Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

On the Imminent Danger of Anybody-But-a-Republican(ism)

December 16, 2011

Does anybody remember “Anybody but Bush” (or “Anyone-but-Bush)? As we ramp up into the next election cycle, many are beginning to rally around the “Anybody-but-a Republican” flag, and as we do so amidst an epic mix of multiple and intertwined and uncharted crises, some of us are asking ‘What did Anybody-but-Bushism get us?’

A quick review reveals that it got us such “progressive victories” as 3 wars, the deportation of 1 million migrants, the secret transfer of $7.7 TRILLION in loans to failed banks, the shredding of the US Constitution, a sharp acceleration of the police state-militarization within the US borders,not to mention a continuation of many of the worst policies of the Bush era.

War, militarism, anti-immigrant policies, enabling corporate greed and corporate domination of our lives, destroying basic rights,building a police state-this is the essence of Bushism, Republicanism and other isms that constitute the worst of our time. Obama did not just “inherit” these failed Bush policies; He’s expanding and perfecting them to protect the citizens that selected Bush and “elected” Obama, corporate citizens.

There’s no better foreshadowing of the perceived need of the 1% minority to close ranks and “protect” their interests from the 99% majority than Obama’s shocking reversal of his stated intention to veto the  defense bill authorizing for the first time in US history, the possibility and likelihood of the secret and indefinite detention of US citizens on US soil.

Already, recent developments in England may preview the ways in which the same federal and local authorities trying to destroy Occupy Wall Street will start the process of morphing an Occupy rally or action into a “belligerent act” of “terrorism” resulting in the swift arrest and disappearance of US citizens by the Pentagon.

In the face of the “disaster” and drastic crisis of civil liberties we face, it’s important to consider how, in our desperation to defeat Bush, we may have created the very conditions for the distortion or even the destruction of the enterprise of “Hope.” Beware: the election year siren’s song of “Anybody-but-a Republican”ism is beginning anew, and ringing louder than the sound cannons at an Occupy rally.

Before the breathtakingly “dangerous” announcement of measures that will, in the words of Human Rights Watch (HRW) President Ken Roth, turn Obama into “the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law,” (Roth and HRW also called Obama’s decision a “A Historic Tragedy for Rights“), we should interrogate and undertand the imminent danger posed by Anybody-but-a-Republican(ism); Doing so is urgent, especially when consider that constitutional law professor Obama’s savaging of the Constitution reflects how national and global elites are feverishly preparing for the serious possibility of the Great Depression signalled by International Monetary Fund President Christine Lagarde’s rather stunning statement that our current global economic situation resembles “exactly the description of what happened in the 1930s, and what followed is not something we are looking forward to.”

As should be obvious to all but the “party faithful”, Obama, the”leader of the free world” and the 1%er interests that define him are doing in the US what more nakedly repressive “leaders” and 1%ers across the planet are doing:  preparing,arming themselves legally, politically (i.e. the Obama deception) and militarily (as in arming against your own citizenry ala Egypt, Greece, Chile, India, China, Mexico, Russia, ad infinitum) for the crisis that looms, the crisis that Obama and other global corporate and military elite know is coming much better and far deeper than the rest of us do.

Given this situation, we must look soberly at whatever value is left in our degraded vote, our increasingly hollowed-out citizenship after the  unholy alliance of corporations, the Supreme Court, the corporate media and other powers ate them. For what little it’s worth (i.e. the vote of corporate citizens matters billion$ more than yours) your vote should be backed up by a moral force greater, a justification smarter than the new Anybody-but-Bushism: “voting for the lesser of two evils.”

If that’s all you’re basing your vote on, then maybe you need a break from living in that 1%er-ruled electoral sewer  and should instead try climbing up and marching onto the dignity of the streets, meeting people, organizing people, Occupying, and, most importantly, looking for less polluted political horizons as if your , our future depends on it-because it does.

Those horizons are there if you allow yourself to end the  indignity of forcing your wild mind and big heart into the solitary political confinement controlled by corporate overseers; the indignity of a mental dungeon that tortures you by making you lie to yourself, forcing you to repeat mantra-like the words “the second term will be better,”; the indignity that reduces you to creating fantastic, mythological excuses for why Obama is not heralding a newer, friendlier-faced equivalent-or worsening- of the very policy evils you fear and loath in Republicans.

Hope is still there-if you put your mind and heart to work without ceasing to find them beyond your current political horizons. Seek and ye shall find…

Obama’s Vision of “Truly Civil” Immigrant Prison Reform: More Prisoners, More Prisons

August 6, 2009

An article in today’s New York Times provides an outline of the Obama Administration’s vision of immigrant detention reform: more prisoners, more prisons-but a “truly civil system” . That there will be no fundamental changes to the massively corrupt and widely criticized detention system can be seen in these statements from the story:

– John Morton,head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): “Detention on a large scale must continue, he said, “but it needs to be done thoughtfully and humanely.”

– “So far, the new administration has embraced many of those policies, expanding a program to verify worker immigration status that has been widely criticized, bolstering partnerships between federal immigration agents and local police departments, and rejecting a petition for legally binding rules on conditions in immigration detention.”

“Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, said last week that she expected the number of detainees to stay the same or grow slightly.”

– “Asked if his vision could include building new civil detention centers, he (Morton) said yes.

As can be seen from these statements coming from Administration officials, President Obama appears willing to maintain and even expand a system of immigrant prisons that civil and human rights organizations across the country and around the world have criticized for the subhuman conditions and deaths found in that system.

The Obama Administration’s talk of “truly civil” immigrant prisons and of imprisoning immigrants more “thoughtfully and humanely” are reminiscent of similar talk by the Bush Administration. After civil and human rights groups criticized the Bush Administration for the the terror fostered by and the illegality of its raids, Bush’s Homeland Security officials began talking about how they would “humanize” immigration raids. A recent report by the Cardozo School of Law documented how the widespread racial profiling and other violations have continued even after the announcement to “humanize” the raids, raids -and violations-that continue under the Obama Administration.

Many immigrant prison reform advocates believe that failure to fundamentally alter the “crimmigration” laws that have caused the immigrant prison population to mushroom over the past several years, means that such announcements by the Obama Administration will ring as hollow as President Obama’s talk of “racial profiling” did after his administration quietly announced an expansion of 287(G),one of the largest racial profiling programs in the history of federal government.

