FAIR Legislative Update September 27, 2010
Obama’s Aunt: The System Took Advantage of Me
In her first interview since receiving asylum, Zeituni Onyango, President Obama’s aunt, portrayed herself as a victim of U.S. immigration policy, telling reporters: “I didn’t take advantage of the system. The system took advantage of me.” (CBS News, Sept. 21, 2010) Entirely unapologetic for residing in the U.S. illegally, Onyango recounted how she had become an illegal alien, how she first came to the U.S. from Kenya in 2000 with the intention of leaving, but continued to stay after experiencing health problems. (Id.) However, even when her health improved, Onyango continued to live illegally in the U.S., residing in public housing and collecting $700 monthly disability checks from the government. (ABC News, Sept. 21, 2010)
In March 2003, Onyango was first ordered into an immigration court in Boston, where she requested asylum in an attempt to stay in the U.S. (Washington Post, Apr. 2, 2009; ABC News, Sept. 21, 2010) The judge turned down her request and ordered her deported the following month. (Washington Post, Apr. 2, 2009) After a series of unsuccessful appeals, Onyango again was ordered to leave the country in October 2004. (Id.)
Although twice ordered to leave the United States, Onyango never did. Instead, she stayed, attending high-profile events such as Obama’s swearing in ceremony as the junior Senator of Illinois after the 2004 elections, as well as Obama’s presidential inauguration following his 2008 victory. (CBS News, Sept. 21, 2010) She also continued to live at the expense of taxpayers.
In this latest interview, Ms. Onyango freely admitted that she knew what she was doing was illegal, telling the reporter “I knew I had overstayed.” (CBS News, Sept. 21, 2010) Nonetheless, she said she owed nothing to the United States. When the reporter reminded her how much the U.S. had given her, she retorted that the U.S. was “here to help people, help the poor, help other countries, and take care of women.” (CBS News, Sept. 21, 2010) The reporter responded with “That’s what the United States is supposed to do?” Ms. Onyango answered, “And you have to give me my right like any other person’s right (sic).” (Id.) “If I come as an immigrant,” she said, “you have the obligation to make me a citizen.” (Id.)
Last week a U.S. immigration court granted Jorge Luis Aguirre, the fifty-two year old editor of the Ciudad Juarez-based online newspaper, La Polaka, political asylum. (Reuters, Sept. 21, 2010) Aguirre fled across the border to El Paso, Texas in November 2008 after receiving telephone threats that he believes were in response to a piece he wrote criticizing Chihuahua state officials. (Id.; NPR, Sept. 24, 2010) After his grant of asylum, Aguirre told reporters, “I hope this asylum is a good precedent and there’s a chance for other journalists whose lives are threatened by mafiosos and narco-politicians.” (NPR, Sept. 24, 2010)
Aguirre is believed to be the first Mexican journalist to be granted political asylum in the U.S. since the rise in Mexico’s drug cartel violence. (NPR, Sept. 24, 2010) However, Aguirre’s grant of asylum may not be the last. His case illustrates a growing trend of Mexican journalists seeking political asylum in the United States. A mere two days after Aguirre received asylum, four more journalists requested political asylum in the United States. (KENS5 San Antonio, Sept. 23, 2010) The journalists were kidnapped by a drug cartel in Durango in July (they were released a few days later) and claimed their lives were still in danger. (Id.)
“Over the past four years, the U.S. government has been more receptive to Mexicans who can prove a well-founded fear of persecution from drug cartels, the government or both.” (NPR, Sept. 24, 2010) In 2007 alone, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported that asylum officers recommended 58 Mexican cases for approval. (Id.) By the third quarter of this year, they have already recommended 176. (Id.)
More than 30 Mexican journalists have been killed or have disappeared since December 2006, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists. (Id.) And, just this last week, the largest newspaper in Ciudad Juarez called for a truce with the city’s warring drug cartels after its photographer was killed, the second staff member at the El Diario de Juarez to be murdered in less than two years. (Associated Press, Sept. 23, 2010) Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderon, recently announced a plan to protect journalists. (Id.) His plan includes an “early warning system” in which reporters would have immediate access to authorities when threatened and also creates a council to identify the causes behind attacks on reporters and makes legal reforms. (Id.)
If the U.S. continues granting asylum to Mexican journalists, it would signify a radical shift from existing policy, as these Mexicans are not fleeing their government, but their fellow citizens. Under federal law, asylum can only be granted to aliens who can prove that they would suffer "persecution or [have] a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." (8 U.S.C. 1101 (a)(42)).
The situation in border towns is unquestionably dangerous due to the drug cartels, but it is not clear that the U.S., rather than Mexican government, should take responsibility for protecting these individuals and helping those who need to relocate. For example, instead of the U.S. granting asylum to these Mexicans, the Mexican Government could assist its own citizens in moving to other areas of Mexico where drug violence is not prevalent. If the U.S. government as a matter of policy ignores existing asylum law and grants political asylum to Mexicans fleeing drug cartels, the ramifications will spread much further than the border communities. Thousands who don’t qualify will file claims, which could swamp an already overloaded immigration system. (See, e.g. FOX News, April 1, 2010).
After being denied the opportunity to offer the DREAM Act as an amendment last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and vowed to all those watching, “We’re going to vote on the DREAM Act. It’s only a question of when.” (C-Span video, Sept. 21, 2010) Senator Reid’s promise came as he and Senator Dick Durbin both denounced Republicans who voted against the Defense Authorization Bill, effectively preventing any amendments – including the DREAM Act – from coming to a vote. “Where is the justice in this decision?” Durbin complained. “At least have the courage to let us bring this matter to the floor and stand up and vote no.” (Id.)
Referring to the illegal aliens who would qualify for amnesty under the DREAM Act as “dreamers,” Senator Reid said, “I want them to understand that this isn’t the end of this… We know we have been blocked procedurally, but this is the first time we have had our colleagues on the other side of the aisle stand up and defy basic fairness on the DREAM Act.” (Id.)
The day after this exchange on the Senate floor, Senator Durbin reintroduced the DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill (S.3827) and placed it on the calendar so that it would be “poised and ready to be called” for action on the Senate floor. (Washington Independent, Sept. 22, 2010) Durbin told reporters he was trying to be optimistic that the DREAM Act could pass in the lame duck session of Congress. “Some members of the Senate who are not going to return may vote in our favor,” he said. “I hope that’s the case.” (Id.)