FAIR Legislative Update October 18, 2010
Candidates Debate Immigration
As the 2010 elections draw near, candidates across the country are debating the nation’s most current and pressing issues—especially immigration. In two neck and neck races in particular, the Nevada senate race and the Maryland gubernatorial race, candidates quarreled over America’s broken immigration system.
In the debate between Republican candidate Sharron Angle and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for Nevada Senator, Angle accused Reid of allowing foreign countries to dictate U.S. immigration law. (Las Vegas Sun, Oct. 15, 2010) Referring to legal briefs (called amicus or “friend of the court” briefs) filed by foreign countries in support of the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against the Arizona over SB 1070 Angle stated, “[W]e should be supporting Arizona instead of suing Arizona like Senator Reid and President Obama have. When they sued Arizona they also allowed 11 foreign countries to join in that suit. Senator Reid you’ve allowed 11 foreign countries to dictate our immigration law. That’s just nuts.” (Id.) Senator Reid replied, “The number one issue here is comprehensive immigration reform, we have to do something to solve the issue.” (Id.) Angle and Reid were also asked whether they would be in support of a constitutional amendment making English the official language of the United States. Angle replied “Yes,” while Reid countered, “English is already the official language.” (Id.)
In the Maryland Governor’s race debate between current Governor, Democrat Martin O’Malley, and former Governor, Republican Bob Ehrlich, Ehrlich scolded O’Malley for referring to illegal aliens as “new Americans.” (Washington Examiner, Oct. 14, 2010) “If someone breaks into my house, is that a new member of my family that night? … [T]o pretend ‘new Americans’—use that term when you’re really referring to illegal immigrants—is wrong” retorted Ehrlich. (Id.) Throughout the debate O’Malley called illegal aliens “new Americans” and said that the country needs comprehensive immigration reform. (Id.) O’Malley stated, “Sadly, as a political football, there’s this nativism rising up and this desire to blame new Americans for the problems in our economy. New Americans didn’t run Wall Street into the ground. New Americans didn’t destroy our savings… . Congress needs to do a better job of coming together for comprehensive immigration reform.” (Id.) Ehrlich responded, “It’s not nativism. It’s not ethno-centrism. It’s following the law.” (Washington Post Video, Oct. 14, 2010)
Both races are considered to be “toss-ups” by the Cook Political Report. (2010 Senate Race Ratings, Oct. 7, 2010; 2010 Governor’s Race Ratings, Oct. 14, 2010) In the latest poll by Rasmussen, Angle was leading Reid by one percentage point, 49 percent to 48 percent; Rasmussen shows Ehrlich trailing O’Malley by eight percentage points, 41 percent to 49 percent. (Rasmussen Nevada Senate Race, Oct. 11, 2010; Rasmussen Maryland Gubernatorial Race, Oct. 4, 2010)
Measures to permit non-citizens the right to vote will appear on ballots in both San Francisco, California and Portland, Maine this November. If passed, Proposition D in San Francisco would allow non-citizens who are parents, guardians, or caregivers of public school students to vote in local school board elections. (SF Gate, Sept. 29, 2010) Going even further than San Francisco’s Proposition D, a proposed amendment to the Portland, Maine charter would permit non-citizens to vote in city-wide elections if passed by voters. (The Portland Press Herald, Aug. 11, 2010)
Arguing in support of Proposition D, San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu stated that “About 1 in 3 students in the San Francisco district have at least one immigrant parent, and they should have a say in their children’s education.” (SF Gate, Sept. 29, 2010) However, both U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera argue that the proposal violates the California Constitution. Discussing a previous and nearly identical 2004 measure in San Francisco, Proposition F, Feinstein remarked, “Allowing non-citizens to vote is not only unconstitutional in California, it clearly dilutes the promise of citizenship.” (Statement by Senator Diane Feinstein, Jul. 21, 2004) Similarly, in a 2004 memo, Herrera stated“There is a substantial likelihood that a court would conclude that the amendment conflicts with the California Constitution and is therefore invalid.” (SF Gate, Sept. 29, 2010)
Akin to the argument for San Francisco’s Proposition D, supporters of Portland’s charter amendment believe that non-citizens should have a voice in local government. “The principal of our petition is the same that founders of this country believed—‘no taxation without representation,’” said Mohammed Dini, an original member of the amendment’s petitioner’s committee and a Somali immigrant who has become a U.S. citizen. (The Portland Press Herald, Aug. 11, 2010) “Democracy would be well served in Portland to extend the voting franchise to a larger base of our community,” commented Anna Trevorrow, a Portland Charter Commissioner in support the amendment. (Id.) However, Gary Wood, Portland City Attorney, stated that it’s unclear whether non-citizen voting would be upheld by the courts. (Portland Daily Sun, Mar. 22, 2010) Wood observed, “There is a home rule argument to be made in favor of allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections by charter, but it is a coin toss.” (Id.)