It is doubtful that any but those desperate to either secure favor from or provide political cover to the Obama Administration will lend their public approval to what many consider an insulting attempt to put a cosmetic cover on the beaten, bruised and sometimes dead body of the rotting detention system. It is also doubtful that pronouncements of a “truly civil”immigrant prison system will do anything to stop the increased attacks on Janet Napolitano -and Obama- from their allies in the immigrant rights community. If anything, the pronouncements may intensify that anger by virtue of the insult to their intelligence and moral sensibilities many advocates may feel such a cosmetic politic of prison reform represents.

Democracy Now! Interview on Obama’s Other Racial Profiling Problem, 287(G)

July 29, 2009

Democracy Now!

I think Aarti & I do a duo decent job of walking people thru the complexities-legal & political, ideological and moral-of the Obama Administration’s racist program. Please find a clip below of the very thought-provoking and in-depth 37 minute interview. Full interview available here and full transcript below. Check it out!

Obama Admin Expands Law Enforcement Program 287(g), Criticized for Targeting Immigrants and Increasing Racial Profiling


The Obama administration has expanded the controversial 287(g) program, which allows local law enforcement agencies to enter into agreements with Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, effectively giving local police the powers of federal immigration agents. The agreements have been widely criticized for increasing racial profiling and singling out immigrants for arrest without suspicion of crime. We speak to Aarti Shahani of Justice Strategies and Roberto Lovato of New America Media. [includes rush transcript]


Aarti Shahani, lead author of “Local Democracy on ICE,” a report on the 287(g) program by the nonpartisan criminal justice institute Justice Strategies. She is also a co-founder of Families for Freedom.

Roberto Lovato, contributing associate editor with New America Media and a frequent contributor to The Nation and the Huffington Post. He was previously the executive director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), then the country’s largest immigrant rights organization. He blogs at Of America.

Rush Transcript

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AMY GOODMAN: We begin today with a look at immigration enforcement under the Obama administration. Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the expansion of the controversial 287(g) program to eleven new locations across the country. This program allows local law enforcement agencies to enter into agreements with Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. It effectively gives local police the powers of federal immigration agents.

287(g) agreements have been widely criticized for increasing racial profiling and singling out immigrants for arrest without suspicion of crime. In Napolitano’s home state of Arizona, particularly under Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the 287(g) program is plagued with serious reports of abuse.

The Obama administration has also decided to expand and strengthen implementation of other controversial programs like E-Verify and Secure Communities. E-Verify is an electronic system that checks people’s eligibility to work, and Secure Communities brings ICE agents into local jails to identify and deport undocumented prisoners.

Well, here in New York, a coalition of immigration activists are gathering outside the Council on Foreign Relations today at the time of this broadcast, where Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is giving a speech about terrorism. The activists are protesting Napolitano’s expansion of immigration enforcement programs and calling for an end to abuses by ICE.

For more on this, we’re joined by two guests in the firehouse studio.

Aarti Shahani is the lead author of “Local Democracy on ICE,” a report on the 287(g) program by the nonpartisan criminal justice institute Justice Strategies. She is also co-founder of Families for Freedom.

Roberto Lovato is contributing associate editor with New America Media and a frequent contributor to The Nation and the Huffington Post. He was previously the executive director of the Central American Resource Center, CARECEN, then the country’s largest immigrant rights organization. He blogs at

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: OK, let’s begin with you, Aarti Shahani. 287(g), can you explain more fully what this means?

AARTI SHAHANI: Absolutely. The 287(g) program is essentially the program that turns traffic cops and jail guards into deportation agents. 287(g) refers to a piece of law passed in 1996 under then-President Bill Clinton but turned into an all-out program to recruit law enforcement into the deportation agenda under the Bush administration.

Our understanding, those of us who were watching Obama and had hopes in Obama, was that, under Obama, programs like 287(g) would be terminated, because they are driven off of a desire for racial profiling. Officers that want to be able to have the power to pick up Latinos, brown people, while driving, these are the self-selecting group of people that joined to 287(g). And unfortunately, two weeks ago, Napolitano gave us our first really blatant betrayal when she decided not only not to suspend 287(g), but to expand it around the country.

Notably, she gave this program—she reinitiated the contract with Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. Mind you, Joe Arpaio is currently under federal investigation. The Department of Justice, Eric Holder is investigating his use of the program. Meanwhile, Napolitano is going ahead and handing it off to him.

Among the other participants that were recruited newly into the program—Arpaio is an old participant in it—a new recruit is, for example, Morristown, New Jersey, where the chief of police himself had no idea his own agency was being recruited into 287(g). Last night, Morristown had a community meeting of 150 community members, where people—for example, a woman said, “Listen, imagine if you’re a victim of domestic violence. If we have this program in Morristown, New Jersey, how can you call the police? Because the police will come, they will deport your husband, even if you don’t want that, and they could even deport you.” This was a fear.

There was another anecdote last night about a guy in Morristown, actually a white guy who loves bachata music. He was saying that “I was driving in my convertible the other day, top down, listening to my bachata. The police stopped me.” They don’t even have 287(g) yet. “The police stopped me and said in Spanish, ‘Give me your driver’s license.’ And they spoke worse Spanish than me, and I responded in Spanish, as a white guy, ‘I don’t even’—you know, I gave them the driver’s license, responded in Spanish, and it was so clear that they assumed that I was Latino, because I don’t have blue eyes, because I’m Italian American.” And so, you can see that the places where this program is really coming up are places that want to do racial profiling.

And Napolitano’s decision to go ahead and expand the program, I think, needs to be taken, as those—by those who are watching, as a real misstep. You know, there is right now, for example, even within the Democratic Party, people were pissed at her, in large part because Democrats that have been campaigning for a comprehensive immigration reform want to be able to trade off enforcement for legalization. And so, within the Democratic Party, there was some criticism that, strategically, Napolitano is just handing off enforcement through things like 287(g) and E-Verify, rather than letting them being able to trade it off for legalization down the line. So there’s—on a lot of fronts, she’s disappointed a lot of people.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it work in Maricopa, in Arizona?

AARTI SHAHANI: So, I mean, how it works is a great question, and it really seems to work different ways in different places. The fundamental thing about 287(g) is ICE is marketing it as a program that targets criminal illegal aliens, the worst of the worst. But there’s a baseline fact, which is that police already have the power to arrest people for crimes; that power rests in criminal law. And so, 287(g) comes in precisely when you lack reasonable suspicion of a crime, when you lack evidence, and when you’re trying to hold someone on a civil immigration detainer, because under a civil immigration detainer you don’t have the same constitutional protections as a regular criminal arrest.

