Tag Archives: Immigration

Monday’s Mtg (3/19/18): Will Americans really allow mass deportations?

We last considered the politics of our immigration debate in 2015. At that time, comprehensive immigration reform still seemed possible, even though the anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party had blown up such legislation twice in the last 10 years.

Obama was still president, too. So, the meeting focused on the main bipartisan bargain that had long been in play. Both sides wanted to reform America’s cumbersome legal immigration system and partially reorient it towards admitting higher-skilled labor. For undocumented/illegal immigrants, long story short, Democrats and Republican elites wanted to trade regulation in the UI labor market (green cards for almost UIs currently here coupled with a path to citizenship for some of them) for increased border security and better employer sanctions.

Ahem. Fourteen months into the most anti-immigrant presidency in a hundred years everything has changed. President Trump has attempted to ban immigration from certain Muslim countries and build a border wall. He has unleashed ICE on all undocumented immigrants indiscriminately. He threatens and denounces sanctuary cities and vows to hold DREAMERS hostage to a reduction in legal immigration. He demonizes immigrants as criminals and animals. (Excuse me, some immigrants). Some of these actions have been stopped or stalled by the courts, but others are being implemented and more is surely to come.

It seems like a good time to revisit what the public has a stomach for.

On Monday I will open our meeting with a quick overview of (1) Trump’s actions and proposed actions, (2) how the GOP’s immigration stance is changing under Trump’s control, and (3) whose public opinion could end up mattering the most here (e.g., GOP base vs. its big business wing vs. Democratic voters and independents, etc..) We can then discuss where the country might be heading and why, using the following discussion questions and/or your own.

The background articles go into more detail on all of these matters. Focus on the recommended ones.


  1. What are the main pillars of the Trump Administration’s immigration policy: Laws, executive actions, threats, rhetoric? Where does any litigation stand?
  2. Where is all of this coming from? Trump and his inner circle? The GOP base? Is the entire GOP and its media machine on-board?
  3. Democrat: Are they united against all of this?   All of it equally?
  4. Public opinion on legal and illegal immigration. Conserv/GOP vs. liberal/Dem differences? Preference vs. intensity of preference. à Whose opinion matters the most: In between elections vs. during campaigns.
  5. Will the Democrats be able to either stop some of this agenda or win in 2018 and reverse it?


Trump policies –

Public opinion –

The GOP’s big shift –

Another POV –

  • Too much immigration might be a bad thing.
  • Democrats have moved too far left on immigration.

NEXT WEEK: Do we need another Eisenhower?


Monday’s Mtg: Sanctuary Cities – Legal, Moral, Sensible?

President Trump seems to have backed down on many of his most controversial promises on immigration. There will be no big “beautiful” border wall. No brand new paramilitary deportation force prowling the country. No flat out ban on Muslim immigration (h/t The Judiciary). The same is proving to be the case on his pledge to defund and thus eliminate “sanctuary cities.”

What are those? As the links below explain, there is no formal legal definition of what a sanctuary city is. But basically, a large number (400+!) of cities and towns across the USA have pledged not to turn over certain undocumented immigrants (UIs) that the local governments come into contact with, or even to notify the Feds that they are in custody. These places are not literally sanctuaries in the medieval-Quasimodo sense. Local authorities cannot physically interfere to stop federal agents from seizing a UI in local custody if they learn about it and want to do so.  But, sanctuary cities do refuse to (1) spend resources arresting and holding ever person they encounter they suspect might be here illegally, and (2) inform ICE/DHS and hold the person until they Feds come to take them away.  Sanctuary cities say they need to spend scarce law enforcement resources on serious crimes, not enforcing federal immigration law.

But, I don’t think this is over. The idea of sanctuary cities really, really infuriates many conservatives. They think it’s unconstitutional. Plus, the idea of big blue cities defying law and order to protect people who are here without permission (and are disproportionally  violent criminals, our President said) hits all the conservative outrage sweet spots. Since I’m seeing progressives going all-in to support the undocumented and defy the GOP’s push to reduce illegal immigration, I think this now almost totally partisan issue will be with us for a long time.


  1. What are sanctuary cities? Different meanings of, history of.
  2. Moral and policy pros and cons.
  3. Constitutional and legal pros and cons
  4. Trump’s actions and their legality.
  5. Bigger picture on immigration.


NEXT WEEK: July 3 fireworks – What does the United States stand for?

