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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since July 2011

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Driving Immigrants Underground

July 22, 2011 ·

Should undocumented immigrants have the right to obtain driver's licenses or government-issued ID cards? This question often dominates the immigration debate at the local level.

States have the authority to follow their own guidelines for issuing driver's licenses and ID cards that don't have to preclude undocumented immigrants from obtaining them.

But exercising that right can prove politically toxic. The issue was a thorn on Gov. Gray Davis’ side when he was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It also tripped up Hillary Clinton, who tried to avert New York’s debate on the issue when she sought to become the Democratic Party's presidential nominee in 2008.

New Mexico is bringing the license question back into the spotlight. Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, has ordered the state's Motor Vehicle Department to send letters to 10,000 random undocumented immigrants who have obtained state driver's licenses to prove they still live in New Mexico. Martinez’s Tax and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla made a national security argument for this move:

"They're leaving New Mexico with a government-issued ID, that gives them access to federal buildings and the ability to get on an airplane," said Padilla.

Washington State recently revoked the license of Jose Antonio Vargas, who came out last month as an undocumented immigrant after a successful writing career in publications like The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and the Huffington Post. From the Seattle Times:

Brad Benfield, a Washington state Department of Licensing spokesman, said officials canceled the card earlier this week. It means that if Vargas's license is checked by law enforcement or anyone else, he will show up as not having a license at all.

It's not an uncommon step for the department to take.

Benfield said the department has canceled 187 licenses so far this year based on fraud that was discovered through use of facial-recognition technology. In most cases, the drivers had more than one record in the system.

What should undocumented immigrants do? States like New Mexico and Washington see a surge of applications by people without social security numbers precisely because immigrants travel there to seek opportunities not currently granted to them in their state of residence.

Immigration reform is a game of societal benefits and responsibilities. Driver's licenses make immigrants more productive and can facilitate their integration into U.S. society. Taking away their driver's licenses is unlikely to deter immigrants who need the mobility to work or drive their kids to school. It will, however, make it more likely for such immigrants to be captured and deported by the authorities if they roll by a stop sign or have a broken taillight.

As Eddie Garcia and Sandra Khalifa show at Campus Progress, the Obama administration deported almost 100,000 people between March and June. About 55 percent of the immigrants the government deportede weren't criminals. More deportations break up families, and that’s bad for both the United States and the countries immigrants come from.

Most importantly, the worst way to make the immigration debate more constructive and more likely to lead to a rational shift in national policy is to dwell on issues like driver's licenses. It doesn't address the root causes of undocumented immigration and it simply makes it harder for entrepreneurial undocumented immigrants to get ahead.

Cut Nine Military Programs, Save $77 Billion

July 21, 2011 ·

After weeks of negotiations military cuts seem to be on the table as reported in today's Washington Post. In case anyone in Congress is looking for a quick $77 billion in savings, we thought it would be good to list the proposed reductions to the 2012 fiscal year's military budget in the Unified Security Budget task force report that IPS released last month:


1. National Missile Defense: Cease further Missile Defense development but retain a basic technology program to determine if NMD is technically feasible, generating $3.6 billion in savings.

2. Virginia Class Submarine: Cancel production of the second SSN-744 Virginia Class submarine in FY2012 and in subsequent years, saving $2.41 billion in 2012 and $11.32 billion through 2016.

3. V-22 Osprey: Cancel the V-22 Osprey program for savings of $2.79 billion in FY2012.

4. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Cut the Navy and Marine Corps versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, and reduce procurement for Air Force version by half, saving $5.6 billion.

5. Personnel: Reduce the number of active-duty personnel stationed in Europe and Asia, allowing for savings of $6.5 billion in 2012.

6. Nuclear Forces: Reduce nuclear weapons arsenal to 292 deployed weapons and 19 in reserve and eliminate the Trident II nuclear missile, generating $21 billion in savings.

7. Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation: Reduce RDT&E across the board from $74.3 to $65.3 billion, saving $10 billion.

