The Politics of Syrian Refugees

“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-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The above appears on the Statue of Liberty and is part of a larger poem by Emma Lazarus. With its location near Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty became the symbol for new immigrants and refugees entering the United States in search of a better life. Even though the massive immigration center no longer processes new people into the country, the statue still retains its symbol for those that are yearning to be free. Yet it would appear that the quote above doesn’t apply to the 21st century… at least to some.

Syria has been bogged down in a civil war since the Arab Spring. In the past couple of years, a new terrorist group (ISIS) has emerged as a major threat both to the stability of Syria and neighboring Iraq and to the western world. It has become a confusing mix of who is fighting who. (The following video tries to simplify the ongoing war in Syria. https://www.facebook.com/ezraklein/videos/10153737513773410/)

On November 13, Islamic extremists went on a rampage throughout Paris killing 129 people. It turns out that one of those responsible is a Syrian refugee that got into France with thousands of other refugees that have been entering Europe as the war in Syria has escalated. This was one out of thousands yet there is no way to determine if there are more. It was always a concern that ISIS would try to slip agents into Europe and the US through the mass migration of Syrian refugees. It would appear that at least one did and possibly others, but it may not warrant the mass hysteria that seems to be coming from this horrible event.

The rest of the attackers that night, though still Muslim extremists, were European nationalists. As Republican governors, members of Congress, and even candidates for President have started foaming at the mouth about not accepting any Syrian refugees now, they say absolutely nothing about allowing Europeans into the country. These are the same Republicans that say one can’t blame all law-abiding gun owners any time there is a mass shooting. Yet somehow they are going to accuse all Syrian refugees because of one terrorist that came in with all the others.

Governors throughout the US have been declaring that they will not accept Syrian refugees within their state. This is more political posturing than reality. The Refugee Act of 1980, which was an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, created explicit procedures on how to deal with refugees entering the US by creating a uniform resettlement and absorption policy. Basically this makes it a federal matter, not a state. So all of these governors have no real say. Once someone has been approved and is allowed to enter the US, they are free to move about the country and settle wherever they would like just the same as anyone else.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, under new House Speaker Paul Ryan, are preparing legislation to halt Syrian refugees. It’s unclear as to whether such a bill would pass the Senate where Democrats can still filibuster. And it’s more likely to get a veto from President Obama if it were to reach his desk. Republicans need to tread more carefully and watch their words and their tone though. According to an article on POLITICO, faith-based groups as well as Evangelical Christians are largely in favor of the Syrian refugees.

The words of President Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear and hate aren’t the answers. True, we can’t tell which of the refugees are good and which might be members of ISIS or another extremist group. But we can’t even say that about our own citizens. We have to remember that 99% of those that are coming to this country are in search of safety and a better life… something that was ripped away from them in their home country.

In early 2015, several Bosnian refugees that had settled in St. Louis in the 1990s were arrested for sending money and military supplies to terrorist groups overseas. Did this mean that all the Bosnian refugees that entered our country were terrorists and should be deported? Of course not. Just a few bad apples in a community that has been a valuable asset to the city as a whole.

According to the American Immigration Council, the United States took in approximately 70,000 refugees in 2014 (the same as 2013). Almost half have came from the Near East/South Asia which includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan. The cap for the number of refugees is set at 70,000 for 2015 as well.

Our nation has always been a melting pot of different people. It makes our culture quite unique as we have found a way to blend it all together. There have been times when immigrants and refugees haven’t been given a fair chance… the Irish, Catholics, Italians, Eastern Europeans, etc. In the end, the fear that was largely rampant was proven mostly unfounded. The vast majority melted into our society. The new Syrian refugees will be no different than those that have come before.

Sure we all want to feel safe and protected. The majority of those refugees want the same thing. Is it possible that a member of ISIS could slip in? Sure. But they could always slip in another way, too, or influence an American citizen. We know the latter has happened already. We can’t blame all Syrians any more than we can blame all Americans. It is a risk we take, but it is part of our values as well. And we can’t lose sight of those. We must rise above hate and fear to see the bigger picture… the humanitarian aspect.

The Demise of the Bulk Collection of Data

fbi_wiretapRarely do I heap any praise on a politician. I always keep a skeptical eye toward them and am not afraid to call them out when necessary. But today, that praise is necessary. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (and also a 2016 presidential candidate) was a wrecking ball in the past couple of weeks when it came to allowing certain provisions in the Patriot Act to expire.

