The Obama Record on Immigration

The second inauguration of President Obama today is an event that will be long remembered.  But if our President really desires a meaningful historical legacy in the area of human rights, he will provide capable leadership on realistic immigration reform.

To date Obama’s record, in spite of his rhetorical claims, is abysmal.  Remember before the events of 9/11 that President Bush was about to push through Congress new legislation that, among other things, would have provided for a labor management program for Mexican workers in the United States as well as other concrete reforms to the Immigration and Reform Act of 1986.

After 9/11 President Bush and both political parties made a deal to leave immigration reform untouched even though by 2006 the problems that states faced, especially border states, had grown severe.  During the summer of 2006 our political leadership turned immigration reform into an “international security” problem: until such time as our southern border with Mexico was magically declared “operationally secure”, any kind of immigration reform at the federal level was off the table.

That left states like Arizona between a rock and a hard place.  Let to their own, the Republican dominated Arizona legislature began churning out laws that were designed to make the lives of illegal immigrants living in Arizona as painful as possible.  At the same time Sheriff Arpaio was given free rein on the streets of Phoenix.  The Arizona immigration laws began to spread to other border and non-border states until finally the Supreme Court was forced to rule on their constitutionality; in general their decision was a reminder to the states that immigration law was responsibility of the federal government.

Of course all these missteps could have been avoided if during his first term President Obama had begun a thoughtful and fair process of immigration reform which seriously considered problems faced both by the states, including lack of funding, while simultaneously considering such issues as the needs of the children of illegal immigrants locked out of public educational institutions.

After their losses last November some Republicans are now willing to begin the process of negotiations of immigration laws to appear more open to their Latino constituency.  President Obama must provide the leadership and the political will to bring other Republicans and conservative Democrats to the table by offering concessions where necessary.

With the exception of President Obama’s executive order that is a precursor to the Dream Act, immigration reform since 1986 has remained a dream.  It is now time for President Obama to act and in so doing to begin the process of bringing these 11 million immigrants into our society while, at the same time, maintaining and supporting the rights of all American citizens.

On this inauguration day it is legitimate to question whether President Obama can achieve meaningful immigration reform in the next four years.

Posted in Immigration

NNSA and Contractors’ ‘Nuclear Safety Culture’ Spawns Y-12 Breach

It was the security guard who first arrested Sister Rice and her two accomplices who was immediately identified by name and fired after the Y-12 security breach.  This in spite of the fact that the Y-12 nuclear facility is described as, “…an extensive security mechanism that relies on well-trained and extensively equipped protective force, advanced technology, and a variety of physical fortifications”.  Annual security costs at Y-12 are $150 million.

The security breach at Y-12 is more accurately understood not as the fault of a single guard, but as one among a number of facilities under the purview of the National Nuclear Security Administration experiencing repeated security and safety lapses The NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency created by Congress in 2000 to address serious issues that the DOE was unable to resolve, is also responsible for cost and schedule overruns by private contractors.

Two months before the breach at Y-12, outside consultants hired to assess the “nuclear safety culture” in the construction of a new building in the stages of advanced planning at Y-12, the Uranium Procession Facility (UPF), expressed concerns about the responsibility for different safety and security issues between and among the NSAA, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Y-12 (B&W Y-12), and the four subcontractors hired in the design phase of the UPF project

According to the independent consultants, the NNSA, on-site manager B&W Y-12, and its four contractors, Merrick & Company, Jacobs Engineering, CH2M Hill, and URS Corporation, all failed to take ownership of vital safety and security issues and, instead, were allowed to presume others responsible.

In short, “The safety culture experts determined that the willingness to raise concerns and identify problems across the UPF Organization is not as pervasive as it should be to ensure that the organization is preventing events and learning form its performance.  Negative perceptions around feeling free to challenge management decisions and believing that constructive criticism is encouraged may be contributing to the behavior.”

It is the responsibility of NNSA to hire a site manager that clearly oversees all sub-contractors and defines responsibilities for all safety and security issues.  At the same time, it is Congress that must provide the final oversight of NNSA, including the responsibility for the security breach at Y-12 and the errant nuclear safety culture that spawned it.

Posted in Y-12

Y-12 Security Guard is Fall Guy for NNSA

Mainstream news regarding the breach of the nuclear facilities at Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has virtually ceased.  However, government documents-published only a few months prior to this monumental rupture on July 28th of the most highly secured nuclear facilities in our land-suggest a vast range of systemic bureaucratic blunders.

