Tag: Suman Ragunathan

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News Analysis: Obama Launches Immigration Reform Effort, But Lines Are Already Being Drawn

By Suman Raghunathan, FI2W consultant
President Obama at Thursday's meeting with lawmakers on immigration reform - Photo: The White House.

President Obama at Thursday's meeting with lawmakers on immigration reform. (Photo: The White House)

Finally, the much-expected meeting on immigration reform between President Barack Obama and lawmakers from both parties took place Thursday. Participating legislators said the president promised to put his energy into moving forward right away.  The response from some reform advocates was “Game On!”  But the various sides have already started drawing lines in the sand — spelling out what they will and will not accept.

Reps. Anthony Weiner (D.-N.Y.) and Joseph Crowley (D.-N.Y.) reported that President Obama began the meeting by promising to “use whatever political capital he has left” to enact comprehensive immigration reform this year.

See a White House video of the meeting:

Thursday’s meeting and the White House’s creation of a working group on immigration reform –to be headed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano– were lauded by immigrant rights groups such as America’s Voice, which called Thursday “a turning point” and declared: “Game On”.

The renewed commitment from the Oval Office might allay advocates’ fears that the current economic crisis, as well as Obama’s high-profile efforts to enact health care reform would prevent the President and Congress from dealing with immigration this year.

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Immigration Politics?: ICE Head Julie Myers Resigns Day After Election

Less than twelve hours after the results of this weeks’ election were announced, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Wednesday that Julie Myers, assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is leaving the agency by November 15.

Myers, who has led the agency since 2006, was the controversial face of the Bush administration’s enforcement-focused immigration policy. As Feet In 2 Worlds has reported,  recent large-scale ICE raids have been deeply unpopular, particularly among Latino voters and voters from other immigrant groups, and served to further tarnish the Republican brand. Post election analysis shows that Latinos gave Obama the winning edge in six states, helping to propel him into the White House and adding to Democratic majorities in Congress.

During Myers’ tenure, the agency doubled the number of undocumented immigrants swept up into deportation proceedings to reach a new record of 274,000 sent back to their home countries in 2006. The agency also saw its budget grow exponentially — and used it mostly for enforcement tactics including large-scale immigration raids that largely targeted undocumented workers rather than their employers.

Myers leaves amid speculation that she was the source of the leak to The Associated Press about the status of Obama’s undocumented Kenyan aunt only a few days before the general election. According to Rolling Stone’s Tim Wilkinson, Myers’ precipitous departure the day after the election and less than a week after the information on Obama’s aunt was leaked is likely no coincidence.

Earlier this week, Feet in 2 Worlds reported on how the immigration story of Obama’s family –including his aunt, who continues to live in Boston after her asylum claim was denied last year– reflects the situation of many mixed-status families in the U.S. The news was notable for its timing –the story broke the Friday before the election–as well as for the privileged information it disclosed.

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Latino and Immigrant Votes Likely Crucial to Obama’s Victory

JERSEY CITY, NJ – Suman Raghunathan, FI2W consultant

Over 63-million Americans voted for Barack Obama yesterday to be the nation’s 44th President, giving him a 53% to 46% victory over John McCain.

Pundits are saying that Obama’s historic victory hinged on suburban white voters turning out for him, on older white women, and overwhelming levels of support from immigrant voters. Certainly many of these voters were Latino – according to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), record Latino voter turnout nationwide in early voting was crucial to Obama’s victories in Virginia and Florida. NALEO is projecting over 9.4 million Latinos voted yesterday, and according to CNN News, 66% of Latinos supported Obama.

As we’ve written before at Feet in 2 Worlds, immigrant voters also include many other communities – particularly in the ‘salad’ of immigrant groups living in New York City.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund also saw large numbers of Asian American voters cast their vote yesterday. But what about immigrant voters as a whole?

Stay tuned for more details tomorrow on how these immigrants voted from the New York Immigration Coalition’s New Americans Exit Poll. Run by Barnard Political Science Professor Lorraine Minnite, the poll, the nation’s first and longest continuing effort to ask immigrant voters how and why they voted, reached 2500 voters at 32 polling sites in all five NYC boroughs. In addition to asking respondents the usual exit polling information about themselves – including if they were voting for the first time – the poll also will have information on the top issues that determined immigrants’ voting decisions, how they feel about the federal financial bailout, and any problems they encountered while voting.

We’ll have more details and analysis on immigrant voting patterns soon.

In Gritty Jersey City, Eager Immigrants Stream to the Polls

JERSEY CITY, NJ – Suman Raghunathan, FI2W consultant

At a fire house in Jersey City, Arab, Filipino, and South Asian voters voted in a steady stream as the early evening fog rolled in.

Several immigrants, longtime residents and US citizens for decades, felt compelled by this election to cast their first votes ever.