The Patriot Act was passed by Congress out of fear in the days after the 9/11 attacks. The way it had been interpreted by the National Security Agency (NSA) was that it legally allowed them to spy on everyday Americans. Most of the time it was without a warrant, but if one was needed, it had created a secret FISA court that basically granted one each time (only 11 times was one rejected) as it only heard the government’s side.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to collect “any tangible things” that the government proves are “relevant to” an investigation into suspected terrorists.

A lot of what the NSA was doing was brought to light when Edward Snowden blew the whistle about the operation. I don’t consider Snowden to be a patriot or a traitor. I consider him to be an American who saw the federal government overstepping its authority and letting the public know what was happening.

So if the law states the government can collect the data then what’s the problem? The problem is that it violates your right to privacy which is guaranteed under the Constitution. Law enforcement must request a specific warrant, not a blanket warrant that encompasses everyone, from an actual court… not some secret court that the public knows nothing about nor has any defense in. If Congress really wants to do this then they need to go about the proper way of amending the Constitution to allow it.

Republicans are tearing him apart for allowing the Patriot Act to expire. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has gone so far as to claim that it was a publicity stunt since Senator Paul is running for president. I can’t say whether that is true or not, but it has been one of his biggest issues since he entered the Senate back in 2011.

Senator Paul may also have something else to back him up. In early May, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the NSA’s bulk, warrantless collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal though stopping short of deciding its constitutionality. This came almost a year after a lower court ruled the program “almost-Orwellian.”

“Because we find that the program exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized, we vacate the decision below dismissing the complaint without reaching appellants’ constitutional arguments.”
Judge Gerald Lynch

The public has been undecided on what should be done. On the one hand they don’t want the government overstepping their constitutional authority and violating our right to privacy. However, on the other hand they want to feel protected from terrorists as it was born out of the fear from that. In the past several weeks, national security analysts have been hitting the media airwaves stating that the bulk collection of data has been worthless and has had no result on anything.

So what should be the path forward? In the past month the House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act. Is it perfect? No. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be added to the debate on how we proceed forward. POLITICO posted an article recently that reported how this new piece of legislation would “reform” the Patriot Act.

However Congress chooses to proceed forward in the days and weeks ahead, they should be mindful of our constitutional rights when deciding on national security. Though we take national security very seriously, we will not allow our rights to be disregarded.

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
Benjamin Franklin

Analysis of Immigration Executive Order

Illegal immigration has once again been thrust into the spotlight by President Obama’s speech to the nation about his Executive Order on the subject. It had mostly taken a backseat during the election as neither side really wanted to talk about any issue facing the nation.

This post is not to say whether the Executive Order is good or bad… or even legal.  The pundits are already out spinning the story as are Republican lawmakers in Congress. So let’s look at what is being done by this executive order.

  • Increased border security which has been increased throughout the Obama presidency
  • Increases the number of work visas for skilled workers so that more may apply and come to work here
  • It allows certain illegal immigrants a temporary reprieve from being deported but only specific categories

 

Temporary Reprieve, Not Amnesty

I will start with the last point since it will be the one with the most criticism.  The Executive Order is not amnesty. It does not grant citizenship or even permanent residency.  It is a temporary reprieve from being deported and gives the people an attempt to get their immigration status corrected.  It only applies to a specific group of people.

  • A child born in the US to an illegal immigrant
  • The illegal mother and/or father of that child that is born in the US
  • DREAMers — children born outside the US but brought to the country illegally by their parents

All of them must be in good standing with the law.  No criminal records or ties to terrorism.  None will have access to social welfare or any other form of government assistance.

 

Border Security

And speaking of links to terrorism, let’s dispel another Republican talking point.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, in an article for POLITICO, there have been no terrorists captured coming across the Mexican border.  However, two were captured trying to cross the Canadian border into the US.