Monday’s Mtg: Whatever Happened to the Boat People?

Today’s “boat people” fleeing the Middle East for Europe are just the latest in a long line of water-borne refugees fleeing wars and chaos. Carl, who has some personal experience in this, wanted us to talk about what most people old enough to remember it think of as the Boat People: The 1.2 million Southeast Asians that fled the aftermath of the wars in Indochina in the 1970s-80s. Most of them that resettled in the United States were Vietnamese, many of Chinese or Hmong descent. But, there were also tens of thousands of Cambodians, Laotians, and others.

I won’t be at Monday’s meeting. Too bad because I remember these events pretty vividly. I remember we faced the same hard questions and anguished choices the Europeans are facing today over their refugee problem. What is our moral responsibility to these people? Which countries should let in how many? Who should screen them and using what criteria? How can we help the host countries near the war zone that are overwhelmed with asylum seekers? Should some refugees be sent back to their home countries against their will (some Vietnamese boat people were)?

And, I recall the fierce political opposition the Boat People inspired, not just here but in other countries – including, BTW, Germany and Great Britain. In 1975 when Saigon fell, everybody was generous. As migrants kept on coming in large numbers year after year, not so much. Yes, a lot of that opposition was racist. But 1975-85 were tough economic times, too. A lot of Americans did not want to compete for jobs and government resources with an unexpected new wave of immigrants from countries that we had already sacrificed 57,000+ of our young men to defend.

As Carl will explain in my absence, many of the Boat People of the 1970s-80s had a kind of happy ending. The international community eventually resettled over 2 million of them, mostly in developed countries, with the United States taking the most. They joined a long historical list of boat people (see links), from Cubans (1980s) to Haitians (1980s) to European Jews (1940s).

You would think we’d have this down by now.

Anyway, on Monday evening Carl will give his take on whatever happened to the Indochinese Boat People and what lessons we perhaps should have learned.


Next Week:  What does today’s science fiction say about our culture?
Borg on the fourth of July!  

Monday’s Mtg, Part III: Trump and the Future of the Republican Party

Dammit! Just in time for our meeting on Monday, Donald Trump goes and destroys his own candidacy today. In case you missed it, Trump turned a 90-minute stump speech into a vicious diatribe against people he ohlds in sneering contempt. Yawn. Well, today those enemies were (1) Iowans, and (2) evangelical Christians I general. The Media focus has been on the way Trump’s highly-personal and nasty attacks on Ben Carson, who now leads Trump in Iowa bit still trails in nationwide. He compared Carson’s alleged violent temper as a youth to the pathology of a child molester and asked, “How stupid are the people of Iowa” to believe Carson’s many tall tales. (The latter’s a good question. IMO).

But check this. Trump also ranted that Carson

…goes into the bathroom for a couple of hours and he comes out and now he’s religious. And the people of Iowa believe him. Give me a break. Give me a break. It doesn’t happen that way. It doesn’t happen that way….Don’t be fools, okay?

All. Done. I think this will drop Trump’s popularity in half, sooner rather than later. . Trump was a hero to 30% or so of the GOP base as long as he expressed hatred for the things they hate. I know elites have said trump is toast before, but Trump has never before spoken of his – rather obvious, frankly – contempt for religion before. Ridiculing the core belief of evangelism that people can be saved by a simple act of faith? A game-ender, especially in an election that the Right is turning into a culture war election rather than an economic referendum.

But, we’re fine. I think progressive sometimes overstate how important Trump’s rise is. But, Trumpism is a real window into the GOP as it is presently constituted and may offer some clues about where the party is heading in the future. Here are just a few more links on these matters.

LINKS – Future of the Republican Party

OTHER POSTS for this week’s mtg on Trumpism –

Part I: Is Trump’s popularity real?

Part II: Theories of Trumpism.

Part IV: Some more conservative POVs on all of this.

Monday’s (8/10/15) Mtg: The Politics of Immigration

Two years go one of my favorite political analysts predicted that immigration policy was going to be the big sleeper issue of the 2016 election. I thought this was overstated. But, I also believed the elite news media was missing the importance of immigration in our politics. In the last 20 years a substantial chunk of the electorate has developed a thick crust of anti-immigrant hostility, especially but not exclusively on the Right. It is a minority within the GOP, but a much-feared and influential one.   At the same time, the Media also was failing to understand that public opinion towards immigration was complex and divided by class and other  socioeconomic characteristics, too.

