Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer


Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Tea Partiers Backing Scott Walker May Run Afoul of IRS

The tea party movement is kicking into gear again, buoyed by the success of Richard Mourdock in defeating longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana's GOP primary. They're intent on proving that the movement is not dead, as so many commentators have declared. To that end, the Tea Party Patriots (TPP), which claims to be one of the movement's largest national umbrella groups, is recruiting volunteers for phone banks and promising a massive outpouring of support for embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The tea party has already been active in the recall fight, but is preparing to go all out in the last few weeks before the election.

Jenny Beth Martin, who heads Tea Party Patriots, told Breitbart News that the organization would be on the ground in the state by Wednesday and would be joining local tea party groups in setting up command centers for volunteers as well as "virtual call centers" so that people outside the state can help work the phones. "Wisconsin is pivotal, and it is ground zero for our political landscape," Martin said. According to Breitbart News, she added that her organization was responding to a call for help from local groups "because they are exhausted from two years of non-stop campaigning, which they have been forced to do because of the left's relentless tactics to thwart the will of the people."

Tea Party Patriots could prove to be a formidable force in Wisconsin given the size of its fundraising machine; Martin recently bragged that the group raised $12 million last year.

And that could be problematic. As a nonprofit group, TPP is banned from devoting the bulk of its resources to campaign activities—those resources are supposed to be devoted to promoting social welfare, not political candidates, according to tax regulations. Yet TPP has been openly publicizing the fact that it's supporting Walker in the election, and if it goes in for a big campaign in support of him, it may risk violating its tax-exempt status.*

What's Next for Gay-Marriage Foes?

President Obama may support gay marriage, but virtually every time the issue has been put to voters, it's lost. The most recent example, of course, is North Carolina, where voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Including North Carolina, 32 states have passed initiatives to ban same-sex marriage in some fashion. But below the surface, the politics of gay marriage are changing. (See chart below.) The ballot initiatives are winning by smaller margins. And gay-marriage ballot measures coming to voters this fall are more likely to be coming from gay rights activists rather than from anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

Based on Gallup polling: TKGallup polling dataSame-sex marriage activists are putting opponents on the defensive and pushing the issue where attitudes have been changing fast, sometimes in places that just made gay marriage illegal. In Maine, the state legislature legalized gay marriage in May 2009, only to have the law overturned through a ballot initiative six months later. Now, marriage activists are promoting an initiative for the fall that would overturn the overturning. The prospects actually look good, with polls showing that the public generally supports the initiative as written.

Likewise, in February, the state of Washington passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage but thanks to opposition from groups like NOM, it must go to the voters in a November referendum before taking effect. This year, Minnesota is the only state with a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to ban gay marriage.

Even so, all the activity around the issue, which prompted an unexpected endorsement of same-sex marriage from the president, may be producing a political situation that was all but designed by NOM and its allies to complicate Obama's reelection strategy. In March, a trove of documents were unsealed in a federal lawsuit filed by the state of Maine against NOM alleging that the group had violated state ethics laws by failing to disclose the donors behind its 2009 ballot-initiative campaign. The docs included a confidential NOM memo explaining that the organization hoped that its "not a civil right" branding could drive a wedge through the Democratic base, dividing black voters and gay liberals, two key constituencies for Obama.

In June 2011, Barack Obama's director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pledged the agency would focus on deporting illegal immigrants who were actually a menace to society—i.e., violent criminals—as opposed to those who have lived and worked in this country for years without causing any problems. It was a nice idea and one that immigrant advocates welcomed. But now new data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University show that not only has ICE failed in its goal of deporting more criminals and fewer noncriminals, but the percentage of deportations related to criminal activity has actually fallen, from 17 percent of the caseload in 2010 to 14 percent in the first three months of 2012.

Here's what the raw numbers look like in chart form:

Deportation Orders Sought in Immigration Court Based on Alleged Criminal Activity

Transactional Records Access ClearinghouseTransactional Records Access Clearinghouse










The number of deportation cases in federal courts has been going down for a while, but the number of people deported because of serious criminal activity has decreased faster than the overall caseload. That seems to fly in the face of ICE's stated policy of focusing on real bad guys as opposed to nannies and meatpackers. It also seems to contradict a New York Times story from January that reported on the Obama administration's effort to ease up on deportation proceedings against people who pose no security risk.

According to the Times story, one in every six people in deportation proceedings in Denver, where ICE was running a test model, were being offered a reprieve for good behavior. "It makes us feel good to know that some of these low-priority cases will be placed at the back burner," Corina Almeida, the chief counsel for the ICE office in Denver, told the Times. "These cases free up others to move to the front of the line: the egregious offenders, those who thumb their noses at the system or commit fraud."

TRAC's numbers suggest that although deportations have fallen nationally, ICE is still wasting resources on people who don't pose much of a threat to the country. The numbers may also reflect that both illegal immigration and violent crime have fallen pretty dramatically in the past few years (net immigration from Mexico, whose citizens make up the bulk of ICE's court cases, is now about zero), leaving ICE with fewer potential criminals to deport in the first place.

Either way, the numbers don't bode well for the Obama campaign, which is courting Latino voters, for whom immigration matters a great deal. It may also provide some fodder from Obama's opponents, who will surely find something to attack here by claiming that ICE is doing a lousy job of getting criminal aliens out of the US.

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