So 287(g) basically opens the gateway for sloppy policing. That’s why law enforcement officers like Joe Arpaio—I mean, Joe Arpaio has told me, you know, “287(g) takes the handcuffs off of law enforcement. That’s why we want it.”

The way that it’s worked in Maricopa County is through these, quote-unquote, “crime suppression sweeps,” where really what you have is the sheriff’s deputies and then a volunteer force that includes people that are white nationalists going around the city or going around the county, going into different areas in Mesa and rounding people up. That’s how it’s been working over there.

AMY GOODMAN: This is what, well, at the time, Governor Napolitano presided over? Is it fair to say that? “Presided over”?

AARTI SHAHANI: Napolitano presided—Napolitano actually brokered the first 287(g) program in Arizona and then helped Arpaio to get his.

Now, one real—one way that she’s really speaking out of both sides of her mouth over here is that she is saying that “My administration, Homeland Security under me, is going to clean up the detention system.” We’ve had upwards of a hundred deaths in civil immigration detention. It’s a totally mismanaged system that’s grown from 5,000 in 1994 to over 40,000 today. And she has actually brought in a corrections guru, Dora Schriro, who knows all about managing corrections, to come and clean up the system. So she’s saying, “We’re going to get basic standards in detention. We’re going to manage it properly.” So, that’s one side of her mouth.

On the other side is expanding this program, which is basically a backdoor way to add, you know, anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 new beds in detention, without calling it that. The fact is, Joe Arpaio isn’t just running a program that picks Latinos off of the streets for being Latino; he’s then throwing these same people into Tent City, a jail that’s not even accredited anymore federally, because its standards are so poor, and holding them there de facto as immigration civil detainees.

So it makes no sense that, on the one hand, Napolitano says we’re going to clean up detention, and, on the other hand, through 287(g), she continues to rely on Joe’s beds.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and come back to this discussion. Aarti Shahani is the lead author in “Local Democracy on ICE,” a report on the 287(g) program by the nonpartisan criminal justice institute. And we’ll be joined by Roberto Lovato. As we speak, a protest is going on outside the Council on Foreign Relations, where Janet Napolitano is speaking about terrorism. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about immigration policy in this country. Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona, now secretary of Homeland Security, is in New York to address the Council on Foreign Relations; a major protest is going on outside.

Our guests are Aarti Shahani, lead author of “Local Democracy on ICE,” and Roberto Lovato, contributing associate editor with New America Media.

I wanted to turn for a moment to President Obama. President Obama spoke last month about his plans for immigration reform. This is a brief excerpt of what he had to say. Then I’ll get your responses.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think the consensus is that despite the—our inability to get this passed over the last several years, the American people still want to see a solution, in which we are tightening up our borders or cracking down on employers who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages, and oftentimes mistreat those workers. And we need a effective way to recognize and legalize the status of undocumented workers who are here.

    My administration is fully behind an effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. I have asked my secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Janet Napolitano, to lead up a group that is going to be working with a leadership group from both the House and the Senate to start systematically working through these issues. From the congressional leaders and those with the relevant jurisdiction, what we’ve heard is, through a process of regular order, they would like to work through these issues both in the House and in the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Roberto Lovato, why don’t we begin with you? Your response to President Obama?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Well, I think we all applaud some form of a reform. And what is proven to be the most decrepit, ill-managed and rotten system, when you talk about the hundred deaths that Aarti mentioned and all the people that aren’t being fed or that are being fed baloney that’s rotten and just really nasty things—

AMY GOODMAN: When you say “fed baloney that’s rotten,” you’re talking about Joseph Arpaio, the—

ROBERTO LOVATO: Joe Arpaio’s jail, feeding people baloney, putting—dressing them in pink. I mean, so there’s a whole system of humiliation, death and disgrace upon the Obama administration that’s not really talked about.

When you have these big meetings with senators or when President Obama goes before, say, the NAACP, as he did on July 15th, or when he’s going to have his couple of beers with Henry Louis Gates and the policeman, you know, in those meetings, we hear a lot about civil rights and about how far we’ve come and how far we need to go. And we even have mention of racial profiling. But then it’s taken back. What’s not taken back is the fact that 287(g), that Aarti described, is one of the most massive racial profiling programs of the federal government in history.

And the announcement of this, Amy, is really interesting. The 287(g) expansion, we were—a lot of people were just expecting it was going to be closed down—that’s why they’re protesting at the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York right now—thought that, you know, with Obama there was a new day in race and racial profiling and 287(g) and Joe Arpaio are done. In fact, they’re expanding that program. And as a result, they’re expanding a program that has been proven to profile, prosecute, persecute and jail and terrorize a lot of people.

It’s funny that Janet Napolitano is talking about terrorism. I’ve been around the country interviewing undocumented immigrants pretty much everywhere, except a few states in the Northeast, and I’ve seen people’s hands shake like they did when I was in El Salvador, or their faces twitch. That’s terror. That’s post-traumatic stress disorder that’s caused by that. So, a lot of activists, I think, are finding a hypocrisy on a historic scale made by a historic new presidency, in terms of them talking about preventing terrorism or being against racial profiling, when, in fact, the 287(g) program and other programs like it foster new and extreme levels of terrorism and racial profiling. So it’s just—there’s a lot of people that aren’t very happy with the Obama administration.

And there’s—and you see the split that Aarti mentioned. There are groups that are more sympathetic and close to the Democrats in Washington, DC, and those groups are very good about talking about legalization. National Council of La Raza, National Immigration Forum and others are more than happy to talk about legalization, and they’ll criticize, on the side, detention. But they won’t make reform of the detention system, abolishing the most racist program, one of the most racist programs, of the federal government a part of comprehensive immigration reform. So, when you hear and when we hear and when your audience hears the words “comprehensive immigration reform,” that’s code for legalization in exchange for even more programs like 287(g), more laws that are going to prosecute, persecute, jail, and probably end up killing more immigrants. And so, comprehensive immigration reform, everybody, is code for more enforcement in exchange for legalization.

AMY GOODMAN: Aarti Shahani?