Well, thanks to Donald Trump, immigration is back on the front burner. Since I haven’t the slightest doubt that the Media will fail to do its job again, I’m glad this topic came up for Civilized Conversation now, before elite Media memes have hardened into stone. We can do better. We could hardly do worse.

I’m very short of time this week. But, I will try to do enough research to open our discussion by describing the basic topography of public opinion on (legal and illegal) immigration. Then, we can debate the incentives politicians in both parties face on this issue.  My hope is the understanding we gain will help us understand what happens the next year and a half.

Discussion Questions (detailed) –

  1. WHAT does the U.S. public really think about immigration issues and how important is this issue to them? How do opinions vary by
    1. Partisanship and ideology?
    2. Socioeconomic status, religiosity, geography, and other factors?
  2. WHY do people hold these opinions? Rational interest? Support for rule of law?  Economic scapegoating? Racism/xenophobia? How can we tell which motive rules?
  3. HOW has public opinion influenced political leaders’ strategic calculations?
    1. In general.
    2. On specific issues, like on comprehensive reform, border security, path to citizenship? How about on Obamacare and criminal justice reform?
  4. GOP/Conservatives:
    1. Do the most anti-immigrant base votes rule the roost? How much room for maneuver do GOP leaders have?
    2. What role has conservative talk radio/news media played?
    3. Will immigration politics determine the GOP presidential nominee? How anti-immigrant will the GOP congress be
    4. Trump: How many GOP voters really support his wall + deport all POV? Is he saying anything not said every day in conservative news media?  Will he harden the party’s stance on immigration or is this xenophobia’s last hurrah?
  5. DEMS/progressives:
    1. Obama: How supportive are they of Obama’s immigration policies? Who dissents?
    2. Clinton: What’s in Hillary’s new immigration plan?
    3. Motives: Is this all about winning Latino votes, or is it principled?
    4. Will Dem policies drive away White working class voters? Is it worth it?
  6. FUTURE: How might politics of immigration change in the next 2 yrs? In 10?


Next Week: Anti-Science Views of the Political Right and Left.

Monday’s Mtg: The Changing Definition of Whiteness

Did you know there is an academic field called, “Whiteness studies?” Here’s a primer. Well, Lace, who no doubt is familiar with the discipline, suggested we discuss the changing meaning of whiteness in America. Obviously, who qualifies as white and who does not has been one of the central battlefields of American history.

And for good reason. Being white has always conveyed enormous advantages in life relative to the circumstance of not being born white. The advantages of being white often were invisible to and unacknowledged by its beneficiaries throughout our history, of course. But the power of white privilege in the past is obvious from the endless, furious efforts made over 225 years to devise highly precise cultural – and even legal – racial categories and hierarchies.

What about today, and tomorrow?  As you probably all know, the United States is poised within a few decades to become a “majority-minority” country; i.e., one in which whites are less than 50% of the population. Most Americans seem to sense that the country is changing pretty fast, even if they don’t know this demographic prediction. Some people think that fear of the loss of white privilege and the dilution of whiteness is a factor behind some of the bitter, apocalyptic opposition to President Obama’s policies (“the Redistributor-in-chief,” or Obamacare as “reparations?”) Hatred of illegal immigrants and extreme forms of fear and loathing of Muslims could be connected to this, as well.

Maybe so, maybe not.  Even if you doubt the racial panic argument (and I think it’s too simplistic), I still think Monday will amount to a lot more than just a good history discussion.  Given the malleability of racial categories in our past, the future of them is up for grabs, too. Will our society enlarge the definition of whiteness to accommodate the more diverse country that’s coming? Or will racial identification in America slowly fade away, as it finally has begun to do in recent decades? I’ll open with something short and then we can do our thing.


  1. How has the meaning of whiteness changed throughout American history? Was whiteness a construct of culture, politics, or law? What about science and religion?
  2. Who is considered White in America today and who is not? Why?
  3. So what? What privileges does being white convey – today? Has that privilege eroded over time, or are many white Americans exaggerating what they have lost?
  4. What is the future of whiteness in the United States? Will we ever have our melting pot, or will being white always be aspired to because it always will be a privileged status?


Next Week:  Why do San Diegans pay such high utility rates?

Monday’s Mtg: Political Refugees – Do We Let In Too Many, Or Not Enough?

