Friday, July 31, 2009

The issue that just won't die

Eleven percent of Americans do not believe President Obama was born in the United States, according to a DailyKos/Research 2000 poll released today. Another 12 percent are not sure.

The matter continues to thrive despite the embarrassment of many U.S. leaders, including Republicans, who have tried to put a clamp on the far-fetched theory that the President was actually born in Kenya, his father's birthplace, and therefore not eligible to be president of the United States.

Several lawsuits were filed during the campaign challenging then-Sen. Obama's eligibility to be president. All were rejected. The White House has tried to ignore the issue, but apparently felt compelled to speak out earlier this week. The Hawaii governor and health director have also spoken out recently in support of the President.

Based on the poll, some folks are not convinced.

Click here to see the Research 2000 poll, sponsored by the Daily Kos, a liberal blog.

The conservative website WorldNetDaily claims more than 400,000 people have signed a petition demanding more information on Obama's birth.

In the South, even fewer people believe the President is a naturally born citizen. Researchers found that that 23 percent of Americans in the Southeast do not believe President Obama was born in the United States, according to the Research 2000 poll. Another 30 percent are not sure.

A breakdown Research 2000 findings by party:

Democrats: 93 percent believe President Obama is U.S. born, 4 percent do not, and 3 percent are not sure.

Republicans: 42 percent think he was born here, 28 percent do not, and 30 percent are not sure.

Independents: 83 percent think he was born here, 8 percent do not, and 9 percent are unsure.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Advocates: Enforcement works

The illegal immigrant population in North Carolina has dropped 13 percent since 2007, according to a new report released today by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.

The state numbers mirror the national average, which declined 13.7 percent from a peak of 12.5 million illegal immigrants in the summer of 2007 to 10.8 million in the first quarter of 2009, according to the center’s analysis of Census data.

The center's analysis is similar to other recent studies that show that the unprecedented flood of illegal immigrants into the state and country has slowed. The Pew Hispanic Center reported in April that the illegal immigrant population grew rapidly from 1990 to 2006 but has since stabilized. Pew estimates 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants live in the United States; 350,000 in North Carolina.

The Pew Hispanic Center said it’s unclear whether illegal immigrants are returning home. The Center for Immigration Studies says otherwise. Authors say the number of illegal immigrants returning home has more than doubled in the last two years compared to earlier in this decade.

The Center for Immigration Studies, which supports greater controls of immigration, also challenges the findings of other demographers who have attribute the drop in illegal immigration almost exclusively to the economy.

“It does seem that nationally, the fall-off began before the economy tanked suggesting that increased enforcement in the last two years in the Bush administration played a roll in having the numbers fall,” said Steven Camarota, co-author of the study.

The center says the decline, whatever the cause, challenges the argument that illegal immigrants are so attached to their lives in this country that it’s not possible to induce them to return home. The center's authors say if the current trend continues for another five years, it could cut the illegal population in half from its peak in the summer of 2007.

The study, “A Shifting Tide: Recent Trends in the Illegal Immigrant Population,” can be read here.

Other findings from the study:

  • The number of new illegal immigrants has fallen by about a third in the last two years compared to earlier in this decade.
  • The illegal immigrant population rose in the summer of 2007, while U.S. legislators were considering legalizing illegal immigrants. When that legislation failed to pass, the illegal population began a dramatic fall.
  • While the illegal-immigrant population has declined, the legal immigrant population has not. As a result, the overall foreign-born population has held relatively steady.
  • Another indication that enforcement has contributed to the decline is that the illegal immigrant population began falling before there was a significant rise in the unemployment rate for illegal immigrants.
  • While the decline began before unemployment among illegal immigrants rose, since then unemployment among illegal immigrants has increased dramatically and must now be playing a significant role in reducing their numbers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

White House: President is a citizen

The White House said there is probably nothing that would satisfy the so-called "birthers" who contend the president’s Hawaiian birth certificate is fake.

CNN and radio host Lou Dobbs helped bring those lingering questions back to life last week when he, among others, wondered aloud whether the president is “undocumented.”

Many of the birthers contend the President was actually born in Kenya, his father's homeland.

Several lawsuits were filed during the campaign season challenging then-Sen. Obama's eligibility to be president. All were rejected.

The White House responded to the most recent controversy this week as the issue gained momentum across radio waves and online blogs.

"If I had some DNA, it wouldn't assuage those that don't believe he was born here," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday. "But I have news for them and for all of us: The president was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the 50th state of the greatest country on the face of the Earth. He's a citizen."

