Monday, November 5, 2007

Halloween: A Time For Tricks, Treats, And Racism?

Last week, Americans celebrated Halloween by dressing up, trick-or-treating, and participating in festivities. These are the activities most commonly associated with the holiday. Why then, was Halloween this year, a year for goblins, witches and racism? The words “Halloween” and “racism” seem entirely unrelated, but when I navigated through the blogosphere, I discovered that the two ideas are somewhat linked. The first post I looked at is from The Washington Post’s section titled, “On Faith”. Contributor Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite wrote the post titled, “Why Halloween Is No Fun Anymore.” After receiving her Ph.D. from Duke University, Thistlethwaite became the president of the Chicago Theological Seminary. She has also been a professor at the Seminary for twenty years, teaching about civil rights issues and violations. In her post, she claims that everyday is Halloween; people do not need to dress up like ghouls once a year because the ghosts of their racist past are present everywhere. The second post I commented on is titled, “It’s All Just a Noose-ance” from the conservative blog “Publius Forum”. The author of the post, Warner Todd Huston is a featured writer for the News Media Journal and an editor for the NMJ Radio Headline News Roundtable. His blog post discusses the over-reaction the local Muncie government has had in response to the hanging of Halloween nooses on a rearview mirror (an image of a Halloween decoration using a noose is provided on the right). My comments to their blog posts are below:

"Why Halloween is No Fun Anymore"
Thank you for writing an intriguing post about how Halloween is an obsolete holiday due to the presence of “demons” or “ignorance” in our society. You make a compelling argument, that “devils [are] walking among us today in our failure to confront the ghosts of our past in the real horror of lynching.” These “devils” and “ghosts” of our past are scary enough; forget using costumes to ward spirits away, we have photos and memories of police battery, burning crosses and hate crimes. I wonder then, if you have read anything about the Muncie incident in which a sanitation worker was suspended from work for hanging Halloween decorations, nooses to be more precise, from his rearview mirror. In your post, you wrote, ““White America in particular is afraid to look at this history”—a history of black oppression—“ and in shunning it continues to be gripped by it.” How do you explain the swift actions of the local authorities in the Muncie case? This example appears to counteract your claim that White America is scared to look into the mirror and confront its discriminatory past because the people in Muncie acted with justice to reprimand a seemingly racist action. Does not using legal action to protect minorities display efforts to right a wrongful past? Also, if you consider these actions to be the wrong way to confront and deal with a racist history, how else do you propose we remedy the issue?

"It's All Just a Noose-ance"
First off, I’d like to thank you for writing such an interesting blog post. I agree with a few of your points, one being the fact that the sanitation worker was treated too harshly for his Halloween display. I do feel, as you said, the authorities “[took] a simple misunderstanding and [turned] it into a miscarriage of justice.” The sanitation worker, supported by his black co-workers, had no racist intent when he hung up the ropes on his mirror; regardless of his demeanor, he was suspended from work without pay for a month. However, I disagree with your comment that “the era in America when a noose was a clear and present threat to a black person in America has gone.” Take, for instance, the Jena-6 incident in which 3 nooses were hung below a tree to intimidate African-Americans from sitting beneath the “white tree.” This event resulted in a series of violent acts between white and black students at the school. Another example is from earlier this month; a noose was wrapped around a black Columbia professor’s office door. Nooses continue to be potent symbol of hate, and the usage of noose imagery has been recently resurfacing. You also wrote, “while a noose may not be the first thing one thinks of when Halloween decor is discussed, it certainly isn’t altogether an uncommon vestige of the holiday.” Surely nooses are intended to be merely decorative around Halloween, but post-Civil War, the noose has taken on a new meaning, becoming a symbol of intimidation towards black people. Take into consideration another potent symbol of oppression, the swastika. How would a Jewish person feel if they saw a swastika scribbled on a public wall? The swastika has the same chilling effect on a Jewish person that a noose would have on an African-American person. To mitigate the use of discriminatory images and avoid “miscarriages of justice”, there needs to be more cultural sensitivity and awareness.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Racism And The Law Still Intertwined: Will Equal Rights Ever Be Attainable?

