not even wrong.

(1) There is no line. I think we’ve been pretty clear about this. Perpetuating this unhelpful metaphor invites those with only a casual understanding of our system to ask the same old stupid questions about why these people weren’t already “in line” or otherwise “doing it the right way,” and otherwise reinforces the fallacy that there is something that undocumented residents could have done before which they were simply choosing not to. It allows the anti-reform crowd to continue their standard line that we are “rewarding lawbreakers” who could have “done it the right way” without having to acknowledge that there never was a “right way” for upwards of 99% of the people now here undocumented to have done it.

(2) There are several visa-specific “lines,” none of which these new prospective “probationary” immigrants would clearly fit into. I assume that Congress would be creating an entirely new “line” for this process, but, as with everything else in this framework, we’ll have to wait to see what that looks like.

(3) Reading this sentence literally, the first intending immigrant to file under the new proposal would find her application prioritized behind the last person in the slowest visa line, with temporary status assigned in the interim.  However, through the whims of Congress, the State Department, and the arcane formulae which govern global immigrant visa availability, the slowest of all of the “lines” is the one reserved for Mexican siblings of United States citizens. Siblings are the lowest priority (“fourth-preference”) visa category, and Mexico is one of a handful of countries which is “oversubscribed” and has its own separate lines for most visa categories. (It is very important to understand that these “lines” move so slowly not due to red tape or bureaucratic indifference, but because visas to any family members who are not “immediate relatives” (including a US citizen’s spouse, parent, or children under 21) are doled out annually in a carefully-formulated trickle in order to minimize the specter of “chain migration.”)

(4) Someone who is much better at math than I am has calculated [PDF] that at present rates a petition for a fourth-preference Mexican family member will not be approved and leave the sibling eligible to immigrate to the U.S. for 165 years. So barring a complete overhaul of the visa allocation system (which I don’t see anyone proposing) or massive advances in health care which radically extend the human lifespan, I have been advising Mexican clients for some time that there is no practical reason to file for a sibling under the current system. (This is not to say that you might not want to just file a petition just in case things change someday, but I have to take the law as I find it.) Frankly, you might as well buy your brother a square mile on the moon, as he’s more likely to be able to permanently reside there than with you in the U.S. (Especially under President Gingrich, apparently.)

(5) The “Z visa” proposed in 2007 (a similar, but not identical provision) included a measure to fast-track all pending family visas (including the fourth-preference category discussed above) within eight years before making immigrant visas available under the new program.  While this might carry its own set of challenges, I would definitely support this if it had been proposed this time. It is notably missing here, though.

Requiring the undocumented to go the “back of the line” is tough talk. But I will be maintaining a vigilant Linewatch on this one until we are told exactly what this legally meaningless phrase actually entails.




Self-deportation or self-delusion?

The most controversial aspects of Arizona’s controversial SB1070 will be debated before the U.S. Supreme Court this week. Arizona’s immigration enforcement laws, together with those passed in Georgia, Alabama, and other jurisdictions, were openly designed to make life as difficult as possible for undocumented non-citizens in hopes that they would “self-deport.” I thought it might be helpful to take a closer look at what 

So there’s this landlord who arbitrarily decides that he no longer wants the tenants in apartment 4 to live in his building. Although they’ve been paying their rent on time for years and have never made problems for anyone, there is just something about them that he’s never liked. With no easy excuse to begin eviction proceedings, the landlord launches a campaign of anonymous terror. He sneaks in while the occupants are at work to leave dead fish in strange places around the apartment. He changes the mailbox key without giving them a copy of the new one. He renegotiates the leases of every other tenant in the building to include a requirement that they are no longer allowed to speak or show any signs of neighborly good will whatsoever to the tenants of Apartment 4. He keys their cars, shaves their cat, and shuts off their heat from the hours of 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. every other day or so during the coldest winter months. When the tortured tenants finally move out, the landlord gloats to everyone in the building that his targets have “self-evicted.”

It seems that there are at least two people who would side with the landlord in this story: an incurable sociopath, and Mitt Romney.