AARTI SHAHANI: I echo what Roberto says, and I think that there’s another point to keep in mind about programs like 287(g). Right now, there is space to reconsider what is going to happen with our immigration system. Under Bush, we were set back. Immigration, for the first time in history, became institutionalized as a homeland security issue. Back in 2002, 2003, there were people who were saying immigration does not belong in Homeland Security. It is not a counterterrorism issue. If anything, it’s a labor issue, it’s an international relations issue; put it in the State Department, so on and so forth. So, right now, given that we’re not touching comprehensive immigration reform until healthcare, which could be four months or four years—who knows, right?—given that we’re not touching it until then, now is the time for the Obama administration and the people who are watching the Obama administration to really flag a few issues.

One is that we need to turn away from the Bush policy of attrition. OK? What Janet Napolitano is calling “partnerships” with local law enforcement agencies—she keeps on talking about this great word of “partnerships”—that’s in fact a war of attrition. When you go ahead and you enlist and deputize, you know, what could be thousands of agencies to start basically being deportation agents, you’re bringing the border to the interior. That’s not policy that makes sense. That is Bush-era policy, and that is bringing a reign of terror into communities that are, at this point, hands trembling, afraid to leave. People have already left Morristown, New Jersey, before 287(g) has even gotten there, because of fear. These are things that we can’t afford to allow to happen.

I think the other thing is that there is a real struggle right now in terms of the controlling this debate. You know, and you had, for example—under the Bush administration, you had the Police Foundation, whose president is Hubert Williams, testifying against programs like 287(g), saying, “This is a terrible idea. Police don’t want to engage in racial profiling.” Now the danger is that because we have a Democratic administration, Democratic leaders are not going to speak out against these same policies. There has been no substantive change in 287(g). In fact, the program may have worsened between Bush and Obama. But suddenly, Democrats are afraid to call out Democrats on this. This is something that we have to keep very aware of, because it’s now harder to be indignant about the same injustices that are happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Aarti Shahani, in addition to your report, “Democracy on ICE,” the Benjamin Cardozo Law School just put out a report on abuses by ICE officers here in this area, in Staten Island, in New Jersey. Can you talk about the significance of their findings?

AARTI SHAHANI: Yes. Cardozo School of Law Immigration Clinic put out a phenomenal report actually called “Constitution on ICE.” It seems like a lot of things are on ICE these days. But “Constitution on ICE” really deals with the abuse of immigration detainers. OK, I mentioned this a little bit earlier. But this report, what it does is document that ICE has been conducting home raids exponentially more and more since about 2002.

For these home raids, ICE issues for itself a warrant to go ahead into somebody’s home when they’re trying to apprehend—apprehend people that they call absconders, fugitive aliens, people with old deportation orders or possibly people with old criminal convictions. OK? ICE goes into homes, and what Cardozo documented, through FOIA requests and through getting information, forcing it out, was that consistently ICE was violating the terms of the warrants that they issue for themselves. They were physically breaking into homes. They were doing collateral arrests. So, “We’re here looking for Juan Diego. Oh, Juan Diego is here? Well, we’ll take him, Ana Diego and Pablo Diego and whoever else happens to be.” There were plenty of Pakistanis among [inaudible] issues, as well. So what Cardozo School of Law did was document what basically people have known anecdotally, which is that ICE is not abiding by the terms of the detainer. They’re going ahead and, you know, rapidly abusing the detainer.

And again, to tie this back to 287(g), you know, if Cardozo School of Law has documented that ICE is abusing detainers, 287(g) gives regular criminal law enforcement the power to also issue and abuse detainers. ICE can’t manage its own detainer system. How is it going to oversee other officers doing it? I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: And the way they go into these houses, shotguns…

AARTI SHAHANI: I mean, it’s crazy. You’re talking about, you know, SWAT teams of seven to ten officers, bulletproof vests, shotguns. They recently—or under the Bush administration, they changed up their jackets that used to say “ICE”; now it says “ICE Police.” Technically, ICE isn’t supposed to be police. They’re not criminal law enforcement officials; they’re civil authorities, at least the ones that are going in for these raids.

I mean, you have people, like I know, for example, a family in Brooklyn. They’re members of Families—I’m sorry, in the Bronx, members of Families for Freedom, where an eleven-year-old girl had to basically answer the door as 6:00 a.m. to a team of eight ICE officers busting in, looking for her father—her father was in the shower getting cleaned up for work—taking her father and then taking her uncle, who wasn’t even listed on their warrant. So this is the way that detainers are basically being used and abused, under the Obama administration, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see this changing at all?

AARTI SHAHANI: It changes if we say it, right? It changes if we talk about it and expose it. There’s a deep concern right now that—there has never been a more important moment, I think, politically, and an opportunity, frankly, to call out what’s happening for the sake of redefining the agenda. The fact is, the Obama administration should stop treating immigration as a counterterrorism project. They should stop this war of attrition, this devolution of immigration authority. They should stop this rapid use of detainers, this expansive use of detainers. It’s probably in violation of the detainer laws.

And mind you, everything I’ve listed is administratively what they can do. Short of comprehensive immigration reform, there is so much that the Obama administration could be doing right now, but it seems like what they could be doing is in direct opposite—is directly opposite to what they are doing.

AMY GOODMAN: And final recommendations from your report, from “Democracy on ICE,” beyond what you’ve just described?

AARTI SHAHANI: I mean, we recommended in “Local Democracy on ICE” that you terminate the 287(g) program entirely, because it does not serve a public safety function. We also recommended that there be—that we create real reporting requirements for ICE to continue to receive funding. We are in a moment of economic crisis. ICE’s budget continues to grow. It’s over $6 billion today, which is larger than the budget of all of Haiti. It’s over $6 billion today. It’s continuing to grow. It’s continuing to get money from appropriations. And while our appropriators in Congress are pumping money into ICE, our Democratic appropriators are pumping money into ICE, they’re not creating any real reporting requirements so we can assess the effectiveness of the agency. So those are some basic recommendations we have.

AMY GOODMAN: Roberto Lovato, comment on that. And then I want to ask you about Honduras, a recent interview you did with a leading labor activist with the ongoing coup there.

ROBERTO LOVATO: Well, you know, Aarti laid out very comprehensively a system that people like scholars at Lewis and Clark University, Juliet Stumpf, call “crimmigration.” It’s basically a system of interlacing laws and enforcement practices that lead to profiling, prosecuting and jailing exponential numbers of Latinos, in much the same way, for example, that drug laws prosecuted, jailed African Americans, Latinos and other poor people in exponential numbers. So there’s a new industry afoot, the kind of migration-industrial complex that’s driven by things like what some call “crimmigration.”

