• September 1, 2011
    Guest Post

    This post is part of an ACSblog symposium in honor of the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. The author, Lucas Guttentag, teaches at Yale Law School, where he is Robina Foundation Distinguished Senior Fellow and Senior Research Scholar.  He also serves as senior counsel to the Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, and was the project’s founding director until 2011.  

    More than fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. heroically battled segregation and built a coalition of conscience to change our society and its laws. Today, a new struggle is being fought in many of the same places. Arizona, which famously refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, and Alabama, home of the Selma march and Dr. King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” today defend the most punitive anti-immigrant state laws in the country. 

    Under the banner of regulating immigration, these laws would institute a new system of discrimination.  They would encourage – if not compel – racial and ethnic profiling, prohibit offering transportation and housing to undocumented immigrants, impose state punishment for immigration-registration violations, and – under the Alabama law – require  schools to conduct immigration checks on students and their parents in a transparent attempt to deny children their constitutional right to public education. This virtual barricading of Alabama’s public schools by state officials is a grim reminder of earlier refusals to provide equal education for all.

    It is telling – and deserves high praise – that the Obama Justice Department has joined Alabama’s religious leaders and a coalition of civil rights groups in suing to stop the Alabama law as it did the earlier Arizona SB1070 statute.

    To be sure, immigration is a complex subject. But falling prey to superficial responses that exacerbate discrimination, target all who look or sound “foreign,” and cater to those who fear changing demographics or new immigrants is not the answer. Though sadly, it is nothing new and as much a part of our history as the glorious Statue of Liberty. For example, earlier hostility against Chinese immigrants in California led to racist state and local laws, including the infamous San Francisco anti-Chinese laundry ordinance that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1886.

    But easily overlooked in the current controversy over state anti-immigrant laws is the even more fundamental fact that federal immigration laws and practices routinely deny basic constitutional protections to non-citizens in a system of mass arrest, detention and deportation. 

  • August 10, 2011

    by Nicole Flatow

    The House Appropriations Committee recently proposed a 26-percent cut to the Legal Services Corporation that would “cut to the bone” funding for civil legal aid for the indigent at a time when demand for those services is increasing.

    But this proposal isn’t enough for one Tea Party member of Congress, who introduced a bill last week to abolish the Legal Services Corporation entirely.

    The bill, the first introduced by Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) since he joined the Congress, came just three days after news broke that workers represented by legal services attorneys won a case before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a corporation in Scott’s district.

    The coincidental timing of the bill did not go unnoticed by The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, who calls the proposal a “transparent attempt” to defend a company in his district at the expense of a program that both Democrats and many Republicans agree is needed.

    Milbank notes that the facts of this case do not jibe with Scott’s Tea Party affiliation and anti-immigration messaging, because the EEOC found that the company had illegally fired U.S. workers in favor of Mexican workers with H-2A visas.

    “In a broader sense, Scott’s bill gets at what has long troubled me about the Tea Party movement: It is fueled by populist anger, but it has been hijacked by plutocrats,” Milbank writes. “… They rally for tougher immigration laws, but then their guy in Washington helps corporations to fire U.S. workers and hire foreign nationals.”

  • August 2, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As noted in this piece from The New York Times, Maryland has been one of the few states to enact a law that is helpful, rather than harmful, to immigrants. Now a group of students, teachers, and voters are banding together in an attempt to save the Maryland Dream Act, which was enacted earlier this year and would allow immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, the ability to attend state schools at in-state tuition rates. The law, as noted by The Times, applies only to those immigrants who have paid their taxes and graduated from state high schools.

    The law, however, has been blocked by opponents who supposedly gathered enough signatures to put it before voters on the 2012 ballot. The group of Maryland students, teachers and the immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland, in a lawsuit lodged yesterday argues that too many of the signatures that helped pave the way for the law to be put before voters are invalid.

    The lawsuit, according to a CASA de Maryland press statement, charges that “more than 50,000 of the signatures turned in by petition sponsors and found valid by the Board [of Elections] were actually invalid under Maryland law.” The group’s lawsuit, filed by attorneys from Arnold & Porter LLP and Sandler, Reiff, Young & Lamb, P.C., also charges that the Board’s certification “suffers from an even more fundamental problem. Because the law directly provide for expenditure of state funds for a state government function, it cannot be referred to a referendum at all under the Maryland Constitution.”

    Joseph Sandler of Sandler, Reiff, Young & Lamb, P.C., said, “This law was approved by our elected representatives and is not the type of law subject to a referendum. In any event, through a painstaking line-by-line review of the signatures submitted to the Board, our team of lawyers and community volunteers discovered that the petition sponsors fell far short of turning in enough valid signatures to qualify this for the ballot.”

