Mojo - July 2013

Farm Bill Passes House with Zero Funding for Food Stamps

| Thu Jul. 11, 2013 6:04 PM EDT

On Thursday, the House finally passed the farm bill, which provides funding for agriculture and nutrition programs—but only after Republicans stripped out all provisions concerning the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program.

The massive, five-year farm bill failed to pass the House in late June because conservative Republicans thought that the bill's envisioned cuts to the food stamp program ($21 billion over 10 years) wasn't enough, and Democrats thought it was far too much. The GOP devised a plan to pick up more votes by dividing the legislation, aiming to give the farm provisions a better chance of passage by splitting them from the controversial food stamp provisions. Meanwhile, GOP leaders hoped to garner more conservative votes for the nutrition bill by turning it into a vehicle to make further cuts to  food stamps.

So far, their plan is working. The farm bill sans food stamps passed on a party-line vote of 216 to 208, with only 12 Republicans voting against. (Next, Republicans will draft up a separate food stamp bill.)

The President of New York City's Food Bank, Margarette Purvis, slammed the split bill as an attack on the needy, saying it would leave "the fates of 47 million Americans in limbo. This is a sad statement of the priorities of the leadership of this House of Representatives," she continued. "We need Congress to pass a farm bill that reduces hunger, not one that puts billions of meals at risk for the most vulnerable among us—especially when need remains so high."

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) echoed this Thursday. "A vote for this bill is a vote to end nutrition in America," she said.

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Elizabeth Warren and John McCain Introduce Bill to Bust Up Big Banks

| Thu Jul. 11, 2013 3:49 PM EDT

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Thursday that would break up the nation's biggest banks, forcing them to split their routine commercial banking operations from their risky trading activities.

The 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which Congress passed in response to the 1929 financial crash, separated traditional commercial banks—which hold Americans' checking and savings accounts and are backed by taxpayer money—from investment banks, which make riskier bets. But in 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act—which was backed by the Clinton administration—gutted this law. A bonanza of bank mergers ensued, and the size of these new behemoths, such as Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America, made their downfalls more threatening to the overall US economy. Their too-big-to-fail size justified the government bailouts they received during the last financial crisis. The senators behind this new bill—a group that includes John McCain (R-Ariz.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Angus King (I-Maine)—refer to their legislation as the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act because it would reinstate a firewall between normal banking functions and casino-like finance. By cutting the big banks down to size, the bill would reduce the potential impact of a bank failure on the wider economy and decrease the size of future bailouts.

The senators contend that even as the economy slowly improves, big banks continue their bad behavior. In December, for example, the giant international bank HSBC was fined for illegally allowing millions in Mexican drug trafficking money to be laundered through its accounts. Last year, JPMorgan Chase lost $6 billion on one bad trade. What's more, the nation's four biggest banks are now 30 percent larger than they were five years ago.

"Since core provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act were repealed in 1999, shattering the wall dividing commercial banks and investment banks, a culture of dangerous greed and excessive risk-taking has taken root in the banking world," McCain said in a statement. "Big Wall Street institutions should be free to engage in transactions with significant risk, but not with federally insured deposits."

There was pressure to resurrect Glass-Steagall after the 2008 financial crisis, but the final 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law did not include such a provision. Dodd-Frank aimed to address the too-big-to-fail problem by forcing Wall Street to limit its risk-taking. These senators maintain that's not sufficient.

"Congress must take additional steps to see that American taxpayers aren't again faced with having to bail out big Wall Street institutions while Main Street suffers," King said.

This bill, if passed and enacted into law, would not fully remove the the threat of too-big-to-fail. None of the institutions that failed in 2008, such as Lehman Brothers and American International Group, were commercial banks. "But, it would rebuild the wall between commercial and investment banking that was in place for over 60 years," McCain said, "restore confidence in the system, and reduce risk for the American taxpayer."

A Nevada Man Says His 3rd Amendment Rights Were Violated. Wait, What?

| Thu Jul. 11, 2013 12:30 PM EDT

For all the problems facing the United States in the early years of the 21st century—mission creep, gridlock, cat poop—the unlawful quartering of soldiers in Americans' homes during times of peace is one we've managed to avoid. The Third Amendment, which bans quartering, was adopted in 1791 in response to British conduct during the American Revolution. Since then, quartering hasn't been a significant problem. Just take it from the Onion, which a few years ago heralded the unparalleled success of the "National Anti-Quartering Association," the nation's most successful civil rights lobbying group. Until now, anyway.

