The President And The Pool Cue

Tuesday night President Obama was in Denver and decided to stop in at a brew pub, have a beer, and shoot pool with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.  Photos of the President brandishing a pool cue and lining up a shot are all over the internet.

The President’s pool hall visit has received a lot of criticism.  Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC and a Democratic Representative from Texas, Henry Cuellar, whose district is on the Mexican border, questioned why the President was shooting pool and drinking beer rather than going down to visit the border and address the flood of unaccompanied minors who are crossing into the U.S.  The Congressman called the President’s actions bizarre and said that if he had time to shoot pool and drink beer, he should have made time to visit the border when he came to Texas for fundraisers.

This incident captures why it would suck to be the President in the modern media world.  You can criticize the President for his administration’s handling of the immigration issue, and you can question, as I have, why his proposal to deal with the influx of minors doesn’t address securing the porous border that allowed the kids to cross in the first place.  But are we really to the point where we’re arguing about the imagery of the President shooting pool as opposed to the substance of his approach?  If, instead of shooting pool and drinking a beer, the President was photographed reading a book, or visiting a museum, would we hear the same hue and cry?  I doubt it.

We see so much of the airbrushed, sanitized, carefully crafted politicians who are afraid to say and do anything real because they might be criticized.  This incident shows why.  I might disagree with President Obama’s policies on many things, including immigration, but I’ll defend his right to pick up a cue, line up a shot on the eight ball, and channel his inner Minnesota Fats now and then.  Our fixation on photo ops is cheapening our politics.

Securing The Border

Yesterday President Obama asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address what clearly has become a crisis along America’s southwestern border.  The crisis is a huge influx of unaccompanied teenagers and children — estimated to number more than 52,000 since October — who have flooded across the border.

The $3.7 billion requested would be used primarily for two purposes.  $1.8 billion would go to providing food, shelter, and health care for the immigrants, who currently are housed on military bases, in Border Patrol facilities, and in other temporary quarters.  Another $1.6 billion would be used to hire immigration judges and expedite the immigration process.  The remaining $300 million would assist the central American countries from which the minors have come.  The Administration, which contends that many of the minors are escaping drug cartels and sex-trafficking rings, proposes to use drone aircraft and other means to try to improve the security situation in those countries.

We’ll have to see the details, but what seems to be lacking from the Administration’s proposal is any real focus on or commitment to physically securing the border so that people cannot cross in the first place.  If 52,000 unaccompanied minors have been able to make it to U.S. soil, our border obviously is porous.  How many adults have reached American territory and, unlike the minors, eluded capture?  If we cannot control who enters our country, we have serious security problems — and if we don’t address that fundamental issue, the flood will continue and the billions of dollars requested by the Administration will simply be the first of a series of stopgap measures.

I agree with providing humanitarian aid to the minors who have come to our country, but we cannot be a permanent refuge for any child or teenager who crosses the border — and then ultimately wants to seek asylum for the parents who may have sent them across the border for that purpose in the first place.  There’s something fishy about the suddenness of the influx of unaccompanied minors across the border, and we also need to understand why the recent surge of immigrant minors has occurred.  Have crime and living conditions in Mexico and central America really deteriorated so dramatically that it could explain a huge increase in children simply deciding, on their own, to begin the long trek north?

The Fertility Factor

On Friday former Florida governor Jeb Bush — who apparently is entertaining notions of a run for the White House — gave an interesting speech on immigration in which “fertility” came into play

Bush is a proponent of immigration reform who believes that immigration is good for the United States.  (Of course, it’s hard to argue with that proposition, in view of the fact that the vast majority of Americans trace their family trees to hardy, self-sacrificing, risk-taking immigrants.)  In making the economic case for reform, Bush noted that immigrants start more businesses, have more intact families, and are more “fertile” — leading to a younger population.

Odd to hear politicians talking about “fertility,” isn’t it?  It’s a subject that makes people uncomfortable.  Those of us who lived through the “population bomb” era remember the dire predictions of mass starvation, food riots, and other threats from overpopulation, so how can having large families suddenly be a good thing again?  There are socioeconomic and religious and other factors at play as well.  Unmarried teenagers are fertile, but we aren’t encouraging them to have babies to help the country grow.  “Native-born” Americans, to use Bush’s phrase, are fertile, too — in the sense that they are physically capable of having children — but many of them have taken steps to control that fertility in order to end up with manageable families they can provide for.  Those families think they are being responsible.  Is Bush suggesting, instead, that they are being selfish and unpatriotic?

