5th Circuit Immigration Ruling Shows Importance of Courts & Elections

Yesterday, a sharply divided three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit ruled against the legality of the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (“DAPA”), as well as the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (“DACA”). 

The majority opinion was written by Judge Jerry Smith, who was nominated to the court in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan.  Millions of people across the country will be harmed by this ruling, which came out the way it did because of whom Americans decided to elect for president 31 years ago.  Joining the majority was a George W. Bush nominee, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod. It is a powerful reminder that one of the most important issues in any presidential election is the type of judges the person elected to the office would place on the bench to decide on our most basic legal rights .

Judge (and Jimmy Carter nominee) Carolyn Dineen King authored a dissent that even the majority praised.  As she pointed out, there are about 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States who the law says should be removed from the country, but Congress provides resources to remove only a tiny fraction of them.  Any presidential administration would have to have broad prosecutorial discretion in deciding how to allocate those resources.  But on top of that, Congress specifically gave the president broad authority to establish policies and set priorities in how to allocate those scarce resources.  That is exactly what the Obama Administration has done in the DAPA program.  No wonder that so many legal scholars have concluded that the program is legal.

But the majority disagreed.  They upheld the district court’s conclusion that DAPA required a period of public notice and comment before going into effect, under the Administrative Procedure Act.  In addition to the procedural issue, they chose to address a substantive legal question not answered by the lower court, concluding that DAPA is foreclosed by federal statutes governing immigration.  So even a formal comment period would not save the policy, in their eyes.  (They did not rule on any constitutional issues.)

The majority did not argue that the Department of Homeland Security lacks the authority to defer deportation for those covered by DAPA … as long as those deferred don’t have the right to work legally, have Social Security benefits, obtain driver’s licenses, etc.  The court majority concluded that the granting of such benefits to millions of undocumented immigrants is inconsistent with congressional intent.  Judge King disagreed, writing that Congress has given enormous discretion to the president to set enforcement priorities for deferred deportation, and that the positive consequences of deferred deportation were written into the law long before DAPA came about.

The dissent stated that “this case essentially boils down to a policy dispute,” one that, under existing law, is appropriately resolved via the political process.  Indeed, it is legal and not political arguments that should carry the day in our nation’s courts.  Yet this court case began when Republican governors chose to file their lawsuit in Brownsville, Texas, so they could have it decided at the district level by Judge Andrew Hanen, whose intense political disagreement with the federal government’s immigration enforcement policies has infected his judicial opinions.

It is also hard to forget the greater context in which the political debate is occurring.  Republican officials across the country have loudly and forcefully condemned DAPA.  This is the same party whose base has become sharply anti-Latino over the past few years.  It is also a party with a leading presidential candidate calling for rounding up 11 million immigrants and kicking them out of the country.  The other Republican presidential candidates have hardly repudiated that as unacceptable; to the contrary, they have all promised to endorse Donald Trump’s candidacy should he be the party’s nominee.

As PFAW Board member Dolores Huerta said this morning:

Because of Republican-appointed judges on the court, families who have lived in and contributed to our country for years could be torn apart. Yesterday’s 2-1 decision from the 5th Circuit Court was fundamentally incorrect. It is a reminder of how much courts matter, as well as how important presidential elections are, since it’s the president who nominates justices.

While every single one of the Republican presidential candidates has spoken out against President Obama’s executive actions, Democratic candidates have discussed ways to expand his actions to protect people from deportation. Latino communities across the country are listening, and in the next election we’ll hold Republican candidates responsible for their efforts to break up families.


Kasich and Bush: More Like Other Extreme GOP Candidates Than Perceived

This post by PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager was originally published in the Huffington Post. 

Discussions of Governor Kasich's role in the 2016 election have centered around his strategy of defining himself to voters as an alternative to Jeb Bush: a moderate, compassionate conservative without Bush's last name. This strategy presupposes that both Bush and Kasich are in fact middle-of-the-road Republicans who hold moderate positions that would make them electable next November.

That proposition is false. While Kasich and Bush certainly took a more measured tone in the first Republican debate compared to, say, Donald Trump, their policy positions and records as governor in Ohio and Florida show that they're just as extreme and far-right as the rest of the Republican field.