And the Obama administration seems more than willing to entertain it. If a report by Syracuse University is right, that tracks immigration prosecution and detention, it shows that we’re now reaching, quote, “levels seen during the Bush administration,” the highest levels during the Bush administration. And so, if you’re concerned about civil rights, immigrant rights, Latino issues, African American, poor people’s issues, and you’ve been thinking about breaking with Barack Obama, you may want to join people over at the Council on Foreign Relations and other cities around the United States, where now I think the Obama administration, Janet Napolitano and President Obama, are going to be targeted by groups that are fed up with the jailing, prosecuting, racial profiling, terror and death of it all.

AMY GOODMAN: Honduras, very quickly, Roberto Lovato?

ROBERTO LOVATO: I interviewed Bertha Oliva, a preeminent, world-recognized human rights activist, head of the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared. And I was basically interviewing her about Secretary Clinton’s comments last week about the entrance of President Zelaya into Honduras as being, quote, “reckless.”

AMY GOODMAN: The fact that he went to the—the fact that he went to the border in Nicaragua.

ROBERTO LOVATO: Right, yeah. She said that it was “reckless.” And I asked Miss Oliva what she thought. And she thought that Secretary Clinton was being, quote, “reckless.” And she said, “Well, right now, we just had a bombing yesterday. And unfortunately—fortunately, there was nobody killed by the bombing, because everybody from that union that was bombed was over at the funeral of one of the victims, the latest victims, of the death squad killings,” which would give you some sense of the situation that Bertha Oliva believes that Secretary Clinton and President Obama are actually enabling, which is, you know, what are they communicating to people that are bombing unions, killing people, disappearing people, doing things that many of us remember and tremble at the thought of returning right now? And so, when she hears Secretary Clinton saying this, she’s outraged, like many people I’ve spoken to, about the lack of support for democracy, as we hear voiced in the case of Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: And we will certainly continue to follow developments in the coup in Honduras. This is Democracy Now! I want to thank you both for being with us. Roberto Lovato, contributing associate editor at New America Media, previously executive director of CARECEN, the Central American Resource Center. And Aarti Shahani, thank you for being with us, lead author on “Local Democracy on ICE,” a report on 287(g) program by the nonpartisan criminal justice institute Justice Strategies.

Historic Obama Presidency Pushing Racial Profiling Hypocrisy of Historic Proportions?

July 29, 2009


Can a president who is, by any measure, far more forthright and lyrical than his predecessors about the pernicious effects of racism simultaneously promote and expand the racist policies of past administrations? This is the question vexing many in immigrants rights, Latino, civil rights and other circles following what feels to them like the contradictory messages about racial profiling coming from the Obama Administration in recent weeks.

On the one hand, many observers applauded Obama’s July 15th speech to the NAACP convention and last week’s statements about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. Some found reassurance in statements like the one Obama made about the Gates incident last week: “…what we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that’s just a fact.”

But when they heard the crushing sound of new reports documenting the effects of the Obama Administration’s treatment of immigrants, the president’s MLK-like cadences on racial profiling rang hollow; A recently released report by Syracuse University concluded that “immigration enforcement under the Obama Administration is returning to the unusually high levels that were reached under President Bush.” Critics say that thousands of immigrants — and hundreds of U.S. citizens– continue to be prosecuted, jailed and deported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in no small part because of racial profiling.

That was the case of Brian Lyttle. In one of the hundreds of cases involving U.S. citizens, 31 year-old Lyttle, a North Carolinian who has no Mexican ancestry, speaks no Spanish and suffers from mental illness, was deported by ICE to Mexico last April.

Another damning report released last week by the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University analyzed the immigration raids of homes and workplaces conducted by ICE.

According to the report, the raids, which have continued under the Obama Administration, have resulted in the kinds of Constitutional violations and routine racial profiling exemplified most clearly by the fact that “approximately 90 percent of the collateral arrest records reviewed, where ICE officers did not note any basis for seizing and questioning the individual, were of Latino men and women – though Latinos represented only 66% of target arrests.” Both citizens and non-citizens have been arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or what ICE calls “collateral arrests” – arrests of people who are with or near someone who was ICE’s original “target.”

Virtually all advocates agree that the legal and policy foundations for such practices were laid by both the Clinton and Bush administrations. the result has been the creation of what legal scholar Juliet Stumpf calls the “crimmigration” system. Stumpf and others continue to decry an immigration system that, they believe, leads to the disproportionate profiling and incarceration (Latinos are now the largest group in federal prisons) of mostly poor immigrants in much the same way that harsh drug laws have lead to the disproportionate profiling of blacks, Latinos and other poor people that help make the united states home to the world’s most massive prison system. Coming from the Obama administration, one that created great expectations of change, the continuation and expansion of programs that systematically violate rights are beginning to wear thin the goodwill of immigrant defenders like Maria Muentes of the New York-based Families for Freedom.

“The nice speeches on race clash with the fact immigration enforcement is actually up under Obama; The levels of those incarcerated for immigration-related offenses look like they did during the Bush Administration,” said Muentes, whose organization advocates on behalf of detained immigrants. “Obama’s speeches on racial profiling seem to leave out a lot of people,” she lamented. “They exclude many immigrants, people for whom every aspect of their life is subject to racial profiling; people who are stopped while riding trains, people persecuted at work, people stopped while driving and all those families whose homes are terrorized by raids,” said Muentes.

Most disturbing to Muentes and other immigrant rights and Latino activists, many of whom have been ardent Obama supporters, was a very low-key announcement made on a late Friday afternoon just days after the President’s NAACP speech on racial profiling- by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: that the Obama Administration would not just continue, but actually expand what advocates say is one of the fastest-growing, most troubling racial profiling programs of the federal government, the 287(G) program. The initiative, which essentially deputizes state and local law enforcement officials to act as enforcers of federal immigration law, has been strongly criticized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and research institutes like Justice Strategies, which concluded that the Bush-era program is “driven more by racial animus than by concerns about public safety”.

Among the most demoralizing and irksome consequences of Obama Administration’s expansion of 287(G) is that the controversial program’s greatest benefactor, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, still has a federally sanctioned license to pursue and jail massive numbers of mostly Latino immigrants, as well as some citizens. Many law enforcement officials have also denounced 287(g) because it diverts policing resources from more traditional law enforcement functions. In 2008, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, noting that while Arpaio’s department was focused almost obsessively on locking up unauthorized immigrants 48,000 violent felons were at large in Maricopa County, moved to block a grant that helped fund the sheriff’s efforts.

