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.

Affirmative Action in Modern Society

Recently in the case Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the United States Supreme Court, by a 6-2 vote, upheld a Michigan ban on Affirmative Action.  The ban stated that universities didn’t have to consider race as a requirement for enrollment.  Michigan isn’t alone with a ban either as states like California, Washington, Oklahoma, New Hampshire among others have done so, as well.

In June 2013, the New York Times ran an article which graphed how minorities have fared in states with affirmative action bans.  The graphs only look at a couple major universities within a few states, but they can manage to tell quite a bit.  Whether with or without a ban, the overall percentage of minorities as freshmen increase and decrease… sometimes, more wildly than others.  But it also shows that percentage of that state’s total minority population and how it differs from the percentage of minority freshman.

California

The charts specifically point out UC Berkeley and UCLA.  The graphs show that 49% of the state’s college-aged residents are Hispanic though only 11% and 17% of freshman are Hispanic at those two schools respectfully.  That is a big gap.  The chart does show that both universities are lower in their percentages after the ban on affirmative action that before, but both were in decline before there was a ban. (as of 2011)

Florida

In Florida, 27% of the state’s college-aged residents are Hispanic.  When it comes to Florida State and the University of Florida, both universities showed that 18% of their freshman were Hispanic.  Not as wide of a gap as California.  And in Florida, the percentage of freshman has increased right along with the state’s college-aged residents in this category.  Sadly, it is the African-American community that has seen a decline at Florida State and a mix of up-and-down years at the University of Florida. (as of 2011)

It’s mostly in Washington state where both Hispanics and African-Americans have seen an increase in the percentage of freshman, with a little variation over some of the years.  So the graphics have the ability to make the cases for or against affirmative action bans in the same manner.  There were increases and decreases before bans were in place as there were afterwards.  And though the charts do show the percentage of a state’s college-aged residents, it fails to identify how many have completed their secondary education in order to advance to college.

According to the Tuscon Sentinel, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University have all seen steady increases in the percentage of minority undergraduates since 2010 when voters approved of an affirmative action ban.  We cannot assume that the other universities/colleges show the same numbers, and it doesn’t break down the minority numbers and their relation to the total percentage of the population.

affirmative-action

All of the numbers that I have discussed this far have left off something very important… the students that leave those states to attend a university in another state and the students from other states that go to those particular universities.  How is that shown in the numbers that have been discussed?  And should they be used to help show if a university is measuring up in minority enrollment to the state’s total minority population?

Hypothetical

So to bring this concept into some form of scope, let me bring up a hypothetical situation.  Let’s say that a white man and an African-American man both apply to the same university with the exact same credentials (i.e. same GPA, same SAT scores, etc.), and only one can be admitted.  Should the African-American be chosen over the white guy simply based on his race and nothing else?  If that is the case, aren’t we using the same form of discrimination on the white man that we are attempting to exterminate on minorities with Affirmative Action?

Let’s make a slight change.  I will keep the African-American man but change the other to a Hispanic woman.  Does she now qualify over him because she is two minorities (woman and Hispanic)?  Does it come down to how many minority groups a person can be a part of?

In this country, not all secondary education is created equal.  There are good schools and bad ones.  So grades and GPA may not alone indicate which prospective student is more qualified  than another.  A student with a 3.4 GPA and comes from a good school may be more qualified than a student coming from a bad school with a 3.5.

When discussing Affirmative Action, especially when it comes to our universities, it goes beyond any simple talking points that politicians or even the media would have us believe.  It is a very complex issue that is intertwined with our nation’s past.  It was derived from necessity.  But as we move forward from those times, what type of role does it play if any at all?  One must look to the entire picture in order to get an idea of this and not just the rhetoric.

Federal Nullification

The Second Amendment And States’ Rights

This past Wednesday night, the Missouri legislature passed a series of bills during a late night session.  One of these late night bills was aimed directly at the federal government.  It is a bill that is designed to “protect” the residents of Missouri of their Second Amendment rights from the federal government.  The bill states that all federal gun laws are banned within the state and enforcement of such laws is a misdemeanor.  Residents would also be allowed to openly carry any gun that is 16-inches or smaller.  It allows for school districts to designate certain teachers and administrators the right to carry a gun on school property.  If a teacher or administrator does not carry a gun and has been designated to do so, that person can be terminated.  School officials can also detain anyone they believe is violating the law for up to four-hours before they have to turn the person over to the authorities.