The mathematics of population growth, maintenance, and decline are indisputable.  Around the developed world, there are countries that are shrinking, with birthrates that are too low to fully replace those who die.  The demographic reality has a devastating political impact, because without young people to pay for the generous retirement and health care and housing programs for the aged, the social welfare model becomes unsupportable.  That’s why many countries with low birth rates are taking steps to encourage young couples to have larger families.  Have more children, so they can grow up, get jobs, pay taxes, and help those long-lived seniors enjoy their comfortable retirements!

Perhaps America will join the list of countries that provide economic incentives for larger families — or perhaps we’ll achieve that result through policies that welcome more of those “fertile” immigrants.  Either way, look for “fertility” to be an increasing topic of national conversation in the years to come. 

The Tsarnaevs And The Immigration Debate

The Boston bombings came at an inconvenient time for the politicos who are working on an immigration reform bill — but that might be a good thing.

In our catch-phrase, talking-point era, the immigration issue has been reduced to mantras like “securing our borders” and fuzzy video images of people scaling flimsy walls in desert landscapes.  Of course, immigration involves a much more complex, multi-faceted set of concepts and questions.  We are a land of immigrants, built in large part through the hard work and aspirations of those who came to our shores in search of freedom.  We need immigrants to perform certain jobs in our economy, and we want immigrants who will be doctors and entrepreneurs.  We feel a more obligation to offer asylum to those seeking to escape persecution in their native lands.  Millions of people now working in America came here illegally; what are we realistically to do about them?

The Tsarnaev brothers accused of perpetrating the Boston bombings cast a different perspective on the immigration debate.  They didn’t come here smuggled in the hold of a ship or sneaking across the border in the dead of night.  “Securing our borders” through towering walls or armed forces in the southwest wouldn’t have stopped their arrival.  And what happened after they got here?  News reports indicate that various members of the Tsarnaev family received government assistance.  It’s not clear that the Tsarnaev brothers ever held a permanent job.  If they had had to find gainful employment, and didn’t have hours of free time to surf the internet for hateful messages and theories, would they have descended into apparent jihadist beliefs?  Tamerlan Tsarnaev eventually was targeted as a potential radical in comments from a foreign government, investigated by the FBI, and put on a CIA watchlist.  Should something more have been done about him?

The Tsarnaevs shouldn’t define the immigration debate, of course, but neither should we ignore lessons we might learn from them.  As immigration reform is debated in Congress, it’s entirely legitimate to ask whether our experience with the Tsarnaevs should cause us to revisit how we decide to allow people to come to America, what we should do, if anything, to monitor them after they arrive, and whether we should be able to take action if their conduct after their arrival indicates that they aren’t making positive contributions to society.

Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Immigrant Forebears

The Registry Room at Ellis Island

In our modern American era, where immigration is the source of so much controversy, it’s worth remembering that America is a nation of immigrants.  A visit to Ellis Island helps to make that abstract point a stark reality.

The vast majority of Americans trace their lineage to an ancestor who came here by boat.  Some came earlier than others, and some came not by choice but in chains.  Most of our forebears landed at a dock, strangers in a strange land, their only possessions what they were carrying in their satchels and bursting suitcases, often unable to speak English or any language other than their native dialect.  Those who came voluntarily came because they wanted freedom and opportunity, and hoped that their decision would allow them to build a better life for themselves and their children.

I don’t think any Webners, or Neals, or Browns in our direct family line came through Ellis Island.  It doesn’t make any difference, though, because the immigrant experience is universal, and Ellis Island is just a tangible manifestation of it.  The stacks of baggage, the immensity of the main Registry Room where new arrivals waited to be examined, prodded, and questioned,  with the rushed decisions of immigration officials reflected in chalk marks rudely made on the shoulder of a garment, and finally the cold, clinical, white-tiled rooms where applications for admission were processed, appeals were heard, and immigrants waited to have someone pass judgment on whether they could remain in the new land or must return — all help a visitor to appreciate how overwhelming the immigrant experience must have been.

What feelings of concern and trepidation they must have experienced, waiting in that large, jam-packed room, with many languages being spoken around them, hoping that they would hear good news about what their fate would be!

For me, the most moving area was a set of granite steps, well worn down by the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who had made it through the process and were moving forward as welcome citizens in a new land.  Walking down those steps gives you a glimpse of what it must have been like to know that you and your family had the opportunity to start anew in this curious, bustling, growing country.

California DREAMing

You have to give the California state government some serious credit for apparently being completely divorced from fiscal realities.