Inequality under the legal system was supposed to be non-existent after the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, culminating with the civil rights act. This act outlawed discrimination of any kind based on ethnicity, gender or religious orientation. Dishearteningly, an act almost fifty years old has yet to take full effect; as the Martin Lee Anderson(his image on the left) case demonstrates, discrimination still lingers within American courtrooms. The verdict of the case on October 12 of this year reaffirms the notion that the judicial system continues to be riddled with bias. The courts acquitted seven camp guards and a nurse of manslaughter after fourteen-year old inmate Martin Lee Anderson died under their supervision. Caught on tape was a thirty-minute video of the seven camp guards dragging, choking and beating Anderson as the nurse watched; all of this abuse ensued solely because Anderson collapsed after a routine run. Fortunately “after Anderson's death, the Legislature dismantled the military-style youth boot camps,” but the death of a child was necessary to prompt the end of these camps in Florida. Regardless of the Legislature’s delayed actions, the sequence of events ignited outrage within the Florida community; as a result of the verdict, the local NAACP sponsored a protest on October 23, gathering an estimated 700 protestors.

Defendants of the seven camp guards and nurse argued that Anderson died from internal bleeding as a result of undiagnosed sickle-cell anemia, “a blood disorder that can hinder blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen during physical stress.” "An initial autopsy said he died from a genetic blood disorder, sickle-cell trait, while a second autopsy said he suffocated when guards clamped his mouth shut and held ammonia capsules under his nose for several minutes.” In response to Anderson’s passing out, the guards claimed they “handled what they thought was a juvenile offender faking illness to avoid exercising on his first day in the camp.” Defense attorneys even argued that “camp workers were using acceptable tactics”, but the video footage shows otherwise. The term “acceptable” is used loosely by the defense; choking and shoving pills down a semi-conscious adolescent’s throat does not constitute “acceptable” under any circumstances. If anything, these actions indicate excessive force and a violation of civil rights.

Included in these civil rights is the right to a fair trial. The fairness of the case has been called into question because of the jury composition, which consisted of only white people. “A pool of 1,400 people was initially called to find six jurors and four alternates. Defense attorneys asked that four black potential jurors be disqualified from service, while prosecutors eliminated one black potential juror themselves before a final jury and alternates, none of them black, was chosen.” Chuck Hobbs, a legal counsel for the NAACP said treat African-Americans differently from white people. Executive director for the Florida State Conference NAACP he “was surprised to learn that prosecutors removed a black woman from the jury that the defense wanted.” Creating an impartial jury is important in upholding the law, and the fact that there were no ethnic minorities in the jury does give cause for speculation. Whether or not the removal of all potential black jurors was intentional will be difficult to prove, and does not address the main issue within the case. The fact still remains that the police and the judicial system generally Beverlye Neal claims, “in 2007, we’re still dealing with blatant racism and no concern for black life.” Martin Lee Anderson was deprived of medical attention after he passed out, and instead, he was offered a series of pushes and kicks. The most visible illustration of the unfair ruling is described by Hobbs. He reports, “The jurors also acquitted them (the camp guards and nurse) of manslaughter, child neglect and culpable negligence.” Employees at the boot camp had a responsibility to Anderson, a child under their watch and care. The verdict of the case illustrates the devaluing of an African-American’s life. Regardless of Anderson’s history and criminal record, there is no excuse for beating an incapacitated person. Discouragingly, the Anderson verdict is just one example out of many that conveys the immense disparity between African-Americans and white people in the criminal law system. Capital punishment statistics affirm the notion that a black life is worth less than a white person’s. Based on statistics from 1983 to 1993, the figure on the middle right indicates that in Philadelphia alone, blacks were thirty-eight percent more likely than whites to be sentenced to death for similar crimes. Based on values from 1976 to 1994, “nearly 40% of those executed since 1976 have been black, even though blacks constitute only 12% of the population.” The chart on the left also depicts bias; the race of the victims influenced whether or not the defendant received the death penalty. If the victim was white, the defendant was more likely to be sentenced to death row than if the victim was black. Although the data appears outdated, it reflects the trends that exist within criminal law today. With a system that projects discrimination, how are African-Americans supposed to guard themselves against their claimed governmental protectors? If the keepers of justice are prejudice, then African-Americans are left defenseless against institutionalized racism. The black community will have to use out-of-doors organizations like the NAACP to ensure that their rights are safeguarded.