More recently, anger at Obama’s expansion of 287(G) sparked an unprecedented and very direct denunciation by immigrant advocates from across the country, many of whom hadn’t previously criticized the Administration. A “Statement Condemning Obama Administration’s Expansion of DHS’s failed 287(g) Program” was signed by more than 25 groups from across the country including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Immigration Law Center and the Detention Watch Network.

Like many in the immigrants’ rights community who have generally been supportive of the Obama Administration, Jaqueline Esposito of the Detention Watch Network, one of the groups issuing the strongly-worded statement, finds her organization caught in the conflict between the spirit and the letter of policies promoting racial profiling.

“Detention Watch Network applauds the Obama Administration’s recent statements about racial profiling,” said Esposito. “But we are concerned because the Department of Homeland Security’s expansion of the 287(G) program is a direct contravention of the President’s statements. 287g has been widely criticized by government officials, immigrant rights advocates and many others, for undermining community safety and for racial profiling.”

For her part, Muentes fears that when it comes to racial profiling, Obama’s historic presidency may end up engendering hypocrisy of historic new proportions. “Some people thought that because he (Obama) is African American, it automatically means he will be more aware or critical of racial profiling against immigrants or others in the larger criminal justice system”, she continued. “That might not be the case.”

Time to Declare “Silence=Death” on Immigrant Death & Detention as Obama Signals Right On Reform?

May 8, 2009


This post was inspired by a spirited and sometimes overly visceral discussion on a listserv. More specifically, we were discussing recent statements by President Obama, who made “get tough” statements about the border and immigration reform during a press conference according to the right wing Washington Times reports,. “If the American people don’t feel like you can secure the borders,” Mr. Obama said at his press conference last week, “then it’s hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here, because the attitude of the average American is going to be, ‘Well, you’re just going to have hundreds of thousands of more coming in each year.’

Republicans say the shift is a sign that Mr. Obama, who during the campaign repeatedly called the issue a priority, is uncertain how to move forward.”

Such a debate and discussion would seem to fall along the same lines as the debate and discussion around immigration reform in 2006-except for 1 thing: we’re no longer in those halcyon days before 2006, days when all we had to worry urgently about were 3500-4000 people dying in the desert of crimmigration-filled U.S. migration policies first crafted by smiling Democrat Bill Clinton; we’ve reached a deadly stage where hating and dying and killing of immigrants are getting institutionalized on a national and unprecedented scale (anybody remember those who said “this will die down when we elect a Democrat”?)

Support for punitive policies has become dangerous and must be interrogated in open debate so that our communities can decide what is best by having all the facts; Better that than what too often passes for “immigration news”: the carefully crafted messages of powerful right wing and liberal groups with big budgets and lots of media power-PR, bloggers, pollsters, multimillion dollar campaigns and the like. In the media age, political legitimacy depends as much on media power as it does on moral power. You be the judge of which power prevails around immigration.

Some folks are starting to think about how to stop Obama’s effort to sell us the same old enforcement wine in the “hope”-filled new bottles of his political stardom. Will report back soon on this.

Though there is and will be a much-welcome, but hardly sufficient change of tone along with a softening on some enforcement, some forget that Obama has said absolutely nothing about altering or dismantling the massive multibillion dollar legal, bureaucratic and economic structures propped up in the name of “defending the homeland” from maids, gardeners and construction workers. The “tradeoff” will likely be supported by Obama, Dems, some big important and rich unions, Big Business (Ag,service,etc) DC advocates and the big foundations and other economic interests that support them as the main voices around “immigration reform”.

Whether these powerful liberal interests are willing to go the same dangerous tradeoff McCain-Kennedy route will ultimately depend on the ability of out-of-the-Beltway groups (or at least those intrepid enough to confront even the big foundations that fund them) and individuals to make it difficult to impossible to support any more punitive immigration policies without paying a high moral and political price. Making it widely known that you either support a moratorium on punitive policies ( as opposed to that embarrassing scarecrow that screams “they want to open up all the prisons) as part of a new CIR or you don’t. That wide Washingtonian gap has to be closed if there’s to be any shift in the deadly direction rooted in the immigrant=criminal premise underlying both right wing policies and the punitive components of CIR.

Of course, centrist Democrat Obama never promised any of this in his campaign. so, he is actually doing much of what he said he’d do, including dipping into the same civilizationally diseased pool of punitive policies-Obama’s support for the wall, his complete silence on the death and devastation in jails-and streets- and the inability to use his leadership pulpit to draw attention to the plight of those most mangled by the banker-led economic crisis and the hatred it’s unleashed, immigrants- yeah.

Obama should be the first to speak out against all the killings and hate towards immigrants, bu he doesn’t. just that would do alot. Yes, he’s got alot of other priorities. But silence in the face of so much devastation rained on migrants right now is, quite frankly an abomination for an openly declared Christian who used the images of Martin Luther King in his campaign. Just can’t imagine MLK either remaining silent before such officially and unofficially manifest injustice; Don’t see a suited up Jesus cutting deals in DC with extremist, even fascistic Republicans in the name of legalizing the 12 million.

Not the moral universe I think of when I used to say “Si se. puede” (don’t generally use left language commandeered for sloganeering of the corporate or political party kind…that’s why I encourage saying the more accurate “Si Se Pedo” instead); The question “What would Jesus do?” really does provide a good filter thru which to weigh the actions of the powerful on issues dealing with those Jesus called the “meek.” DC crowd, including Obama, spends more time talking about bailing out bankers, “the middle class” and other interests beside the poorest among us. That’s why DC groups sponsored repeated polls that told us that “moral arguments don’t work with American voters.”

The line between Realpolitik and What’s Right can be seen in the sands of silence around detention, enforcement, deportation and the like. In a climate in which hatred has been normalized and hate violence against migrants is perpetrated with impunity, failure to say or do anything about such issues makes us complicit.

As we used to say in the fight against homophobia and AIDS, silence=death.

U.S. Immigration Policies Bring Global Shame on Us

February 26, 2009


As one of the five full-time media relations specialists working for Maricopa County Sheriff and reality TV star Joe Arpaio- “America’s Toughest Sheriff” – Detective Aaron Douglas deals with the world’s media more than most. Though he is a local official, his is often the first voice heard by many of the foreign correspondents covering immigration in the United States.