In the last two years, a huge surge of unaccompanied illegal immigrant children (UAC or unaccompanied children – mainly teenagers) into the United States has occurred.  In most years, about 6,000-8,000 such minors are apprehended trying to cross our southern border.  Some come to reunite with a parent who’s already here, others are sent by desperate parents trying to get their kids away from poverty and/or violence, and still others are victims of human trafficking.  But, starting in 2012, something changed (opinions vary on what -see links) and the number of  UACs began to soar.  A lot.  In the eight months prior to July 2014, over 57,000 UACs and undocumented children with a parent turned themselves in to immigration authorities at the border.

This surge had two big effects.  First, it overwhelmed the government’s system for dealing with UACs.  As I’ll explain, the situation was exacerbated by a 2008 anti-human trafficking law that gave all such children a right to make an asylum claim before a judge before being deported.  Second, conservatives reacted with fury to the sudden influx and to the government’s ham-handed efforts to find room to house the kids by moving them to locations around the country.  Protestors blocked buses carrying the children (in Murrieta, for example), and conservative media went ballistic.  They blamed President Obama’s executive orders and “pro-amnesty” rhetoric for luring the kids here.  All this likely put the final nail in the coffin of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress; no major GOP candidate is running for election or reelection in 2014 on an immigration reform platform – except on a deport-them-all platform.  The UAC issue also has been used to pressure Obama not to issue any sweeping new executive order on immigration. The wave of unaccompanied minors crested in July and has fallen back to normal levels in recent months, but the sour taste among conservatives – and liberals – remains.

I thought we could discuss some of these issues have raised..  There’s a lot to talk about, from asylum laws to border enforcement.  On Monday, I’ll open us up by explaining the recent border crisis and trying to summarize U.S. refugee and asylum law.  Then, we’ll see where it goes.


  1. What caused the recent surge in unaccompanied undocumented minors?  Why was the government caught flat-footed?   How does a 2008 anti-human trafficking law affect the situation?
  2. What is political asylum and a political refugee?  What are U.S. obligations under international law regarding them?  How many do we let in, what is the process for doing so, and what burden of proof of persecution must asylum seekers meet?
  3. Should we change our laws to admit more – or fewer – refugees?
  4. Has the UAC crisis revealed problems in U.S. immigration law and/or policies?
  5. Could anything revive the prospects for immigration  reform?


Next Week:  Sex education – What works and what’s right?

Monday’s Mtg: Racial Profiling and Stop and Frisk.

Racial profiling is one of those issues that most members of our discussion group probably have very little feel for. Most of us, I’ll bet, have never lived in a neighborhood where young people are routinely stopped and scrutinized by the police, or in one with the crime levels that are used to justify the practice. Racial profiling has been illegal since 1968, when SCOTUS ruled that police cannot legally search someone solely on the grounds that their race or ethnicity makes them “suspicious.” But, the police still have enormous discretion in who they can stop and search and how, and young men/women in many poor communities of color are subject to interrogation and search by law enforcement whenever they leave the house.

Allegations of racial profiling and debates about its effectiveness have been in the news a lot the past few years. In 2013, a court struck down NYC’s controversial “stop and frisk” program, wherein law enforcement made it a deliberate practice to stop lots and lots of people on the street and search them for weapons and contraband. Mayor Giuliani and others argued that it lowered crime in the city and that the inconvenience to law-abiding citizens was worth it. Opponents said stop and frisk violated the rights of tens of thousands of innocent people, did not cause NYC’s drop in crime, and amounted to a kind of tax on poor people of color. Racial profiling also has been a huge issue in immigration, via Arizona’s A.B. 1070 “papers please” law, and in the anti- terrorism realm since 9/11.

We have a special guest Monday night, via Carl, who will talk about another topic and answer questions for the first 20 minutes. Then, I’ll give a very brief issue intro on our main topic and open it up. Let’s all stretch ourselves a little on this one and try to imagine how other people’s experiences might lead them to see the world differently than we do.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is “racial profiling?” Why is it outlawed and what discretion do the police still have to search someone based partially on their appearance?
  2. Stop and frisk: Does it work? How high are the costs to poor communities of color and how do they compare to the benefits of falling crime (if it does that)? Also, who should get to decide what to do?
  3. Read the articles below on what it feels like to be racially profiled. Does this move you to think differently about our topic?
  4. Immigration: Any unique issues that make racial profiling more or less permissible?
  5. Terrorism: Same question.

