WTF Friday, 6/20/14

Welcome to this week’s WTF Friday, “Let’s All Demonize Refugees and Abused Children” edition.

The day started out promisingly. This morning, in honor of World Refugee Day, Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement:

“It is a time to honor the strength and resilience of refugees around the world and renew our determination to support them as they rebuild their lives and communities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees now counts the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons at 51 million. That number is staggering by any measure. It represents children, women, and men from Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and now Iraq, who face death, destruction, and dislocation.”

But refugees don’t just come from “Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and now Iraq.” They also come from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico. And many of them come to the United States, including, recently, thousands of children.

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have “renewed our determination” to support those refugees. Vice President Biden is at this very moment meeting with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to clear up “confusion” over U.S. immigration policy in order to stem the flow of migrants fleeing the brutal violence that plagues those countries.

The confusion he’s referring to, as best as I can tell, is the optimistic belief that we would actually follow our obligations under U.S. and international law. (Namely, that we would not return refugees to countries where they would face persecution or torture, and would not deport children to situations where they would face abuse, human trafficking, or worse.) Nah, bro, apparently the plan is to “step up detention and deportation.”

And then we have the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who has just announced a hearing next week on the ways that child refugees and migrants are “gaming” the system. By which he literally means “applying for immigration relief via the processes set forth in U.S. law, and obtaining such relief if the relevant legal standards are met.” To wit:

“Unaccompanied alien minors are not subject to expedited removal under current law, and many – if not a majority – of them are eligible for immigration relief under current law.”

Following current law? Apocalypse, basically.

Memo to the executive and legislative branches: there is no “unless it’s, like, a little inconvenient” exception to the Refugee Convention. Sometimes refugee flows are burdensome, and that’s just the situation. Jordan is currently hosting more than half a million Syrian refugees in a nation of only 6.4 million people. I am sure they would prefer not to have that responsibility! But they do. Life isn’t fair.

And speaking of which, the numbers here are not actually that big. An estimated 52,000 children have come to the United States since October, which is the mass-refugee-flow equivalent of a goddamned hangnail. That’s not even enough kids to sell out a One Direction show. The Met Life stadium can handle 90,000 screaming Harry Styles fans per night, but I’m expected to believe that the entire rest of this great nation can’t take 52,000 kids over a six-month period?

So yeah, happy World Refugee Day, everyone.


WTF Friday, 5/23/2014

Ah, Britain.

That clammy island nation has given me so much: my husband, my first deep-fried Mars Bar, an unexpected quantity of master’s degrees. (Even, for a time, a job scaring tourists into unconsciousness. Youth!) But even though the UK and I are besties, I can’t give it a pass on this week’s bit of WTF-ery.

You see, it has come to my attention that UKIP gained more than 150 council seats in the local UK elections this week. According to the BBC, polls project that they would have taken 17% in a national election, if it were held today. That seems quite excessive.

“Why,” you ask, “what is a UKIP“?

That would be the UK Independence party, whose political platform is composed largely of xenophobic fear-mongering about “migrants” coming to the UK. Some highlights from their recent political escapades:

  • That time when UKIP distributed a flyer claiming that the EU was going to allow “29 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come to the UK,” a surprising claim given that the most recent World Bank statistics peg those countries’ entire populations at 7.3 million and 20.08 million, respectively. (In case you’re wondering, Romanian and Bulgarian immigration to Britain has not, in fact, turned out to be more than the total combined citizenry of both nations.)
  • That time when their party leader, Nigel Farage, told the Guardian that British people should “be wary of Romanians moving into their streets,” because of the immigrants’ “culture of criminality.”
  • That time when the UKIP MP candidate for Leicester South explained that he thought Islam was “morally flawed and degenerate,” and that “the increase of Islam in the UK is going to be a problem for the welfare state.”
  • That time when the UKIP candidate for East Sussex claimed that “The Second World Wide War was engineered by the Zionist jews and financed by the bankers to make the general public all over the world to feel so guilty and outraged by the Holocaust that a treaty would be signed to create the State of Israel as we know it today.”

Oh, okay then.

Seriously, British local-elections voters, WTF?