Since the recent protest (image on right), “the FSC NAACP has requested the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate the circumstances surrounding the case bought by the State of Florida in Bay County, and more importantly, to follow up on the FSC NAACP’s initial request in March 2006, calling for the U.S. District Attorney in North Florida to conduct an investigation into and charge those responsible for the civil rights violations evident in Martin Lee Anderson’s death.” Efforts to remove hints of bias from the judicial system send a hopeful message to African-Americans. The progress of the American government since the 1960’s in removing manifest discrimination from most of its institutions is praiseworthy, but furtive elements of partiality still remain. The civil rights movement did not just end with the Civil Rights act; it is an ongoing struggle minorities face to achieve equal protection under the law.

Monday, October 22, 2007

U-Visas For Immigrants: A Step Towards Recognition and Protection Under the Law

This past week, an Associated Press article released news that the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services had begun to sort out visas under the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Act. The act, seven years overdue, provides temporary visas for illegal immigrants who have been victims of crime within the United States. The purpose of allowing illegal immigrants to apply for this U-Visa “is to encourage illegal immigrants to report crimes against them in return for the right to remain in the United States and eventually apply for permanent residency.” This law allows ten thousand U-visas to be granted per year, and these visas expire within four years. One revolutionary aspect of the act is the following: if a U-visa holder stays within the country for three consecutive years, he or she can apply for full citizenship after the three years have passed. Offering U-visas appears to be a positive approach towards immigration, but the act has not passed without encountering some opposition.

Numbers of opponents of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Act find the U-visa portion of the act to be controversial. Ed Hayes, the Kansas director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has a firm stance against illegal immigrants, stating that, "If they become a victim, I am sorry for them. They should testify and then go home." Hayes oversimplifies how victims report crimes, ignoring the fact that illegal immigrants may not even report crimes if it jeopardizes their ability to stay in the United States. He claims that since they are illegal, they have no right of even being in the country to begin with, and are therefore not entitled to any sort of visa. Some opponents of the act are more sympathetic towards illegal immigrants, taking into consideration a provisional visa. Mark Krikorian (image on the left), executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, suggested an alternative to the U-visa, “something that allowed a person to testify but didn't give them the jackpot of a green card.” In essence, his argument is that an immigrant visa should be more difficult to attain. Illegal immigrants should not be rewarded with citizenship for participating with law enforcement if they are victims of a crime, but only a temporary visa to allow the victim to testify in a case. Although this argument is a fair one, Krikorian fails to acknowledge the fact that most crimes against illegal immigrants go unreported. The recent tightening of immigration laws, which provides that an illegal immigrant convicted of a crime in the U.S. will be immediately removed from the country, is the approach the government is using to pursue justice for the victims of these crimes. This sounds like a promising way to curb the number of illegal immigrants in the country while pursuing justice for the victims of the crimes, but this removal procedure alone does not appear to provide enough motivation for illegal immigrant victims to report crimes against them. There needs to be an incentive for these crime victims to file a report, which the Victims of Trafficking and Violence act takes into account.