Links —

Next Week:  How to handle territorial disputes in the 21st century.  (Iraq and Israel/Palestinians, anybody?)

Monday’s Mtg: Are Race-/Ethnic Politics Making a Comeback?

I try to make sure we discuss race in our politics at least once a year.  I mean, a group devoted to American politics that ignores race might as well just give up show business altogether.

Luckily, we have a special treat on Monday.  Neil Visalvanich, a friend of mine who is writing his dissertation at UCSD on the role race plays in voter behavior, will be here to help us.  Neil, an experienced teacher and lecturer, will run the meeting by giving a brief opening presentation and then moderating.  I told him on the phone that Civilized Conversation was interested in hearing how experts try to separate out the role that race plays from the zillion other factors that influence our politics.  And, we also wanted to get a better sense of whether race-based politics is making a comeback in America, as it sometimes seems to be doing (not just via the rise of the Tea Party, but also the hardening of partisan attitudes towards the Democrats among other ethnic groups).

Discussion Questions –

Be thinking about questions for Neil.  Mine will include:

  1. How do experts measure people’s racial attitudes?  Do they all agree on how it should be done?  How does “racism” differ from “racial resentment” from “racial identity,” etc.?
  2. How do racial attitudes influence political beliefs?  How do they know?  Is it different for different people?
  3. So, are racially- and ethnically-based politics making a comeback in America?  How do we know this?  Is it just among conservatives?  Really?
  4. If so, why?  Are the reasons temporary (e.g., first Black president, giant recession) or structural (demographic/economy changes)?
  5. [Ay others Neil tells me to add or subtract]

Links –

Neil may provide me more before the meeting, but here are a few to get you started.


NEXT WEEK:    NSA Surveillance State: Who’s Watching the Watchers?

Monday’s Mtg: Immigration Reform – What Reforms Would Work?

Ooh, is this a big, fat issue for our group, even bigger than education reform that we took on last week!  Immigration reform is bitterly divisive and the last try at a comprehensive rewrite went down in flames in 2007 fanned by the GOP’s base voters – even though the Bush White House, the Republican congressional leadership, and most Democrats supported it.   Could the stars really be aligned just six years later?

Maybe.  Everybody knows our immigration system is broken.  Republican leaders want reform to start to rebuild their bona fides with Hispanics and the Party’s business wing wants it, too.  The Democrats want to bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows and under the rule of law so they can contribute to better wages for all workers, and, yeah, for prosaic political reasons, too (like cementing the Latino vote for a generation, including new citizens).   A bipartisan Senate “gang of eight” released an 800-page bill on April 13 and the whole town is trying to hammer out a grand compromise that might be acceptable to the Tea Party-dominated House.  The White House is letting Congress take the lead, and House Republicans and talk radio types are not yet openly trying to sabotage the whole thing again.  We could talk about the politics endlessly.

But, what about the substance?  Which immigration reforms might actually “work” to solve the system’s many flaws?  Surprisingly, there is a fair amount of consensus among policy types on what the goals of reform have to be and what the major moving parts of a reform law should look like.   the Senate plan is based on that consensus, basically.

So, on Monday night, I’ll open by explaining the

  1. Major flaws in our immigration system, including our broken legal immigration system, which does not get nearly enough attention; and
  2. Major elements of reform that the gang of eight, et. al., are negotiating over, and how they would fit together in a new system

I’ll skip the politics of the issue, although the politics are fascinating and more than a little weirdBasically, GOP elites want this to happen, and have to try to figure out a way to make it happen without reawakening the sleeping giant of their base voters and the Tea Party-oriented House members that must answer to them.  The Democrats have to walk a fine line between compromising to get GOP support and angering their liberal, union, and Latino supporters.  And, nobody wants to put all of this effort and political capital into an end product that turns out so watered down and self-contradictory that it fails to solve our immigration problems.


  1. What are major problems of our immigration system that comprehensive reform would have to address?  Is there any agreement between right and left on what the problems are and their causes?
  2. What reforms were nearly passed in 2007 and why did the effort collapse?  What principles underlay those ideas?
  3. What is the basic outline of the current reform effort?  What are the major moving parts of reform and how are they supposed to work together as policy to solve (hint: just improve, really) the system’s problems?
  4. How much room is there – both substantively and politically – to compromise before this whole thing falls apart?
  5. Conservatives and Liberals:  What do you want most out of immigration reform?  What are your deal breakers?  What would constitute victory and what would be a defeat?