“We talk to media from literally all over world: New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico, Chinese and other parts of the Orient,” Douglas drawled in a Southern accent. “We just did a series with a TV station from Mexico City about the isolation of illegal immigrants and why we’re putting them in a tent.” He was referring to a controversial march reported and discussed widely by international media and bloggers last week.

Alongside reports on Pres. Barack Obama’s announcement in Phoenix last week of his plan to revive the American Dream by fixing the U.S. housing crisis that led to the global economic crisis, millions of viewers, listeners and readers around the world also got stories reminiscent of the American nightmare Obama was elected to overcome, Guantanamo. “Immigrant Prisoners Humiliated in Arizona,” was the title of a story in Spain’s Onda Cero radio show; “Arpaio for South African President,” declared a blogger in that country; an op-ed in Mexico’s Cambio newspaper denounced “the inhuman, discriminatory and criminal treatment of immigrants by Arizona’s radical, anti-immigrant Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.” Stories of this week’s massive protest of Arapaio will likely be seen and heard alongside reports of Obama’s speech to Congress in media all over the world, as well.

The proliferation of stories in international media and in global forums about the Guantanamo-like problems in the country’s immigrant detention system- death, abuse and neglect at the hands of detention facility guards; prolonged and indefinite detention of immigrants (including children and families) denied habeas corpus and other fundamental rights; filthy, overcrowded and extremely unhealthy facilities; denial of basic health services – are again tarnishing the U.S. image abroad, according to several experts. As a result, reports from Arizona and immigrant detention facilities have created a unique problem: they are making it increasingly difficult for Obama to persuade the planet’s people that the United States is ready claim exceptional leadership on human rights in a soon-to-be-post-Guantanamo world.

Consider the case of Mexico. Just last week, following news reports from Arizona, the Mexican government, which is traditionally silent or very tepid in its criticism of U.S. immigration and other policies, issued a statement in which it “energetically protested the undignified way in which the Mexicans were transferred to ‘Tent City'” in Maricopa County.

David Brooks, U.S correspondent for Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper, believes that immigrant detention stories hit Mexicans closer to home because those reportedly being abused in detention are not from a far off country; they are family, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. In the same way that Guantanamo erased the idea of U.S. leadership in human rights in the Bush era, says Brooks, who was born in Mexico, practices in immigrant detention facilities like those reported by global media in Maricopa County may begin to do so in the Obama era if something does not change. “Mexicans have never seen the U.S. as a great model for promotion of human rights. But with Obama we take him at his word. We’re expecting some change,” said Brooks. “But that will not last long if we see him continuing Bush’s [immigration] policies: raids, increasing detention, deportation. Regardless of his excuse, he will quickly become mas de lo mismo (more of the same) in terms of the experience down south.” If uncontested, the expression of such sentiments far beyond Mexico and Mexican immigrants could lead to the kind of American exceptionalism Obama doesn’t want.

In a March 2008 report, Jorge Bustamante, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants, concluded that “the United States has failed to adhere to its international obligations to make the human rights of the 37.5 million migrants living in the country a national priority, using a comprehensive and coordinated national policy based on clear international obligations.” Asked how his report was received in different countries, Bustamante said, “The non-governmental organizations have really responded. In the United States and outside the United States- in Mexico, in Guatemala, in Indonesia and other countries- NGO’s are using my report to frame their concerns and demands in their own countries- and to raise criticism about the United States.”

For her part, Alison Parker, deputy director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch, fears a global government “race to the bottom” around immigrant detention policies. “My concern is that as the rest of world sees the United States practices, we increase the risk that this will give the green light to other governments to be just as abusive or more abusive as the United States.”

If there is a positive note to be heard in the growing global chorus of critique of and concern about U.S immigration policy, it is to be found among those human rights activists and groups doing what W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson and other civil rights activists did in previous eras: bring their issues to the global stage. Government documents from the civil rights era, documents that were released just a few years ago, illustrate how members of the Kennedy and Johnson State departments and even Kennedy and Johnson themselves were acutely aware of and sensitive to how denunciations in global forums of racial discrimination in United States had a devastating impact on the U.S. prestige abroad.

Such a situation around the rights of migrants today, says Oscar Chacon of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a Chicago-based global NGO run by and for immigrants, creates an opportunity out of the globalization of the images of both Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Barack Obama. “The world will be able to see him as the rogue sheriff that he is” said Chacon, who was in Mexico City attending a conference on immigration at which U.S. detention practices were criticized. “And it will be up to the Obama Administration to show the world that Arpaio is not a symbol of the rest of the country when it comes to immigration.”

More on DLC’s Racial Politics: “Insidious Innuendo” Video

March 19, 2008

This clip by Oilwellian provides a video complement to some of the things mentioned in my previous post:

Obama-Clinton Battle, McCain’s N.H. Surge Greeted by Merrill Lynch With News that Recession “has arrived”

January 9, 2008
BBC News

While the rest of the world was being put to sleep…ooooops….. I mean “mesmerized” by electoral developments in New Hampshire, David Rosenberg was busy writing the next President’s script. Rosenberg, the widely respected chief national economist at Merrill Lynch, is the author of a report announcing that a recession “has arrived”.

And though our worsening economic woes are hardly news to even the most brain dead among us , it should give greater urgency to whomever comes out of New Hampshire with an eye on the hot seat of empire this November. This is, in no small part, because they will likely have to take immediate, urgent measures to deal with the cloud of recession descending on the U.S. This BBC story highlights a report by financial giant Merrill Lynch, which states that a recession “has arrived”.

Instead of waiting for slothfully slow and arcane body known as the National Bureau of Economic Research to officialize this predictably bad economic news, Merrill fired off a warning that has global markets scurrying for cover.

Meanwhile, the rest of we humans remain vulnerable to the showers of acid economic rain: rising oil prices, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and a flaccid dollar (On the D train yesterday, I sat next to some shopping bag-bearing Brits I jealously watched as they gabbed about the jumbo jet-fulls of goods just purchased here in the new Tijuana of the Hudson, NYC).

After Iowa and New Hampshire, I’m pretty charisma’d hoped and change’d out and am instead staring at the tea leaves and tatters of Wall Street in search of what the future holds.

Recession in the US ‘has arrived’

The feared recession in the US economy has already arrived, according to a report from Merrill Lynch. It said that Friday’s employment report, which sent shares tumbling worldwide, confirmed that the US is in the first month of a recession.Its view is controversial, with banks such as Lehman Brothers disagreeing.