Romney has been unusually consistent in taking a hard line on immigration enforcement, and “self-deportation” was the only cogent solution to our nation’s immigration problems he has posed in the Republican presidential debates.

“Self-deportation” may be one of the most inhumane and immoral concepts ever reduced to a mainstream talking point. Of course it sounds perfectly innocuous: what could be wrong with the undocumented voluntarily choosing to return to their home countries on their own time and at their own expense? Let’s start with the fact that “self-deportation” literally began its life as a joke publicized by a couple of inspired Mexican-American satirists. “Attrition through enforcement,” another catchphrase popular with anti-immigration activists, is little better. (“Attrition” is a word more closely associated with the Civil War than with civil discourse.) The problem is the practical reality of the policies–and heavyhanded policing–required to produce the result. While the undocumented already constitute as sizable a helot class as has ever been seen in any democratic country, the majority of them are also deeply woven into the social and cultural fabric of communities around the country.




Alabama, you got the weight on your shoulders

“With those parts that were upheld, we have the strongest immigration law in the country,” [Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley] said.

–”Alabama Wins in Ruling on Its Immigration Law,” The New York Times, 9/29/2011

What’s up, Alabama! Congratulations? I guess?

Thing is, you might as well brag about your state having the best postal service or air force in the United States, or having issued more patents than those layabouts in the Nebraska Patent Office. “State immigration law” is a flat contradiction in terms–by definition, we all have to handle immigration together, or not at all–and the Supreme Court has been pretty clear that determining who is and isn’t here legally is nobody’s business but the feds. I know you hate it when we bring up Neil Young, Alabama, but he kind of had a point when he sang that “you’ve got the rest of the Union to help you along…”

Anyway, best of luck recovering the state resources this law will require to enforce, as well as dealing with the angry, uneducated, hopeless underclass of kids rejected from public schools it will create.

Nos vemos en la corte!

This Carr’s a lemon

In what I assume was a sensible cost-cutting measure during tough times, the Boston Herald quietly rolled out the world’s first computer-generated weekly opinion column many years ago. The algorithim is a trade secret, but it appears to be designed to process and regurgitate the week’s news as if it were being explained to you by a bitter old man who hates everything. It also seems to have a built-in quota for a short list of words which will resonate with the Herald’s demo: “moonbats,” “hacks,” “freeloaders,” and, of course, the perenially-popular “illegals.”

Think Ed Anger, without the laffs. I’ve been reading it for years.

To humanize the whole experiment, the Herald has attached the column to a stock photo of a grimacing manchild they’ve affectionately nicknamed “Howie.” (I’ve always thought this was a sly hint to the “author’s” true identity: really, what adult human male would ever go by “Howie”?)

It’s all kind of adorable, really. Most of the time.

“Howie Carr” still has some bugs to work through, though, especially when it comes to trendspotting. Take this week’s big steaming memory dump:

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What part of “illegal” do you understand?

The easiest way to win a debate is to get the other side to accept your terms before it’s even begun. Even mentioning, say,death panels,” a shadowy “axis of evil,” a “government takeover of healthcare,” “clean coal,” or “illegal immigrants” is to assume without further discussion that these things exist at all.

They do not.

The phrase “illegal alien” is as inaccurate as it is dangerous, and should be recognized for the slur that it is. “Illegal” is not only demeaning and potentially harmful to the very large population of very real people it slanders, but to the immigration “debate” (such as it is at the moment) as a whole.

We would like to see “illegal” replaced throughout all public discourse with the more accurate “undocumented.” Here’s why.

Immigration violators are not criminals.

Unauthorized presence in the United States, in and of itself, is not a crime.

Although the words “illegal” and “criminal” are all too often combined in the same sentence by those who would like to have you forget this, the national conversation about immigration will never move forward until we can agree that “illegal” immigrants are not “guilty” of anything.

Criminals, by definition, violate our criminal statutes. Undocumented individuals are in the United States in violation of certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the civil code which governs American immigration law.