The Golden State is facing a crushing, multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall — so much so that Governor Jerry Brown has ordered state departments to turn in their cell phones and BlackBerrys — and yet the state is getting ready to pass the California DREAM Act, one part of which makes public tuition assistance funds available to “undocumented immigrant students.”  The bill has passed the Assembly, seems certain to pass the Senate, and Governor Brown has said he will sign it.  The availability of tuition assistance comes on top of the fact that California allows the “undocumented immigrant students” to pay tuition at California state colleges at in-state levels, which are significantly lower that the tuition charged to out-of-state students.

I have nothing against immigrants — to borrow the linked editorial’s deft phrase, “illegal or otherwise” — but doesn’t it seem like fiscal nuttiness for a state that is billions of dollars in debt to be extending new benefits to anyone, much less to illegal immigrants?  With this kind of responsible management of the public purse, is it any wonder how California got into its current predicament?


Not Funny

Today Stephen Colbert testified, in character, before a congressional subcommittee on immigration.  He said things like “I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican” and the answer to needing illegal immigrants to pick our fruits and vegetables is to stop eating fruits and vegetables.

I’m sure Colbert thought it was a great opportunity to enhance his “brand.”  He got to take his act to Capitol Hill and get some free publicity “testifying” before an honest-to-God congressional panel.  I’m sure the Democratic Representative who is the chair of the subcommittee, Zoe Lofgren, thought it was a great way to get her subcommittee some air time.  Others, however, didn’t think it was very funny.

I fall into the latter camp.  What is the point of having a comedian testify, in character, about a serious issue like immigration?  I think it just makes Congress and congressional processes seem like even more of a joke, and it certainly suggests that Congress thinks that immigration isn’t worth much serious attention.  In an era when public respect for Congress is scraping the bottom of the barrel, why would Representative Lofgren think such a stunt was a good idea?

Signs of Trouble

Yesterday an interesting story reported on signs posted in Arizona by the federal Bureau of Land Management.  The signs warn that drivers are entering “an active drug and human smuggling area” and “may encounter armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed.”  The signs suggest that travelers drive farther north.

Given the presence of these signs, can anyone really question why Arizonans are so incensed about immigration problems and the lack of border security?  If the Obama Administration insists that enforcement of federal immigration law really is an exclusively federal issue, as is the case in its lawsuit against Arizona, then don’t those signs confirm that the federal government has miserably failed in that task?  Although Americans have many different views on immigration, I think a vast majority of Americans would agree that the borders need to be secure, such that “armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed” can’t easily enter our country.

What is happening in Arizona is intolerable — and in view of the rampant drug-related violence and disorder in Mexico, is high dangerous to our national security.  Warning signs obviously are no substitute for personnel and equipment that actually secure our borders.

Protecting Us From Arizona

Here’s a curious story:  the United States State Department has cited the federal government’s lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law in a “required report” to the United Nations Human Rights Council as one of the 100 steps the federal government has taken to uphold human and civil rights in the United States.  Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, has reacted to this news with studied outrage.

There are lots of weird facets to this news item.  For example, why is the United States “required” to file a report about its internal affairs with the United Nations Human Rights Council?  (If we didn’t file the report, would the Council “flunk” us?)  Why should we be reporting to a Council that includes such noted freedom-loving countries as Cuba, Libya, China, and Saudi Arabia (among other countries where citizens enjoy fewer freedoms than are found in the U.S.A.)?   Moreover, do we really think that bringing a lawsuit that sought to enjoin the Arizona law before its enforcement was even attempted by police officers was really an important step in upholding human and civil rights?

The clear impression is that the State Department is pandering to an international community that is desperate to conclude that the United States is filled with angry xenophobes whose hate-filled bigotry is only barely being held in check through legal steps taken by our federal government.  The reaction of the Arizona Governor reported in the story linked above seems overdone, but it does rankle to think that our own national government is suggesting that one of our states needs to be restrained from violating human rights — and then is broadcasting that suggestion to repressive governments who don’t afford their citizens even the most basic freedoms provided by our Bill of Rights.

More Mayhem In Mexico

Thursday night a car bomb exploded in Juarez, Mexico, killing four people.  The bomb, which supposedly was planted by one of the Mexican drug cartels, used the same kind of detonation device used by terrorist groups like Hezbollah.  The terrorist-style bombing continues a pattern of killing in Mexico that recently included the assassination of a gubernatorial candidate in one of the Mexican states bordering Texas.

