Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Times-Pic Editorializes on Immigration One More Time

In case you missed it, here's the Times-Picayune's latest editorial on the immigration legislation in the Lousiana State Legislature. The first few paragraphs of the editorial go thus:

Anyone familiar with immigration law was not surprised when a Texas federal judge on Wednesday threw out a Dallas suburb's ban on rentals to illegal immigrants, deeming the law unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Yet the Louisiana Legislature is considering a bill, by Mandeville Rep. Tim Burns, that replicates the Dallas mistake by banning property rentals to illegal residents.

State lawmakers ought to stop wasting time on this and other ill-conceived immigration proposals. The bills are aimed at illegal immigrants but would create myriad problems for legal immigrants and U.S. citizens as well. And any legal defense of such laws would likely be futile and come at taxpayers' expense.
Read the whole editorial. The Times-Picayune's editorial is entitled: "Wasting time." I couldn't agree more. And I'd even go so far as to add: "And wasting taxpayers' money, too."

Friday, May 30, 2008

MBH Pottery at the New Orleans Arts Market Tomorrow

Well, it's once again that time of the month: the last Saturday of the month. My lovely bride will again be out at the market setting up her booth to sell her pottery. She's been hard at work all month and has dramatically added to her inventory of pieces. So, if you want to support a great cause and pick up some wonderful pieces of handmade, high quality pottery as wedding gifts, birthday gives, or any other kind of gift, please do come out to the Arts Martket tomorrow at Palmer Park on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton and look her up. Not sure which booth number she's been assigned, but you can find out where she is at the information booth. MBH Pottery or Michele Benson Huck Pottery is what you should look for. I have babysitting duties and some birthday parties to bring the girls to, so I'll likely not be around beyond the set-up and break-down, but please do stop by anyway. Unlike the past two Arts Market Saturdays, which witnessed some nasty weather, tomorrow looks like it will be a sunny and dry (albeit hot!) day.

Status on the Future of the Immigration Bills

Well, it looks like HB 1365, sponsored by Rep. Time Burns of Mandeville and which criminalized renting property to an undocumented immigrant, will not ultimately be considered during this current legislative session. The past two times the bill has come up on the House floor calendar, Rep. Burns has voluntarily deferred its consideration and has referred it back to the House calendar. And I hear through the grapevine that Rep. Burns, whose recommendation, as the bill's sponsor, on whether to consider the bill on the House floor is generally respected as a matter of tradition, appears to be disinclined to force debate and a vote on the bill. Of course, some other legislator could counter Burns' reluctance to bring the measure up for debate and a vote and could force the issue; but the likelihood of that happening is slim and next to none. So, unless Burns wants to take up the measure, which he seems reluctant now to do, the bill is likely to wither on the vine.

As for the other measures, HB 25 (local law enforcement required to check immigration status upon arrest), HB 1357 (criminalizes harboring/sheltering/concealing an undocumented immigrant), and HB 1358 (criminalizes transporting an undocumented immigrant), all sponsored by Rep. Brett Geymann, are waiting to be heard in front of one of the Senate Judiciary Committees. These hearings are likely to be conducted sometime early this coming week. I hope I can make it to Baton Rouge to testify against them, since I wasn't able to do so previously; but I have some obligations here that I cannot miss, so I just hope that the bills come up at a convenient time for me. Regardless, though, I have it on pretty good authority that these bills are not likely to pass muster in Senate Committee. Of course, this is all educated speculation and nothing is certain until the matter is actually debated in committee and voted upon, but I'm confident that these bills, all three of them, are likely to die in Committee on the Senate side. We shall see.

Educational Forum on Immigration Update

The Educational Forum on Immigration which took place on Tulane's campus yesterday evening was very successful on all fronts. We had an audience numbering, I'd guess, in the 80-100 person range. All of our six panelists were present and each provided great commentary.

We even had a special, last minute guest who spoke to us for about 5 minutes. That person was Fernando Chavez, Cesar Chavez's son. He spoke simply but powerfully and inspired all who were present to engage civically on matters of importance like these immigration bills.

Some of the things I learned that I didn't know previously:

(1) In other states, legislation similar to the ones proposed here in Louisiana has been subject to court challenges and in almost all instances, the courts have ruled against such legislation on the basis of jurisdication. Apparently, even though the motivation for state legislators to propose such bills is understandable in the wake of seeming federal incompetence or unwillingness to enforce immigration laws, the courts are clear that immigration law is the purview of the federal government and not of local/state governments. Judicial precedent is clear on these points. So, the upshot is that this legislation, if passed and signed into law by the Governor, will more than likely be declared unconstitutional and will result in large expenses incurred by the state taxpayer to defend such laws.
(2) State legislation dealing with immigration matters has historically served as a test case for exploring new ideas about immigration enforcement and legislation that often then filters up into the federal legislature. In other words, though immigraiton law produced at the state level is not likely to pass constituional muster on jurisdictional grounds, it is important because it has a definitive influence on how the federal legislature will address the subject. And any federal legislation based on state-level experiments will pass constitutional muster on jurisdictional grounds.
(3) It is relatively common practice in the Louisiana legislature, given the volume of bills produced in such a short amount of time, that legislators may only have between 30 and 60 minutes to review legislation before it comes up for debate and a vote on the floors of Congress. This is a procedural problem that often times allows bad legislation to be approved simply because legislators then vote on the basis of collegial deference as an expression of good will or on the basis of personal relationships between legislators (whether good or bad) that are unrelated to the actual content of the legislation itself.
(4) Across the country, situations like what is happening in Louisiana only tend to surface where two conditions are met: (a) a rapid and abrupt demographic change involving a sudden influx of immigrants and (b) a corresponding intensity regarding the subject at the national level. In other words, in communities where immigrant workers are much more reflective of the history of a place, there is less of a likelihood to have anti-illegal immigrant legislation. Additionally, if there is not a heightened attention to the issue at the national level, even rapic and abrupt demograpic changes in communities involving a marked increase in immigrant worker populations are not likely to cause much concern. Most people in such circumstances are likely either to not notice or pay closer attention to the changing demographics of their communities, or, if they do notice it, are less likely to think of it as problematic. In Louisiana, we had a massive, rapid, and abrupt influx of immigrant workers in the immediate post-Katrina rebuilding context at the same time that the subject what receiving heated attention at the national level. Thus the current wave of recent legislation in the State Congress regarding immigration.
(5) Most local and state law enforcement agencies oppose any legislation that requires them to serve as immigration agents in the conduct of their policing jobs. It tends to impede their abilities to tackle crime, since much goes unreported, and it damages trust between communities and local law enforcement.

These are just some of the things I learned last night. And I consider myself to be pretty well-informed already on the subject.

The presentations were by and large respectful and informational. The Q&A session following the presentations was also handled well and didn't witness too much contentiousness. There was a little bit of grandstanding and some commens from the audience that tended more towards an activist orientation; but this was by far the exception rather than the rule.

Lucas Diaz was simply great as the panel and Q&A moderator. He was balanced and thoughtful.

Many thanks to the panelists and to all the sponsoring organizations for putting on a wonderful event.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

15 Years Married

Tomorrow, May 29, marks my 15th wedding anniversary. I'm married to the most beautiful person in the world. I'm looking forward to many more wonderful years together:

To MCB: For Love of the Spring of 1991

Gentle bird, sweet lark, you who softly sing
Your misfortune, tonight lie cradled in
My palm. What malady has befallen
Your fragile frame, has clipped your forward wing?
So I shall hold you, tending your being,
Healing my wounds through healing yours; but when
Flowers take root and start to bloom, you then
Sing your sorrow still, my captive in Spring.

No, I'll not keep you caged behind these bars
Of affection and so heighten your plight;
For I, who know that clutching also scars
Do hear your fettered coo through this dark night,
Mournful and reaching to some distant stars.
For love I free you. Fly, my love. Take flight.
I love you, Michele. Happy Anniversary!

Hillary Clinton Conversion

I used to like Hillary Clinton. In fact, there was a time that I was so enamored and supportive of Hillary that I wagered $100 five years ago (with my wife's pastor, of all people!) that Hillary would be elected President in 2008.

No longer.

Now I can't help but think of Hillary Clinton and her desperate shenanigans with jaw-dropping disbelief and disgust. I can find nothing, absolutely nothing, admirable in her current behavior. It defies any sense of integrity, fairness, honesty, and respect.