SecessionSCThe first bit I’ve written about several times in the past.  States cannot nullify federal laws (or the US Constitution).  It’s fairly simple.  Here’s how it sets up… local, county, state, federal, US Constitution.  Each step is above the one before it.  Local can’t nullify county.  County can’t nullify state.  State can’t nullify federal.  And nothing can nullify the US Constitution.  Now each level is supposed to have limited powers.  Even the US Constitution sets the limited powers of the federal government and our rights as citizens.  If the federal government has passed legislation that violates its powers under the US Constitution, it is not up to the states to nullify the legislation.  The state must challenge it in the courts, and it is up to the courts to decide whether the law is unconstitutional or not.  Nullification has been tried again and again throughout our history, and it has not worked.  One of the earliest nullification “crisis” this country face came in 1828 under President Andrew Jackson.  The main disagreement at this time was over tariffs.  Critics of the tariff claimed that the tariff on manufactured goods being imported from Europe made them more expensive than goods manufactured in the US.  Southern politicians claimed that it benefited the northern states at the expense of the southern ones.  South Carolina, along with Vice-President Calhoun, declared that it had the right to nullify the tariff legislation of 1828 and any federal law that went against its interest.  President Jackson, being a southerner, sympathized with the South in the tariff debate but also believed in a strong union.  He threatened to send federal troops to South Carolina to enforce the laws, and even threatened to hang Vice-President Calhoun.  In December 1832, President Jackson proclaimed, “the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.”

In 1999, voters in the state of Missouri narrowly rejected “conceal and carry.”  However, the state legislature overrode the will of the voters in 2003 and passed it.  This is not the only time the state legislature of Missouri has overridden a ballot initiative that the voters have rejected.  Now the legislature in this bill is going a step further now and stating that we can openly carry any gun that is 16-inches or less.  Is law enforcement actually going to measure the length of someone’s gun?  Yes, it means you can’t openly carry a shotgun around but case in point with any handgun.  St. Louis is usually ranked near the top of the violent cities list (whether it’s accurate or not is debatable).  However, you still can’t turn on the news at night without seeing reports of someone being shot.  How does this solve the violence that plagues the city?  More people walking around with guns… openly walking around with guns… and not all of them have gone through a background check.  It honestly does not make me feel any safer.  During the debate in the House, Rep. Doug Funderburk (R-St. Peters) stated, “I bet those folks in Boston wish they had guns in their home when terrorists were running around with bombs.”  The logical question to ask is what would this have accomplished.  Just because the FBI is looking for someone (even someone guilty of a bombing) doesn’t mean they have the right person.  Are we going to become a vigilante society?  Are we going to go out and hunt down anyone the FBI says committed a crime before we have answers or even know if we even have the right person.  In a point I raised in an earlier article, we don’t always have the right suspect.  My example is the 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta.  The FBI zeroed in on one guy.  The media dragged this guy through the mud.  And yet, it was later discovered that he was not the right person.  The right person was later found and is now in prison.  However, an innocent man was still trashed, his life was disrupted, and if it happened today, we as a society would ready to lynch this person.  Now in the case of Boston, someone could have used a gun to keep the suspect(s) at bay or even protect one’s self in the event that it was threatened directly… until proper law enforcement could get there.  It’s not as if Massachusetts doesn’t have a “conceal and carry” law and that citizens don’t have the right to own a gun there.  It’s considered a “may-issue” state wherein it is usually left to local authorities.  Rural Massachusetts is permissive, but Boston is restrictive.  That doesn’t mean people can’t own a gun there.  They just don’t have the same freedoms as people in rural Massachusetts.  Even with this, it makes Rep. Funderburk’s argument completely baseless.

Moving to the school issue, I’m not really trying to debate whether having armed personnel in schools is a good or bad idea.  I’m not sure if selecting teachers to arm themselves is a good idea.  This legislation is a direct result of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Is this what society is coming to?  That we have to have guns around us 24/7 in order to feel safe anywhere.  I could maybe see an armed guard or even an administrator, but not the teachers.  And if we are going to put armed personnel in schools, then we need to make sure they are heavily trained and go through thorough background checks.  The part of this particular legislation that gets to me the most, though, is that a person can be fired for not bringing a gun if they are selected to be one of those that is supposed to bring one.  What if someone is selected even though they object to it or they don’t already own one?  Is the school going to pay for this person to purchase a gun in order for them to keep their job?  Somehow I see this argument boiling down to taxes.  Most school districts wouldn’t be able to afford hiring armed personnel.  Arming teachers and administrators probably wouldn’t cost any additional funds, but there are problems that need to be worked out with that.  Teachers, of all things though, should be more focused on teaching and less about being armed.  Last time I checked, they aren’t law enforcement officers.  As for the school district having the right to hold anyone they suspect of breaking the law for 4-hours before they contact law enforcement, I have to ask if that only pertains to adults or are the students included in this.  Minors cannot be questioned without a parent or guardian present.  That is unlawful.  And questioning for 4-hours, what are they?  The FBI?   I could see some initial questions being asked, but law enforcement should be contacted within the hour if there is a legitimate threat or someone is breaking the law.  Again, I stress that it is not up to the school to become law enforcement.

