• November 9, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Right-wing policymakers triumphed impressively last year taking control of many statehouses from coast to coast. Many of those lawmakers were ushered into office backed by Tea Party fervor, and lots of money from the likes of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers, who head Koch Industries and espouse efforts to radically constrain government.

    A year after their sweeping victories, however, some of their most outrageous policies were shelved by large numbers of voters last night.

    The frontal assault on public sector workers in Ohio, as noted by the Plain Dealer, was squashed by voters, 61 percent to 39 percent. In a guest post for ACSblog, Ohio State University law school professor Dan Tokaji noted that SB 5, which gutted collective bargaining rights of public workers, was a “center of Governor Kasich’s first year in office.” Tokaji said the defeat of the anti-workers’ rights law was not only a major setback to the Republican governor, but also has ramifications outside the Buckeye state. If the law would have survived, Tokaji said it would have dealt a “crippling blow to organized labor, drastically curtailing its political influence.”

    Mississippi provided a mixed bag, defeating a radical anti-abortion measure, but supporting a stringent new voter registration law. As noted by The New York Times, perhaps one of the night’s “biggest surprises” was the state’s rejection of a proposed constitutional amendment that would grant legal rights to embryos, effectively outlawing abortion and other forms of birth control in the state. That policy was advocated by a Religious Right group called Personhood USA, which says it is pushing similar measures all over the country, and doing so, in part, “to glorify Jesus Christ in a way that creates a culture of life so that all innocent human lives are protected by love and by law.”

    Following defeat of the measure, Keith Ashley in a blog post for Personhood USA said the group understands the difficulty of “changing a culture,” and that it vows “to continue on this path towards affirming the basic dignity and human rights of all people ….”  

    Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center of Reproductive Rights, hailed the defeat of the Personhood Amendment, saying in a press statement, “Outlawing medical services commonly used and relied upon by Americans in their personal lives runs completely counter to the U.S. Constitution, not to mention some of our most deeply held American political traditions and values.”

  • October 5, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    One of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant laws is proving extremely disruptive to families, and nettlesome to enforce.

    Alabama is not alone in implementing ill-conceived immigration policy. A federal appeals court has invalidated much of Arizona’s SB 1070. But Alabama’s effort may be the leading example of a poor attempt at reform of immigration policy.

    The New York Times reported recently that after a federal judge upheld most of the Alabama law, an “exodus of Hispanic immigrants,” was triggered. In Albertville, Ala., the newspaper reported that undocumented immigrants in mass have left their homes and yanked their children from public schools. The Alabama law, among other things, requires public school officials to verify immigration status of children and parents and report suspected undocumented people to the federal government.

    In an editorial, “Alabama’s Shame,” The Times blasts the law as turning the state into the most “hostile” places for undocumented people. Since taking effect, the editorial says, “Volunteers on an immigrant-rights groups’ hot line said that since then they have received more than 1,000 calls from pregnant women afraid to go to the hospital, crime victims afraid to go to the police, parents afraid, to send their children to school.”  

    Beyond the troubling impact on families, the law is already proving to be difficult to enforce. Even Fox News noted the difficulty, “Alabama’s tough new immigration law is already proving to be quite complicated, even for law enforcement officials. The police chief of a small town in the Appalachian foothills of Alabama didn’t know what to do about checking the immigration status of a Hispanic man his department recently arrested on an old warrant.”

    In an ACS Issue Brief released this week, law professor Pratheepan Gulasekaram says supporters and opponents of strict immigration state laws, such as Arizona’s, do agree that “U.S. immigration policy needs fixing.” But reform is reached is the “real problem.”

    Gulasekaram writes that strict “enforcement advocates” start from drawing on a flawed conclusion.

    He writes:

    Migration has been, and always will be, a fact of human existence. Human movement to find work or reunite with family would be unremarkable, but for the legal construction of political borders between nation-states. But, these man-made demarcations have never, and will never, stem the tide of migrants in search of work and improved opportunities for themselves and their families. Further, the United States relies on, and requires, significant migration to fill its economic needs in both high-skilled and labor sectors. Increased border vigilance and enforcement, combined with a mismatch between actual labor needs and lawful entry visas, has only led to increases in undocumented population, greater number of border deaths, and increases in human smuggling prices paid to cartels and coyotes. These are the hard and uncontrovertable economic, social, and human facts.

  • September 14, 2011
    Video Interview

    This video interview is part of an ACSblog Constitution Week Symposium. By Nicole Flatow.

    Attempts to undo the constitutional guarantee that those born in the United States are citizens are “flatly and incontrovertibly unconstitutional and completely at odds with our constitutional history,” Georgia State University law professor Neil Kinkopf tells ACSblog during a video interview.

    Kinkopf traces the history of birthright citizenship in the United States, noting that the common law understanding was that all residents born here were citizens.

    He continues:

    That understanding was upset in the worst decision in the history of the Supreme Court, Dred Scott, when Chief Justice Taney ruled that descendants of Africans cannot be citizens and cannot have rights that a white person is bound to respect.

    It was the rejection of Dred Scott that led to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment and that led to the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment, which expressly puts into the Constitution birthright citizenship. It’s a fundamental commitment of our nation. It constitutes us as a people -- that we are not a country club, that everyone who’s born here is a citizen of the United States, and that our government cannot distinguish among us.

    Watch the video interview below.

  • 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.”