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), passed by Congress in 1996, made it a federal crime for non-citizens to vote in any federal election. (See FAIR Immigration Issues, Nov. 2003) Nonetheless, several local governments have passed measures permitting non-citizens to vote in certain local elections. For example, Takoma Park, Maryland, a Washington D.C. suburb, has allowed non-citizens to vote in local elections since 1992, and Chicago, Illinois allows non-citizens to vote in school board elections. (Center for Immigration Studies, Apr. 2008) In addition, several cities in Massachusetts have passed non-citizen voting measures; however, the state legislature refused to approve them. (Id.)
On Election Day, Californians will have the opportunity to vote onProposition 19, the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010.” If passed, Proposition 19 would legalize marijuana use and possession of an ounce of pot in California for adults 21 and older, permit small residential cultivation and allow cities and counties to tax and regulate retail pot sales. (The Sacramento Bee, Oct. 14, 2010) Both proponents and opponents of Proposition 19 have used America’s drug war with Mexico to argue for their position, resulting in the Mexican drug cartels taking center stage in the debate over this controversial proposition.
Proponents of Proposition 19 argue that legalizing marijuana is the most effective way to undermine the power of the increasingly violent Mexican drug cartels. (KPBS San Diego, Oct. 11, 2010) The proponents claim that by eliminating the illegal market in which the drug cartels use to sell its marijuana in California, the cartels will experience a decrease in profits and be left crippled. (Id.) Former Mexican President, Vicente Fox, agrees that the legalization of drugs is the best way to cripple the Mexican cartels and recently garnered attention for stating that the passage of Proposition 19 would be a “great step forward” and could “open the door to these ideas for [Mexico].” (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 9)
Current Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, however, disagrees with his predecessor. Calderon warns that easing drug laws would result in “serious consequences for American and Mexican society.” (Id.) “Drugs kill in production. Drugs kill in distribution, as is the case in the violence in Mexico, and drugs kill in consumption,” he remarked. (Id.) He also chided the U.S. federal government for not speaking out more against the Proposition, “I think they have very little moral authority to condemn Mexican farmers who out of hunger are planting marijuana to feed the insatiable [U.S.] appetite for drugs.” (Id.) In addition, Retired Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Robert C. Bonner, a former Los Angeles U.S. attorney who prosecuted Mexican drug traffickers, said that the passage of Proposition 19 would only compel cartels to change their tactics. (The Sacramento Bee, Oct. 14, 2010) Bonner suggested that said the Proposition would force the drug cartels to redouble efforts on cocaine and methamphetamine, increase kidnappings and extortion in Mexico, and have very little impact on the overall power of the drug cartels. (Id.)
A recent study released by the Rand Corporation revealed that because California accounts for only about 14 percent of the nation’s marijuana use, that legalization of marijuana in California alone would reduce Mexican drug cartel revenue from the drug by only two to four percent. (Rand Press Release¸ Oct. 12, 2010) However, the study did recognize that the impact of legalization on the drug cartels may be amplified if marijuana cultivated in California were smuggled into other states. (Id.) In response to the study, White House Drug Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske commented that the Rand Corp. study demonstrated “that despite the millions spent on marketing the idea, legalized marijuana won’t reduce the revenue or violence generated by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.” (The Sacramento Bee, Oct. 14, 2010) The latest poll by the organization Public Policy Polling shows that a plurality of California voters, 47 percent, plan to vote “yes” on Proposition 19 (38 percent were opposed and 14 percent were undecided). (Public Policy Polling, Sept. 22, 2010)