I can't wait to lose my bet.

Immigration Forum Reminder

Don't forget about the Immigration Forum tomorrow, Thursday, May 29, 2008, from 7-9pm in Jones Hall 102 at Tulane University.

More details here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

HB 1365 Scheduled for Floor Debate and Vote

It looks like Rep. Tim Burns' bill (HB 1365) that would criminalize renting to an undocumented immigrant is scheduled for debate on the House Floor tomorrow, May 28, pretty early on in the session.

Here are a few of my reasons why this bill should be opposed:

(1) This legislation sets landlords, realtors, and property owners up for potential litigation under the Fair Housing Act, "which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status." Even whether or not a landlord, realtor, or property owner would prevail in such a lawsuit, simply having to defend himself against such charges is a burden placed on this individual or realty company by the state through this legislation that requires what could be considered discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
(2) The verification of citizenship or legal immigration status is not a common practice among individual landlords, realtors, or property owners, who are untrained to determine what documentation constitutes acceptable proof of such things. This places a law enforcement burden on such individuals or realty businesses that they should not have to assume, for which they are unprepared, and which may place them at some legal risk. Also, for this reason, this legislation is essentially unenforceable. For instance, how will landlords, realtors, and property owners be trained to serve as such immigration law enforcement officers? Who will assure this training is provided to landlords, realtors, and property owners? Is accepting a driver's license from another state a valid good-faith effort to determine citizenship or immigration status? Is looking at a passport acceptable? Is it acceptable to ask for these documents only based upon a particular profile, or is it required of landlords, realtors, or property owners in the law for ALL circumstances? These are issues that the legislation doesn't address.
(3) Why is it acceptable for other businesses to sell (or lease) goods and services and survival commodities like food to indviduals without requiring proof of citizenship or legal immigration status, but not for businesses who sell (or lease) the survival commodity of housing? It appears that there is an inequity in this legislation which penalizes and targets one set of entrepreneurs and businesses in their dealings with undocumented migrants but which gives a pass to other sets of entrepreneurs and businesses in their dealings with undocumented migrants.
(4) Every human being, regardless of immigration status, has a basic and fundamental human right to shelter. It is inhumane to deny someone a roof over his head, especially when he or she is capable and willing to pay fair market price for such shelter.
It is still not too late to contact your legislators and register your opposition to this legislation. Please do so.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Monthly Sunday Confessional

I'm introducing a new category of posting on The Huck Upchuck. It's called "The Monthly Sunday Confessional." On the last Sunday of every month, I will be looking back at all of my previous postings for that month and reflecting on what I had to say. If I find anything that I have any regrets about for whatever reason, this monthly Sunday confessional posting will be the place where I can recognize moments when I wasn't at my charitable best, when I can correct mistakes, and when I can make amends if necessary.

The blogosphere is a place where passions often incite and move people to put up postings in the moments of such passions. And the fact that the blogosphere allows for expression without the tempering effects of having to say this to other human beings face-to-face, sometimes things get said on blogs that would never be said in any other kind of public forum. I am not immune to this characteristic of the blogosphere. But in my case, I often find that when my emotions subside and I have the chance to reflect rationally, coolly, and dispassionately on what I had previously written in the heat of passion, I get a bit embarrassed by some of my hyperbole. Hence, the creation of this posting category.

And my first confessional item for this month concerns a recent posting I made in reference to Louisiana Congressional Representative Tim Burns of Mandeville. In this posting, I called Rep. Burns a "bigoted, racist xenophobe" a number of times for some comments he made. The fact is that I do not personally know Rep. Burns, so it is unfair of me to make such a sweeping charge against him. I still think the comments he made were bigoted and xenophobic. I don't know how else they can be understood. But my mistake was in assuming that his comments weren't just boneheaded stupidities but rather a reflection of the character of the man himself. The charitible response would have been to expose the comments as bigoted and xenophobic, but to give Rep. Burns the person the benefit of the doubt that his comments simply came out wrong and were the product of carelessness of expression.

So, while I do think that Rep. Burns' comments that he supported these anti-illegal immigration legislative bills simply because people felt uncomfortable around well-behaved, but different-looking and different-language-speaking people in Wal-Mart to be problematic in its seeming bigotry and xenophobia, I also recognize that these comments may not characterize Tim Burns as a person. They may indeed do so; but they also may not. And I was a bit out of place, I think, to just automatically and unreflexively define Tim Burns by these comments. So, I apologize to Rep. Tim Burns; but I also exhort him to show that these comments aren't reflective of his thinking. He still has a ways to go to convince me that his intentions in promoting and supporting such measures aren't coming out of an attitude that I find troubling and problematic; but I owe him the chance to do so before labelling him definitively in the way that I did.

Here ends my first Monthly Sunday Confessional. We'll see what I have to atone for over the next month.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Preparing for Mexico

In the midst of all the excitement surrounding the immigration debate currently happening in the State of Louisiana, I am quietly also preparing for my annual 5-week summer trip to Mexico.

As usual, I am looking forward to it immensely. I'll be going with what appears to be a wonderful group of 14 students.

But the best part of it is that my family will be joining me for a good portion of the trip, too. That always makes the trip much more enjoyable.

Now that I have completed the last of the final editing processes for my forthcoming book, I'll also be taking this summer trip to Mexico as an opportunity to start up my next book project, which will survey the history of Mexico's post-revolutionary foreign policy.

And my mouth is also watering at the prospects of dining out at the following fine establishments in Guadalajara:
La Chata
Scratch Do Ouro
i Latina

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Educational Forum on Immigration

Educational Forum on Immigration
THURSDAY, MAY 29, from 7-9pm
Tulane University, Uptown Campus, 102 Jones Hall

Sponsored by:
Stone Center for Latin American Studies, Tulane University
Center for Public Service, Tulane University
Common Good New Orleans

This Forum is designed specifically to educate and inform about, as well as discuss, the subject of migration as it affects our communities, the City of New Orleans, and the State of Louisiana and how the recent legislative initiatives moving through the state legislature concerning immigration fit into this subject. The Forum will consist of a panel of academic specialists on migration, immigration attorneys, community representatives, and local state legislators. The Panelists will be invited to give a 10-minute presentation on the topic followed by a question and answer period from the audience. This Forum is intended as a civil dialogue and an informational, educational event.

Confirmed panelists:
· Elizabeth Fussell, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Washington State University
· Martín Gutierrez, Director of the Hispanic Apostolate, Archdiocese of New Orleans
· Hiroko Kusada, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., Loyola Law Clinic
· Rep. Juan LaFonta (D–New Orleans), District 96, Louisiana State House of Representatives
· Marc Rosenblum, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of New Orleans

· Lucas Díaz, Director, Puentes/LatiNOLA
· James D. Huck, Jr., Assistant Director for Graduate Programs, Stone Center for Latin American Studies, Tulane University

For more information, please contact James D. Huck, Jr., 865-5164.

[NOTE: NOLA Bloggers, please notify people of this event. Link to this posting from your blog. Encourage folks to come out to it. Thanks!]

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Talking Points for Opposing Louisiana Immigration Legislation

If anyone wants some talking points to craft a sensible argument to your Louisiana legislators in opposition to the slate of illegal immigration bills, here are some for you that I have been developing as I have thought more about them and have talked to people about them:

HB 25 (Requires that local police officers verify immigration status upon arrest.)
(1) Mixing jurisdictions is a recipe for more confusion (and hence even greater lethargy and inactivity) with regard to exercising responsible authority for enforcing immigration legislation. Proponents of this legislation often argue that this bill is necessary because federal immigration authorities aren't doing anything about the problem, they're tired of this, and so they're taking things into their own hands. All fine and good, but what these folks forget in their heated passion over this issue is that muddying the water with even more legislation will no doubt cause more problems than it solves. When federal immigration authorities begin to think that they don't have to be so vigilant because now local police officers are also on the job, then policing entry points can become even more lax. In fact, some of these immigration authorities might even presume that once illegal immigrants get through the nets at the border, then the problem is no longer theirs, but rather a problem for state and local law enforcement authorities. On the flip side, local law enforcement officers, knowing that there is a body of federal law and federal immigration authorities still responsible for enforcing such laws, are likely only to take their responsibilities under HB 25 just up to the obligations of the law, and not beyond it, trusting federal immigration authorities to take over from there. In other words, local police who actually check immigration status upon arrest and discover undocumented migrants will simply then call the federal immigration authorities to follow through on their own end; but such federal authorities may see the usurpation of their jobs by local legislatures as a way to place the burden of follow-up on the local law enforcement agencies themselves.
(2) Actually mandating local law enforcement officers to check immigration status upon arrest will no doubt be a disincentive for undocumented immigrants to report crimes against them. We know that these crimes can be pretty heinous, too. Criminals who know that one of the outcomes of this legislation is to make undocumented immigrants easier targets of their predations with minimal risk to them in terms of being caught will begin to act more brashly by engaging in criminal activities in neighborhoods where the criminals think illegal immigrants (or "walking ATMs" as these criminals have begun to speak of such migrant workers) are likely to be working or living. Unreported crimes and an increase in criminal activity likely to occur as a result in this legislation makes our neighborhoods less safe for all of us "legal" citizens, too. When you hear that thugs broke into the house next door and maybe killed your migrant neighbor in a robbery attempt, that news will be very unsettling regardless of whether these migrant neighbors are documented or undocumented. And God forbid you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time and perhaps get caught up in the crossfires of such criminal behavior, or even become "confused" by thugs as a one of these "walking ATMs" yourself. We want all people walking the streets of our community feeling comfortable enough with our local police such that they report crimes and thus help get the real criminals off the streets, instead of not reporting crimes and emboldening the real criminals to more and worse crimes.

HB 1357 (makes it a crime for an individual to knowingly harbor/shelter/conceal an illegal immigrant) and HB 1358 (makes it a crime for an individual to knowingly transport an illegal immigrant)
(1) What is the intent of these bills? The answer given by proponents of these bills is a vague notion of "doing something" about the illegal immigration problem. However, the specific intent of these bills, when you read them, is to target individual law-abiding citizens with criminal wrongdoing. Advocates for these bills provide no evidence that these bills will actually reduce illegal immigration. And there's no guarantee that they will. What is certain is that the only people being punished by these specific bills will be decent, law-abiding U.S. citizens. So, the real intent of these bills is to play on the sensibilities of law-abiding citizens and to actually frighten such citizens with the prospect of criminal sanctions for simply dealing with undocumented migrants that might involve transporting them or harboring/sheltering/concealing them. The legislation neither defines what it means by "transporting" nor does it define what it means by "harboring/sheltering/concealing" them. Because of the lack of clear definitions of these terms, this raises the question of whether or not citizens are obligated to police their fellow neighbor citizens who they may suspect are violating these laws. In other words, could someone be considered guilty of "concealing" illegal immigrants if he knows that a neighboring property owner has leased out the house next door to undocumented migrants, but then fails to report this to the authorities?
(2) This legislation forces upon law-abiding citizens the anxiety of possibility having to decide between (A) carrying out a morally correct act of humanitarian assistance or (B) breaking the law in doing so. In other words, this legislation places two "moral goods" in opposition to one another and damages an individual's conscience (not to mention actually threatens punitive action by the state) who actually does both! Think of it this way: a person who knowingly transports or gives shelter to an undocumented migrant, even if for humanitarian reasons, has to suffer the moral and psychological damage that comes with being a lawbreaker himself simply for doing this humanitarian act. Someone might break the law to help an undocumented migrant, but that someone, whether or not he gets caught doing so, has to then live with the knowledge of himself as a lawbreaker as defined by the state. That is no small matter for an individual who places a high moral and psychological value on being a law-abiding citizen. On the flip side, a good, law-abiding citizen who obeys the law and refuses to transport or provide shelter to an undocumented migrant when humanitarian grounds would warrant it, has to then suffer the moral and psychological damage that comes with failing to live up to the moral imperative to help a fellow human being in need. Someone might uphold the law out of a sense of moral duty to be a law-abiding citizen, but that someone has to then live with the knowledge of himself as the "bad samaritan." That is no small matter for an individual who places a high value (and perhaps even a moral imperative) on the obligation to do good to others, especially those in need. So the talking point here is that this legislation intentionally seeks to damage the moral conscience of a good, decent, law-abiding citizen under any circumstances when dealing with an undocumented migrant.
(3) If the intent of these bills is to prevent the immoral trafficking in humans, as some of these proponents argue and which all of us would support, then the legislation should be more specific in identifying this kind of behavior as the targeted criminal behavior. The fact that the legislation is intentionally unspecific in this regard belies the notion that the real purpose of the legislation is not only about preventing illegal human trafficking, but also about preventing other, more mundane forms of interaction with undocumented migrants.

HB 1365 (which criminalizes renting a house or an apartment to an undocumented migrant)
(1) This legislation sets landlords, realtors, and property owners up for potential litigation under the Fair Housing Act, "which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status." Even whether or not a landlord, realtor, or property owner would prevail in such a lawsuit, simply having to defend himself against such charges is a burden placed on this individual or realty company by the state through this legislation that requires what could be considered discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
(2) The verification of citizenship or legal immigration status is not a common practice among individual landlords, realtors, or property owners, who are untrained to determine what documentation constitutes acceptable proof of such things. This places a law enforcement burden on such individuals or realty businesses that they should not have to assume, for which they are unprepared, and which may place them at some legal risk. Also, for this reason, this legislation is essentially unenforceable. For instance, how will landlords, realtors, and property owners be trained to serve as such immigration law enforcement officers? Who will assure this training is provided to landlords, realtors, and property owners? Is accepting a driver's license from another state a valid good-faith effort to determine citizenship or immigration status? Is looking at a passport acceptable? Is it acceptable to ask for these documents only based upon a particular profile, or is it required of landlords, realtors, or property owners in the law for ALL circumstances? These are issues that the legislation doesn't address.
(3) Why is it acceptable for other businesses to sell (or lease) goods and services and survival commodities like food to indviduals without requiring proof of citizenship or legal immigration status, but not for businesses who sell (or lease) the survival commodity of housing? It appears that there is an inequity in this legislation which penalizes and targets one set of entrepreneurs and businesses in their dealings with undocumented migrants but which gives a pass to other sets of entrepreneurs and businesses in their dealings with undocumented migrants.
These are just some of the arguments one might put forth in crafting an opposition to these legislative bills. Of course, none of these arguments implies that nothing should be done to address the problem of illegal immigration, but simply that these particular measures are certainly neither the moral nor the practicable ways of doing so.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Immigration Miscellanea

First, I'm headed to Baton Rouge tomorrow with a group of colleagues to testify in the State Senate on HB 25, which is the bill requiring law enforcement officials to verify immigration status upon arrest. I've never testified in front of a Legislative Committee before, so it should be interesting. I'll probably be around the State Legislature most of the day as the bill proposed by Tim Burns on renting to undocumented migrants is also scheduled for debate on the House Floor in the afternoon. I'm excited about this.

Second, and more importantly, I'm pleased to announce that the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University, LatiNola, Common Good, and Tulane's Center for Public Service are teaming up to host an "Educational Forum on Immigration" on THURSDAY, MAY 29, from 7-9pm at 102 Jones Hall on Tulane University's campus.

This Forum is designed specifically to educate and inform about, as well as discuss, the subject of migration as it affects our communities, the City of New Orleans, and the State of Louisiana and how the recent legislative initiatives moving through the state legislature concerning immigration fit into this subject. The Forum will consist of a panel of academic specialists on migration, immigration attorneys, community representatives, and some local state legislators. The Panelists will be invited to give up to a 10 minute presentation on the topic and we'll follow these presentations with time for Q&A from the audience. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend. But also note that this is intended as a civil dialogue and an informational/educational event. It will not be a free-for-all soapbox for demagoguing the issue.

Confirmed panelists include:
Professor Marc Rosenblum, Associate Professor of Political Science from UNO who specializes on immigration policy;
Hiroko Kusada, an Immigration Lawyer from the Loyola Law Clinic;
District 96 State House Rep. Juan LaFonta;
Martin Gutierrez, Director of the Hispanic Apostolate of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Other invited, but as-yet-unconfirmed panelists include:
Professor Elizabeth Fussell, a demographer and migration specialist formerly of Tulane but currently at Washington State University;
District 2 State Sen. Ann Duplessis;
District 10 State Sen. Danny Martiny.