WTF Friday, 3/2/2012

Thanks to Shelby Grossman for pointing out some highlights of the Viktor Bout interview for those of us who don’t have a New Yorker subscription. “We learn that Bout researched the FARC before the meeting with undercover DEA agents, and arrived in Thailand with a copy of Lonely Planet: Colombia.” I’ll definitely be hitting the newsstand for this asap.

I don’t mean to go all “domestic” on you guys, but this man is too epic of an asshole to ignore (though I really should). Highlights:

  • “Arpaio, vowing that no troublemakers would be released on his watch because of overcrowding, procured a consignment of Army-surplus tents and had them set up, surrounded by barbed wire, in an industrial area in southwest Phoenix. ‘I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,’ he told me.”
  • “He banned cigarettes from his jails. Skin magazines. Movies. Coffee. Hot lunches. Salt and pepper—Arpaio estimated that he saved taxpayers thirty thousand dollars a year by removing salt and pepper.”
  • “Why the Weather Channel, a British reporter once asked. ‘So these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.'”
  • “He got a tank from the Army, had the howitzer muzzle painted with flames, and “Sheriff Arpaio’s War on Drugs” emblazoned on the sides, and rode in it, with Ava, in the Fiesta Bowl Parade.”
  • “A federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a “restraint chair.”
  • “He meant a press release. The Sheriff gathered eight or nine aides around a big table in his office. ‘Illegal Immigration Breeds Crime, Disease,’ Arpaio suggested.”
  • “The public-health specialist said gently, ‘Surgical masks do nothing to combat this virus.’ Arpaio erupted. ‘This is my press release! I’m the sheriff! I have some knowledge! I’m not just some little old sheriff!'”
  • “In 2005, he forced nearly seven hundred prisoners, wearing nothing but pink underwear and flip-flops, to shuffle four blocks through the Arizona heat, pink-handcuffed together, to a new jail. When they arrived, one prisoner was made to cut a pink ribbon for the cameras. This elaborate degradation, which is remembered fondly by Sheriff Joe’s fans, was ostensibly in the name of security—the men were strip-searched both before and after the march. But Arpaio also told reporters, ‘I put them on the street so everybody could see them.'”

WTF Friday, 1/14/2011

So a quick breakdown of the guest list for Iran’s nuclear tour. The EU said no last week, while Britain, France, and Germany were never invited (awkward), nor was the U.S. (duh). China and Russia have declined (kinda rude honestly). Now only envoys representing “developing” countries such as Cuba, Egypt, the Arab League, Syria, and Venezuela (Iran’s bff’s) are expected to attend, while there seems to be no word yet on Turkey and Brazil (waiting to see if they get invited to something better).

“Well if the DR can do it, why can’t we?” The U.S. getting ready to resume deportations of Haitian immigrants.

The Tunisian government has declared a state of emergency amidst protest. A curfew has been imposed, people cannot gather in groups bigger then 3 in the open and security forces can open fire on those not obeying orders. The 1,800 tourists gathering at the airport to be whisked away by Thomas Cook may wanna divide themselves into 600 groups.

WTF Friday, 1/7/11

With the South Sudan referendum fast-approaching, George Clooney’s “Not On Our Watch” is funding commercial sattelites to monitor possible conflict in the country. Clooney has described it as “the best use of his celebrity.” Kinda just seems like he’s trying to recruit a mercenary for Ocean’s Fourteen.

The Dominican Republic has again begun deporting illegal immigrants from Haiti after suspending this practice in the wake of last year’s earthquake. Alright, looks like everything’s back to normal.

Al Shabaab has arrested regional leaders for stealing $10,000 in aid intended for drought-affected areas. If they just kicked out the remaining aid agencies they wouldn’t have to worry about this kind of embarrassment…

WTF Friday, 4/30/10

  • Mother Jones highlights a photo series by Jonathan Torgovnik featuring women who had children as a result of rape during the Rwandan genocide. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like MJ’s headline, “Can You Love a Child of Rape?,” is really the right way to frame this. Doesn’t posing the question that way place “not loving them” as the default, and “loving them” as the exception? Doesn’t that make you kind of uncomfortable? Would really like to hear from our readers on this.