Last week, a homeowner in Henderson, Nevada, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that police had violated his Third Amendment rights by forcibly entering his home to gain a "tactical advantage" in resolving a domestic violence incident next door. But it's not clear that police officers would count as "soldiers" under the Third Amendment (in the one similar case I found, the court rejected that idea), nor is it clear whether the Third Amendment applies to the states at all.

With the exception of a cameo in the landmark case Griswold v. Connecticut, which established a constitutional right to privacy, Third Amendment lawsuits have been limited to bizarre claims about airplane flight paths, cattle ranches, and rent control. Rent control? Rent control. Here's a look:

Bennett v. Wainwright, US District Court for the District of Maine, 2007

Topic: Police raids.

Argument: The plaintiffs argued that a police raid that ended with a resident being shot and killed by a state trooper constituted an illegal occupation.

Ruling: "There is no sense in which a single state trooper and several deputy sheriffs can be considered 'soldiers' within the meaning of that word as it is used in the amendment nor in which the use of a house presumably owned by one of the plaintiffs for a period of fewer than 24 hours could be construed as 'quartering' within the scope of the amendment."

 

Johnson v. United States, US District Court for the Western District of Texas, 2001

Vladimir Melnik/Shutterstock

Topic: Chemical storage.

Argument: "Plaintiffs essentially contend the defendant United States of America, while doing its best in the military defense of its citizens, nevertheless quartered its chemicals on plaintiffs' properties without permission or reasonable compensation, leaving a toxic footprint on the earth." In the words of the plaintiffs, they had been "invaded and occupied by toxic chemicals."

Ruling: Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

 

Custer County Auction Association v. Garvey, US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, 2001

Stephen McSweeny/Shutterstock

Topic: Airplanes.

Argument: "Petitioners insist they have a Third Amendment right 'to refuse military aircraft training in airspace within the immediate reaches of their property,' and that military overflights occurring in the immediate reaches of their property during peacetime, and without their consent, 'are per se unconstitutional.'"

Ruling: "We simply do not believe the Framers intended the Third Amendment to be used to prevent the military from regulated, lawful use of airspace above private property without the property owners' consent."

 

Ramirez de Arellano v. Weinberger, US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, 1984

lakov Kalinin/Shutterstock

Topic: Cows.

Argument: "Temistocles Ramirez de Arellano (Ramirez), a United States citizen, claims that the Secretaries of State and Defense are operating a large military facility for training Salvadoran soldiers on his private [cattle] ranch without permission or lawful authority, in violation of the Constitution."

Ruling: The case was dismissed.

 

Engblom v. Carey, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 1981

qingqing/Shutterstock

Topic: Prison housing.

Argument: "[P]laintiffs-appellants contend that their due process and Third Amendment rights were violated during a statewide strike of correction officers in April and May of 1979 when they were evicted from their facility-residences without notice or hearing and their residences were used to house members of the National Guard without their consent."

Ruling: "[Plaintiffs] must have known that substitute personnel would be required during a strike. Since they are employees of a prison, they may properly be charged with knowledge of the risks and limitations on their 'rights' as occupants of prison housing."

 

Securities Investor Protection Corp. v. Executive Securities Corp., US District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1977

Orange Line Media/Shutterstock

Topic: Subpoenas.

Argument: Trustee for a securities firm couldn't be compelled to testify by subpoena because that would constitute unlawful quartering. (It didn’t make sense to us, either.)

Ruling: "The Court will not address itself at any length to Bertoli's claim of privilege based on the first, third, fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth and fourteenth amendments, since they are completely inapposite under the facts and circumstances of this case."

 

Jones v. Secretary of Defense, US District Court for the District of Minnesota, 1972

Keystone Pictures USA/ZumaPress.com

Topic: Marching with Vice President Spiro Agnew.

Argument: Army reservists were compelled against their will to march in a civil parade with political candidates they opposed.

Ruling: "By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that the reservists in this action are being banded together to execute the civil or criminal laws of the United States or of a state or county. Equally inapposite is plaintiffs' claim that the parade order violates the Third Amendment of the constitution, which prohibits the quartering of soldiers in peace time without the owner's consent, or other specific Constitutional provisions."