8. Force Structure: Cut two active component air wings, two carrier battle groups and their associated air wings from the Air Force for an annual savings of $8 billion.

9. Waste and Inefficiencies: Use waste and efficiency savings identified across the department to reduce the budget saving $20 billion.

The USB report showed that the Pentagon is spending billions in weapons that have no match around the world and which are unlikely to be used in combat in any strategic military engagement by the United States.

Will the military budget emerge from the ongoing spending reductions unscathed? Or, will someone take a stand and trim its fat?

New Report Exposes Wall Street Lobby Against CEO Pay Reform

July 21, 2011 ·

Remember the big Wall Street showdown? Thought that ended a year ago, when President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation? Think again.  Wall Street lobbyists don’t give up so easily.

What Congress voted on was a broad outline for reform. Now that the law is moving through the rulemaking process, armies of financial industry lobbyists are working to water down every line.

In a report released today, Public Citizen analyzes the assault on one particular rule, a provision designed to discourage the reckless behavior that got us into the crisis. Specifically, Section 956 of Dodd-Frank requires large financial institutions to report their incentive-based pay arrangements to federal agencies and prohibits pay formulas that “encourage excessive risk.”

Dodd-Frank mandated changes on how CEO compensation is disclosed, but the Wall Street lobby is not giving up its desire for secrecy. Photo by Office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Like the other compensation reforms in Dodd-Frank, this is pretty modest.  No rigid pay ceilings, no bonus bans, no meaningful cap on the tax deductibility of exec pay.

And yet, according to Public Citizen’s analysis, 30 financial industry groups have weighed in on the proposed rule. In a fine display of lobbyist creativity, they have come up with every conceivable argument to justify exemptions for their firms or certain executives within their firms.

For example, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company asked for a pass because it is an insurance company -- even though it happens to own a bank that has nearly $4 billion in assets, well above the $1 billion threshold for inclusion.

They also trotted out the argument that if regulators have the power to prohibit pay that encourages excessive risk it will make it hard to recruit top talent (oh yeah, like the talented bunch that got us into this mess).

Public Citizen tallied up how much these firms have spent on their efforts to defend their freedom from CEO pay and other financial reforms: $242.2 million since the beginning of 2010. They have also donated $15.6 million to federal political campaigns in the 2010 cycle.

This week Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he would urge the president to veto any legislation to repeal Dodd-Frank provisions. That’s encouraging.  But it likely means the lobby will re-double their efforts to influence the rule-making process, where the action tends to happen out of the spotlight – unless groups like Public Citizen bring it out into the open.

Seeing No Evil In The Congo

July 20, 2011 ·

Do you have a smart phone? A laptop? Then you play a role in the violence that occurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Cell phones, laptops, and other electronics don't work very well without the mineral coltan. In the Democratic Republic of Congo poor farmers are gathered by armed gangs and enslaved to dig coltan out of the ground.Raw Coltan

On June 30, the Institute's Foreign Policy In Focus project, Friends of The Congo, Congo Global Action, and Africa Faith & Justice Network co-sponsored a screening of Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth at the Reeves Center in downtown Washington. As the crowd of over 100 people gathered in the conference room there was excitement about the film as well as chatter about becoming a “friend of the Congo.”

The film explores U.S. influence on the humanitarian crisis in Congo and argues that U.S. actions and the lack thereof have fueled violence and the exploitation of natural resources there. While Congo has experienced turmoil for over 100 years, violence significantly increased after it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, dreamed of democracy as well as total emancipation for his country. However, this has proven to be a dream deferred indefinitely as western powers systematically support the nation's destabilization. In 1961, the United States and Belgium conspired to assassinate Lumumba because he refused to conform to western ideals.

After the assassination, the United States supported Congolese dictator Mobutu a corrupt leader who committed numerous human rights violations. Washington ultimately discontinued its support for him but has continued to sponsor other Congolese dictatorships that exploit citizens.