District 35 State House Rep. Brett Geymann, author of many of the legislative bills under consideration, was invited to participate as a panelist, but has said that he is unable to do so. District 94 State House Rep. Nick Lorusso was also invited and also declined the invitation to participate.

Lucas Diaz of Puentes/LatiNola and I will be moderating the forum.

It promises to be an informative and interesting event. Everyone is welcome. NOLA bloggers, please spread the word and show up if you can.

Sitemeter Stats

The wonders of Sitemeter are such that they allow you to get a glimpse into who peruses your blog. It's not a complete picture, mind you, but it's revealing enough. I don't get very many visitors, so it's relatively easy for me to keep up with who drops by, how long they stay plugged in to The Huck Upchuck, and how many pages they view.

Here's a brief rundown of what I have noticed via Sitemeter's stats for my blog over the past few days. I had someone yesterday visit my blog for over 30 minutes and who had over 25 page views. The entry page for this person was my recent posting on Tim Burns, and the exit page for this person was my Blogger profile. That's pretty incredible and tells me that someone got really interested not only in my most recent posts, but also in me personally and in some of my archived stuff. I'm not complaining, since I sometimes get curious about personal Blogger profiles and sitemeter stats from other blogs and check them out myself. I'm just saying ...

And this morning, I noticed a visit from an official domain, with an IP address coming out of the State of Louisiana Office of Telecommunications. This person's entry page was my recent posting on Tim Burns and his/her exit page was my posting on my Walker Hines "mea culpa."

On the one hand, I'm pleased that some folks in government are paying attention. On the other hand, I have to admit to being a bit creeped out at the whole "Big Brother Is Watching" thing, too.

I'm not going anywhere in particular with this posting, just wanted to note what I'm seeing is all.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Joke of the Day

Courtesy of Tulane University's Provost, Michael Bernstein, at the graduation ceremony for this year's graduate students (MAs and Ph.D.s):

Q: How many graduate students does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Just one. But it takes a long, long, long, long time.
Heh. I'd never heard that one before, but it's a classic!

Bigotry at Work: Tim Burns, R(acist)-Mandeville.

[UPDATE: Folks who come across this entry ought to know that I revisited what I wrote here in another posting some weeks after originally posting this. Please read the posting below with the knowledge of this additional commentary linked to in this update. Thanks. -- Huck]

I was listening to WWL 870 AM radio this morning, and heard this report:

Bills aimed at illegal immigration move forward in legislature
Jay Vice Reporting

The House has passed three measures intended to make a dent in illegal immigration in Louisiana.

One bill would make it a crime to harbor or shelter an illegal immigrant; another would criminalize the transport of illegals; and a third would require local police to check the citizenship status of anyone they pull over.

State Representative Tim Burns told WWL-TV that he supports the measures, in part, because constituents have told him, "They're frustrated by the inability to go to Wal-Mart at night, they're scared to go to Wal-Mart at night."
WTF?!?!?! Folks are "frustrated by the inability" and are "scared" to go to Wal-mart at night? And this is all because of illegal immigrants? Is this guy serious? I wonder, has anyone ever been harassed or bothered or assaulted by any Spanish-speaker at Wal-mart? Or are people just put out that folks who look different than they do and speak a different language than they do happen to frequent the same places they do? If that's not a bald-faced, racist, bigoted, profiling comment, I don't know what is. Wait, though, it gets worse ...
WWL-TV's Bigad Shaban then asked him exactly what he meant by that.

Burns responded that he took a trip to Wal-Mart himself to check it out, and said, "You weren't sure you were in this country. Not trying to profile people, but it just seemed like people were concerned, that they were... ah.. I'm not trying to say any people there were being rude, or disrespectful or anything, but I could see how somebody, a housewife, could be intimidated to go there."
Not sure he was in this country? Not trying to profile people?!?! What a nimrod! Burns, face it, racial and ethnic profiling is exactly what you're doing, and you know it, which is why you felt the need to try to say that you weren't doing what you knew you were actually doing. And the kicker is that Burns notes that the people in Wal-mart were just there. They weren't "being rude, or disrespectful or anything." Damn! I'm so flummoxed I can hardly continue to write this. ... So, Rep. Burns, if the only thing you noticed was brown people (perhaps even speaking Spanish) just minding their own business and shopping, what's the problem? There is absolutely no other explanation than that this legislator is a bigoted racist xenophobe. It doesn't even matter to him whether or not these brown, Spanish-speaking, well-behaved people he saw in his little night time jaunt to the Wal-mart are actually "illegal" migrants, does it? He just assumes it. I mean, really, if they're not white, English-speaking people, they certainly can't be peaceful Americans, can they? Here's how the report ends:
Local immigration activist Martin Gutierrez says it's inappropriate for Burns to assume that every Hispanic he sees at Wal-Mart is here illegally.

"Just because someone looks like me doesn't mean he's here undocumented," said Gutierrez.
It is clearly inappropriate, Martin. But Burns is a bigoted racist xenophobe, so what can you expect?

See, this is what we're facing in this state. And people elected this yahoo. And he also made it into a run-off for the Federal Congress to fill Bobby Jindal's old seat. He was out rightwing demagogued by Steve Scalise, but he still managed to get 41.92% of the GOP primary vote in his runoff against Scalise. Big surprise, then, that Tim Burns, who represents District 89 (Mandeville) in the Louisiana State House of Representatives, has authored another anti-illegal immigrant piece of trash legislation (HB 1365) that makes it a crime (except for hotels!) to rent to an undocumented migrant. This bill requires landlords to play immigration officer and verify legal status. This bill is scheduled to come up for debate and a vote on the House Floor this Tuesday, May 20. Write your Louisiana House legislators!

What motivated Burns to craft this legislation? Apparently, this:
Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, said his bill is needed because some residents do not feel safe in neighborhoods where the illegal immigrants have moved. "Nothing is being done and people are feeling frustrated," Burns said.
Are you surprised? Thought not. Well, how about this, Mr. Burns: I'm frustrated with and feeling threatened by you. Maybe I can get my Representative to file some legislation making it a crime to know and tolerate and be charitable to you.

Congratulations Tulane Graduates!

Congratulations to the newest of the Green Wave alumni. I celebrate your accomplishments.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Immigration Bills: Where Are They Now? What's Next?

Just so you know, here's an update on where the immigration bills recently passed by the Louisiana House of Representatives are:

HB 25, which requires local law enforcement officials to check immigration status upon arrest, has been sent to the State Senate and is now assigned for consideration by Senate Judiciary "C" Committee. For a list of State Senators sitting on this Committee, click here.

Local Senators assigned to this committee include:
Sen. Ann Duplessis from State Senate District 2 (East N.O.)
Sen. A.G. Crowe from State Senate District 1 (Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Slidell)

HB 1357 and HB 1358, which criminalizes transporting or harboring/sheltering an undocumented migrant, has been sent to the State Senate and is now assigned for consideration by Senate Judiciary "B" Committee. For a list of State Senators sitting on this Committee, click here.

Local Senators assigned to this committee include:
Sen. Danny Martiny from State Senate District 10 (Kenner/River Ridge). [NOTE: Martiny is the Chairman of this Committee, and he's also from a District that includes a significant Latino voting citizenry. This presents a unique opportunity to exercise some constituent muscle! Kenner Latinos who oppose this measure should bombard Martiny with emails, phone calls, and letters expressing their disapproval of these measures. Here's a prime example of precisely why LatiNola Votes! is such a critical effort.]
Sen. David Heitmeier from State Senate District 7 (Gretna/Belle Chase/Woodmere). [NOTE: Heitmeier is Vice-Chairman of this Committee, and also represents a West Bank district that also includes a substantial Latino voting community.]

I'm feeling quite hopeful about the possibility of squashing this legislation in the Senate. I think we have some fortuitous opportunities if we can mobilize and express our voices to these legislators. But what I have learned from my efforts to influence the House Legislators is that there are some very vocal supporters of this legislation who are writing in and calling their legislators. I can assure you that Legislators take tallies of people who call in and express an opinion. They may not listen to everything we say, but they do note whether the person calling or contacting them is either for or against a piece of legislation. So we need to tip the balance of this tally sheet in our favor. Please don't wait! Contact not only your State Senator, but as many State Senators as you can so that they can know how deep the sentiment is in Louisiana opposing this legislation! Do it now, do it politely but firmly, and do it repeatedly!

NOLA BLOGGERS! Sharpen your digital pens and get to work! You know our legislators read what we're writing. Let them hear from us both personally and on our blogs.