But a reserve member of the committee that sets US rates warned that it could do little about the below-trend growth expected in the next six months.

“I am concerned that developments on the inflation front will make the Fed’s policy decisions more difficult in 2008,” Charles Plosser, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said.He was referring to the problems faced by the US Federal Reserve, which might want to cut interest rates to avoid a recession, but is worried about inflationary factors such as $100-a-barrel oil. ‘Significant decline’ An official ruling on whether the US is in recession is made by the National Bureau of Economic Research, but this decision may not come for two years.The NBER defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months”.It bases its assessment on final figures on employment, personal income, industrial production and sales activity in the manufacturing and retail sectors.Merrill Lynch said that the figures showing the jobless rate hitting 5% in December were the final piece in that puzzle.”According to our analysis, this isn’t even a forecast any more but is a present day reality,” the report said. ‘Actual downturn’ But NBER president Martin Feldstein denied Merrill’s claims.”I think we’re not in a recession now,” he told CNBC.”But I think there is a serious risk that it could get worse and we could see an actual downturn,” he added.Merrill said that the current consensus view on Wall Street that there is a good chance of avoiding a recession is “in denial”.

It also objected to the use of euphemistic terms for the state of the economy.

“To say that the backdrop is ‘recession like’ is akin to an obstetrician telling a woman that she is ‘sort of pregnant’,” the report said.

Housing figures

There were further signs of the housing slowdown that has sparked off the problems in the US economy in home sale figures.

Pending sales of existing homes fell 2.6%, according to the National Association of Realtors, which saw its pending sales index drop to 87.6 in November, 19.2% below the point it was at a year ago.

The figures were better than expected, however, because October’s index reading was revised upwards from 87.2 to 89.9.

Iowa Race Results: Obama, Huckabee and the “Colorblind” Electorate

January 4, 2008


Iowa Results: Race Invisibility or Invisible Race?

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Jan 04, 2008

Editor’s Note: The victory of Barack Obama in the Democratic caucus in one of the country’s whitest states has been hailed by pundits as a sign that the country is moving beyond the old rhetoric around race. But race might just be becoming invisible, now identified by symbols such as “illegal immigrant,” the cornerstone of the campaign of Iowa’s other winner, Republican Mike Huckabee, writes NAM contributor Roberto Lovato.

As news broke of Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa, one of the country’s whitest states, political pundits of all stripes quickly told us that we were witnessing a historic shift: the end of race and racism as campaign issues. Even CNN’s dour conservative political analyst Bill Bennett waxed multiculti as he proclaimed that Obama “taught” African Americans that race wasn’t an issue they needed in order to succeed in politics. Though enthusiastic about the Obama victory, Bennett’s more jocular colleague Jack Cafferty was not quite ready to intone a full-throated Kumbaya. But he did declare that the Illinois
senator’s win “gives him currency in a state where the color of his skin may be an issue.”

NBC’s Tom Brokaw credited the Mike Huckabee victory in the Republican caucus to “his defense against illegal immigration,” an issue not viewed in racial terms by white voters. On all parts of the political and media spectrum, pundits and politicos are interpreting the Iowa results to mean that we inhabit a color-blind electoral system.

While watching a black man win the vote of an overwhelmingly white electorate is especially welcome in such racially-charged times as ours, and while the victory of a poor (at least in terms of electoral cash) populist preacher over the preferred Republican candidates of corporate America is refreshing, we are hardly entering the age of race invisibility in politics.

Instead, Iowa points us towards the age of invisible race politics.

To his credit, Barack Obama has carefully cultivated an image as a “change” candidate who takes the higher ground, one that talks about race – but not racism. Iowa confirms that, in doing so, he can make even the whitest electorate feel like it’s voting to overcome the catastrophic legacy of racial discrimination, like the Oprah viewer that gives himself or herself a racial pat on the back for really, truly liking her show.

“[Obama] is being consumed as the embodiment of color blindness,” political theorist Angela Davis told the Nation magazine recently, adding that “it’s the notion that we have moved beyond racism by not taking race into account. That’s what makes him conceivable as a presidential candidate. He’s become the model of diversity in this period…a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference. The change that brings no change.”

It was interesting to watch Obama deliver the most memorable and moving caucus victory speech in memory, one that included King-like intonations and references to the activists who “marched through Selma and Montgomery for freedom’s cause” in the 1960s. Such inspired, impassioned pleas follow a campaign trail-tested rhetoric in which racism such as that surrounding the Jena Six case remains a largely unspoken part of Obama’s speeches and policy platforms. He appears to be more comfortable getting choked up when speaking about the fight against the racist past than he does during those few times he talks about the racist present.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee also did his part to promote invisible race politics. The GOP underdog did so in no small part thanks to the issue of immigration, a very racial electoral wedge that many voters believe has nothing to do with race.

By focusing on “illegals,” “illegal aliens” and other racial codes, Huckabee and other Republican candidates get to ride the juggernaut of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino sentiment gripping the country – without appearing racist. Pundits have even taken to calling the immigration issue the “New Willie Horton,” in reference to how, during the 1988 presidential race, a political advertisement deployed by George H.W. Bush against Democratic rival Michael Dukakis featured a black man convicted of murder who raped a woman after being furloughed. Many African Americans and others deemed the Horton ads a thinly veiled appeal to anti-black sentiment in the electorate.

Latino leaders and editorials in Spanish-language newspapers have denounced Huckabee for openly touting the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, one of the co-founders of the anti-immigrant Minutemen, an organization denounced as a racist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others. In an election that will witness the largest Latino voter participation in history, how well the veil of legality hides the racial aspects embedded in the immigration issue may determine the fate of Republican candidates like Huckabee.

Regardless of the outcome of this year’s election, the success of Barack Obama and the immigration politics of Mike Huckabee signal clearly that we are well on our way to a new era in race and politics. Obama’s story and his echoes of King make us feel good about ourselves and God knows this country desperately needs that. The question we need to ask is: “Are we willing to push him to talk seriously about those echoes of the racial past in the present that he so skillfully avoids?” And as far as Republicans like Huckabee, we have to ask, “How long are we willing to accept their unskillful use of the racist appeals inherent in their rants about immigrants and immigration issues?” Failure to ask these and other questions will leave us vulnerable to the silent poison of invisible race politics.