  • Speaking of rape and eye-catching headlines (as we tend to do), there has got to be a better way to convey that there has been a lot of rape in the DRC than calling it the “rape capital of the world.” I mean, shouldn’t the UN have some sort of “special representative on sexual violence in conflict” who would handle these matters more delicately? Oh, they do? Oh, she said it? Cripes.

  • FP has a great piece called “The World’s Worst Immigration Laws.” I find it interesting that Italy fines illegal immigrants while Japan pays them to leave. Wacky world we live in.
  • Lastly, from the “forgone conclusion department,” Bashir wins in a landslide.

Breaking News: Haitians Granted TPS

At 5 P.M. this evening, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that she was extending TPS to all Haitians currently in the United States:

“As part of the Department’s ongoing efforts to assist Haiti following Tuesday’s devastating earthquake, I am announcing the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals who were in the United States as of January 12, 2010. This is a disaster of historic proportions and this designation will allow eligible Haitian nationals in the United States to continue living and working in our country for the next 18 months. Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this Administration’s continuing efforts to support Haiti’s recovery. [. . .] Haitians in the U.S. who are eligible to apply for TPS should call USCIS toll-free at (800) 375-5283.”

We here at Wronging Rights HQ applaud the decision, and are very pleased that it was made so quickly.

(On a more personal note, we were deeply moved by the response to yesterday’s TPS post. Many, many of you let us know that you took immediate action, forwarded the request on to others, twittered it, wrote about it, signed petitions, and otherwise got involved. Likewise, the many immigrants’ rights groups who took the lead on advocating for TPS deserve praise for acting quickly, and getting results. This was the opposite of badvocacy. Nicely done.)

The Earthquake in Haiti: Another Way to Help

The situation in Haiti after Tuesday’s earthquake continues to defy any description other than “very, very bad.” Our thoughts are with the people in Haiti who have lost their lives, families, homes, and national treasures, as well as the many aid workers and UN officials who have been caught up in this tragedy.

If you want to give money, Chris Blattman and Laura Freschi both have good ideas and useful information. However, if you can’t give as much as you would like, or find yourself wanting to do more, then I have one further suggestion: contact the White House and tell them that you support granting Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS) immediately.

TPS is a form of temporary humanitarian immigration relief given to nationals of countries that have suffered severe disasters, natural or man-made. (For example, El Salvador got TPS was after the country was hit by a terrible earthquake in 2001, Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in 1999, and Burundi, Liberia, Sudan, and Somalia were designated because of ongoing armed conflicts.)

Once a country has been given TPS, its nationals who are in the United States can apply for work authorization (a very useful thing to have if, say, one needs to send money home to family members in need of medical care or a house that has not been reduced to rubble), can’t be deported or put into immigration detention (also quite handy if you’re trying to work and send money home), and can apply for travel authorization, which allows them to visit their home country and return to the US, even if they wouldn’t otherwise have a visa that would allow them back into the country (incredibly important if you have loved ones who have been badly hurt and need to visit them, or if you need to go home to attend funerals).

Designating Haiti for TPS status would provide an immediate, tremendously valuable benefit to Haitian immigrants in the United States. But, more importantly it would benefit their loved ones who remain in Haiti and are in desperate need of their assistance. TPS would increase and stabilize remittances at a time when they are absolutely vital. Equally significantly, especially in the quake’s immediate aftermath, it would allow immigrants to return to Haiti to find and help their loved ones, or to mourn those who they have lost, without jeopardizing their ability to return to the United States and support their surviving family members.

To express your support, contact the White House here. (Note from Kate: This is the White House’s generic “tell us a thing” form, so you’ll need to select “I have a policy comment” on the subject drop-down menu, choose “Immigration” from the drop-down menu that appears below and then write something to the effect of “I am writing to express my strong support for granting TPS to Haitians in the aftermath of the 1/13/10 earthquake” for the message content.)

If you’re interested in doing more, I suggest contacting the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, and the offices of Representatives Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, or Mario Diaz-Balart, who have sent a joint letter to President Obama urging him to grant Haiti TPS Status.