 

United States v. Valenzuela, US District Court for the Southern District of California, 1951

Topic: Rent control.

Argument: "The 1947 House and Rent Act as amended and extended is and always was the incubator and hatchery of swarms of bureaucrats to be quartered as storm troopers upon the people in violation of Amendment III of the United States Constitution."

Ruling: "The Housing and Rent Act of 1947 does not violate constitutional provisions that no soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house without consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law, on ground that the act is an incubator and hatchery of swarms of bureaucrats to be quartered as storm troopers on the people."

Given the nature of the Third Amendment, if the Supreme Court ever does comes around to making a broad interpretive ruling on the armed occupation of civilian homes, we'll probably have bigger problems on our hands. For now, we need to talk about those cats.

GOP Plan to Split Up Farm Bill Could Doom Food Stamps

| Thu Jul. 11, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), House Agricultural Committee Chairman

Update (4:30pm 7/11/2013): On Thursday afternoon, the House approved the food stamp-less version of the farm bill.

Update (7/11/2013): Late Wednesday, top House Republicans dropped the section of the farm bill pertaining to food stamps from a new version of the legislation. The bill could come up for a vote as early as Thursday.

On June 20, the farm bill, a huge, five-year bill that provides funding for farm and nutrition programs, failed to pass the House by a vote of 234-195. That's because conservative Republicans thought that the bill's $21 billion in cuts from the food stamp program over 10 years wasn't nearly enough, and Democrats thought it was way too much. Now the GOP is proposing to try and pass the farm bill by splitting it into two separate pieces of legislation, which would allow separate votes on farm provisions and nutrition programs. The problem is that this kind of move could mean even deeper cuts to the food stamp program.

On Tuesday, Republicans discussed the strategy with House agriculture committee chair Frank Lucas (R-Okla.); the idea is that splitting the bill up would give the farm provisions a better chance of passage since they wouldn't be attached to the controversial food stamp provisions. At the same, time, the GOP would be able to garner more conservative votes for the nutrition bill by making further cuts to the food stamp program. The plan "would take the SNAP bill farther to the right and make bigger cuts," Robert Greenstein of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) told the National Journal.

But a House food stamp bill with, say, $30 billion in cuts wouldn't be the main problem. The problem is that this kind of draconian bill wouldn't pass the Senate, which passed a farm bill with a mere $4 billion in nutrition cuts. That means the food stamp program would end up hanging around unauthorized (meaning it would continue to be funded at current levels through appropriations bills). That leaves the program vulnerable to other pieces of legislation, says Dottie Rosenbaum, an expert on food assistance at CBPP. There is a "lot of mega-legislation coming up," she adds, including a debt ceiling bill in September, and it's dangerous if "cuts are on the table."

"I worry that it sets the [food stamp] program up for a ceaseless attack over time because it is unauthorized," Greenstein told the National Journal. Especially since the GOP's ultimate goal, as laid out by Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) most recent budget, is to cut food stamps by $135 billion over 10 years.

Top Dems on both the Senate and House ag committees slam the idea. Senate agriculture committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told the Associated Press that cutting the bill up would be a "major mistake." Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the top Democrat on the House ag committee, has said the idea is "stupid."

The breakup may very well not happen, because it's not only anti-hunger groups who are opposed to the splitting up of the farm bill; farm groups are, too. The Hill reported Wednesday that the proposal is currently short on votes.

Anti-hunger advocates hope that the motley coalition wins out over slash-happy conservatives, and that food stamps will be saved for the time being. After all, "there is a history of food stamps and the farm bill being together. That process has resulted in a bipartisan moderate result," Rosenbaum says.

A farm bill that remains intact would in all likelihood still mean food stamp cuts. Just not Paul Ryan-sized cuts.

8 Questions About Snowden's "Flight of Liberty"

| Wed Jul. 10, 2013 12:24 PM EDT

On Tuesday, WikiLeaks hinted that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden may soon begin his journey to a country willing to grant him asylum. The group tweeted cryptically that "the first phase of Snowden's 'Flight of Liberty' campaign will be launched" today. As of this afternoon, WikiLeaks has provided no additional information about what that entails. Here are eight questions we have about Snowden's "Flight of Liberty":

1. Where is Snowden going?
Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia have offered Snowden asylum. Venezuela looks like the most likely option, but it's unknown whether he has accepted any of the asylum offers he has received. Snowden applied for asylum in at least 21 countries, and several have still not publicly responded, including China and Cuba.

