Drum Major Institute

ICE Gets a Makeover but Immigration Policy Under Obama Remains the Same

This week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced changes to its management structure, conceived as part of a strategy to “re-brand” the agency to the public. According to the Washington Post, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton describes it as part of an “image makeover” intended to emphasize ICE’s criminal investigations over its much-scrutinized immigration enforcement work.

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Conservatives Ride Government-Run Transit to Protest Government Spending

File this one under "Hypocritical, conservative/libertarian." First, the Heritage Foundation thinks that some estimates under-represented the actual number of protesters who showed up in DC last weekend to tell Congress just how angry they are about having to pay taxes and stuff. "Metro delivers hundreds of thousands to 9/12 rally," Heritage proclaims, citing the number of people who rode DC's subway system to the National Mall-nearly half a million people!

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Reducing How Much We Drive Should be a National Transportation Goal

Last month, Senators John D. Rockefeller and Frank Lautenberg introduced a bill that would establish performance-based goals for our surface transportation system. The bill would, according to Senator Lautenberg, “establish a national policy that improves safety, reduces congestion, creates jobs, and protects our environment.”

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Majority of Middle Class Supports Progressive Policy

Today the Drum Major Institute released its first annual Survey on the Middle Class and Public Policy. The nationwide poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, aimed to learn how those Americans who see themselves as middle class (the vast majority of us, it turns out) think about the direction of the country, public policy ideas that could improve the nation, and their relationship with their own elected representatives. What we found were middle-class households filled with “fearful families”: Americans worried about the present, pessimistic about the future, but not nearly so divided on issues of public policy as the typical media reports of country divided by red and blue might lead us to believe. In fact, there’s broad bipartisan support for a range of progressive policies.

First, as DMI has often said, the American people aren’t stupid. We know a country headed in the wrong direction when we see it. 77% of middle-class households think things are off on the wrong track in America now. With stagnant wages and unemployment on the upswing, jobs and the economy were the top concern. And with skyrocketing costs to fill up at the pump, high gas prices ranked #2 overall. Nor do people think gas prices are coming back down anytime soon. Despite regular reports of Hollywood break-ups, middle-class respondents say it’s far more likely that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will last long enough to celebrate their 25th anniversary (56%) than gas prices reach $3 a gallon again (19%). (18% say neither one is going to happen).

Latino Migrant Beaten to Death in Penn

Editor's note: This is about unintended consequences, or so we hope. The hard-line anti-immigration movement has made a strategic choice in demonizing immigrants, especially those from Latin America. They believe that they can make gains in the immigration debate by dehumanizing mostly Latino immigrants, by suggesting that they are foreign invaders. But hate speech leads to hate acts, and these kinds of incidents are a predictable outcome of their rhetorical choices.

The AP carried this article over the weekend about what appears to be the racially-motivated killing of a Latino migrant by a group of teenagers in rural Pennsylvania:



Luis Ramirez came to the U.S. from Mexico six years ago to look for work, landing in this town in Pennsylvania's coal region. Here, he found steady employment, fathered two children and, his fiancee said, occasionally endured harassment by white residents.

Now he is headed back to Mexico in a coffin.

The 25-year-old illegal immigrant was beaten over the weekend after an argument with a group of youths, including at least some players on the town's beloved high school football team, police said. Despite witness reports that the attackers yelled ethnic slurs, authorities say the beating wasn't racially motivated.

. . .

Crystal Dillman, the victim's 24-year-old fiancee, who is white and grew up here, said Ramirez was often called derogatory names, including "dirty Mexican," and told to return to his homeland.

"People in this town are very racist toward Hispanic people. They think right away if you're Mexican, you're illegal, and you're no good," said Dillman, who has two young children by Ramirez and a 3-year-old who thought of him as her father.

Does Marriage Determine Level of Assimilation?

There's been a lot said about assimilation and whether or not today's immigrants are assimilating. A recent report published by the Manhattan Institute offers an inadequate approach to analyze the assimilation of the U.S. immigrant population. To discuss this further, I recently wrote an op-ed that was published by El Diario last Thursday. Here's the published Spanish version.

The op-ed's translation is following:

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Scapegoating Non-citizens Produces Few Measurable National Security Gains

Recently the Washington Post and the NY Times published stories investigating 83 immigrant deaths in detention between 2003 and 2008. Some of the deaths were easily preventable. Family members told of loved ones suffering serious medical problems that went ignored and untreated until it was too late.

Via the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), I got word last week that Senators Lieberman, Brownback, Kennedy, and Hagel had introduced legislation to ensure humane treatment for asylum seekers and other detained immigrants. The "Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act" (S. 3114) would mandate improved medical care in detention and require careful reporting and investigation of all deaths that occur in detention facilities. Passing this act would be a helpful first step in addressing the problems that have come to light, but would represent only a beginning, not an end point.

ICE Deports High School Valedictorian

I've written about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials' schoolyard antics before, but the recent news that ICE is planning to deport a California high school valedictorian just affirms my view that these immigration authorities need to get out of the schools. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
The valedictorian at Fresno's Bullard High School won't be attending college in the United States this fall because he's scheduled to be deported.