The Insidious Nature of the Immigration Bills

The more I think about these immigration bills, the more angry and distraught I get. The reason why it affects me so much is because I know that the intent of these bills is not to serve as a mechanism of the enforcement of our country's immigration laws, but as an explicit threat to good, decent citizens. HB 1357 and HB 1358 specifically target US citizens who want to live a charitable and humanitarian life and who also want to be law abiding citizens. Most of us think the two notions shouldn't be in conflict. However, these insidious bills intentionally place good, decent citizens in a moral quandary by forcing a dichotomy between these two motivations for behavior. What they do is make a citizen choose between doing a voluntary good deed or wilfully violating the law by doing so. Let me give you an example, based on the story of the Good Samaritan from the Christian tradition modified to fit the current reality.

Your home is in Lakeview and is being renovated. You live in another part of the metro New Orleans area while your Lakeview home is being renovated, but you are at your Lakeview home every day doing little odd jobs to make it habitable and aesthetically pleasing once again. You are very satisfied with the renovation work and are looking forward to moving back home soon. While you are at your Lakeview home one day, trimming the hedges, there is an obviously Latino work crew hanging sheetrock. You hired the General Contractor whom you know is a citizen of the United States, and these Latinos are his workers. You know nothing about their immigration status and you don't care to know. As you are trimming the hedges, you hear some yells and some agitation coming from the back of the house. One of the workers comes running to you and says, in broken English, that his fellow worker has just had an accident with a skillsaw and has severed two of his fingers. You know that the General Contractor is not around. He just dropped off the crew and then went to check on another job. The worker with the broken English asks you if you can take his friend to the hospital, but to please take him to a hospital that will not report him because he doesn't have the proper documents to be in the country. Now, you didn't ask for this information, but now you know it. You are faced with a worker who has a couple of severed fingers and needs immediate medical attention; you are the only one who has a car that can transport this person to the hospital; and you know that he is undocumented. And just that morning, your read in the Times-Picayune that the Louisiana Legislature passed a bill which says that knowingly transporting an illegal immigrant is now against the law and that for you to bring this person to the hospital, you would be breaking the law. This is true regardless of whether you get caught or not. In fact, you know that the Legislature also voted against an amendment that would specifically exempt a humanitarian gesture like bringing this man to the hospital from the obligations of the law. So you know that your action would be illegal. And you also know that if you get caught or questioned about this person while in route to the hospital (or maybe someone might question you at the hospital itself), you run the risk of being arrested, fined $1,000, and possibly spend 6 months in jail. You're pretty sure that no one would ever fault you for doing this, but you can't be fully certain. So, you have to make a moral calculus: do you knowingly break the law, or do you bring this hurting man to the hospital?

That's what this legislation boils down to. It makes us citizens have to squirm a bit and ponder what this all means. For me, it's a no brainer. I take the man to the hospital, and I'll be a lawbreaker to do so. I have no problems living with that. But, heck, even I will give some thought as to the question. I'll go home and sleep easy that night. But that's me. How will you respond? What moral calculus will go fleeting through your mind at that moment in this scenario. You might, in the end, choose to bring this man to the hospital. But will you sleep easy that night in the knowledge that you broke the law? Will you experience a moment of doubt about what you did, not because what you did was wrong, but because you violated the law in doing so and you are not a lawbreaker? What will you tell the General Contractor the next time you see him?

All these questions are emotional and psycological burdens placed on the law-abiding citizen all because of doing a simple, decent, humane thing. Really, all because of doing the only thing a good, decent, moral human being can do.

If this insidious legislation is not intended to harrass the consciences of good people just doing good deeds, then it needs to be reformed, amended, or killed, because that's what this legislation will do. That's, in point of fact, precisely what it's intended to do. And it makes me angry to think about it. It makes good people have to decide between doing the right thing and breaking the law while doing the right thing.

And I don't care what these supporters of the legislation tell me. They can tell me over and over, again and again, that I would never be held to account for doing such a good deed. But I can read, and I know that the legislation, as written, doesn't back up what they tell me. I can read, and I know that these very same legislators specifically voted against legislation that would support their rhetoric. So, I am stuck with the uncertainty of what to do, as a good, decent, moral human being and as a law-abiding citizen. The path is muddy and the anxiety in riding down the path, no matter how great or small, is all mine -- all thanks to this legislation. And it's an anxiety that I didn't have before. That's why this legislation sucks. That's why it's bad. Because its purpose is to put me in a quandary and to make me anxious about having to choose between two things I value: doing what is morally right and being a law-abiding citizen.

The legislation deserves to die. Write your legislators, and particularly your State Senators, and demand that they do not force this horrible choice on you. Demand that they do not criminalize human charity and kindness. Demand that they not make you even have to ponder for a second that you could be a lawbreaker for doing what is morally correct.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Walker Hines "Mea Culpa" and Conversion

I have to say that there was a time when I wrote a very mean-spirited and downright nasty blogposting about Walker Hines, in which I swore up and down never to vote for him. At the time, I was an Una Anderson supporter and I was incensed during the heated days of that runoff election at the anonymous and multiple robocalls that I received that parroted what I considered to be vicious smears against Una Anderson because of the unsubstantiated Pampy Barre corruption claims. I was livid with Walker Hines and I went off on him. Really went off on him.

But ...

Lately, the kid is making a believer (and a liar!) out of me. He was very responsive to my emails asking him to oppose the ill-conceived series of immigration bills. And, in fact, he voted against them. He also was courageous enough to propose a bill outlawing the death penalty. That, in itself, takes some guts for a young, first-time lawmaker in a pro-death penalty state like Louisiana. And I have been equally impressed with his efforts to try to close loopholes in some of the ethics legislation regarding how much and how often legislators could be wined and dined by lobbyists.

So, in short, I have to say that I was uncharacteristically overdramatic about my position then. In fact, when I read over that previous posting, I have to admit to a little embarrassment. I certainly owe Walker Hines an apology for the tone of the posting. Now, don't get me wrong, I still think those robocalls were reprehensible campaign tactics, and I still get angry thinking about them. But I am also more convinced that this kind of behavior does not characterize Walker Hines as I have come to observe him as a legislator. The kid has won my respect. And now I have to eat some crow. Because not only am I inclined to vote for him if he keeps up his good work in the legislature, but I am also inclined to go out and campaign for him. Who knows? Maybe I can convince him to run on his record, to abandon those unseemly negative robocalls in the future, and to not endorse conservative Republicans when there's a reasonable and competent Democrat to support instead.

UPDATE: Friday, May 16, 2008, 8:26AM: I've been thinking a bit more about my posting above, and I just wanted to add the following: I don't think Walker Hines is the perfect legislator and I am sure that I will not agree (sometimes strongly so) with some of his positions and votes in the Legislature. But, on balance, I have come to like him, and I find that he and I agree on much more than we disagree.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On to the Louisiana State Senate

HB 25, HB 1357, and HB 1358 all passed the Louisiana House today by large margins. HB 25 passed by a vote of 83 Yeas, 11 Nays, 10 Absent. HB 1357 passed by a vote of 77 Yeas, 18 Nays, 9 Absent. And HB 1358 passed by a vote of 70 Yeas, 17 Nays, 17 Absent. In short, it is a disappointing day. But all is not lost. These bills move next to consideration in the Senate where those of us who oppose these bills can press our arguments again and more forcefully, and hope for a more receptive audience. If you want to see how your legislator voted on these measures, click here for HB 1357, here for HB 1358, and here for HB 25. On HB 1358, which was the first of the three to be debated on the Floor by the legislature, Rep. Damon Baldone, a Democrat from Houma, proposed an Amendment to the legislation that read as follows:

On page 2, after line 16, insert the following:
"(3) The person was transporting the alien in the course of rendering humanitarian in the form of food, shelter, clothing, medical aid, educational services, or religious services."
This amendment was defeated by a vote of 52 Nays, 43 Yeas, and 9 Absent.

My Representative, Walker Hines, I am pleased to report, voted against HB 1357 and HB 1358. Unfortunately, he also voted for HB 25, though that legislation was amended in such a way that gave local law enforcement a bit of a loophole to ignore it. I can't say that I'm pleased that Hines voted for HB 25, which amounts to ethnic profiling as I see it; but he deserves much credit for being one of the few to oppose the other two bits of legislation that were really the pieces of legislation that sought to criminalize charity.