2. How will he get there?
As we reported yesterday, Snowden's best bet is a chartered plane, which can fly a route that will avoid crossing airspace belonging to the United States or one of its allies. However, Snowden could still risk flying to Venezuela, Bolivia, or Nicaragua commercially, or even go by boat. Of the boat option, former CIA analyst Allen Thomson says: "I don't think he'd go from St. Petersburg through the Baltic and out to the Atlantic, as that gets him too close to US-friendly territory. Leaving from Murmansk and then going down the Norwegian Sea, North Atlantic, and on to Caracas, maybe."

3. Will there be a movie on his flight?
If Snowden flies commercial to Latin America, he will have to take the Russian airline Aeroflot, where he can choose between these movies that are currently playing onboard: Stoker (review), Trance, Jack the Giant Slayer, War Horse, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and A Good Day to Die Hard (review).

4. Does Snowden speak Spanish?
It is unknown if Snowden speaks Spanish or another foreign language. His letter to the president of Ecuador requesting asylum was written in Spanish, but it's unclear if he wrote it.

5. Who is bankrolling Snowden's escape?
WikiLeaks has reportedly been helping Snowden out financially. But according to the Daily Beast, WikiLeaks raised only $90,000 in 2012—though the group has been receiving about $1,300 per day in donations since it began assisting Snowden. That's still not enough to cover the cost of a private jet. None of the countries who have offered Snowden asylum have said they would foot the bill for his transportation.

6. Where has he been all of this time in the airport?
According to the Washington Post, Snowden "has made himself lost for [days] in a mile-long transit corridor dotted with six VIP lounges, a 66-room capsule hotel, assorted coffee shops, a Burger King and about 20 duty-free shops selling Jack Daniel's, Cuban rum, Russian vodka and red caviar."

7. Have the Russians or the Chinese obtained information from Snowden's laptops?
Snowden is reportedly carrying numerous laptops. An unidentified official told the New York Times that China has hacked into Snowden's laptops and taken all of the contents, but Snowden told the Guardian this week that "I never gave any information to either government, and they never took anything from my laptops."

8. How far will the United States go to extradite him?
President Obama said recently that "we're not scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker" but Thomson, the ex-CIA analyst, notes he "sure wouldn't bet against" the idea of the United States going out of its way to ground a plane that flies over US airspace. 

The Beginning of the End of LGBT Workplace Discrimination?

| Wed Jul. 10, 2013 11:16 AM EDT

In the shadow of the marriage equality debate, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect LGBT workers from workplace discrimination, has been languishing in legislative obscurity for almost 20 years. But on Tuesday morning, the ENDA passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee by a 15-7 vote, marking its furthest advancement in the Senate in 17 years and potentially correcting a glaring oversight in LGBT rights.

"The pure fact [is] that I can show up in a dress in more than half of the states in America, and just for that one reason I can be fired on the spot," said Kristin Beck, the former Navy Seal who has recently become a leading transgender spokesperson, in a press call with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) on Tuesday. "I fought for life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and all that—land of the free. And I am not free. There’s massive prejudice, still, against these groups of people in America."

Currently, LGBT workers lack comprehensive workplace protection in 32 states. According to the most recent data, 90 percent of transgender people reported some form of harassment or discrimination, 47 percent had been skipped for promotions, fired, or not hired at all, and trans people are unemployed at a rate roughly twice the national average. Fourteen percent of trans people reported earning less than $10,000 per year, compared to just four percent of the general population. 

So why have anti-discrimination laws taken a backseat to marriage equality in the fight for LGBT rights? "We just have to acknowledge that there is a class bias in every social movement, and the LGBT movement is funded by people for whom marriage equality is a much higher personal priority for them." said Mara Keisling, NCTE's executive director. "It has seemed easier to say, 'Oh look at these two people in love,' than it is to say, 'Don’t fire them.'"

All of the Senate committee's 12 democrats voted for the bill, and were joined by Republicans Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is a co-sponsor, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Advocates for ENDA claim to have secured 53 votes in the Senate for when the bill does make it to the floor, and are working to secure the seven more it would need to pass a filibuster. According to Keisling, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a co-sponsor of the bill, has agreed to schedule the bill for a floor debate after the August recess.