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence act is progressive in its approach towards illegal immigrants because it grants temporary residency and a chance for illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship. Although the G.O.P.-led administration is more stringent when it comes to immigration laws, the act circumvents the administration’s efforts, presenting an alternate medium for illegal immigrants to attain citizenship. This law is a partial victory for illegal immigrants since it offers protections and services normally reserved for U.S. citizens. Reasoning for the act is summed up by U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services spokesperson Marilu Cabrera, who says, “it is helpful for the government that we get information and cooperation so we can solve these crimes and prevent future crimes.” Few statistics about illegal immigrants as victims of crime exist; the act would ideally increase the information available on the issue by increasing the number of people that report crimes. Cabrera continues, “for the person, it gives them peace of mind and an opportunity for a new life.” Her statement mirrors what illegal immigrant and crime victim Eleuterio Rodriguez Ruiz said about his motives for entering the United States. He voices that “more than anything I came to this country to find a better standard of living.” His words allude to the idea of the American dream, an issue discussed within my first blog post concerning immigration. Rather than building higher walls for illegal immigrants to climb over (image on right depicts desperation of immigrants to get to the U.S.), the American government should get to the roots of illegal immigration, one factor being poverty. Almost one hundred percent of the illegal immigrants coming from Mexico are near or below the poverty line and since about fifty-six percent (click on "origins" link on page) of illegal immigrants come from Mexico, the correlation between trespassing into the United States and financial instability becomes apparent. Bringing criminals to justice is important, but alleviating the poor from suffering is also imperative. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence act sets a precedent for acknowledging the suffering of illegal immigrants; hopefully this recognition will extend beyond the courtroom, offering economic relief as well. Instead of investing three billion dollars to secure borders between the U.S. and Mexico, a portion of the money could go towards assisting the poor in Mexico. Offering financial help to a country plagued by high poverty rates could potentially prevent as many illegal immigrants from sneaking into the U.S.

Although the purpose of Victims of Trafficking and Violence act is intended to uphold the justice system and put criminals in jail, the law goes beyond preserving the notion of “crime and punishment.” One proponent of the act, lawyer Peter A. Schey, said, “we intend to continue the fight for immigrant crime victims,” because they are a “largely poor, vulnerable population with no political clout.” Illegal immigrants are at an estimated twelve million and exponentially growing, and therefore are an undeniable presence in the country. By no means should illegal immigrants receive the equal benefits and protections naturalized citizens receive, but if they are subject to a crime, they should be shielded from more violence and crime. Realizing that the rights of victims, regardless of citizenship status, supercedes immigration law, conveys a more accommodating, inclusive strategy towards dealing with immigrants.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Violence in Philadelphia: Will 10,000 Men Accomplish the Job Cops Cant?

On October 21, 2007, Philadelphia will begin its initiative titled, “10,000 Men: It’s a New Day,” (to the right is a photo of the plan’s flier, a vibrant but idealistic push for peace). The program, which will be referred to as “10,000 Men”, was proposed by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. 10,000 Men aims at alleviating the city’s growing crime rate. Between January 1 and June 30 of 2007, the Philadelphia police have recorded 203 homicides, 159 of which involved an African-American victim. “More than 80 percent of the slayings involved handguns, and most involve young, black males.” This overwhelming surge of killings has forced the Philadelphia police to rely on other means of containing violence, extending policing power to volunteers within these dangerous neighborhoods. The plan is to plant a volunteer force of 10,000 men on notorious drug dealing and shootout corners, and these volunteers will serve as mentors to the youths committing violent acts. Volunteers would ideally work “three hours a day for at least 90 days,” and would be trained in cultural sensitivity. These 10,000 men would impart advice and guidance for the youths prone to aggression; the goal would be to advocate conflict resolution while providing the youths with role models. “One gun-violence researcher said the idea of putting citizens on patrol had the potential to show children that adults care.”