This may all sound very lawyerly, but it is an absolutely critical distinction. Perhaps the easiest way to remember it is to imagine two cars on the highway: one being recklessly driven by someone who has spent her evening drinking heavily, and the other being driven 15 miles over the posted speed limit by an otherwise careful driver. The former is committing a crime for which she may well be facing jail time and a criminal record if convicted, while the latter is merely committing a civil infraction which will result in nothing more than a fine and a bump in her car insurance payments.

Immigration law is not concerned with criminal concepts of guilt or innocence, but merely the administrative classifications of “inadmissibility” and “deportability.” Immigration violators are “charged” with civil offenses such as “unlawful presence” under INA 237(a)(1)(B). They are not subject to criminal sentencing, but rather to administrative punishments such as deportation and/or exclusion from future admission to the U.S. The only point at which they become subject to criminal penalties is upon re-entry after deportation.

It is worth noting that House Republicans briefly attempted to rewrite federal immigration law to criminalize the mere physical presence of undocumented individuals during the 2005 debate over H.R. 4437, but this didn’t get too far. It’s one thing to call people “illegal,” but even Congress could see the idiocy of actually criminalizing their existence.

Which brings us to:

Immigration violators are people.

Stigmatizing the undocumented as “illegal” does nothing but actively encourage abuse and neglect of an already-vulnerable population. It needlessly criminalizes the very existence of an entire class of human beings, and gives us license to ignore, exploit, and abuse our neighbors, employees, and fellow taxpayers.

Would you describe a speeder as “criminal,” “felonious,” “illegitimate,” “illicit,” “lawless,” “bad,” “evil,” “immoral,” “shameful,” “sinful,” “unethical,” “wicked,” “wrong,” “reprehensible,” or “unprincipled”? Continue reading

Rape and the Fattman

The following was emailed to earlier today. If you agree with it, please be sure to let him know!

Rep. Fattman:

Fun fact: Rep. Fattman's name means "one who kicks rape victims in the stomach"!

No doubt your office has already been made aware of this, but I wanted to be sure to let you know that you were egregiously misquoted in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in a story published Wednesday, 6/8/11. Regarding your views on victims of violent crimes who happen to be undocumented, the T&G published the following:

“My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward,” Mr. Fattman said. “If you do it the right way, you don’t have to be concerned about these things…”

Wow! I have to assume that this is either a ridiculously unfortunate typo, or someone at the Telegram & Gazette really has it in for you. No doubt what you actually said was that anyone, anywhere, who has been raped, beaten, abused, trafficked, or otherwise exploited in any way “should NOT be afraid to come forward”–ever, for any reason. After all, no reasonable, conscientious, thinking member of a civilized society (most especially an elected official in my Commonwealth) would *ever* publicly take the opposing view. The Telegram & Gazette has obviously juxtaposed these two quotes (leading with the misquote) to portray you as someone who believes that certain people deserve whatever they get–including violent rape–simply because of a civil immigration violation.

Now that this has been brought to your attention, I expect that you will be demanding a correction. I didn’t know much about you before I came across this story, but you seem to have a real commitment to public service and as much of a promising future as a Republican can expect to have here in Massachusetts. It would certainly be unfortunate to be remembered as nothing more than the once-promising state rep who publicly took a stand against rape victims halfway through his first (and only) term.

Then again, if this is what you actually said–or, far worse, as will very occasionally happen when elected officials speak in public, what you actually believe–then I must respectfully suggest that you are completely unfit for any public office, anywhere in the Commonwealth or beyond. Your constituents deserve to know just how little you care about victims of violent crime and the hardworking police and prosecutors who are doing everything they can to protect them; for that matter, so does anyone who casually Googles you. As a public service, I will be posting this letter on my Google-friendly immigration blog ( until you have publicly retracted your statement and issued a sincere apology to the many, many people your stated position will harm–including the law enforcement officers who are unable to bring unknown numbers of violent offenders (some of whom might even go on to hurt people who don’t even deserve to be raped!) to justice thanks to the attitude you have endorsed.

