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

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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.

US Involvement Against the Threat of ISIL

Americans are war weary.  The nation has been at war since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  We have been involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Libya during its uprising.  For the past couple of years, we have even been “secretly” shipping arms to rebels in Syria.

As we finally see our troops coming home from Afghanistan, in what has become this nation’s longest war, we are now talking about Iraq once again.  This time it isn’t the nation as it is a group that calls itself ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).  It has also been referred to as ISIS.  It comes from Syria and has crossed the border into Iraq taking one town after another in sweeping fashion.

A couple of months ago, the United States began bombing ISIL targets on the ground.  First, it was to protect a minority group of Yazidis who are ancient Mesopotamian.  Then we began to assist the Kurds as they fought for their own survival in northern Iraq.

But where has the rest of the Iraqi army been?  The one that we spent billions training and equipping?  As ISIL swept through the country, they fled… some even without firing a shot.  And to make it even worse, they left behind the equipment that we left for them which includes tanks that ISIL now has and that we now bomb.

isil

President Obama has spoken with congressional leaders and has asked for approval before committing to a larger international mission that he laid out in a speech to the American people on Wednesday night.  But how much support is there from Congress or the American people?  Though we are only a couple of months away from an election, and Congress would like to duck this issue altogether, the stakes are too high and it is likely that they will indeed support such intervention.  The real question is whether the American people support such action.

We don’t tend to have the greatest luck in picking sides in the region.  We have supported authoritarian dictators in the region such as Egypt and Iraq.  In Iraq, we had to overthrow the regime; whereas, the people of Egypt overthrew theirs.  We support the Saudis and the regime in Bahrain though both are authoritarian.  We even overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in the 1950s to install the Shah who would be overthrown in 1979 by the Iranian people.

When civil war broke out in Syria, we didn’t want to get involved.  We didn’t know who the rebels were that we’d be helping.  There were too many factions.  It was only have chemical weapons were used that the world began to take more notice and an active role.

In the US, there were calls from members of Congress (Senator John McCain being one of them) that called for arming the Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime.  Interesting enough that ISIL comes from some of those Syrian factions that we were originally so worried about arming, and they still got American weapons when they invaded a destabilized Iraq and swept from town to town.

Now here we find ourselves again getting involved.  The President claims no actual combat troops on the ground just advisers though that is exactly how our involvement in Vietnam started.  Arming Syrian rebels has also come back into the discussion.  But exactly who would we be arming?  Even Senator McCain has called for helping Syrian President Assad deal with ISIL in Syria.  This sounds like a complete 180 from just last year.  Maybe we should just admit that in Syria, we shouldn’t support either side.

The members of ISIL aren’t just coming from Iraq and Syria or even other nations in the region.  They are also coming from western Europe, the United States, etc.  They are our own citizens with passports that can come and go as they choose making it easier for them to be trained to bring the organization into our own nations.

President Obama mentioned a broad international coalition including Arab nations that also see ISIL as a threat to the region.  It is important to have those nations in this coalition.   Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the region trying to shore up more support from those nations and work out plans.  This does include Iraq and helping bring the Sunni minority of that country into a government role.

A hundred years ago, World War I broke out across Europe.  Interesting how we are still putting out the fires from that great conflict here in 2014.  ISIL is a threat to the US, and they have already made sure that we get the message loud and clear.  Our involvement is crucial.  However, we must start realizing that we cannot arm people in other countries especially in this particular region.  Somehow we always seem to spend billions of dollars to destroy it all in the end.

Again, as I stated at the beginning, we are a war weary nation.  We have spent trillions of dollars in this region to evoke “change” and here we continue to do so.  We have seen what a well-organized terrorist group can do if we don’t take the necessary precautions.  We don’t need to relive that day again.  The nation is poised to enter the fray with a specific goal.  It will not be quick, and it will not be cheap, and it’s doubtful that in the end we will learn from our mistakes of the past.

The Law Regarding Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors

Since October of 2013, 52,000 children from Central America have been apprehended crossing the US-Mexico border illegally.  They are coming here by themselves.  It’s just one more piece in the larger immigration debate that seems to have quieted down until after the November election.

Republicans in Congress are quick to point the finger at the Obama administration.  Two years ago, the Obama administration decided to defer deporting certain young immigrants who met certain criteria and have been living in the states continuously since June 2007.  But as usual with partisan rhetoric, they are missing half of the debate.

FT_14_06_06_UnaccompaniedChildren_mapIn 2008, Congress passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which the Senate passed by unanimous consent, and was signed by President George W. Bush.  Though the law’s main intent deals with human trafficking, it did contain a section that deals with children arriving in the US illegally unaccompanied by an adult.

Children from Mexico are returned immediately, as they would be if they were an adult apprehended illegally entering the US.  However, children from a non-contiguous nation such as those in Central America have a different process.  The children must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services which is in charge of their care, finds them safe housing, and apprises them of their legal rights as their immigration cases are decided.  Deportation proceedings can take time as immigration courts are generally backed up.

Republicans, who in recent weeks have been claiming that the Obama administration is not enforcing the laws passed by Congress, are actually demanding that the President not enforce the TVPRA and send the children back to their home countries immediately without any deportation hearings as would happen if they had come from Mexico.

Last week President Obama signaled a willingness to do so but only if Congress modified the TVPRA to allow him to do so.  The leadership of both the House and the Senate do not seem to be interested in changing the current law, and as of July 7, the Obama administration has backtracked a little though it still would like more authority to act.  Until the law is changed, the children that have come here have to go through the process outlined by the TVPRA.  President Obama does plan to ask Congress for an extra $2 billion in extra funds to deal with the situation.

In the debate surrounding these children, it should be noted that they are not refugees or seeking asylum which would be completely different.  Asylum and refugee are special legal protections only available to people have fled their home countries out of fear and cannot return and can only be sought once they have entered the US.  There are strict requirements that a person must show in order to be granted those protections.

And though we debate this issue now in regards to Mexicans and those from Central America countries, this is not the first time we as a nation have had this discussion.  In the mid 19th-century, it was over Irish immigrants.  Most were processed legally through Ellis Island but the same arguments that were used then are still being used today against legal and illegal immigrants.

In the end, the TVPRA is the law that was passed by Congress that President Obama is to enforce.  If Republicans in Congress have a problem with that, then they need to change the law instead of telling the President not to enforce it.  Isn’t that the problem they have with him anyway?  This doesn’t come as a result of a DREAM Act.  It comes from congressional inability to deal with our broken immigration system in terms of those wanting to come here legally, and what to do with those that enter illegally.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.”  Regardless for now, as we detain these illegal immigrant children, we need to treat them humanely until they are eventually returned to their countries of origin.  If Republicans want this process to be sped up, then they need to revise the TVPRA to allow it to be done.

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