Nobody said becoming a post-racial nation would be easy. The United States has its first black president, but as the son of a Kenyan immigrant, his citizenship and legitimacy are still being questioned. In the meantime, the White House is advancing programs like the 287(g) agreement, which have been linked to racial profiling and civil rights violations. It's a form of oppression made possible, perversely, by the very administration that many hoped would combat such injustices.
Not that the issue of race ever really went anywhere, but the topic is front and center in the news again since the June 18 arrest of Henry Louis Gates, a Harvard professor who was picked up by police in his own home. Eric Kleefeld of Talking Points Memo runs through the "racially-charged attacks that have circulated against [President] Obama" since his comments on Gates' arrest. Kleefeld notes that this rhetoric has been a regular focus of the Right's attacks against Obama since "the phony rumors of a tape of Michelle Obama defaming whites."
But that's old news. Today's paranoiac can tune into the strange campaign spearheaded by CNN's Lou Dobbs known as "Birtherism," which is the belief held by a very fringe element of the Right that President Obama was not born in the U.S. and is ineligible to hold office. Dobbs has been obsessively documenting the fact-resistant Birther debate, supposedly because the group needs representation and a voice in the media. The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen reports on Dobbs' response to criticism from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow: Lou is now calling Maddow names like the "Teabagging Queen."
It's hard to understand this despicable reaction to Obama's remarkable story. Has the U.S. forgotten its own myths about the great opportunity available to each and any of us? Hawaiian Congressman Neil Abercrombie has come up with an interesting solution: A resolution that ostensibly celebrates Hawaii's fifty years in the union, but also states that the President himself was born there. The "Anti-Birther's Resolution," as The Young Turks are calling it, passed the House unanimously on Monday. The resolution puts the GOP in the position of voting against a celebration of Hawaii, or in siding with the "Birther's" fringiest of fringe elements.
The Young Turks also feature citizen journalist Mike Stark's interviews with GOP elected officials about the Birther issue. Stark effectively documents the GOP's hugely awkward position: They're too weak to reject a small number of extremists on the Right, so they simply run from the questions.
All this hubbub over Obama's birth certificate makes for a dangerous mix of hypocrisies, as New America Media points out. An "identical logic" is operating in both Lou Dobbs' pet project and the White House's recent decision to expand the 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement with immigration enforcement powers. Ultimately, the program ends up empowering and encouraging police to target people "because they look foreign or have identifiably non-Anglo names," as Marcelo Ballve writes. The 287(g) agreement "enables police resources to be funneled into a kind of birthers movement on a national scale, with local beat cops roaming our streets, ready to investigate those who look a smidgen exotic, on the presumption that they aren’t U.S.-born or properly documented."
Amy Goodman explains the "serious reports of abuse" that have arisen from the 287(g) provision in a Democracy Now! roundtable with Aarti Shahani, founder of Families for Freedom, and Roberto Lovato, contributing associate editor with New America Media. (Video at link.)
Since the issue of immigration has become wrapped up in an anti-terror agenda, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are terrorizing communities, at times invading homes with machine guns and in teams. The 287(g) provision brings the border wars into the nation's interior, according to Shahani. Further, she explains, the individuals that "self-select" into the 287(g) program are "Officers that want to be able to have the power to pick up Latinos, brown people while driving." Shahani mentions an often unspoken disappointment: That many of us thought Obama, often attacked for his middle name, would do away with programs linked to racial profiling.
Lovato also writes about 287(g) at AlterNet, and argues that it's “driven more by racial animus than by concerns about public safety.” He interviews Jaqueline Esposito of the Detention Watch Network, a group that was once very supportive of President Obama's policies. They're now troubled by the dissonance between Obama's inspiring words and the White House's support for programs like 287(g). Esposito says that the 287(g) provision "is a direct contravention of the President’s statements" as it has been "widely criticized by government officials, immigrant rights advocates and many others, for undermining community safety and for racial profiling.”
And where are these members of the community taken, once picked up? They are shoveled into a growing detention industry, where incarcerated children write letters begging for a better life (see image at left). RaceWire's Michelle Chen does not shy away from a direct statement: "Tens of thousands of people are living in a legal no-man’s land within our borders, and the government wants to keep it that way," she writes, based on findings from a recently released report by the ACLU of Southern California, the National Immigration Law Center and other legal advocates. The report reveals various abuses of detainees held by ICE officials, who have "Routinely blocked detainees’ contact with family members and advocates, cut off from critical health care services, and provided little legal recourse against maltreatment—all with virtually no meaningful oversight."
Finally, a different argument from Salon. In Immigrations Should Be Eligible for the Presidency, Michael Lind reviews how our laws about citizenship came to be, in what context, and what that might tell us today about our values. And perhaps most usefully, it encourages us to step away from the raving of Birthers and heartbreaking letters by imprisoned immigrant children, and remember what our country could celebrate if it wanted: The diverse and changing face of a People. Not just in the Oval Office, but throughout our entire nation. It's the very countenance of Change, itself.
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