In his defense of the bills, Rep. Geymann said that the language did not prohibit acts of kindness and good samaritan behavior; but the fact that he and others refused to back up that claim by supporting Baldone's Amendment specifying this for the record, is a testament to his deceptiveness and his lies on the subject.

And I have to admit to being stunned that, when questioned about it, Rep. Geymann said point blank that this legislation did not carry any punitive action against the migrants themselves, as if that somehow salvaged the integrity of the measure, but that it sought specifically to target citizens!!!!!. In essence, he was implying that illegal immigrants caught being transported or sheletered by a citizen neighbor would be treated courteously and left to go freely about their business, but that the citizen doing the transporting and sheltering would be the ones subject to criminal consequences. What kind of bass-ackwards rationale is that?!?!

Other legislators who are in my good book for opposing HB 1357 and HB 1358 include:
Walt Leger, III from District 91 (Uptown New Orleans). A good Social Justice Catholic and Jesuit Graduate. A true man for others. He also voted against HB 25.
Juan LaFonta from District 96 (Gentilly), who actually opposed all three measures.
Charmaine Marchand from District 99 (Bywater/9th Ward), who also opposed all three bills.
Karen Carter Peterson from District 93 (CBD/French Quarter/Marigny/Treme), who also voted against all three bills.

Legislators in the dog house for supporting all three bills and for voting against Baldone's Amendment:
Nick Lorusso from District 94 (Lakeview). And he's a Jesuit Graduate, too. Very disappointing that he would vote to criminalize basic Christian charity, to dismiss the Catholic Church's clear position against these measures on moral grounds, and to not even support an Amendment that protects humanitarian good deeds.
Kirk Talbot from District 78 in the River Ridge/Harahan region of Jefferson Parish.

UPDATE: Wednesday, May 14, 2008, 12:31PM: Walt Leger, III, emailed me to inform me that his vote on HB 25 was incorrectly registered. He was away from his voting machine with the visiting delegation from the New Orleans Mayor's Office and City Council (it was New Orleans Day at the Legislature) when the vote on HB 25 was called and so he manually indicated his vote to the Clerk, which was incorrectly recorded. His actual vote was a "NAY" on HB 25. The official record should correct this. Good for him! I've edited my posting and the tallies accordingly.

Looks Like We've Got Another One

An anti-illegal immigrant bill that seeks to criminalize the renting of an apartment or house (but not a hotel room!) to migrants. This bill, HB 1365, sponsored by Rep. Tim Burns, a Mandeville Republican. Let's write our legislators opposing this bill on humanitarian grounds.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Where's the NOLA Blogosphere on the Immigration Bills?

I have to say that I have been a bit surprised that the NOLA blogosphere has been very quiet about the immigration bills working their way through the Louisiana legislature. It's no secret that it has been my own little personal crusade to kill HB 25, HB 1357, and HB 1358, and so perhaps I am a bit over-excited about the issue. Maybe others just don't get all that worked up about it like I do. But it seems so clear to me that these bills are such an egregious affront to basic human decency that I cannot fathom that the NOLA blogosphere, as progressive as it tends to be, would be dispassionately apathetic on the issue. And though I probably am over-reacting, it has caused me to wonder if there is more implicit and unspoken support for these bills, even among progressives, than I would have imagined. I haven't had the time to check the status on these bills, but I plan to do so right after I make this posting. And if there has been any movement up at the Capitol, I'll post an update accordingly.

But, please, NOLA blogger progressives, can someone tell me that I'm not tilting at windmills here?

UPDATE: Monday, May 12, 2008, 9:27PM: I just checked the status of the bills on the Louisiana House of Representatives website, and it appears that HB 1357 and HB 1358 are still awaiting debate on the House Floor, which is scheduled for tomorrow. HB 25, which requires local law enforcement to verify immigration status upon arrest, apparently was considered on the House Floor today and the result was the following: "Read by title, rules suspended, action deferred." I have no idea what this means, but I'll take the fact that it hasn't passed yet as a good sign and consider that "action deferred" is a positive development.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Letter to Louisiana Legislators on the Immigration Bills

Here's a version of a letter that I've been sending around to Louisiana legislators whom I think can be persuaded to oppose HB 25, HB 1357, and HB 1358. These three bills seek to force an unfunded mandate on local law enforcement officers to become immigration authorities and to criminalize charity. The following letter comes at the subject from the perspective of a Christian, so it might not be best suited for your own point of view; but there is a secular humanitarian argument along similar lines that can be made as well. If you find it helpful, please feel free to use my letter as a guide to writing your own letter to your Louisiana legislators.

Dear Rep. _____________ :

I am writing to you not only as a constituent, but also as a person committed to humanitarian and just solutions to problems, as someone who is a Catholic Christian, and as a concerned fellow citizen of Louisiana. So, I am making a personal appeal to you. I urge you to oppose in strong and unequivocal terms the poorly-crafted, mean-spirited, and dehumanizing legislation (HB 25, HB 1357, and HB 1358) proposed by Rep. Brett Geymann against undocumented migrants and those who would be kind to them and seek to serve them. In fact, I urge you to be a vocal and outspoken leader in opposing these measures. As I see it, these legislative bills as they are written are an affront to basic human decency. Not only do they dehumanize other people for no reason other than crossing an imaginary line drawn on God's earth in order to survive and provide for their families, but, worse, they also criminalize individual acts of charity by those who would be good samaritans and servants to the marginalized and unwanted. And it goes without saying that they impose an unfunded mandate on local law enforcement to carry out what is essentially a federal reponsibility.

The Times-Picayune editorialized that these legislative initiatives seek to "codify bigotry." I agree with the Times-Picayune. The Catholic Church strongly opposes such kinds of measures to deal with the issue of illegal immigration as inconsistent with God's call to care and serve others, especially the marginalized among us. I agree with the Catholic Church. After reviewing these pieces of legislation, I can find nothing to explain the motivation for them as they are written beyond a pure, mean-spirited, and dehumanizing bigotry. Rep. Geymann should be ashamed of these pieces of legislation; and any decent human being should be willing to address the concerns surrounding the illegal immigration issue without resorting to such draconian and unenforceable and morally wrong measures.

As a lay affiliate of the Catholic Maryknoll Religious Order, I am a strong advocate and practitioner of Catholic Social Justice teaching. And, I am committed to being a Christian servant to others without preconditions on who those "others" are. Everything that I am and believe screams out against these reprehensible pieces of legislation sponsored by Rep. Geymann.

I agree that a country has a right to police its borders, but it can be done in a humane way that is consistent with the best values of our society, and which does not interject the meanspirited and (as I see it) hateful attitudes so often levied against some of the hardest-working and nicest people in the world. Furthermore, what's even more distressing to me is that these pieces of legislation seek not only to curb illegal immigration, but also to criminalize individual acts of charity.

We Christians are told that individual acts of kindness and mercy towards the less fortunate, regardless of their circumstances or immigration status, are acts that help get us into heaven. Yet the irony is that this legislation as written intentionally threatens people who engage in such acts with time in prison. Think of it this way: God promises us a heavenly reward for acts of kindness and mercy towards our neighbors, and yet Rep. Geymann promises us prison time for it. How does any Christian square that? How can anybody with a conscience, no matter what his or her opinions are on the illegal immigration question, square that?

I trust you to do what is morally right here, even if you find it to be politically unpopular. We who are advocates of the Social Justice Mission of the Catholic faith are watching this issue very closely. Please don't let us down. Step up and fight against criminalizing kindness!

If you are unsure who your legislator is, you can go to this website and type in your home address, which will pull up your legislator and his/her contact information. Please don't delay in writing your legislator. According to my reading of the Louisiana Legislature's schedule, these bills are headed for a vote this coming Tuesday, May 13. So, there's no time to lose.