Above: President Obama's 1961 birth announcement published in the the Honolulu Advertiser.

The Hawaii health department also reiterated this week that Obama's birth records are valid.

"I, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, Director of the Hawaii State Department of Health, have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawaii State Department of Health verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen. I have nothing further to add to this statement or my original statement issued in October 2008 over eight months ago."

Photos: President Barack Obama in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome), (AP Photo/The Honolulu Advertiser)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Could Obama be "undocumented"?

CNN and radio host Lou Dobbs touched off a firestorm last week when he wondered aloud on his radio show whether President Obama is a naturally born citizen and might be "undocumented."
"I'm starting to think we have a document issue. You suppose he's un... no, I won't even use the word undocumented, it wouldn't be right."
Here is short excerpt of the radio show.
Here is a longer excerpt of the radio show.

The photo below provided by the Honolulu Advertiser shows President Barack Obama's birth announcement, left column, center, in the Sunday Aug. 13, 1961 edition of the paper.

In response to similar charges raised during last year’s campaign season, reported last year that the Obama campaign released a digitally scanned image of his birth certificate. staffers say they’ve seen and examined the original birth certificate and deemed it authentic. In November, reported that the Hawaii’s Department of Health confirmed that Obama was born in Honolulu.

Photo: President Barack Obama (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais), (AP Photo/The Honolulu Advertiser)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Think Tank launches immigration series…

As the immigration debate heats up, a Washington, D.C.-think tank breaks down the issues.

Few question the need for an overhaul of our nation’s immigration policies. The debate is how to do it and what compromises each side willing to make. The Brookings Institution put its experts on the case. They look at several key aspects, including policy, changing demographics, fair and effective laws, and economic, political and social obstacles.

Click here to take a look…

Friday, July 24, 2009

Does immigration coverage impact newspaper circulation?

I'm back in Charlotte. Before I left for Washington, D.C. I asked for some questions from you about what I should ask the panelists at the International Center for Journalists about covering immigration.

I got some pretty, um, let’s say inspired, questions from a few of you. I figured the panelist already knew what the term “illegal” means so I chose not to ask that one.

I did pose this question to one of the directors of our fellowship, Patrick Butler, Vice President of Programs at ICFJ:
“Has there been a correlation between the dwindling of our nation's newspapers subscribers and the general shift towards a more liberal journalistic perspective?”

Butler said newspapers’ struggles are more connected to the Internet, where people can get their news for free. He didn’t think there was a liberal or conservative bias.

Butler noted a Project for Excellence in Journalism study that found election coverage of then-Sen. Obama, a Democrat, had been more positive than negative and coverage of Sen. McCain, a Republican, had been “heavily unfavorable.”

He thought the positive coverage had more to do with Obama being a new face and that we’ll now see more critical coverage of his administration.

“Obama is not necessarily going to be praising media coverage of his presidency in the same way that Clinton wasn’t,” he said.

He said newspapers have long been criticized on both sides of the political spectrum. Some newspapers have taken flak for immigration coverage deemed too liberal, but they’ve also taken heat for being too conservative when it has to do with national security reporting, such as the buildup to the war in Iraq.

“Regarding immigration, I do think -- and this is strictly opinion -- that journalists tend to be open and interested in hearing stories of those who are perhaps less powerful. Journalists often see our role of giving voice to the voiceless….We’re telling immigrant stories and doing it in a way that is perhaps empathetic or perhaps sympathetic. That leads to criticism that we’re on their side.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'Undocumented immigrant' vs. 'Illegal Alien'

Few things in the immigration debate are more controversial than the terms used to describe people in the country illegally.

Not surprisingly, immigration rights activists push for "undocumented immigrants." Enforcement advocates prefer "illegal alien."

We journalists are caught in the middle.

On Monday, a nearly two-hour discussion on the issue at the International Center for Journalist in Washington, D.C., got heated at times as each side charged the other with playing politics and promoting half-truths.

The discussion, led by USA TODAY immigration reporter Emily Bazar, can be watched here.

Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, which advocates for a reduction of immigrants allowed in the country, says the term undocumented immigrant is unclear . Illegal alien, she contends, describes all groups who arrived illegally or who have overstayed their visas.

"It seems to us that the best way to use the terminology is based on what the law says," she said. "Then, you're being very clear about who you're talking about," she said.

But Lisa Navarrete, vice president of The National Council of La Raza, which advocates for immigrant rights, said illegal alien, or especially illegal as a noun, is a pejorative term that dehumanizes and demonizes individuals.