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"The Jester" Hacks Top Venezuelan Newspaper Over Snowden

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 2:33 PM EDT

On Tuesday afternoon, the Edward Snowden-loathing hacker who calls himself "The Jester" hacked the website of one of Venezuela's top newspapers, El Nacional, in order to express his displeasure that the country's government has offered asylum to the former NSA contractor. In a letter posted on the paper's website, he asked Venezuela to "reconsider your stance on this small but volatile matter, before weird things start happening." 

The self-described "patriot" hacker, who has one of his computers on display in the International Spy Museum, is famous for launching cyberattacks against WikiLeaks and Al Qaeda-linked web sites. He identifies himself as a former soldier, and he denies working for a US government agency. In recent weeks, he has been busy targeting Snowden's allies. He has launched successful denial-of-service attacks on the website's of Bolivian vice president Álvaro García Linera and Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. The hacker has vowed to target any country that offers asylum to Snowden, whom he calls "a traitor" who "has jeopardized all our lives."

On Tuesday, a Russian lawmaker tweeted that Snowden had accepted asylum in Venezuela, but WikiLeaks, which has been assisting the leaker, later denied that he had formally done so. The Jester tweeted out a link to his El Nacional hack at about 4:45 p.m. Eastern time. The Jester did not respond to requests for comment from Mother Jones. It's not clear why the Jester targeted El Nacional, which in the past has openly opposed former President Hugo Chavez, who hand-picked Nicolás Maduro.

Here's a screenshot of the Jester's hack, which appears to be a URL-injection hack, not viewable from the main website without the correct link:

 

GOP Super-Lawyer Jim Bopp Crashes Press Conference Call About Jim Bopp

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 2:21 PM EDT
James Bopp, GOP super lawyer behind Citizens United.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington today filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS against campaign finance super lawyer James Bopp, the legal genius behind the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for corporate money in campaigns. CREW alleges that he's using a nonprofit organization he controls to divert money into his law firm without paying taxes on it.

Bopp's Terre Haute, Indiana-based law practice works with clients including the Republican National Committee, the National Organization for Marriage, and a variety of anti-abortion groups. He is also the general counsel to the James Madison Center for Free Speech, a nonprofit legal organization that shares an office with Bopp's law firm.The Madison Center has only one employee: Bopp himself, and all of the money it raises is used to pay Bopp's firm. (Much of the complaint seems spurred by this Slate story that detailed the unusual arrangement and which is included as an exhibit to CREW's complaint.)

CREW sees this arrangement as a clear violation of federal tax law, which bans nonprofits from providing a substantial benefit for private parties. The group finds it especially egregious and possibly criminal that Bopp has signed forms saying that the Madison Center doesn't employ any independent contractors who make more than $50,000, when it's paid his firm hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years. The fees paid to his firm are listed on the center's tax returns simply as legal fees, rather than fees to a contractor. CREW also alleges that the board of the Madison Center, which includes Amway heiress and deep-pocketed GOP donor Betsy DeVos, has violated its fiduciary duty by allowing this arrangement. It estimates in its complaint that Bopp is liable for more than $6 million in unpaid excise taxes and other penalties. (CREW has also made complaints against Bopp with the US Attorney in Indiana and the state attorney general.)

Bopp finds most of this preposterous. "I'm the only one that does any work, so I'm the only one that gets paid," he told me. "I'm not on the board. My firm is hired. The vast majority of things we do pro bono." He says he's not worried about the complaint, noting that despite CREW's long list of complaints filed against various people and organizations, "I can't find that they’ve ever won one. I've represented some of the people they’ve complained about and the IRS didn't do a damn thing."

When CREW convened a conference call with reporters today to discuss its complaint, Bopp phoned in to defend himself. "You didn’t ask me questions before you filed this ridiculous complaint," he exclaimed when CREW's executive director Melanie Sloan told him to convene a conference call of his own. "So I'm going to answer the questions." Reporters seemed happy to have him there to respond, but CREW cut him off after he started to dominate the discussion.

While liberals might like to see Bopp slapped down by the IRS, the CREW complaint seems like rather small potatoes, despite the high-profile target. The Madison Center's budget is relatively small, especially compared to what Bopp makes representing various political groups and the legal fees he recoups in court when he wins First Amendment cases. The center averages a little more than $200,000 in annual income, much of it coming from the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. If Bopp really were trying to use the nonprofit to avoid taxes, he's not funneling much of his money through it. 