Seventeen-year-old Arthur Mkoyan's 4.0 grade-point average qualified him to enter one of the state's top universities. But he and his mother have been ordered back to Armenia after their last appeal for asylum failed. The family fled from what used to be part of the Soviet Union and has been seeking asylum since 1992.

But, rest assured, ICE shows its nice side once in a while (and if it's not clear, I'm being sarcastic here). As a sort of consolation prize, ICE decided to let Arthur stick around for graduation. According to the article, "A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement says they were given an extension until June 20 so Mkoyan could attend his graduation ceremony."

This past October, the Senate tried to help out students like Arthur, but to no avail. Legislation called the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act -- better know as the DREAM Act -- was introduced in the Senate, but failed a procedural vote. The legislation would have allowed Arthur and approximately 65,000 other undocumented students a path to citizenship and the opportunity for a college education. But unfortunately for Arthur, the legislation failed.

Arthur's story and that of the DREAM Act are just two examples of what amounts to an utterly inconsistent immigration policy. Whether ICE wants to admit it or not, undocumented immigrants are here to stay, and an enforcement-only policy that consists of random deportations just isn't going to cut it. According to a recently-released report by the Public Policy Institute of California, Immigrant Pathways to Legal Permanent Residence: Now and Under a Merit-Based System, more than half of the immigrants in California who have legal permanent resident status were at some point undocumented. This number is 42% for the U.S. as a whole. These immigrants -- both documented and undocumented -- are a vital part of the nation's economy and the fabric of our nation. Deporting smart students like Arthur -- especially considering that such a huge percentage of immigrants eventually receive legal status -- is not only bad for the immigrant community, but for the nation as a whole.

For a slightly happier immigration story, check out this video of DMI scholar and Mexican immigrant Samantha Contreras. Samantha was undocumented when she graduated from high school, and soon realized the hardships associated with being undocumented.. "I learned the reality of my immigration status," she said. "I couldn't work, I couldn't go to college, I couldn't drive, I couldn't even get a Blockbuster membership card." Unlike Arthur's story, Samantha's has a happy ending -- an immigrant rights group helped her to enroll in college, and now she strives for a career in public policy.

Exploiting Borrowers Amidst the Foreclosure Crisis

On Tuesday, May 6th, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on abusive practices perpetuated by mortgage lenders in the bankruptcy court system. Businesses and consumers often turn to bankruptcy courts as they liquidate their assets in an effort to workout reasonable payment plans with their creditors. For families on the brink of losing their homes, bankruptcy courts play a key role in allowing at-risk homeowners one last chance to keep their homes.

In recent months, however, some mortgage services such as Calabasas, California based Countrywide Financial Corporation have come under intense scrutiny for foreclosing homes prematurely only to pile on unnecessary and costly fees on borrowers during bankruptcy proceedings.

Steve Bailey, the Chief Executive for Loan Administration at Countrywide, however, disputed those allegations. In a prepared statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, he said, "Countrywide is committed to helping our borrowers avoid foreclosure whenever they have a reasonable source of income and a desire to remain in the property."

He also claimed, "Recent media reports alleging that mortgage servicers are systematically charging excessive fees and using the bankruptcy process to push borrowers into foreclosure or abusing the process more generally are inaccurate." Bailey attributed any perceived abuses to no more than run of the mill "individual employee errors."

Countrywide's track record of overcharging borrowers facing foreclosure and during bankruptcy proceedings, however, suggests otherwise. One New Jersey couple who owned their home for the last 10 years were served with foreclosure papers by Countrywide and were inexplicably charged expensive flood insurance that they could not afford and did not need. It took months to resolve the error. Meanwhile, they fell behind on her mortgage payments.

In several other instances, the mortgage company has also been accused by attornerys representing borrowers and U.S. Trustees in bankruptcy courts of inflating overdue mortgage payments and fabricating documents to bolster their claims and collect more money in bankruptcy court.

Ledbetter is Fair Warning for Liberals

Last week, Republicans blocked a fair pay bill that would effectively overturn a flawed ruling by the Supreme Court in a wage discrimination case, Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. The measure was designed to bring the law in line with Congressional intent of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Court's own precedents, and restore fairness to the workplace.

For nearly 20 years, Lilly Ledbetter was paid less than men with less seniority than her as a supervisor at a Goodyear plant in Alabama for doing the same job. But as soon as she received an anonymous note that made her aware of the discrimination, Ms. Ledbetter filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A federal court agreed Ms. Ledbetter was being discriminated against and a jury awarded her more than $3 million in damages and back pay before the judge reduced the amount to $360,000 due to a damages cap prescribed by the law. But the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled that Lilly Ledbetter filed her claim too late and was not entitled to compensation.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, sex, creed, disability, age, but also requires that a plaintiff file a complaint within the 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” For decades, the Supreme Court and other courts understood this provision to mean that employees could sue within 180 of receiving from their last - not just their first - discriminatory paycheck, since each check represented a related yet distinct instance of discrimination.

Justice Samuel Alito, however, disagreed with that interpretation.


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