In the article, supporters of 10,000 Men discussed the pros of Johnson’s proposal. The executive director of the Firearm and Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania said, “a steady exposure to violence just creates this toxic environment for children.” Any concerned parent would want their child to play freely in the yard without having to worry about a stray bullet killing their kid. Understandably, children learn behaviors from their surroundings, and the plan will hopefully deter violence in future generations. 10,000 Men is an idealistic effort to provide violent youths with options beyond the gang-life or drug dealing, further promoting a peaceful community. Very rarely does policing power get handed down to the people, and this act serves as a symbol of empowerment for African-Americans in Philadelphia. A chorus of volunteers have emerged in Philadelphia, and this philanthropic spirit is praise-worthy, but not enough to help Philadelphia. On the surface, Johnson’s plan may temporarily help protect neighborhoods, however, in the long run, Philadelphia will need more than 10,000 men to keep the streets safe.

Overly ambitious, 10,000 Men is riddled with problems. Heather Derussy of the Guardian Angels comments on Johnson’s plan, skeptical of him getting “anywhere near that number [10,000].” Her program, Guardian Angels, parallels 10,000 Men’s goals, and her organization has only gathered support from 7 people within the past two years. This disheartening number may be the future of 10,000 Men, especially if the program is not revised to address the issue of volunteer safety.

What happens if and when one of these 10,000 men gets injured on the job? There’s an inherent danger a volunteer takes on, especially if their presence prevents a drug transaction from occurring. Volunteers will not be carrying weapons, and will have to rely on words to defend themselves in the face of a gun. Who is to say that one of the youths will not hesitate to open fire on a volunteer because of their interference with business? Also, if volunteers are patrolling their own neighborhoods, their family and friends could fall victim to intimidation and violence; drug dealers and gun toters could easily follow volunteers and threaten their families in order to stop the patrolling. The program may unintentionally increase the number of homicides, the exact problem Johnson’s proposal is supposed to prevent. For 10,000 men to be able to recruit a lot of members, there need to be more incentives than just the preservation of “the public good.”

10,000 Men is a romanticized, quick fix answer to a problem with deeper roots than just the absence of role-models. The plan’s attempt to reform youths is a positive move towards understanding the causes of gang life and but forgets to consider other factors that contribute to crime. Increases in violence often correlate with escalating poverty levels. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 22.9% of individuals in Philadelphia are below the poverty line. Since 2000, number of poor people in the city has undoubtedly risen. Unless the causes of violence are resolved, then 10,000 Men will only serve as a temporary solution for the crime in Philadelphia.

What happens when the 10,000 men leave their posts? Gang violence and drug selling do not just stop once there are more cops around; if anything, these actions will induce a brief respite from crime, followed by a new wave of crime. Once again, the police force will be, overwhelmed and understaffed. Philadelphia’s fate requires more permanent proposals implemented in such as stricter restrictions on gun sales, more governmental aid to families in need, and more after-school programs for kids.

The picture on the left is only a part of what the 10,000 Men will have to face. Each red dot indicates the location of one homicide in Philadelphia from January 1st to July 30th of this year. Only time will tell if Johnson’s plan is an effective tool in preventing crime, but the future looks grim for 10,000 Men.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The "New" and "Improved" Citizenship Test: More Expensive and More Biased

On September 27, 2007, the Bush-led government released a revised version of the naturalized citizenship test with some important changes. For the current exam, there are ninety-six questions, but on the new exam, there are one hundred questions. A handful of the newly introduced questions, one example being "If both the president and vice president can no longer serve, who becomes president?," emphasize understanding how the American government is structured while other questions require comprehension beyond mere memorization. The new exam compels citizen-hopefuls to use critical thinking to answer. Few people can argue that the revisions are unfair because becoming a citizen is indisputably a status an immigrant should earn; more challenging questions are thus a means to ensuring that citizen-hopefuls grasp core American ideas and values. However, the new exam that will be introduced starting October 1, 2008, allows for only a specific answer rather than the previous exam which permitted some flexibility in answering the questions. My mother, who is currently applying for naturalized citizenship, may have difficulties in repeating the exact answers that are in the study guides, especially given her trouble translating Chinese into English. As a result, immigrants like her will need to memorize the answers provided by their study guides and brush up on English, and these factors may decrease the number of people passing the test. The image on the right depicts a diverse group of people swearing in their oaths before receiving citizenship status, which may perhaps be a distant reality once the new test is implemented.