As an immigration attorney, I have had the opportunity to work closely with undocumented individuals who have been victimized beyond any human understanding by people like yourself who believe that their immigration status justifies anything that could possibly be done to them. I’d be happy to introduce you sometime! Perhaps you would like to meet with the 19-year-old trafficking victim who does not know which of the hundreds of men who violently raped her during her excruciating six-month imprisonment in a Texas hotel room is the father of her child, and take the time to explain to her why this was really all her fault because “if you weren’t here, the crime wouldn’t happen.” (After all, she did pay good money to the same traffickers to help her make a dangerous border crossing in a desperate attempt to escape a violent ex-boyfriend–who could possibly say she didn’t bring this all on herself?) Maybe you’d like to sit down with the woman who was trapped as a prisoner in her own home by the older man who seemed so nice before they moved in together, but then kept her captive with threats that he would report her to Immigration; I’m sure she’d be interested to learn why she should have been more afraid to go to the police than she already was. Or–although I suspect you care even less about this scenario than any of the others–the young Brazilian man violently abused into submission and kept as a personal servant and sex slave for years by a wealthy older man who found that occasional threats of reporting him to ICE were easier than paying him for his 60+ hours of work per week. No? That’s probably for the best, since they all continue to have serious problems interacting with men.

If you happen to find yourself looking for a job in 2012, I gather from your résumé that you are perfectly qualified for any number of positions which don’t involve enabling rapists on a state salary. I’m sure the Klan could use a fresh new face for its latest anti-immigrant message… or there’s always the Romney campaign, I suppose.

Minimal regards,

Matt Cameron

How “serious” is the Obama administration about immigration enforcement?

The recent tragic murder of Border Patrol Officer Brian A. Terry by bandits while on patrol near the U.S.-Mexican border was a harsh reminder of the daily dangers of the southern border and the courage of the men and women who are risking their lives every day to protect it. Officer Terry was a military and police veteran who was deeply committed to his mission, and his killers (three of whom are now in custody) deserve whatever they get.

But where everyone else saw tragedy, incoming House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) saw opportunity. In a statement issued almost immediately after the sad news became public, he complained that “[t]he Obama administration’s lax enforcement of immigration laws, coupled with calls for mass amnesty, only encourage more illegal immigration,” and asked “[h]ow many more Americans will die before the Obama administration wakes up and starts taking illegal immigration seriously?

Mr. Smith has spent too much time in Washington. Continue reading

Todo Sobre Mi “Anchor Baby”

This headline is so ridiculous that it was just crying to get called out.

For a minute, we shall, as Fox News does, accept the ludicrous premise that foreign-born mothers by the score are having babies on U.S. soil so that about 21-31 years hence, the slowest anchor known to man will finally drop.   If Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz do want U.S. Citizenship, there are far less convoluted ways to go about obtaining it than scheduling to be in Los Angeles on Ms. Cruz’s due date.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that if the Bardem-Cruzes were so inclined, they could apply tomorrow for a green card, which they would receive relatively quickly.  U.S. immigration laws allow for individuals of international renown (Nobel Prize winners, Olympic medalists, and the like) to obtain green cards awarded to “persons of extraordinary ability.”

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Today, Senate Democrats took the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act off the table, conceding that though the Act passed the House yesterday, there were not enough votes to pass it in the Senate. Had it passed, the Act would have provided undocumented individuals who were brought the United States as children and who have no other pathway to legalization an opportunity to receive legal permanent resident status after attending college or serving in the military for two years.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was one of DREAM’s biggest detractors. In a letter to his colleagues in the Senate posted by Politico, Sessions accuses the Democratic leadership of attempting to pass a “reckless” and “irresponsible” piece of legislation.

Though the DREAM Act is off the table once again, it is worth addressing what its opponents assert will happen if it passes, since the purported content and consequences of the bill color much of the debate surrounding it.

For now, however, I will address only Sen. Sessions’ first objection in his letter.

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