I wrote to my legislator, Walker Hines, some time last week asking him to oppose these bills. He wrote a very nice reply back to me almost immediately that was very encouraging. He made no explicit promises, but I really think he will oppose these bills unless they are amended. We shall see. However, Rep. Hines also informed me that he has received a number of calls/emails from constituents in support of these bills. And he says that other legislators have as well. He suspects that they're likely going to pass in the House rather easily. But it's still not too late to derail this legislation. The key is to try to convince legislators that what is flawed about these bills is that they seek to address the problem of undocumented migrants by targeting us citizens with punitive action for nothing more than being good neighbors. This is a wrong-headed way to address the problem. One can be very much in favor of stricter enforcement of immigration laws and for securing the border and still be opposed to these bills on moral grounds. We citizens, by being good samaritans, are NOT the problem here. We shouldn't be targeted as potential criminals for being good neighbors, which is what these bills do. If you want tougher border security and stricter enforcement of immigration laws, tell your legislators that, but tell them also that the three bills currently being considered are not the right and moral way of going about solving the problem.

Criminalizing Charity, Part 2.

On what the hateful immigration bills before the Louisiana legislature mean, Kate Comiskey writes in a letter to the editors of the Times-Picayune:

How can giving another human being shelter become a crime? That is reminiscent of another country, not so long ago, that made laws against harboring or sheltering an ethnic group they wanted to be rid of. They ended up killing over 6 million Jews.

These bills are completely lacking in forethought, humanity or logic. They ask the local citizenry to become de facto immigration officers and threaten them with arrest if they do not comply.

These proposed laws will make racial profiling and discrimination legal for police and citizens. Immigrants, legal and illegal, have rebuilt New Orleans. Is this how we repay them? By kicking them out of apartments, refusing a ride to the store, and expecting the police to waste time attempting to understand things like I-20's, AOS, pending I-130s, removal paperwork and DS-2019s?

Don't we have a highly funded federal agency that was created to deal with this issue? I seem to remember it's called the Department of Homeland Security.

Shame on lawmakers for a hot-headed, childish response to a complicated issue.
Amen, sister!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Mother's Day GOP-Style

When I first read this, I thought it was a joke. But it wasn't:

On Wednesday afternoon, the House had just voted, 412 to 0, to pass H. Res. 1113, "Celebrating the role of mothers in the United States and supporting the goals and ideals of Mother's Day," when Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), rose in protest.

"Mr. Speaker, I move to reconsider the vote," he announced.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who has two young daughters, moved to table Tiahrt's request, setting up a revote. This time, 178 Republicans cast their votes against mothers.
How sad and pathetic. Apparently, the GOP did this as a stalling tactic to prevent meaningful legislation on housing foreclosure relief from being considered. It's shameless what the GOP will do to try to score some cheap political points. And they wonder why they're now in the minority and are likely to stay there for a good, long while. Phooey on those grinches. Happy Mother's Day anyway!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Laughing at Limbaugh

Clinton in cahoots with Rush Limbaugh. Operation Chaos. That struck me as one of the most absurd things ever to happen. And the fact that Clinton did nothing to counter it also was absurd, albeit depressing. Now that Operation Chaos failed to produce what Limbaugh hoped, Limbaugh's flip-flopping:

"I now believe he would be the weakest of the Democrat nominees," Limbaugh, among the most powerful voices in conservative radio, said on his program. "I now urge the Democrat supereldegates to make your mind up and publicly go for Obama."

"Barack Obama has shown he cannot get the votes Democrats need to win – blue-collar, working class people," Limbaugh also said. "He can get effete snobs, he can get wealthy academics, he can get the young, and he can get the black vote, but Democrats do not win with that."
What a joke! Limbaugh first tells Republicans to cross over, participate in Democratic Primaries, and vote for Clinton. Now, he's telling Democratic superdelegates to choose Obama! And he's using the same rationale that Clinton is using: Obama can't get the "blue-collar, working class people." Does Rush Limbaugh think we're that stupid? Does he think this is some kind of reverse psychology thing? Limbaugh is clinical. Anything that comes out of his mouth is intened to serve only one cause: vilifying liberals and keeping the Democrats out of power. So he wants Democrats to pick Obama because he thinks Obama is the weakest candidate? Well, if Limbaugh is trying to convince Democrats that Obama is the weakest candidate against the GOP, you can bank on Obama being the strongest candidate. Limbaugh is absolutely terrified of an Obama candidacy and is doing whatever he can, including advancing Hillary Clinton's arguments once again, to try to prevent Obama's nomination. He thinks that if he puts the Limbaugh kiss of death on Obama, he will frighten Democratic superdelegates into choosing Clinton, whom he has said repeatedly in the past would be the easiest to defeat. I laugh at Limbaugh. And I hope he gets what he now apparently wants: an Obama candidacy.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Did Hillary Just Slip Us A Hint About The End of Her Candidacy?

Was it just me, or did anyone else pick up on this, too? In her Indiana "victory" speech, Clinton declared that, no matter what happened in the primary, she would support the eventual Democratic candidate. Now my question is: what candidate ever talks in the third person about supporting him or herself? Sure, we all know what she meant to say; but it seemed to me that we witnessed a bit of an uncharacteristic rhetorical slip here that reveals some recognition in Hillary's deepest psyche of the writing on the wall auguring the end of her campaign. By my read, Hillary, in an unguarded moment, let recognition of the inevitability of an Obama nomination sneak out in her comment. Think about it: only candidates who recognize defeat speak in the third person of supporting the eventual nominee. In other words, about a nominee who is presumably not the person making such a promise of support.

Obama, by contrast, talks like a winner does. He speaks in general terms when he says that the Democratic Party will be united against McCain come November. His rhetoric is more that of one not only assuaging the fears of his followers about whether Hillary's supporters will get on board with his candidacy against McCain, but also trying to reach out to Hillary's supporters in such a was so as to make his campaign a welcoming place for them.

I think we're seeing a little bit of a crack in the Clinton armor here. Hillary Clinton may be obsessed with putting on the happy face and desperately trying not to admit the inescapable truth of the end of her candidacy, but any sentient and intelligent human being, even the clinically blinded-to-reality ones, can't keep up pretenses all the time. Sure, Hillary Clinton's exhaustion probably allowed for this unguarded comment to slip out, but it still shows nonetheless that she's positioning herself as the second place supporter of Barack Obama's certain nomination.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What Does One Get for An Act of Mercy or Kindness?

God promises us a heavenly reward for this behavior, and Louisiana Legislator Brett F. Geymann threatens us with prison time for it. Here's the relevant section of HB 1357:

D.(1) Whoever commits the crime of unlawfully harboring, concealing, or sheltering an alien on a first conviction shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars, or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.
(2) Whoever commits the crime of unlawfully harboring, concealing, or sheltering an alien on a second or subsequent conviction shall be fined not more than two thousand dollars, or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.
Here's the relevant section of HB 1358:
D.(1) Whoever commits the crime of unlawfully transporting an alien on a first conviction shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars, or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.
(2) Whoever commits the crime of unlawfully transporting an alien on a second or subsequent conviction shall be fined not more than two thousand dollars, or imprisoned with or without hard labor for not more than one year, or both.
And And Brett F. Geymann calls himself a Christian. Go figure.

Read the legislation as written. If you think individual acts of kindness towards your migrant neighbors are exempt from the sweeping provisions of this poorly-crafted legislation, you're sadly mistaken. The fact is that even giving your migrant neighbor a ride to Church on Sunday can land you in jail. What kind of legislation would potentially criminalize this kind of behavior? Bad legislation, that's what.

Regardless of where you stand on the question of illegal immigration, you must recognize these pieces of legislation are an affont to basic human decency, they criminalize simple acts of charity or neighborlihess, and they target citizens who are just trying to live good lives by their fellow human beings. There must be better ways to deal with the problem of illegal immigration than by criminalizing the charitable acts of mercy and simple kindness done by citizens.

Please, contact your Louisiana state legislators and demand that they stop this abomination by voting against these measures.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

"Codifying Bigotry" and Selling It as Humanitarianism

The Times-Picayune, in spite of the fact that it completely mangles the legislator in question's name, has an editorial in today's paper that nails the essence of the mean-spirited immigration legislation being proposed:

When Lake Charles Rep. Mike [sic] Geymann pulled some ill-conceived bills on immigration enforcement last month, he promised to address critics' concerns before refiling them. [My note: The legislator's name is Brett F. Geymann.]

The changes he made failed to correct the flaws -- yet the bills sailed out of the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice last week.

Lawmakers should recognize the widespread problems these proposals would cause, even for citizens and legal residents. The Legislature should reject the proposals. If not, Gov. Bobby Jindal should veto the bills.