Another problem with the revised citizenship test is that it does not reflect or cater to a diverse range of immigrants. Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials' education fund, critiqued that immigrant advocacy groups had no opportunity to "comment on the very final version of the exam." This is a flaw on the U.S. Immigration and Services' part because advocacy groups' are more sensitive to the needs of certain immigrant groups, and their input could ensure that the new exam is fair to all immigrant groups. The article then describes that "the redesigned questions went through four months of testing at 10 agency offices that were chosen for their diversity and varying caseloads." This appears to be an impressive fact, indicating that the government has researched the effects of the new exam, but one side note is that the test was not introduced to any California agency offices. California is significant when discussing both immigration and citizenship issues because the state has the highest immigration rate in the nation; twenty-eight percent of the nation's immigrants, legal and illegal, are residing in California.
It seems almost nonsensical then, that California was not participating in the trials for the new citizenship test. Supporters of the revision, like Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the Office of Citizenship, stated that "94% of the volunteers passed the new test," whereas "84% pass the current test." These figures appear promising; the new exam may increase the chances of an applicant passing. Yet numbers are often distorted and unrepresentative, as 94% of those who passed the new test were from only ten out of the fifty-one states in the nation, while 84% of test takers nationwide passed the current exam.

In addition to the under-representation of immigrants from states like California, one of the problems with the future exam is the "recent increase in the citizenship application fee (now $675)." Now, not just the difficulty of the questions, but also the cost for applying may hinder immigrants from becoming naturalized. The increase in cost and difficulty consequently impacts immigrants who have less money or do not have a strong educational background. Fred Tsao, a policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees even says, "Mexicans, as a group, fall into that category" of underprivileged. He also noted that the new test "may block out people who are older or less well-educated." Many immigrants from Mexico apply for U.S. citizenship to get a chance at a better life, and the new test provides another obstacle for these immigrants to face. Therefore, this "new" and "improved" citizenship test singles out these less-advantaged minority groups, while promoting an agenda of building barriers against "undesirable" immigrants. This new exam, like immigration policy, favors educated or affluent immigrants, who are predominantly from Asian or Western European countries. Of the Asian immigrants that come to the U.S., forty-eight percent had a bachelor's degree, whereas only eleven percent of the immigrants from Latin America had a bachelor's degree. Even more startling is the fact that forty-seven percent of Latin American immigrants who come to the U.S. have no high school diploma, whereas only sixteen percent of Asian immigrants had no high school diploma. The discrepancies in education level will undeniably affect an immigrant's ability to comprehend and pass the citizenship test. What happens to the Mexican immigrants then is that more may resort to illegal means of entering the United States. As the image on the left illustrates, relations between President Bush and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico are civil now, but may grow tense in response to Bush's stringent citizenship and immigration laws.

The revamped citizenship exam, "intended to promote assimilation and patriotism," falls far from assimilation and instead, encourages exclusion. At stake is a core American value, equal opportunity, undermined by the implementation of the latest revision.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Justice in Jena Is Not Colorblind: The Civil Rights Talk Resurfaces

