As early as this week, President Barack Obama is expected to announce an executive order that would give some 5 million undocumented immigrants a respite from deportation. Part of the order, according to early reports, will involve reforms to Secure Communities, a program that requires police to share arrestees' fingerprints with federal immigration officials, who can turn around and use the information to deport suspects who are here illegally. Change would a good thing, here, because while the program—which began in 2008 under President George W. Bush and was expanded under Obama—has deported some serious criminals, it has screwed over a lot of other people. From the start, immigrant rights organizations slammed "S-Comm" as a costly, ineffective program that tramples on people's civil liberties. Even Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson has suggested that it may need an overhaul. Here's a rundown of what the program does—and why so many people hate it.
S-Comm sweeps up serious criminals… When local police book someone, that person's fingerprints are transmitted to the FBI to determine whether the arrestee is a fugitive or a former convict. Under Secure Communities, those prints go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which checks to see whether the suspect is undocumented. If so, it orders the local cops to detain him or her for potential deportation. More than 3,000 American counties now participate. Of the more than 2 million immigrants deported on Obama's watch, more than 306,000 came to the feds' attention through Secure Communities, which has led to the deportation of more than 288,000 convicted criminals.
And immigrants just trying to live and work… Local police share fingerprints with ICE when a suspect is arrested—not convicted. Which means that even though the purported aim is to deport criminals, people who are never charged or convicted often get the boot. "Federal officials have held people whose worst alleged violation was selling tamales without a permit or having a barking dog," California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said last year. "Even crime victims have been deported." More from Elise Foley of the Huffington Post:
The program has ensnared parents driving without a license because they need to work and can't get authorization to drive in their state. It has caught young people arrested for small levels of drug possession. Many of those caught are people who have previously been deported but came back to the US to work or be with their families—immigrants who could be aided by a policy that put less emphasis on deporting repeat immigration law violators.
Of the people deported through S-Comm between 2008 and 2013, 21 percent were never convicted of a crime.
And American citizens… According to a 2011 study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, thousands of United States citizens have been swept up by S-Comm—something the study's authors hadn't anticipated. "What we're finding is that ICE is arresting and then investigating," one of the authors informed a reporter. If you're brown, you'd better watch your back. The same study found that 93 percent of the arrestees ordered to be detained by ICE were Latino, even though Latinos make up about 77 percent of undocumented immigrants in the United States. "There is a concern that police officers working in areas that have Secure Communities in their local jails may have an incentive…to make pretextual arrests of persons they suspect to be in violation of immigration laws," notes the Immigration Policy Center. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have urged the White House to scrap the program entirely.
But it doesn't reduce crime: The program has had "no observable effect on the overall crime rate," according to a study released in early September.
In fact, it may actually make your community less safe… Research has shown that undocumented immigrants living in counties that participate in Secure Communities are afraid to report crimes or come forward as witnesses for fear of deportation.
And it's costing you money: The program requires local authorities to hold arrestees longer than they otherwise would, meaning a higher bill for taxpayers. For example, Secure Communities cost Los Angeles County law enforcement an extra $26 million per year, according to a 2012 report. Washington state's King County determined that it cost county taxpayers $3 million annually.
By the way, S-Comm was supposed to be optional: The Department of Homeland Security—ICE's parent agency—originally touted S-Comm as voluntary—states and localities could opt out. But in late 2010, after numerous jurisdictions chose to do just that, ICE made it clear that was virtually impossible. Because the FBI already gets the fingerprints for arrestees, ICE can access them regardless. In 2011, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) demanded an investigation into whether DHS intentionally misled the public. "I believe some of these false and misleading statements…were made recklessly, knowing that the statements were ambiguous and likely to create confusion," she wrote in a letter to DHS. Some localities have devised other ways to limit their cooperation with ICE. A total of 59 jurisdictions have said they will no longer comply with ICE requests to hold detainees so that the feds can come pick them up. Two states—California and Connecticut—have enacted measures prohibiting law enforcement from honoring ICE requests to hold immigrants unless those people have committed serious crimes.
So how might the administration fix this thing? We won't know the details until Obama makes his executive order, but Vox's Dara Lind reported in May that one option being considered was to limit the program to so-called Level 1 criminals—those who have committed one "aggravated felony" or two felonies. However, Lind notes, "independent data shows that immigrants can be labeled Level 1 criminals for everything from disturbing the peace to cashing a check with insufficient funds." In any case, such a change could mean 20,000 to 50,000 fewer deportations per year.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has it out for Walmart. On Tuesday, the freshman senator will hold an event on Capitol Hill calling out the retail giant for its low wages and terrible employment practices. The briefing will be held a week ahead of the nationwide anti-Walmart protests planned for Black Friday.
Walmart has retaliated against employees who have protested these low wages. In January, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the company illegally fired, threatened, or disciplined more than 60 workers in 14 states for publicly complaining about wages and working conditions.
OUR Walmart is planning on holding a wave of protests at 1,600 Walmart stores the day after Thanksgiving to call for a $15 minimum wage and more opportunities for full-time hours. Last year, the group held demonstrations at more than 1,200 stores.
"The Walmart economy—a business model where a few profit significantly on the backs of the working poor and a diminishing middle class—perpetuates the income inequality problems that are devastating our country," OUR Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement Monday.
As early as next week, President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order that would allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country without facing deportation. Not unexpectedly, Republicans are outraged, and some have hinted that the only way to stop the plan is impeachment. Here are seven conservative politicians and pundits who have preemptively dropped the I-word in response to Obama's rumored immigration policy:
Sarah Palin: "Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, 'no mas.'"
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa): "We know there is the 'I' word in the Constitution that none of us want to say or act on… In this context, everything is on the table. We cannot have a president of the United States that believes that he can make up the law as he goes."
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.): "[Obama] either enforces the laws on the books—as he was hired and elected to do—or he leaves Congress no option… This is not our choice, this is the president's choice and I would advise him to uphold the law on the books."
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas): "Well, impeachment is indicting in the House and that's a possibility. But you still have to convict in the Senate and that takes a two-thirds vote. But impeachment would be a consideration, yes sir."
Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano: "If [Obama] tells Homeland Security and Border Patrol, 'Look the other way when illegals come in,' that is violating his oath because it's a failure to enforce the law… so if the practical effect of his executive order is the opposite of what the law requires, I hate to say this—Republicans don't want to do it, and I understand why—he's a candidate for impeachment."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.): "We've got three years to get this guy out… Hopefully he—well, let me put it this way, I think he probably has been engaged in these unconstitutional approaches that may make his own ability to stay in office a question."
Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas): "For all I know, Obama is preparing to process five million illegal immigrant kids and teenagers into the United States… He wants us to impeach him now, before the midterm election because his senior advisers believe that is the only chance the Democratic Party has to avoid a major electoral defeat. Evidently Obama believes impeachment could motivate the Democratic Party base to come out and vote."
Bonus: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) says she would also move to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Jonson:"I would nominate [impeaching] the head of Homeland Security who will execute the laws on the border."
On Wednesday, six massive international banks agreed to pay $4.3 billion to settle allegations from regulators in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland that their traders tried to manipulate the $5.3-trillion-a-day foreign-currency exchange market. But Wall Street watchdogs say the banks got off with a slap on the wrist.
From 2008 through 2013, traders at JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS colluded to coordinate the buying and selling of 10 major currencies to manipulate prices in their favor. The penalties—announced Wednesday by an alphabet soup of American and foreign regulatory agencies—mark the end of the first phase of investigations into the banks that could lead to further fines. They "should be seen as a message to all market participants that wrongdoing and foul play in the financial markets is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," Tim Massad, the chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), said in a statement.
"It's corrupt, as usual," says one House staffer. Regulators should "send crooks to jail."
But critics say the banks, which were not forced to admit wrongdoing, deserved a much harsher punishment. "The global too-big-to-fail banks are again allowed to evade responsibility and accountability by using shareholders' money to pay big fines, which will generate headlines but do little if anything to stop the relentless Wall Street crime spree," Dennis Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, a financial reform advocacy shop, responded in a statement.
David Weidner, who covers Wall Street for MarketWatch, agrees. The settlements "appear to be just another cost-of-doing-business budget line for the banks," he wrote.
What's more, financial reformers say, none of the employees involved in the rate-fixing will face criminal charges. "It's corrupt, as usual," says one House staffer. Regulators should "send crooks to jail."
As part of the deal, the CFTC and Britain's Financial Conduct Authority called on the banks to strengthen their internal monitoring of foreign exchange trading activity. But "while the banks did agree to take certain steps to better supervise their traders, that is laughably inadequate" to prevent future wrongdoing, Kelleher says.
The Justice Department and New York's Department of Financial Services have been pursuing separate criminal investigations into the alleged rate manipulation. Those probes could result in criminal charges, although "if history is any indication," Weidner says, the people charged won't be high-level executives. To date, only one top banker who helped cause the financial crisis went to jail because of it. This time, he adds, they will likely "single out low-ranking traders who pushed the buttons."
On Monday, President Barack Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission to safeguard net neutrality and not allow internet companies to give preference (for a fee) to certain types of online traffic. After much debate, the president was declaring his support for a free-flowing internet in which telecom firms do not block or slow traffic in order to pocket more profits or promote their own commercial (and perhaps even political) interests. But there could be a problem: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, whom Obama appointed, is not yet on board.
After Obama's announcement, Wheeler, according to the Washington Post, told industry insiders he preferred to allow some for-profit fast-tracking. That seemed to suggest the president may have a fight of his own making. Last year, Obama had the chance to nominate an outspoken consumer advocate to chair the FCC. But he picked Wheeler—whose views on the issue weren't entirely clear—instead. After the Post's story was published, Huffington Post reported that Wheeler had not taken a hard-and-fast stance against the president, but was still figuring out what to do—and perhaps hoping to slow down the process.
So Wheeler is in the hot seat—but he also could pose an obstacle to the man who put him there. When Obama had to name a new chair of the FCC—which oversees radio, TV, satellite, and cable communications nationwide—and Wheeler emerged as a front-runner, many free internet groups expressed concern. These advocates worried that Wheeler, who had been a prominent lobbyist for telecom trade groups, was too close to industry and not likely to champion the interests of consumers. Obama favors strictly regulating the internet as a public utility (so preferential access cannot be bought and sold) and millions of Americans have sent letters to the FCC urging the commission to treat all internet content equally. But Wheeler has been leaning toward allowing internet companies to charge content providers like Netflix and Facebook extra for faster internet speeds—which could result in the creation of a tiered system for the internet. There's no telling yet whether Wheeler will throw a wrench into Obama's plan to preserve an equal-access-for-all internet.
It didn't have to be this way. Several other candidates Obama was considering for the FCC post in 2013 were ardent net neutrality backers. There was Karen Kornbluh, who advocated for global open internet policies as Obama's ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And there was Susan Crawford, a Cardozo Law School professor specializing in tech policy who favors net neutrality and has been called "the Elizabeth Warren of tech policy."
"He's beloved in the telecom industry."
Mignon Clyburn, an FCC commissioner since 2009, was also floated as a potential nominee to chair the FCC. In 2010, she spoke on the importance of net neutrality for people of color, saying it was "essential...for traditionally underrepresented groups [that the FCC] maintain the low barriers to entry that our current open internet provides." Another potential candidate, California Public Utilities Commissioner Cathy Sandoval—who worked in the Clinton-era FCC—also has a reputation for being consumer-minded.
Yet the president went with Wheeler—a major Obama donor and friend of the administration. At the time, Wheeler was the managing director at a venture capital firm. But he had previously spent 12 years as CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, a telecom trade group, and before that served as president of the National Cable Television Association, a cable lobbying shop. "He's beloved in the telecom industry," a former Obama administration official told Mother Jones in March 2013. After securing the backing of a few public interest advocates—including Crawford—Wheeler sailed to confirmation in the Senate.
The decision on whether to keep the internet truly open is not Wheeler's alone. Two other Democratic commissioners and two Republican commissioners sit on the FCC's five-member panel and must vote to finalize new rules. But a public interest-minded FCC chair would make it easier for the agency to implement strong net neutrality regulations.
The basic issue is whether the FCC can regulate the internet as a public utility—say, like phone lines. If the commission claims this power, then it can adopt rules that maintain open and equal access to the internet. The two Republicans on the commission are likely to vote against any form of internet regulation. (They don't acceptthe notion that the internet should be regulated by the FCC, whether as a public utility or under the more lax regulations Wheeler has been considering.) That means it's up to Wheeler and his two fellow Dems to agree on an overall approach and specific rules governing the internet providers' management of the information super-highway.
Wheeler's industry-friendly stance makes that difficult. Democratic commissioners Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel have bothexpressed opposition to allowing internet companies to provide tiered service. Obama's public push for net neutrality could help persuade Wheeler, Clyburn, and Rosenworcel to agree to regulate the internet as a public utility. But the president's announcement could also backfire, stiffening the spines of Clyburn and Rosenworcel and making them less willing to compromise with Wheeler on allowing some form of paid prioritization of internet services. That could create a stalemate among the three Democrats, leaving the FCC without a rule specifically governing internet service. Internet service has been essentially unregulated since January—when a court struck down an earlier attempt by the FCC to implement net neutrality rules—leaving internet service providers free to demand extra money for faster content delivery. That happens to be a situation that Republicans on and off the commission do not find troubling.
Wheeler could choose to sidestep a fight with his fellow Democratic commissioners by allowing the GOP-controlled Congress, which will assume office in January, to make the net neutrality decision for him. Though Obama could veto any Republican-passed legislation aimed at gutting net neutrality, a Republican-dominated Congress could try to attach an amendment that partly defunds the FCC to a large must-pass bill. In other words, it could be a mess.
Wheeler could "run out the clock on this Congress," explains Sascha Meinrath, the founder of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, then "wait until Republicans take over, and then claim that he cannot act due to pressure from Republican congressmen." Which is not what one would expect from a commissioner appointed by the president. But if Wheeler does thwart Obama's call for net neutrality, the president cannot say that he wasn't warned.