Few issues demonstrate the extreme agenda of Bush, Kasich, and the Republican Party more than a woman's right to choose. Kasich has directly targeted access to legal abortion in Ohio though enacting medically unnecessary, cumbersome laws that closed abortion clinics. He signed a bill including a policy that restricts rape crisis counselors from providing referrals to abortion services to rape survivors. Jeb Bush calls himself the "most pro-life governor in modern times." As governor, he tried to restrict the ability of a mentally disabled rape victim to have an abortion. The "Scarlet Letter" law enacted during Bush's term as governor required a single mother who did not know the father of her child to pay for a month-long newspaper ad before putting her child up for adoption. The ad had to include personal details about the mother and her sexual history, complete with dates and locations where the child could have been conceived. Bush and Kasich are just as bad as their fellow candidates like Scott Walker, who recently signed a 20-week abortion bill even though he promised voters in his last campaign that the right to choose is between a woman and her doctor; or Marco Rubio, who co-sponsored a 20-week abortion bill in the Senate.

On Social Security, Kasich and Bush support former President George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Had his plan been enacted, the stock market crash of 2008 would have decimated Social Security savings of seniors across the country. That doesn't seem to bother anyone in the Republican field other than, of all people, Donald Trump. He's actually spoken out against cuts to Social Security and Medicare, calling them "not fair" to workers. On immigration, Kasich and Bush have used less offensive language than Donald Trump, but both - and the rest of the leading Republican candidates - oppose President Obama's policies that protect DREAMers and families from deportation. Neither Bush nor Kasich nor any leading Republican candidate supports comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, even though that's a commonsense policy that would enable undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, stay with their families, and contribute to the American economy.

Kasich and Bush have reiterated time and again that their economic experience would make them ideal presidential candidates. The extreme GOP base might like those policies, but the fact is, they've made it more difficult for working class families to get ahead. After accounting for inflation, the average Ohio household earned less in 2013 than it did in 1984. Kasich's 2015 budget cut taxes by only $24 for middle-class Ohioans, raised taxes by $20 for taxpayers in the lowest income bracket, yet included a $10,000 tax cut for the wealthiest Ohioans. Bush keeps trumpeting his tenure as governor, but as the Washington Post reported, "Florida owed a substantial portion of its growth under Bush not to any state policies but to a massive and unsustainable housing bubble -- one that ultimately benefited rich investors at the expense of middle-class families." Bush also provided tax cuts to the wealthiest Floridians while cutting funding for essential programs for senior citizens and children. Kasich and Bush's failed economic policies are par for the course for Republican candidates: Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie have both been hammered for their states' economic woes.

Far-right policy positions defined the gubernatorial terms of Bush and Kasich. Now that they're running for president, we can't let them run from their records. Bush and Kasich's extreme agendas are in line with every single other Republican candidate that was on stage during the first debate.

Randy Borntrager lives in Ohio and is the political director of People For the American Way, D.C.-based progressive advocacy organization. He has previously served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy and the communications director and interim executive director of the Ohio Democratic Party.


Who Said It? Donald Trump Or Another GOP Candidate?

Think Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration is leaps and bounds worse than the rest of the Republican candidates running for president?

Test your knowledge by taking our quiz! Each of the statements below were made by Donald Trump or one of the other GOP candidates in the 2016 race.


Who Said It?


Donald Trump Grows More Toxic By the Day

Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency with incendiary remarks about immigrants, and he has not let up. During his first speech as a candidate, Trump stated "when Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. …  They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists.” Despite the backlash to his comments, Trump has doubled down on his extremist views on immigration. In an interview with NBC, Trump said “there's nothing to apologize for” and added that any immigration policy less strict than his own would “let everybody come in… killers, criminals, drug dealers.”

Now, companies are responding by severing ties with Trump. Univision pulled out of its contract to broadcast Trump’s Miss USA pageant and NBC cut all ties with Trump, dropping not only the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, but also Trump’s role in Celebrity Apprentice. With this list continuing to grow, one organization is conspicuously missing: the Republican National Committee.

PFAW’s partners at the Latino Victory Project are calling on RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and the Republican Party to renounce Trump as a candidate for the Republican nomination for President. With the Republican Party claiming that they are committed to strengthening ties with the Latino and immigrant communities, surely it is time for the RNC to reject a candidate who makes such hateful and racist remarks. 


PFAW’s Drew Courtney Discusses Jeb Bush on ‘The Big Picture’

On Tuesday, PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney joined Thom Hartmann on his program ‘The Big Picture’ to talk about Jeb Bush’s far-right agenda. Courtney critiqued Bush’s plans to privatize Social Security, his support of legislation that shamed women, and his stance on immigration.