The recent protests in Jena, Louisiana, have sparked a revivalism of civil rights talk. A photo of the protests is right below. The protests were a reaction to the unequal treatment the justice system placed upon six African-American high-school students after they battered a fellow Caucasian student. The incident resulted in the six African-American students or the “Jena 6” being tried as adults with the charge of attempted murder for a crime that resembled battery rather than attempted murder. The continuing disparity between African-Americans and Caucasians, at least in the eyes of the law, is what today’s entry will describe. I entered the blogosphere to find two blogs that commented on the Jena-6, and the racial inequalities that still persist in American society today. Today’s entry will consist of commentary I left for both blogs’ entries. The first blog post I commented on is from the blog Political Radar, a blog that focuses on a variety of political phenomenon. The author of the blog post, “Clinton Praises Jena 6 Reversal” is ABC News reporter Eloise Harper. In Harper’s blog post, she imparts bits and pieces of what presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has in store for mitigating racial injustice and inequality. The second blog post I commented on is from the blog “The Situationist”, a blog created by Harvard Law professor Jon Hanson, Michael McCann, an assistant professor of Law. The blog is also also written and maintained by a list of contributors from the law and psychology fields. I commented on the blog post titled “Jena 6-Part II”, which provides significant studies of crime and punishment, and gathers pertinent articles concerning racial inequalities within the judicial system.

“Clinton Praises Jena Reversal”
Your post is provocative and engaging, especially since the race issue within the United States will be a hot topic in the up and coming presidential debates. Undoubtedly, immigration and the partiality of the criminal justice system are all problems that any future president will have to face. Naturally, Hillary Clinton would be applauding the reversal of one of the Jena-6’s harsh sentences, especially at an NAACP fundraising event. If she had reacted otherwise, her black supporters would probably look towards another presidential hopeful. Clinton’s efforts to gain votes, especially within the African-American community, seem to be appealing to the sensitive issues that impact them, specifically Katrina and the Jena-6, but how much of her presidential promises can she keep? The deep-rooted issue of racism and bias will not just dissolve itself if you give a lot of money and benefits to the hurricane Katrina victims. As for the Jena-6 incident, I agree with Clinton that social awareness needs to be funneled into the school system. You mention one of Clinton’s civil rights plans, the “voluntary integration” of local school districts to prevent instances like Jena-6, but this plan is only a stepping stone. Clinton’s plan seems rather undeveloped, providing schools with a choice on whether or not to integrate when the issue of racism threatens one core American value, equality.

“Jena 6-Part II”
I found your post to be an intriguing and effective compilation of works and pieces supporting your idea that Jena-6 was a mere sample of the racial inequality within the American criminal justice system. However, I feel there is need for clarification in your statement, “the ‘attitudes’ that we do not perceive in ourselves are often more powerful in shaping our conduct…”. This statement appears to somewhat discredit cognitive thought as a cause for behavior, when in fact the conscious plays a significant, if not equal role in determining behavior. I understand that in your argument, unacknowledged biases can translate into unfair treatment and a partial judicial system, but the events leading up to the Jena protests were blatant examples of hate crimes and intimidation. The F.B.I. investigated the noose incident on the “white tree” but nothing resulted from their investigation. Has there been any research preformed indicating the failure of not just the judiciary, but the F.B.I. and other various governmental institutions from protecting the rights of minorities? True, the problem of racism can manifest itself in unrealized biases and on the surface, as the nooses show, but the judicial system, and other governmental institutions should bear some of the blame for their inaction in this case. I suppose, though, that my last statement compliments your argument, that institutionalized racism stems from each individual’s biases.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The American Dream Revised: a More Inclusive Approach Towards Illegal Immigrants

As the Presidential race draws near, Democratic candidates look to gather support from a growing pool of voters, the Hispanic population. The potential population of Hispanic voters will be at an estimated 14 million by the 2008 election, therefore assisting any presidential hopeful in his or her race to the White House. To cater towards the growing Hispanic population, the Democratic debate in Florida was aired on Univision, the most popular Spanish channel in the United States. One of the key issues discussed at the debate was the immigration in the United States, and appropriately so. Immigration is a very personal issue to immigrants with family remaining across the borders, and one presidential candidate advocating for the rights of immigrants is Governor Bill Richardson (his photo on the right). Of Latino descent, his entrance into the presidential race demonstrates the reshaping of the “American Dream”, once an inherent right for Western European immigrants and now encompassing even immigrants from behind the borders.