"This is not a legalistic debate, this is a political debate, " she said. And the terms that are used in this debate say more about the speaker than they do the subject. Words matter... We do really have a problem calling a human being illegal. There aren't illegal human beings. They may have committed a criminal act, but they're not illegal. People who speed are not illegal drivers or illegal because they speed."

At the Observer, we do our best to seek the middle ground. We try first to describe that the person has arrived in the country illegally or overstayed a visa, whatever the action, instead of using a specific term. However, because of space requirements, that is often not possible.

So, for Observer reporters, the preferred term is "illegal immigrants." As a synonym we will use the terms undocumented workers or unauthorized as long as its clear we're referring to individuals in the country illegally. We try not to use the words "illegal" or "illegals" as a noun. We also avoid using the term "alien" unless it's in direct quotes.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

'Within our organization there are real racists'

An advocate for greater restrictions on immigration says his group and others must fight racist members. Meanwhile, an advocate for comprehensive reform, says they also have extremists in their ranks.

One thing about getting those with opposing views into a room is the conversations that can develop. That was the case Thursday at the International Center for Journalists in Washington, D.C. when organizers set up a panel on advocacy work that included Roy Beck of NumbersUSA, who advocates for greater immigration restrictions, and Paco Fabian of America's Voice and Douglas Rivlin of the National Immigration Forum, both advocates for comprehensive reform.

Towards the end of a nearly two-hour conversation, the two sides opened up about playing politics and some of the challenges they face dealing with extremist members who can derail their efforts.

"I can tell you that within our organization there are real racists," Beck said.

Beck said some NumbersUSA members were angry late last year when he condemned the murder of an Ecuadorian man in Long Island, N.Y., allegedly by a group of teenagers who in the middle of a drinking binge decided to "beat up a Mexican."

"Sadly, out of 900,000 people we still had a dozen people who thought we were awful for standing up for the guy," he said. "They said 'well, he may not have been whatever, but he was illegal so he deserved to be killed.' There are people who think that.”

Rivlin said his group has dealt with similar problems.

"There are extremes in our coalition who really are for open borders; who really are for emptying the jails," he said. "And you know we get tagged with them. They get wrapped around our neck the same way the hate crimes get wrapped around Roy’s neck."

(Beck jokingly motioned like he was tugging at a chain around his neck.)

Its part of the political game, said Rivlin. And each side does its best to use the opposing groups' own extremists as an advantage.

"As advocacy groups, we're always saying we're in the middle and we're fighting for the middle. And we're always dealing with the extremes in our coalitions and always trying to characterize them as the extremes in their coalition. That is just the way Washington works."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Common ground over Diet Coke

When I saw two of the leading voices on opposing sides of the immigration debate share the same can of Diet Coke, I thought maybe there’s a chance for compromise after all.

Our hosts at the International Center for Journalists in Washington, D.C., started our program off strongly by inviting pro-enforcement advocate Jerry Kammer of the Center for Immigration Studies to sit with pro-immigrant rights advocates Tamar Jacoby of ImmigrationWorks USA and Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress.

Each side took expected stances, but it was interesting to hear them discuss their strategies in more human terms.

Kammer talked about the country we're leaving for our grandchildren. He said the United States can't sustain its current rate of population growth, and he raised concerns that we could lose our large middle class if we inherit a more Mexican-like social structure dominated by disparate upper and lower economic classes.

Kelley talked about learning from the failed effort to pass reform in 2007 and taking tips from their opponents to build more middle-America support. She characterized as similar to "walking over Niagara Falls with an umbrella and a stiff wind." She expressed optimism, however, that some reform bill could be ready by next spring.

Kammer and Jacoby, who split a Coke, did appear to agree on the benefits of Wednesday's announcement that the Obama administration will award federal contracts only to employers who use federal databases to verify employees' immigration status.

"The business community welcomes workplace enforcement," said Jacoby, who represents employers backing reform. "Ultimately though it has to come with a legal pipeline to get the workers that America needs for future economic growth."

The Center of Immigration Studies has long supported the program, known as E-Verify, but it was surprising to hear Jacoby's support when many immigrant rights groups have lobbied against the program.

It may be a small thing, but on this issue where extreme views dominate, it's nice to see signs of shared interest – even if it's over a pop.

Photo: shstrng

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hitting the books...

I'm heading back to school, well kind of.

For the next few days, I'll be attending a journalism training program in Washington, D.C., one of 13 journalists picked for a Scripps Howard scholarship to study immigration. The eight-day program is run by the D.C.-based International Center for Journalists.