    Kim Propeack, a lawyer with CASA de Maryland, told the newspaper, “If one of the most popular immigrant issues in one of the bluest states does not win, that would be a very bad sign.”

    In Alabama, the U.S. Department of Jusitce has taken action to block a particularly onerous anti-immigration law from taking effect, TPM reports. The DOJ lodged a lawsuit yesterday against the law arguing that it is constitutionally suspect.

    In a press statement about the lawsuit, the DOJ states, “Alabama’s law is designed to affect virtually every aspect of an unauthorized immigrant’s daily life, from employment to housing to transportation to entering into and enforcing contracts to going to school. H.B. 56 further criminalizes mere unlawful presence and, like Arizona’s law, expands the opportunities for Alabama police to push aliens toward incarceration for various new immigration crimes by enforcing an immigration status verification system.”

    The DOJ’s lawsuit asserts that “while the federal government values state assistance and cooperation with respect to immigration enforcement, a state cannot set its own immigration policy, much less pass laws that conflict with federal enforcement of the immigration laws.”

    At the  a panel of constitutional law and immigration policy experts discussed the tension between federal and state efforts to address immigration issues. Video of that discussion is available here.

  • July 18, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Sarah Berlin of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. This is a cross-post from the People’s Blog for the Constitution.

    Documents recently revealed by the FBI show that the Bureau played a significant role in developing the controversial Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. The secrecy underlying this program — and the FBI’s documented strategy to extend it beyond immigrants to include all Americans in the future — is the latest demonstration of the FBI’s continued disregard for civil liberties.

    Many organizations, individuals, and even state governments have already spoken out against S-Comm, a program that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to arrest records such as fingerprint data even before the subject is tried or convicted of any crime. While the program was supposedly created to deport undocumented criminals, it has in fact deported hundreds of thousands of undocumented Americans who have never committed a crime, breaking up families (many of which include children or spouses who are US citizens) over mere suspicion of offenses as trivial as a broken taillight.

    The controversy over whether states and communities can opt-out of S-Comm heightened two weeks ago when the news broke that the FBI had been pushing S-Comm as a way to build public acceptance of its “Next Generation Identification” (NGI) project, which would create a database of biometric information such as fingerprints, iris scans, and facial recognition data — of not only immigrants, but all Americans. In other words, the FBI designed this program to use immigrants as the guinea pigs for a national biometric ID system that will eventually include all Americans. In such a system, there would be no ID cards — our bodies would be our IDs.

    According to Jessica Karp of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON):

  • June 27, 2011

    Despite rhetoric from some Tea Party leaders that says the Obama administration is running rough shod over the founding document, the country is not in “danger of flipping the Constitution on its head,” writes Richard Stengel in an extensive piece for Time.

    Stengel, in “One Document, Under Siege," continues:

    Their view [Tea Party faithful] of the founding documents was pretty well summarized by Texas Congressman Ron Paul back in 2008: ‘The Constitution was written explicitly for one purpose – to restrain the federal government.’ Well, not exactly. In fact, the framers did the precise opposite. They strengthened the center and weakened the states. The states had extraordinary power under the Articles of Confederation. Most of them had their own navies and their own currencies. The truth is, the Constitution massively strengthened the central government of the U.S. for the simple reason that it established one where none had existed before.

    If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn’t say so. Article I, Section 8, the longest section of the longest article of the Constitution, is a drumroll of congressional power. And it ends with the ‘necessary and proper’ clause, which delegates to Congress the power ‘to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department of Officer thereof.’ Limited government indeed.

    Stengel’s article takes a look at some of the more high-profile constitutional debates, such as those focusing on Congress’s power to regulate commerce, in the context of the landmark health care reform law, and the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship clause.

    In the concluding graphs, Stengel touches on the debate over constitutional interpretation, writing:

    The Constitution is silent much of the time. And that’s a good thing. Two hundred twenty-three years after it was written, the Constitution is more a guardrail for our society than a traffic cop. The Constitution works so well precisely because it is so opaque, so general, so open to various interpretations. Originalists contend that the Constitution has a clear, fixed meaning. But the framers argued vehemently about its meaning. For them, it was a set of principles, not a code of laws. A code of laws says you have to stop at the red light; a constitution has broad principles that are unchanging but that must accommodate each new generation and circumstance.

    See Stengel’s entire article here.

    Accompanying the article is a new Time poll, showing that 54 percent of respondents said they agreed that the government should interpret the Constitution “based on changes in society,” as opposed to interpreting “exactly what’s spelled out in the Constitution.” Forty-one percent of respondents said the government should “following exactly what’s spelled out in the Constitution ….”

    Regarding the 14th Amendment’s clause, which states that all persons born in the U.S. are citizens, 62 percent of respondents said the provision should not be revised.