Update: Sarah from Amnesty USA noted in the comments that several organizations have set up online petitions urging the Obama administration to grant TPS. USCRI’s is here, CREDO’s is here,’s is here. Apparently Amnesty’s will be up very soon, so you should keep an eye on their site here.

Sad, Definitely. But, Um, Also Unconstitutional

Last week, Massachusetts announced that it is facing massive budget shortfalls, and is not likely to be able to fund its statewide healthcare program as it is currently structured. Their solution to that problem is to drop 30,000 legal immigrants from the program, by limiting it to U.S. citizens, and permanent residents who have been in the country for at least five years. The state estimates that the move will save $130 million per year. To his credit, Governor Deval Patrick is resisting the cuts, and has attempted to restore enough funding to the budget to at least continue partial coverage for immigrants.

Unsurprisingly, this proposal has been met with dismay from immigrants’ rights groups like MIRA, which told the New York Times that this plan sends the message that health care reform either cannot be done at all, or can only be done by excluding immigrants.

True. But as long as we’re on the subject, is there a reason why no one is mentioning that the plan also seems pretty clearly unconstitutional?

As a rule, states aren’t allowed to discriminate between aliens and citizens solely because of their citizenship status. There are a few narrow exceptions, such as jobs where there is a good reason to believe that U.S. citizenship is a necessity for the substantive tasks the employee will carry out. But in general, they must treat all state residents equally, regardless of whether or not they are U.S. citizens.

That’s because aliens are a “discrete and insular minority,” and therefore a protected class for the purposes of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Most group classifications – “people who wear Save Darfur thongs,” “gum-chewers,” “taxi drivers”- don’t get any special protection. If a government wants to discriminate between them and other citizens, then it just has to show that there is some “rational basis” for believing that the law in question will help to achieve a legitimate state goal.

However, if a government wants to discriminate on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as race, gender, or alienage, then it must meet a higher standard, “strict scrutiny.” Under that standard, a state has to prove three things: (1) that the discriminatory statute serves a “compelling state interest”; (2) that it is “narrowly tailored” to achieve that interest, and (3) that the law in question is the “least restrictive means” available to achieve the stated goal. Roughly translated, this means that the state has to prove that they can’t achieve their goal without discriminating against a protected class, that they are not discriminating any more than necessary, and that the goal in question is really, really important.

In other words, Massachusetts is going to have to do better than “we’re broke.” Their impecuniousness may be sad for them, but it’s not enough to satisfy strict scrutiny. Invidious discrimination against minorities could often be cheaper -imagine how much more money they could save if they also dropped women and black people from the program!- but that’s not enough to make it constitutional.

In case there was any doubt about that, the Supreme Court has already struck down an essentially identical law. In Graham v. Richardson, the Court examined an Arizona welfare law that only granted benefits to U.S. citizens, and aliens who had been resident in the U.S. for a certain number of years. (Sound familiar?) The state argued that it needed to restrict benefits to save money, but the Court found that argument unimpressive. “[T]he justification of limiting expenses is particularly inappropriate and unreasonable when the discriminated class consists of aliens. Aliens, like citizens, pay taxes and may be called into the armed forces…. There can be no ‘special public interest’ in tax revenues to which aliens have contributed on an equal basis with the residents of the State. ” It’s unclear to me how Massachusetts’ plan is different in any meaningful respect from the unconstitutional Arizona law at issue in Graham.

I think that some confusion may have arisen from the fact that the federal government has far more ability to discriminate against aliens than states do. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the power of the political branches (that’s Congress, and the President) to decide immigration policy includes the right to determine what federal benefits immigrants can access when they get here. But that power is expressly limited to the federal political branches -it’s often known as their “plenary power” over immigration, because they get all of it and don’t leave any for the states, (or even, for the most part, the courts).

So, that means that federal medical benefits like Medicaid can be limited to citizens without raising an equal protection problem, but state medical benefits cannot. The difference between the two situations is not unlike the difference between forcing your child to stay in your house until she finishes her homework (good parenting), and forcing someone else’s child to (kidnapping). Just as parents can’t make other people’s children live by their rules, states can’t set immigration policy, even when the policy in question involves state benefits.

Sorry, Massachusetts. You’re super nice and all, but I just don’t think this is going to work out.