 US Gen. Kip Ward with Rwandan Gen Kabarebe

Furthermore, the United States and United Nations have failed to respond to attacks by Ugandanand Rwandan troops on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rival war lords such as James Kabarebe of Rwanda and James Kazini of Uganda frequently raid Congo, rape the women, massacre entire communities, and help themselves to the country’s natural resources. In the war in Congo, 6 million people have been killed. No action is taken to investigate and penalize offenders.

According to Congolese human rights activist Kambale Musavuli, President Barack Obama understands that it is imperative to help Congo. As a senator, Obama wrote a comprehensive law, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006 (pdf), to support Congo. Section 105 of this legislation states, “The Secretary of State is authorized to withhold assistance made available under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, other than humanitarian, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism assistance, for a foreign country if the Secretary determines that the government of the foreign country is taking actions to destabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”  However, the U.S. continues to support Rwanda and Uganda despite clear evidence of their attacks on the Congolese.

The film includes footage of a speech President Obama delivered two years ago in Ghana, in which he said: “Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men.” How true. That's why the U.S. government must stop ignoring corruption and supporting war lords.

Timeka Smith is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

The Obama Administration's Attack on Immigrants' Civil Liberties Hits a Judicial Roadblock

July 20, 2011 ·

A powerful, nationwide electronic immigration sweep is slowly coming to a police force near you. And, the general public might be roped into giving away some of its civil liberties in the process.

That can be concluded from the recently exposed connection between the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Department of Homeland Security has championed technological programs like Secure Communities, an electronic fingerprint data-sharing program that's scheduled to be rolled out nationally by 2013. ICE and DHS, however, recently suffered a setback with Secure Communities.

From Courthouse News Service:

MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge ordered the federal government to hand over "embarrassing" information about its "Secure Communities" program. "There is ample evidence that ICE and DHS have gone out of their way to mislead the public about Secure Communities," U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote.

"In particular, these agencies have failed to acknowledge a shift in policy when it is patently obvious — from public documents and statements - that there has been one," the judge added in a scorching 81-page Opinion and Order in National Day Labor Organizing Network et al. v United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency et al.

Also on Monday, the DHS Office of Inspector General said it will investigate ICE's misrepresentations of the Secure Communities opt-out policy and whether the program fulfills its purported mandate.

The policy shift comes from a rhetorical maneuver by ICE over the last couple of years. Initially, programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities were branded as optional, and slowly brought into cities and counties where their introduction wouldn't be controversial.

Secure Communities was originally explained as a federal immigration fingerprinting database that localities could choose to use to identify gang and criminal activity. The vast majority of the undocumented population, however, is non-criminal.

Despite early signs that a lot of students and parents of U.S. citizens were getting detained under Secure Communities, the administration continued its pursuit of Secure Communities across the nation. At some point, the program stopped being branded as optional, and the courts are now saying that much was obvious.

But the question remains of what ICE is trying to hide while changing the way they talk about Secure Communities.

Recently released documents show that Secure Communities is simply the first step to a wide-reaching FBI program called the Next Generation Initiative that will also include iris scans, palm prints, and facial imaging.

The plaintiff in the case is the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), an organization that's suing ICE in this case. (It also won a 2010 Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award). NDLON points out the political damage that Obama has caused to himself by running after the murky idea of a "secure border" and letting ICE play the national security game all the way to the bank:

"While the Obama administration boasts of the 'Secure Communities' program to win political points with Republicans, it has kept actual policy details nearly secret from Congress, state partners, and the American public. Thankfully, federal courts, not ICE, get the last word," said NDLON director Pablo Alvarado.

Obama needs to realize that he will take punches from Republicans no matter what he does, and that ICE lied to the public on his behalf. So far, he has chosen to stand with those liars, but they might be costing the U.S. governement too much in legal fees. In 2012, he may also pay heavily in lost votes from former supporters who expected him to champion just and humane immigration reform.

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