Juarez, incidentally, is right across the border from El Paso, Texas and within a stone’s throw of Fort Bliss.  The continuing drug war violence in Mexico is just another reason why one of our national priorities should be securing the southern border, to make sure that the violence in Mexico does not spill over into the United States.

Death South Of The Border

Rodolfo Torre Cantu

The brazenness and bloodiness of the continuing Mexican drug wars is astonishing.  On Monday, a drug gang gunned down Rodolfo Torre Cantu, the leading candidate for governor of the state of Tamaulipas, one of the Mexican states along the border with Texas.  The candidate was out campaigning when his motorcade was stopped by a truck blocking the road and the cars in the motorcade were riddled with bullets, in an incident that sounds like the Sonny Corleone death scene in The Godfather.  Rival Mexican drug gangs have apparently begun to increasingly target governmental and political figures, and Cantu was their most high profile victim yet.

The overall death toll from the Mexican drug wars is even more amazing.  Experts estimate that 22,000 people have been killed by drug-related violence in the last four years.  Consider that slightly more than 5500 Americans have died in the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq since those conflicts began in 2001 and 2003, respectively.  Four times as many Mexicans have been killed, and in a shorter time frame!

This is bad news for America on multiple levels.  No country wants to have lawlessness on its border, and if Mexican drug gangs are bold enough to ambush leading politicians on public streets in Mexico, they likely are bold enough to try to cross over into American territory if they think it would benefit them.  Moreover, law-abiding Mexicans will not long tolerate living in a country where criminal violence reaches such levels and gangland killings go unpunished.  Those who are concerned about illegal immigration into America should be especially concerned that Mexico does not devolve into a state of criminal anarchy and chaos, because the flood of illegal immigrants that will result will dwarf what has happened to date.

Thoughts On Immigration In The Wake Of The New Arizona Law

The recent enactment (and even more recent amendment) of a state law in Arizona that criminalizes illegal immigrant status has brought the issue of immigration to the forefront of national attention.  For the news reports I have heard, it seems to be one of those issues where people quickly choose up sides, adopt hard-line positions, and then are unwilling to try to understand the views and motivations of the other side. Massive marches to protest the Arizona law are planned for today.

Yesterday four of us from the office — JV, The Unkempt Guy, the Domer, and me — had an animated but respectful, and I think helpful, discussion about the immigration issue.  Although we approached the issue from different perspectives, our discussion indicated that there are some clear points of agreement.

First, we all recognized (obviously) that racial profiling is unacceptable and destructive of our free and pluralistic society.  The biggest challenge for the Arizona statute, if it ever takes effect, will be to develop some method for determining “reasonable suspicion” that is not, in reality, focused exclusively or primarily on skin color and language capabilities.  Perhaps everyone who is stopped by police should be treated equally and asked to provide the same evidence of citizenship or legal immigrant status, as a routine matter.

Second, we all agreed that maintaining secure borders is a fundamental requirement of nationhood and the job of the federal government.  If you cannot prevent marauding bands of armed men from crossing the border at will, can you even call yourself a country?  It may be easy for people in Ohio or other northern states to criticize the citizens of Arizona or downplay their concerns, but I’ve heard some harrowing reports about Americans who live near the border who have been hurt, killed, or terrorized by the armed groups of drug runners or human traffickers who have crossed the border  and roamed the desert with impunity.  Who would want to be awakened at night by the sounds of unknown groups of men crossing their property?

Third, we all agreed that legal immigration has been a wonderful thing for our country and should be encouraged.  This should not be a surprise — all of us have ancestors who came to this land, though Ellis Island and other ports of entry, from various parts of Europe and the British Isles, eager to start a new life in a New World of freedom and opportunity.

What do these three points of agreement mean?  For me, this means that the federal government has failed in one of its primary responsibilities.  I think the answer is to create whatever structures or patrolling approaches are necessary to keep illegal aliens from crossing the border into this country — period.  In an age of terrorism and weaponry that can easily cause mass casualties, we simply cannot accept a porous southern border.  In addition, we should liberalize our immigration laws to allow for significantly more legal immigration.  I think immigration is an easy way for America to continue to grow and prosper, because legal immigrants traditionally are energetic risk-takers who are willing to sacrifice their old lives and old ways for the hope of a new and better life.  Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who came to America were hard-working, thrifty, patriotic, and dedicated to their children’s success and their family’s betterment.  Those immigrants made this country an immeasurably better place to live, and we should welcome such people with open arms — just as the Statute of Liberty says:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name,
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”