Our focus tends to always be the Mexican border when this issue also applies to the country that we share the largest border with… Canada.  This also concerns with people from Asia that stowaway on cargo ships, and even those that come up from Caribbean islands though Cubans have a special category all their own. (Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot)

But what about overall border security along the border?  President Obama claims that he has more border patrol agents on the ground than any previous administration. (Politifact)  There has been an increase in border patrol agents throughout his administration, but it’s a result of a 2007 bill passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress during the Bush administration.  (Washington Post)  The President can take full credit though for having deported more illegal immigrants than any previous administration. (Pew Research)

 

Skilled Workers

According to the State Department, every fiscal year the US government issues a total of 140,000 work visas (before Obama’s executive order).  This number is usually maxed out fairly quickly each year.  Companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc. have been trying to get the number raised for years as they have job openings here in the US that cannot be filled by enough American workers as there are just not enough in the computer sciences.  These companies have also threatened to take the jobs elsewhere if they cannot be filled here thus further depleting a tax base.  These are people wanting to come to the US legally to work and pay taxes.

 

Senate Democrats passed a comprehensive immigration bill during the last session.  House Republicans passed their own version of immigration reform bills.  Neither chamber took up the legislation of the other and there was no conference committee to resolve the differences.  The issue is now in play.  Maybe the new Congress can actually pass immigration reform and send it to the President.  Any new legislation would override the Executive Order.

Executive Orders aren’t defined in the Constitution though the Supreme Court has ruled that they are legal so long as they are used to enforce the laws passed by Congress.  I would encourage the administration to inform us which laws they are enforcing with this Executive Order on immigration.  As for the rest of the partisan rhetoric, I think we’ve dealt with it.

The Fight for the Senate: Who Will Win Control?

The main talk of the 2014 election has been which political party will control the Senate after the votes have been counted.  Democrats have been on defense throughout most of the country as President Obama’s approval rating has been low. So with just a little more than a week to go, where do I think the numbers will fall?

create_your_own_senate_map1

Colored: Safe Seats; Gray: Toss-Ups

In this election cycle, Democrats have 38 seats that are safe or not up for reelection while Republicans have 42. So that is where my numbers start.

Democrats are projected to win the elections in Illinois (Durbin), Michigan, Minnesota (Franken), New Jersey (Booker), New Mexico (Udall), Oregon (Merkley), and Virginia (Warner).  Republicans are safe in the elections in Mississippi (Cochrane), South Dakota, and West Virginia.  This brings the total to 45-45 with 10 states that will determine the balance of the Senate.

In their latest forecast as of the time of writing this column, Nate Silver and those at fivethirtyeight.com give the Republicans a 62.1% chance of retaking the Senate.  The race is on for either side to grab 6 of the 10 toss-up seats.  It is going to be close, and it might just hinge on one thing we would not have predicted even 6-months ago.

It seems likely that Republicans will win seats currently held by Democrats in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, and Louisiana.  Though in Louisiana, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu will win on November 4, she will not cross the 50% threshold sending the top 2 into a run-off in December in which she will fall.  Republicans will also hold onto their seat in Kentucky.  This gives the GOP a total of 50 seats.

So what about the Democrats?  I believe they will hold onto their seats in New Hampshire and North Carolina.  I’ve watched over the polls of Colorado, and they have given me a headache just as they did during the 2012 election.  I will go out on a limb that Colorado will stay in the Democratic column but just barely.  There is still a state that was a surprise for this grouping.  Even a month ago, I had not included it here but my gut tells me to do so now.  Georgia.  Again, I believe this will be extremely close, but that the Democrat will come out on top.  Total for the Democrats… 49.

This leaves one seat remaining.  Republicans need it for control; Democrats need it for a tie with Vice-President Biden (Democrat) being the tie-breaker.  I hinted at this earlier, and it is Kansas.  As the election year started, Republicans saw Sen. Pat Roberts as a safe seat.  He had a tea-party challenge in the primary which he defeated.  He was being challenged by the Democrats and an Independent candidate Greg Orman.  Then the Democrat, basically seeing the writing on the wall, dropped out leaving only Orman to challenge Sen. Roberts.  The race has tightened up, but I’m predicting that Orman will pull off the upset and join Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) in the Senate.  So it will come down to where he caucuses: with the Republicans to give them majority, or with the Democrats to give them a tie (and thus majority off the tie-breaker).

My 2014 Prediction

My 2014 Prediction

This is how close it is going to be.  The Senate will be 50-50 or 51-49 Republican.  The Senate may need to learn how to compromise and function a little bit better with the chamber so evenly divided.  Despite all the polls and predictions, it will all still be determined by who shows up to vote.  So make sure to vote on November 4.

** This column is my sole opinion based off examining various polls.
** Special thanks to RealClearPolitics for allowing me to create my own map.

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