Senate Majority Whip Brian Nieves (R-Washington) posted on his Facebook page, “Tonight (Wed) was an historic night for Missouri and her citizens.  Our private property rights, our court system, and the assertion of our 2nd amendment rights were all impacted positively by the final passage of three of my 2013 Bills!”  Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) replied by stating, “I don’t know why this body continues to turn its back and make fun of gun violence victims. It’s not a funny matter. I don’t find it amusing.”  Republicans hold a veto-proof majority in both chambers of the legislature.  Democratic Governor Jay Nixon has not yet stated whether he will sign the bill or not.  However, if the bill comes law either by Governor Nixon’s signature or a veto override may be inconsequential since it is likely to be challenged in court.  US Attorney General Eric Holder warned the state of Kansas last week that their new law that states that federal gun laws do not apply to guns within the state is unconstitutional.  It would seem the Missouri law would face this same test.  Again I stress that a state cannot nullify a federal law merely challenge a federal law’s constitutionality in the court system.  And should a person be terminated from their job simply because they invoke their right not to own a gun?  In this completely separate issue, I think the state of Missouri, in their attempt to prop-up the right to own a gun, has stepped on the right not to own one.  We are not a vigilante society.  We are not a lynch mob justice system.  We have the right to own a gun to protect ourselves.  Law abiding citizens can easily pass a background check and own the firearm of their choice.  This is not in debate.  But we do not have the right to take law enforcement or justice into our own hands.  We are not mob rule.  We are a society based on laws… laws that make sense.

SIDENOTE:
Sen. Nieves referenced three bills in his quote.  I only discussed one of them on here.

This is the first blog entry that also appears in the new InDeclaration column on IVN.  Articles now appear on both sites.

Church And State

Religious Liberty In North Carolina

Republican legislators in the state of North Carolina have recently proposed a bill that would allow the state to declare an official religion on the grounds that the First Amendment to the US Constitution doesn’t apply to the state since the states are sovereign within their own right.  In shorter form, they declare they are exempt from the Constitution and subsequent court rulings via the Tenth Amendment.  The text of the North Carolina bill is as follows: (official document)

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; […]”  The Founding Fathers established the First Amendment so that the citizens of the new nation would be able to worship freely without government intervention and to make sure that government and religion didn’t intermingle as they did in England (i.e. The Church of England).  However, that didn’t apply to the states.  As the amendment actually states, it’s Congress that can’t make any such laws.  It doesn’t mention the states.  Originally, this was interpreted to mean that only Congress could not pass such legislation and that individual states could do as they so chose to.  In fact, when the First Amendment was ratified, several states had already established an official religion.  All of these state religions would be disestablished by 1833.

Flag_of_North_Carolina.

In Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment had extended the reach of certain limitations on the federal government that were established in the First Amendment applied to state governments as well.  It became the legal precedent at this point that it wasn’t just Congress that couldn’t pass such laws, but the states couldn’t do so either.  However, it was Everson v. Board of Education (1947) that would transform the interpretation of the First Amendment.  In its ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was binding upon the states via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  In the Court’s decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote the following:

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.'” 330 U.S. 1, 15-16.

So what about the Tenth Amendment as claimed by the legislators in North Carolina?  The amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  It is just as it states and has been interpreted.  States are sovereign and have certain rights delegated to them so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of the federal government set forth in the Constitution and its subsequent amendments.  This also applies to the personal rights that were established by the Bill of Rights.

signingdecWhen dealing with such topics as the freedom of religion, the overused quote about the separation of church and state comes into play.  However, the Constitution does not specifically use those words.  However, it is how the First Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court starting with the Everson ruling.  In the majority opinion, Justice Black used the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote the words in reference to the First Amendment in 1802.  Jefferson, who was a Southerner and one of the biggest advocates for states’ rights, wrote in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

The state legislators in North Carolina should possibly do a review of early American history and learn why the Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, distrusted establishing official state religions.  Jefferson wrote to the Assembly of Virginia in 1779, “[That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time […]”  He would continue, “[T]hat to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own […]”  Jeffersonian Republicans were those that advocated for limited federal government and more for states’ rights, and yet here Thomas Jefferson himself is advocating that no government (federal or state) should have the right to declare an official religion, and that we should all be just as the First Amendment states… free to worship however we choose.  In looking back on how the interpretation of the First Amendment has changed through history, one must tend to lean toward the conclusion that the courts wouldn’t allow this bill in North Carolina (should it be passed) to be enforced on the grounds of the First Amendment.

SIDENOTE:
The North Carolina state constitution did prohibit anyone that didn’t believe in God from public office.  However, such bans were ruled unconstitutional in Turcaso v. Watkins (1961).

%d bloggers like this: