Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

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Republican Immigration Scandal in California

| Mon Jun. 25, 2007 2:55 PM EDT

The right-wing blogosphere has been apoplectic since the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that a top official hired by the California Republican Party was ordered deported in 2001, jailed three years later for visa violations, and has filed a $5 million wrongful arrest suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Party COO Michael Kamburowski resigned a few hours later, after Jon Fleischman of the Flash Report blog asked, with typical talk-radio rhetoric, "Is our COO suing America?"

The short answer is of course, "yes," but what bemused GOP border watchers have failed to consider is that Kamburowski may have filed his suit with good cause. He was jailed for about a month for visa violations, but an immigration court later overturned his deportation order. This is not to say that Kamburowski is innocent in the matter; at minimum he exercised colossally bad judgment by not disclosing the issue. Still, the GOP rush to condemn him says a lot about the way the party treats immigrants these days. The most interesting question raised by the scandal: why did someone who says he was traumatized by overzealous DHS goons go to work for a party inimical to civil rights and immigration reform?

This latest twist comes after the Chronicle reported earlier this month that the state GOP hired another immigrant as a top consultant using an H1B visa, a specialized work visa that requires employers to make a good-faith effort to hire Americans first. "Apparently," Jay Leno said that evening, "working for Republicans is one of those icky jobs Americans just don't want to do." And perhaps that explains Kamburowski. If I had to guess I'd say he has a lot in common with the migrant laborers who were busted by ICE in Southern California after they'd helped build the border fence.

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Meltdown in the Texas House

| Sun May 27, 2007 1:50 PM EDT

"Good thing we've still got politics in Texas--finest form of free entertainment ever invented," the late Molly Ivins once wrote. Where's Molly when we need her? I smile wondering what she'd make of the latest dustup in the Texas House, where politics has never ceased to be a full-contact sport. Although the last physical scuffle in the U.S. Congress dates (I think) to 1902, when South Carolinian Senator John McLaurin punched a colleague in the jaw, the most recent one in Texas dates to Saturday, when booing and hissing Texas congressmen launched an insurrection against House Speaker Tom Craddick that ended with Craddick bolting from the chamber and Democrats, who stormed the speaker's podium, being restrained by the House sergeants-at-arms. Call in ESPN and set up the bleachers!

Craddick's iron-fisted rule over his fellow Republicans has made him increasingly unpopular among moderates in his party, who complain that his insistence on party discipline has put them at odds with the interests of their districts. As I reported in October, close followers of Texas politics have predicted that Craddick's strategy could backfire. Houston Republican Martha Wong appeared particularly vulnerable at the time, having kowtowed to Craddick on abortion and environmental issues. In November, her socially moderate constituents ousted her.

Wong's unsuccessful reelection slogan was "Be Right, Vote Wong." Add an "R" in there, and it could also be a perfect slogan for Craddick.

Jailing Toddlers in Texas

| Tue May 15, 2007 3:32 PM EDT

Close readers of MotherJones.com know that a year ago the government began incarcerating small children for months at a time in a converted Texas prison. The T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, near Austin, holds roughly 200 kids and their families on immigration charges. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun jailing increasing numbers of kids since August, when it ended its controversial "catch and release" program for families with children who are apprehended on immigration charges.

After the story appeared in the Austin Chronicle and Mother Jones, it hit the New York Times and other major newspapers, and continues to garner headlines. A United Nations human rights official had been scheduled to tour T. Don Hutto last week, but ICE canceled the visit at the last minute because of a pending lawsuit over conditions there by the American Civil Liberties Union, a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a resolution introduced in the Texas legislature would call on the federal government to seek alternatives to family detention. A coalition of activists, Free the Children, has been holding rallies in support of the bill.

Since our story was published, conditions at the prison have somewhat improved--kids no longer have to wear prison scrubs, and they now receive something akin to school lessons. Still, you'd think ICE would have gotten wise to the root of its ongoing PR crisis. Locking out journalists and human rights inspectors only feeds our worst fears: that this issue really is as black and white as what's implied by "free the children."

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