Courtney challenged Bush’s label as a moderate, explaining his similarities to extreme conservatives like Scott Walker and Rick Santorum:

[Bush] has not just a record of rhetoric around these issues, pushing really ideologically extreme positions, but he has a record as governor showing what he’ll do when he’s in power, and I don’t think there’s any reason to assume he’ll be either more moderate or more responsible or more reasonable in the White House than he was in the Florida governor’s mansion.

Bush’s views on immigration fail to match the “kind things” he says about immigrants and their families, Courtney said. The presidential hopeful does not support a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants residing in the country; a recently released Spanish-language ad from PFAW challenges his stance on this issue and on his opposition to raising the minimum wage. Courtney concluded by emphasizing how important it is for communities to realize the true intentions of all 2016 GOP candidates. He explained, “They are pushing radical policies that the Koch brothers love, and we need to make sure people understand that.”

Watch the full video here:



PFAW's New Spanish-Language Ad Criticizes Jeb Bush For His Record on Immigration, Minimum Wage

As Jeb Bush formally announces his presidential campaign today, People For the American Way launched a Spanish-language digital ad challenging his record of extremism. The ad highlights his opposition to raising the minimum wage and his stance against a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, two issues important to the Latino community.

The ad is running on social media and Univision.com, starting this morning, in Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, and Virginia.


PFAW Calls Out Ted Cruz for His Doublespeak on Immigration

If Ted Cruz is so proud of his anti-immigrant stance, why won't he talk about it in Spanish?

In launching his campaign this week, Ted Cruz released an English-language video celebrating both his immigrant history and his work “putting everything on the line to stop President Obama’s illegal and unconstitutional amnesty.” But in the Spanish-language version, Cruz again celebrates his immigrant history, but makes no mention of his anti-immigrant leadership.


Read People For the American Way's statement calling out Cruz for his doublespeak.


Seriously? Republicans Target Birthright Citizenship Again?

This op-ed by Randy Borntager, Political Director of People For the American Way, was originally published at The Huffington Post.

After the vast majority of Republicans voted to shut down the Department of Homeland Security to oppose President Obama's immigration actions, and with Republicans blocking any hope of real immigration reform this Congress, it seems the anti-immigrant movement has instead decided to refocus its efforts on revoking the constitutional right to birthright citizenship.

Earlier this week, Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana decided to introduce a birthright citizenship amendment to the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. The amendment so far has just one cosponsor -- Sen. David Perdue of Georgia -- and it's unlikely that it will be included in the final bill, but this decision to tack an unconstitutional, anti-immigrant measure onto an important bill shows the priorities of Sen. Vitter and the Republican Party.

Sen. Vitter claims that his birthright citizenship amendment would help curb the issue of "birth tourism," recently in the news surrounding Chinese mothers coming to California -- often committing crimes in the process -- so their children can be born in the U.S. It would seem more sensible to tackle this issue through targeting the middlemen who NBC reports "pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars tax-free," and the visa, tax, and marriage fraud that are often a key part of "birth tourism." Instead, Sen. Vitter and the many Republicans who support ending birthright citizenship are trying to use the issue as cover for their attacks on immigrants and attempts to revoke a core constitutional right.

The flaws of the conservative attacks on birthright citizenship have been well documented. First, it's blatantly unconstitutional. It's clear that the drafters of the 14th Amendment intended it to guarantee citizenship to everyone born in the U.S. The only exception -- in the words of one of the amendment drafter's, Sen. Jacob Howard -- is for people "who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States," as they are not, as the 14th Amendment requires, "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States. Conservatives from Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush adviser, to the anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs have viewed attempts to undermine birthright citizenship as unconstitutional.

It's also a terrible idea. Gerson wrote, "Anti-immigration activists often claim that their real concern is to prevent law breaking, not to exclude Hispanics. But revoking birthright citizenship would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into 'criminals'--arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital." The Migration Policy Institute also found that rather than decreasing the number of undocumented immigrants in America, as birthright citizenship activists claim, revoking the right would "likely increase dramatically" the number of people in the country without authorization, leading to the "establishment of a permanent class of unauthorized persons."

Sen. Vitter is not the only Republican promoting anti-immigrant bills instead of trying for real, bipartisan solutions on immigration. In January of this year, Rep. Steve King of Iowa re-introduced a bill aiming to repeal birthright citizenship. Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Rep. Mike Coffman, and Rep. Joe Heck have all backed plans to revoke birthright citizenship in the past.

We need immigration reform. From improving the economy while reducing the deficit to ensuring that DREAMers and their families can live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation, the benefits are endless. Not only have Republicans blocked comprehensive immigration reform when it had a real chance of passing, they're now trying yet again to bring up unconstitutional bills to drive their point home. That's not what responsible governing looks like, and for a party that says they're trying to attract more Latino support, they're certainly not shy about attacking immigrants for short-term political gain.