Committee members unanimously passed House Bill 1357, which replaced House Bill 24, to make it a crime to "harbor, conceal or shelter" illegal residents. They also unanimously passed House Bill 25 to require law enforcement agencies to determine the citizenship or immigration status of every person arrested.

A third proposal, House Bill 1358, replacing House Bill 26, would make it a crime to transport illegal residents. Only Rep. Damon Baldone of Houma voted against it.

Rep. Geymann changed the bills on transporting and harboring illegal immigrants to allow for "humanitarian aid" by non-profit groups.

But he failed to address other serious problems.

Rep. Geymann says he is targeting people who "exploit illegal immigrants" by transporting them for high fees, but his bills do not make such a distinction.

Also, immigration enforcement is the purview of federal law. That's why courts ruled unconstitutional a 2002 Louisiana law making it a felony to drive without proof of legal residency. The new proposals face the same hurdle.

Even more worrisome, the new proposals would mandate police to require proof of citizenship or legal residence. It might also lead individuals or businesses to do the same out of fear of violating the law. The vast majority of Americans, however, have no proof of citizenship and could be unnecessarily detained after an arrest while they wait for relatives or lawyers to produce documents.

Maybe Rep. Geymann walks around with his passport or birth certificate. But most people do not, and they closely guard such documents because of the personal information they contain.

Legal permanent residents carry so-called "green cards" to prove their status. But not all legal residents get portable proof of legal status. Foreigners attending universities on student visas, for example, do not generally have documents on them.

Without a practical way to determine who is a citizen and who is not, police will resort to discrimination and racial profiling. That's what happened with the 2002 law, which unfairly targeted Hispanic-looking people whether they were citizens or not.

Rep. Gaymann [sic] should not tolerate these unintended consequences. Neither should lawmakers or Louisianians.
I wrote about these bills a while ago. The inherent bigotry remains. To wit: (1) Any "good samaritan" who gives a ride to an undocumented migrant is subject to criminal prosecution under this legislation. (2) Any public transportation provider that lets an undocumented migrant hop on the bus or the trolley without profiling them and asking for proper documentation potentially faces similar charges. (3) Foreigners who are here legally are subject to harrassment by local law enforcement by random checks based on nothing more than a snap judgment about whether someone looks like he or she might be an immigrant.

I deal with foreign students here on a legal student visa regularly. We advise these students NOT to travel around with their visa paperwork because if it gets lost or stolen, they face mountains of headaches to prove their legal status and recover their proper documentation. Yet, this recent legislation forces law enforcement officers to racially profile these foreign students and to arrest them if they find such students without their visa paperwork on hand.

No matter how I try to be understanding of Geymann's legislation, I cannot get around the impression that bigotry must be the fundamental motivation behind these pieces of legislation as written. Here's Geymann dishonestly explaining his legislation as an effort to help and protect (!?!?!) undocumented migrants:
Geymann's bills would punish anyone who knowingly helps move, hide, or hire illegal immigrants; unless the person is directly affiliated with an approved non-profit organization. "We're not here to go after church and charity groups and good citizens. We are after people trying to exploit these illegal immigrants," Rep. Geymann of Lake Charles says.
What a shameless liar and hustler. If Geymann, humanitarian Christian he claims to be, really wanted not to demonize and dehumanize undocumented migrants, he wouldn't have referred to them as "illegal aliens" to start. Second, he could have crafted legislation much more carefully to address the supposed concerns he has about protecting undocumented migrants from exploitation. In fact, we know that Geymann is actually opposed to crafting legislation that attempts to address the potentially punitive, anti-"Good Samaritan" nature of the bills. Damon Baldone, a state legislator from Houma, proposed an amendment to Geymann's legislation to try to address this concern:
Baldone unsuccessfully pressed for bill amendments that would exempt people assisting illegal immigrants for "humanitarian aid."

Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, who sponsored the three bills, and others opposed the amendments, arguing that they would create large loopholes.
Shameless. Who would have ever thought that Christian acts of kindness would ever be thought of as "large loopholes." We get into heaven by doing such acts of kindness for our neighbors, and yet this fool Geymann wants to put us into prison for it.

My friend Tom Greene, a Jesuit Priest, put it perfectly:
The Rev. Tom Greene of the Loyola University Jesuit Social Research Institute said many priests, nuns and friendly citizens - who are not part of exempted nonprofits - could suffer for kind-heartedly driving illegal immigrants to the grocery or to church.

"This bill isn't anti-immigration," Greene said. "It's become anti-citizen and anti-good Samaritan."
I know for a fact that Geymann had at his disposal immigration specialists and attorneys who were more than willing to help him craft legislation that would really have protected undocument migrants from exploitation without dehumanizing them. If he really wanted to "protect" undocumented migrant workers from exploitation, he would have been much more explicit in what he hoped to prohibit with these pathetic and bigotry-pandering pieces of legislation. Instead, he simply wants to make even common human decency towards people a criminal act, just because the people who are the recipients of such human kindness happen to be from another country and don't have official paperwork to be here legally. In fact, he's even willing to subject those foreigners here legally to the indignities of being profiled and harrassed in his big net efforts to deal with the "problem" of undocumented migrants. It's a pathetic act of mean-spiritedness, if not outright bigoted hostility.

To my fellow Louisianians, if you have a conscience, write your local legislators demanding that they stand up against this un-Christian, inhumane, mean-spirited, and, yes, bigotry-rooted legislation.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Ashley Morris would have had a field day with this little exchange between National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez (K-Lo) and Jonah Goldberg. Actually, K-Lo starts off the dialogue with a seemingly respectable sentiment about New Orleans. She writes:

One of the Biggest Mistakes the GOP has Made this Cycle [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
The Republican convention should be in New Orleans this year. We thought so. I still do, listening to Jindal. This is conservatism's future.
05/02 02:10 PM
Putting aside the fact that she seems to want to support New Orleans only to the extent that it furthers her conservative partisan interests, one might find her seeming desire to do something positive for New Orleans as admirable. Goldberg posted in response:
New Orleans in August? [Jonah Goldberg]
Hmmm, I dunno Kathryn. I was at the last GOP convention in N.O. in 1988. The two most enduring adjectives: Hot & Moist.
05/02 02:32 PM
Then we get this asinine reply from K-Lo, a reply which exposes how little she really cares for New Orleans beyond what it can do for her cherished conservatism's future:
re: New Orleans in August? [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
There is actually air conditioning there now again.
05/02 02:57 PM
Yeah, K-Lo, why don't you make a trip to that backwards, third-world cesspool known as New Orleans because it'll assuage your guilt for having supported a leader whose sorry performance in the wake of Katrina cost real human lives. Keep your sorry conservative selves in your sorry conservative cocoons in your sorry conservative Washington, DC, bunkers. We don't need your friggin' faux pity, your detestable "compassionate" conservatism, and your sickening partisan condescension. You ain't welcome here.

UPDATE: Sunday, May 4, 2008, 11:08AM: In keeping with my intent to keep this blog's language as clean as possible, this post was edited to remove some profane language references and inferences. I got a little carried away; but it's fixed now.

Whither Jazz Fest

I went to Jazz Fest last Sunday on a free ticket. I volunteered in a T-Shirt booth as part of a fundraiser for Lusher School. So, I had to work from 9am to 2:30pm, after which I was supposed to have time to enjoy the fest. No sooner did I punch out and begin my stroll around the Fairgrounds, did the heavens open and the rain come pouring down. I got drenched. It was, really, miserable. But, that's not why I'm writing. I've just been thinking more and more about the cost of a ticket to Jazz Fest and have been getting more and more upset by it. I used to go to the Fest 3-5 times when tickets were in the $12-$15 range and food was in the $3-$5 range. Now, it's $50 to walk through the door and the food is up to $5-$8. Forget about the drinks. Better to just be well-hydrated before going into the doors.

My assessment of what the Jazz Fest has become: It sucks. Not the music, mind you. But the exclusivity caused by the ticket prices. It's now a yuppie, out-of-town thing. There are very few of the local working classes that go to the Fest anymore. It's pretty racially homogenous. And the spread of fold up chairs staking out personal spaces has basically ruined the community feel of standing in a jostling, good-spirited crowd. In short, again: It sucks. I may continue to go the Fest if I can get a free ticket in exchange for volunteering as a fundraiser for my children's schools; but it just doesn't have the same feel that it used to and I would much rather spend the $150+ that a Fest experience for my family would cost on a family dinner at Lola's instead.