A couple, originally from India, voted today for the first time. The husband, in the U.S. for 27 years and a U.S. citizen since 1987, said he “felt good” after voting. He noted he had been following the presidential election and that “policies were very important to determine my choice for President.” He voted for Obama, and cited three specific issues that determined his vote: the economy (“Obama’s policies are good”), the candidates’ approaches (“his thoughts are high”), and foreign policy (“he’s better because he wants to end the war”).

Another longtime U.S. citizen originally from Egypt and a U.S. resident for over two decades wandered over to the polling site hoping to vote. Unfortunately, he had not registered in time to vote this year. He cited civil liberties as key to his reasons for voting.  “Democrats are better – they stand for more freedom,” he said.  He was so enthusiastic about Sen. Barack Obama that he was already hoping he would get re-elected. He also cited Sen. Obama’s foreign policy plans as central to why he preferred the junior Senator from Illinois. In particular, he supported Sen. Obama’s decision to diplomatically engage with Iran: “You have to sit down and talk.” He also approved of Sen. Obama’s promises to pull US troops out of Iraq.

Two immigrant voters noted their labor unions had urged them to vote for Sen. Barack Obama. One of them, a 26-year old elementary school teacher originally from Egypt who has been living in the U.S. for 10 years, sighed, “Once you press the lever, you don’t know what [the candidates] will do… I have to be responsible to give my answers to God.”

Reynaldo Manito, a 61-year old voter originally from the Philippines, proudly declared he “always voted straight Democrat”. Manito, a waiter at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, and a member of the Local 6 hotel and restaurant workers said he came to the US in 1980 and had been voting since 1995. In between drags on his cigarette, he described the difference between the major parties as follows,  “Democrats are for the poor, and Republicans are for the rich.”

Voting Barriers Encountered at a Diverse Poll Site in Queens, NY

ASTORIA, NY – By Suman Ragunathan, FI2W Consultant

In Astoria, Queens, an ethnically diverse immigrant neighborhood just minutes away from Midtown Manhattan, Saeeda Nadeem was on her way to vote for the first time after 15 years in the U.S.Saeeda, a housewife originally from Pakistan, became a citizen two years ago in 2006, and was excited to vote this year.She pointed to the differences between the candidates — a difference she described as “black and white.”

Saeeda’s husband, Mohammad, a hotel concierge –also originally from Pakistan– has been in the U.S. for 21 years and has been voting for twelve years. He said he was casting his vote because he wanted change:”The economy is going down — it’s very hard to live here, and we want hope.”He noted that he and Saeeda, who have three children born in the U.S., had been paying attention to election issues and the debates.Mohammad said he was voting for Barack Obama “because he said he would work on immigration policy.”

Saeeda and Mohammad went to P.S. 234 in Astoria, where they were told that they were at the wrong polling site. They were sent to another polling site across the street, P.S. 17.They later returned to P.S. 234, their first stop, where –though they both live at the same address– Mohammad voted. He then accompanied his wife back to P.S. 17 to vote.

Exit pollsters surveying Asian American voters at P.S. 234 reported helpful poll workers, a variety of interpreters available to assist voters in languages other than English, and very few voters being asked for identification in order to be able to vote.

Across the street, P.S. 17 was a different scene.Lines at times extended beyond the door of the Henry David Thoreau School as residents filed in to vote. Unfortunately, widespread voting barriers accompanied the long lines.

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Voter Registration 101: How Do New Citizens Become Voters?

In the midst of the swirling allegations of fraudulent voter registrations, I thought it would be useful to explain how most of the nation’s immigrant citizens become legally registered voters. Federal authorities are investigating alleged voter registration fraud by the community group ACORN, and a controversial recent report warned of up to 2 million non-citizen immigrants voting nationwide.(Click here for more of Feet in 2 Worlds’ coverage of the report on non-citizen voters, released by a publishing house the Southern Poverty Law Center designated a hate group.)

Most immigrant rights groups focus their large-scale — and, by law, nonpartisan — voter registration efforts on ceremonies where immigrants officially become U.S. citizens. Concentrating on citizenship ceremonies ensures that the people who register to vote are citizens. The lion’s share of newly- naturalized U.S. citizens register to vote this way.

Registering to vote if you are not a U.S. citizen is a felony. This means that if you are an immigrant who isn’t a citizen and you register to vote, you are breaking federal law, and are subject to deportation.For this reason alone, immigrant rights groups are very careful to make sure they do not register non-U.S. citizens to vote.

The ceremonies themselves are huge and moving affairs where hundreds or occasionally thousands of immigrants become citizens after years of waiting to make their way through the quicksand of the legal immigration system.(Check out GOOD and Reason magazines’ recent charts, which outline just how many years this process takes – six to ten years in a best case scenario, twelve to twenty at its worst).Voter registration rates at citizenship ceremonies are typically very high: usually about 75-90% of new citizens choose to register, a rate higher than the 2006 national average of 68% of all citizens eligible to vote .

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