Republicans Stop at Nothing to Attack Immigrants

This op-ed by Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way was originally published at The Huffington Post.

On March 3, the House of Representatives finally voted for a clean DHS funding bill. Much of the media reported that Republicans saw the irresponsibility of their threats to shut down Homeland Security and passed a clean bill. But they didn't, and no one should lose sight of that.

After trying every trick in the book to scuttle the bill, their leadership allowed the vote to happen, but Republicans never caved. Republicans voted over two to one (167-75)against the bill. It only passed because of full Democratic support.

It's clear that Republicans will stop at nothing to attack immigrants. The fact that national security was on the line was immaterial: Republicans saw an opportunity to display their animus toward all immigrants, and Latinos in particular, and they took it.

This publicity stunt gave Republicans the chance to pander yet again to the most virulent anti-immigrant members of their party. Take, for instance, William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration and his comments during the heat of the DHS fight in mid-February:

[I] wouldn't put anything past [the administration, because] the people who are supporting the organized and well-funded illegal alien invasion of our homeland have the blood of many thousands of Americans on their hands that have been killed, injured raped and robbed by illegal immigrants.

Sure, Gheen is a fringe extremist. But what he's saying is strikingly similar to what we're hearing from the Republican Party.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" strategy, entertained the suggestion that Obama's executive actions could eventually result in Latinos conducting an "ethnic cleansing" of their fellow Americans. Sen. Tom Coburn, Rep. Mike Kelly, and Rep. Louie Gohmert have also warned that the president's immigration policies could lead to violence.

While some in the GOP tried to tell a different narrative -- that this was just about reining in presidential excess and not about their being anti-immigrant -- the fact is that the entire Republican Party is at fault. Not one House Republican signed the discharge petition to allow even a vote on the Senate's bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. And Senate Republicans who backed that bill, including Sen. Marco Rubio, now say they no longer support it. At this very minute, House Republicans are bringing up even more anti-immigrant legislation, including deportation-only legislation and a bill that would drastically change U.S. asylum and humanitarian protections to put domestic violence survivors and victims of human trafficking at serious risk.

Ultimately, it was Ann Coulter who summed up the Republican position on the DHS debate: Undocumented immigrants (she calls them "illegal aliens [who] have killed, raped and maimed thousands of Americans") pose a greater threat to our nation than does ISIS." While not all Republicans used language as biting as that, it was crystal-clear that Republicans believe that attacking immigrants, not funding DHS, should be the top priority.

Who would have imagined that a national party, never mind the Republican Party, would be so opposed to finding any solution for the almost 12 million undocumented people already here that they would risk our national security during the dangerous time we are in now? Yet that's the reality of the GOP today, and it's our responsibility to hold them accountable.


A Victory in the Fight for Fair Trials for Undocumented Immigrants

In an important victory for fair courts and the principle that justice is available to all, an appeals court in California today issued a decision granting a new trial for an undocumented immigrant whose immigration status was revealed to jurors despite its irrelevance to the issues in the case. People For the American Way had joined the UC Hastings Appellate Project and the ACLU of Southern California in submitting an amicus brief in the case, Velasquez v. Centrome, Inc. dba Advanced Biotech.

In this case, a former factory worker named Wilfredo Velasquez sued Advanced Biotech, Inc. for its alleged failure to tell his employer about the harms of a chemical he was exposed to while on the job — exposure which he says led to a devastating lung disease. But during the jury selection, the trial judge revealed to jurors that Velasquez was undocumented, an action that, in the words of our amicus brief, “unnecessarily injected prejudice into the selection process, making it impossible to know whether Mr. Velasquez received his constitutionally guaranteed fair trial by impartial jurors.” The threat to Velasquez’s right to a fair trial became clear when the jury concluded that Advanced Biotech had indeed been negligent — yet still awarded no damages to Velasquez, meaning that he, in effect, lost his case.

Fortunately, today the appeals court righted this wrong by granting Velasquez a new trial. The state appeals court noted that “cases both in California and in multiple other jurisdictions have recognized the strong danger of prejudice attendant with the disclosure of a party’s status as an undocumented immigrant.”  Indeed, we have seen how undocumented immigrants face ongoing hostility in our country.

As the amicus brief notes, every person, regardless of immigration status, has a right to “a verdict rendered by an impartial jury.” It is a right that must remain a foundational principle of our judicial system.