The program’s goal is to help journalists better “understand the legal, social, economic, and political impact of the immigration debate while providing new skills on how to cover this complex issue.”

If I can, I hope to blog from time to time about the conference. I suspect some of you will be interested in hearing about these same issues: civil rights, enforcement, and the impact of immigration on the economy.

My fellow reporters participating in the conference have quite the experience and backgrounds. They include a public radio reporter from Seattle, a Venezuelan-born news service reporter, a former Inter-American Press Association scholar from California and a D.C.-based producer for Al Jazeera.

We’ll be meeting with some big names from all sides of the issue. They include legislators such as representatives Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican and Charles Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat. We’ll also hear from Steven Camarota, senior researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies, Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst at the Immigration Policy Center and Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

Anyone who thinks this is going to be a one-sided discussion should look again at the panelists. And I've only listed a few of them.

Feel free to send me some questions you think I should ask. Just please keep them civil. If they're witty, even better.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Obama tells sheriff to release some illegal immigrants

The Obama administration has ordered a Nashville, Tenn., sheriff to release some illegal immigrants swept up on minor charges. The move has drawn criticism from enforcement advocates and concerns of a return to the widely criticized "catch and release" policy.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement directed the Nashville sheriff to “release on recognizance” some illegal immigrants arrested on such charges as fishing without a license. It appears the Nashville sheriff was the only one issued the directive. But it could affect at lease some of the 66 U.S. law enforcement jurisdictions that are part of a controversial 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement to act as de facto immigration agents.

The 287(g) program has been criticized by immigrant-rights groups as unfair and inhumane. A congressional report released in March criticized the $40 million federal program, saying it is rounding up minor offenders instead of the serious criminals it was designed to nab.

The program is operating in eight N.C. jails, including Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Gaston counties.

According to a report by the Mecklenburg sheriff, which covered arrests through April 5, more than 6,300 individuals have been placed into deportation proceedings under the program started in 2006. Of those, 609 were arrested on felonies. More than 1,800 were arrested on traffic charges; another 1,523 were charged with DWI.

In May, we reported on enforcement advocates’ concerns that new federal immigration guidelines focusing on employers may signal a return to a de facto catch- and-release policy that allowed captured illegal immigrants to be released while they await a court date. Many never showed up.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates stronger enforcement, said new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidelines raises questions whether illegal immigrants caught at worksites will be released. FAIR cited a line in the federal memo that states:

ICE will continue to arrest and process for removal any illegal workers who are found in the course of these worksite enforcement actions in a manner consistent with immigration law and DHS priorities.

FAIR contends that “processing for removal” could mean releasing illegal immigrants and giving them a notice to appear in court on a certain day to begin removal proceedings.

Matt Chandler, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, told the Monitor there has been no policy change.

“ICE always puts a priority on criminal aliens who pose a national security threat,” he said. “We are taking a deep, hard look at the program.”

Releasing minor offenders could significantly impact 287(g), experts say. Pre-2006 studies showed that about 85 percent of illegal immigrants released on bond did not show up for their court date.

Photo: T. Ortega

Monday, July 6, 2009

Unemployed day laborers turn to street theater

Imagine a group of construction workers, immigrants, breaking into a rendition of Shakespeare at the site of the new arts complex on South Tryon.

It’s a stretch, I know, but the thought went through my mind as I was reading this story about a similar scenario taking place at day-laborer sites in Los Angeles.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Teatro Jornaleros Sin Fronteras – Day Laborer Theater Without Borders – is performing plays at city work sites to entertain other day laborers. The stories include real-life challenges such as alcoholism and religious themes such as fighting off demands of the devil. There have even been a few plays about life as an illegal immigrant and fears of being swept up in a raid.

"In our culture, some guys have never seen a play," said Juan José Mangandi, a Salvadoran laborer who serves as the troupe's director. "They think that only high-life people, like in Hollywood, can make theater. But when they see us, they say, 'He's like me.' "

Members of the troupe were recruited at day-labor job sites. About 50 people auditioned for the dozen spots. The actors come from Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Pablo Alvarado, the executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which cosponsors the troupe, said that the artistic depiction of day-laborer issues is especially relevant given the economic meltdown that has left many immigrants without work. He added that Teatro Jornaleros also offers a little humor during stressful times.

"It's bringing a smile to their faces in this moment of crisis," Alvarado told the Monitor. "Times are tough. Competition has increased. When the Teatro Jornaleros comes to a [street] corner that's going through a difficult time, it's beautiful."

Photos: flickr, John D. Simmons -