Sloan admits the potential infraction is fairly small, but argues that the size is insignificant. "I grant you it's not a ton of money, but anybody working in this sphere needs to follow the law," she says. "People don't just get to ignore the laws that are inconvenient for them. We have a lot of legal support for our claims. Sometimes I think when you're as significant a figure as Bopp is, you think the law doesn’t apply to you."

Report: Congressional Intel Committees Delay Aid to Syrian Rebels

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 12:25 PM EDT

The House and Senate intelligence committees are reportedly holding up the Obama administration's recently announced plan to send arms and military hardware to rebels at war with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The main—and obvious—reason? Fear of weapons falling into the hands of unfriendly Islamist militants.

Reuters has the story:

None of the military aid that the United States announced weeks ago has arrived in Syria, according to an official from an Arab country and Syrian opposition sources.

Democrats and Republicans on the committees worry that weapons could reach factions like the Nusra Front which is one of the most effective rebel groups but has also been labeled by the United States as a front for al Qaeda in Iraq...Funding that the administration advised the Congressional committees it wanted to use to pay for arms deliveries to Assad's opponents has been temporarily frozen, the sources said...Anti-Assad groups have been calling for more advanced weaponry since the government launched a new offensive in central Syria with the help of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah...Over the weekend, the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood said it felt "abandoned and disappointed" that the United States and Europe had failed to deliver rebels promised military support.

According to national security sources, the committee members want to learn more about the administration's overall policy and arms-delivery plan before they decide on unfreezing funding. The State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee have not responded to Mother Jones' requests for comment, and the House Intelligence Committee had no immediate comment on the story.

These Numbers Show the Obama Administration Isn't Following Its Own Deportation Policy

| Tue Jul. 9, 2013 11:50 AM EDT
Percentage of all deportation filings related to criminal activity

In August 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer devote the scarce resources of the federal government to deporting undocumented immigrants whose only real crime was entering the US to find a job. Instead, the administration promised smarter enforcement, focused primarily on criminal aliens. "It makes no sense to spend our enforcement resources on these low-priority cases when they could be used with more impact on others, including individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes," wrote Cecilia Munoz, the administration's director of intergovernmental affairs, in a White House blog post. "This means more immigration enforcement pressure where it counts the most, and less where it doesn't."

Fast forward two years. New data crunched by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, which uses the federal Freedom of Information Act to collect massive amounts of federal records, shows that little has changed since the administration announced the change in policy. In the current fiscal year, through June, only 14.7 percent of deportation filings have been related to criminal activity. Most of the rest have been for garden variety immigration offenses. TRAC points out that this is slightly worse than in the last year of the Bush administration, when 16 percent of deportation filings were criminal-related. And it's far different from what was going on in 1992, when nearly 30 percent of deportation filings involved allegations of criminal activity. Of course, back then, the US was deporting far fewer people, just shy of 90,000 compared with more than 212,000 in 2012. Even so, the alleged criminals make up a pretty small percentage of the deportation docket. 

The numbers vary radically by state, too. Out of the 700 deportation filings from Tennessee, only 11 were for alleged criminals. But in Hawaii, where 108 people were hit with deportation filings this year, 51 were alleged criminals, nearly 50 percent and the best record in the country for focusing primarily on criminal aliens.

TRAC's numbers, taken from official federal data, have consistently undermined the president's assertions that he's trying to ease up on Latino communities by focusing only on criminals and not all the other immigrants in this country. The administration has insisted that past TRAC reports on this issue are wrong because they don't have all the information on the criminal cases at the root of some of the deportations. TRAC, though, has asked the administration for more data, and the administration hasn't been forthcoming. 

The new immigration numbers offer one other interesting data point: Thirty-one people supposedly have been slated to be deported for terrorism or national security reasons this year. The vast majority of them were Cubans, Mexicans, or other Central Americans. Perhaps TRAC, or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, need some other way of categorizing these people, because it's really hard to believe that they're all alleged terrorists. After all, only Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) believes Al Qaeda has a big Mexican affiliate, and none of the people captured and identified as real potential terrorists are going anywhere, much less back home.