Although history often romanticizes the American dream as being a possibility for all immigrants, reality falls far from this idea. Various laws have been enacted to deny “undesirable” immigrants citizenship or entry into the United States. One blatant example of this was in 1882, when the Chinese Exclusion act was passed; this was the first law passed in the United States that targeted a specific ethnic group. The reasoning behind the act was to protect the rights and jobs of white immigrants, since the Chinese were viewed as competition. This history echoes the explanations for tightening American borders today. The politicians, predominantly Republican, advocating for more stringent immigration laws claim that illegal immigrants are impacting the economy by working for lower wages, but should the illegal immigrants be entirely faulted? Business owners want to maximize profit while exploiting illegal immigrants who have few to no rights or protections. In fact, illegal immigrants have become an integral part of some sectors of the economy. While illegal immigrants hope to work hard to provide for a better life, for themselves and their families, laws are being created to deny them opportunities to get ahead. As the Hispanic population grows to a total of 37.5 million according to the United States Census Bureau, their presence is becoming an undeniable political force, able to shape the fate of immigration.

As a result of the large influx of immigrants from across the border, the legislative branch has taken action. Instead of accommodation, the reaction to the immigration issue has been the issuance of H.R. 4437, a law that established harsher penalties for illegal immigrants and the people that assisted them. Accompanying this law was S.2611, which would have provided 8.5 million illegal immigrants a way to achieve citizenship status, but failed to pass into law. H.R. 443 ignited national protest, especially in California, where the Hispanic and immigrant population is one of the highest. The picture to the left shows the protests' magnitude. The powerful expression of antagonism towards the H.R. 4437 showed that minority groups do have a voice, and that they can make a change in the face of oppressive laws. The fact that so many people, even non-immigrants, flooded the streets to contest H.R. 4437 demonstrates the inherent belief that the American dream is more inclusive than exclusive. Complimentary to this is a quote from Governor Richardson’s speech in Florida, that he “object(s) to the dehumanizing of people that want to be part of the American dream.”

Currently, there are negotiations in Congress between republicans and democrats concerning the immigration issue. Immigration remains one of the top issues in the Presidential debates, forcing political leaders to deal with the growing Hispanic population and letting their opinions be heard. Understandably, the government cannot grant all illegal immigrants citizenship, or else becoming a naturalized citizen would be an otherwise hollow term. Also, the government would be overburdened with the enormous influx of people, however the government does have room to grant immigrants who have been in the United States long enough, some form of partial citizenship. Although President Bush firmly supports the reinforcement of a barrier between Mexico and the United States as seen through the wall in the image below, Congress continues to push forward with less hard line proposals to mitigate the immigration issue. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform act is on the Senate’s agenda, and offers alternatives to illegal immigrants, like temporary visas and special status. Part of this "comprehensive immigration reform" is the bill S. 1639, which has yet to be voted on in the Senate. After H.R. 4437, there have been multiple efforts to compromise on immigration with the realization that illegal immigrants will not just disappear, so therefore there needs to be some sort of middle ground when dealing with immigration. Through laws, illegal immigrants may get the chance to dream the American dream by receiving certain statuses, along with rights and responsibilities. To the right is an image of the wall along the American-Mexican border

America is entering a new era, with politics diversifying and the relatively homogeneous political arena being overthrown by a more heterogeneous pool of people. Perhaps what is occurring is what Crevecouer referred to in the 18th century as “the melting pot,” or a diverse group of people coexisting to be labeled “American.” Complimentary to Crevecouer’s melting pot is the American dream, and as the melting pot grows, the definition of the American dream will also have to expand to include more ethnic groups. There is still progress to be made, but Governor Richardson’s initiative and the recent legislative changes are small steps towards the empowerment of minorities.
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