Initial reports at the time focused blame on one security guard, but it now appears that the security breach at Y-12 is another yet another monumental misstep in a decade-long series of security and safety boondoggles symptomatic of management dysfunction within the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Using only wire cutters and flashlights, Sister Susan Rice, 82 years of age, and two other senior confederates successfully bypassed “an extensive security mechanism that relies on well-trained and extensively equipped protective force, advanced technology, and a variety of physical fortifications” with an annual price tag to the taxpayer of $150 million. The three peace activists then spent three hours just twenty feet from 200 tons of bomb grade plutonium.

Testimony five months prior to the breach at Y-12 by Gene Aloise before the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Committee on Armed Services, documents more than ten years of serious security problems at Y-12 and other facilities under the NNSA and a private contractors.  The lone security guard at Y-12 was nothing but a scapegoat for larger security and safety decisions over which he had no control or responsibility.

Mr. Aloise’s testimony documented that NNSA was in fact originally created to fix crucial problems which the Department of Energy (DOE) was unable to address in a satisfactory manner.   The security guard at Y-12, the first fired, was a temporary distraction masking much larger issues of mismanagement at Y-12 and other nuclear facilities under NNSA.

Now more than ten years further on, it is the NNSA itself that bears close examination by Congress and the public to insure the on-going security and safety of our nuclear facilities.

Posted in Y-12

Double Travesty of Justice from a Helicopter

Two issues among many immediately raise their ugly heads when I think of the senseless deaths of two illegal immigrants near La Joya, Texas.  The first is that the Texas Department of Public Safety thinks it knows more about stopping drug loads, which this was not, than the Border Patrol.  The Border Patrol, mandated by Congress in 1924, has a set of professional procedures that all of its agents closely must follow or face the consequences.  Such procedures do not include shooting out the tires of a suspected drug smuggler from a helicopter.  If the federal agency trained to intercept drug smugglers does not have a shoot-from-the-helicopter policy, why would the Texas Department of Public Safety?

Second-and there really is a much longer list here-why would the Texas Rangers be called in to investigate this tragic shooting?  If anyone knows Texas history, they will remember that the Texas Rangers were initially disbanded in the 1920s for systematic racist killings of hundreds of Mexicans and Mexican Americans along the Texas border. Then there is the 1960’s case brought against Texas Ranger Captain Allee, a case so egregious against border migrant farm workers attempting to improve their wages and working conditions that it is a landmark to the brutality and incompetence of Texas Rangers.  There are much more recent cases demonstrating this same trend. The Texas Rangers have no credibility along the border

The Border Patrol should be left to what it does best, which is guard the border and interdict smugglers.  This also means the Texas Department of Public Safety troopers should do what they do best, which does not include interdicting drug loads along the Texas border. As for the Texas Rangers? Let their institutional history be a guide to the wisdom of allowing this law enforcement agency to investigate any misdeeds against Latinos by law enforcers in other agencies.

Posted in Customs and Border Protection, Immigration

Tuesday’s Elections

Tuesday’s elections come at a momentous time, a time when the country is clearly divided by those who continue to grow in wealth and those who are stagnating or falling increasingly into poverty.  Although there are those who firmly believe that global warming is a myth, the impact of Sandy is very real; however,  it remains to be seen to what extent Sandy may be spun into just an “extreme” weather event rather than what it in fact appears to be-a product of global warming.

There is, besides an income gap, repeated evidence of racism throughout our society.  Then there is the issue of government-sponsored medical care for all Americans and how to best deliver it. The list goes on and on….two diametrically opposed parties and constituencies with little in agreement except pieces of American foreign policy.

Lurking in the background  are the Super Pacs, a first, that are undermining our democracy.  This election, as suggested by many, has been “post-truth”, a version of Steven Colbert’s “truthiness”.  Both sides were guilty of neglecting facts in the name of electing their slate.

There are many Americans who believe President Obama must be replaced, that he has done little to nothing for this country over his first term.  At the same time, it seems clear now that the Republicans seem much more interested in the welfare of their own party and its agenda than the best interests of the country as a whole.

If this is not the case, then the Republicans will have plenty of time to demonstrate their intentions if Romney is elected Tuesday night.  And if Romney loses, then the Republicans will have four years to show that they care less about “anybody but Obama”, more about the future of every American regardless of party affiliation.

Who holds the highest office in this country does matter.  Soon we will know who that will be. I continue to hope that these momentous elections will not be decided by anyone but the voters.

Posted in The ELECTION

The Impact of Sandy on the Elections?

Sandy has introduced so many new contingencies and variables in the presidential race, and all the other equally important races towards the bottom of the ballot, that it is impossible to guess its impact on elections this Tuesday.

Or the outcome of the elections.

As of today it appears as if the presidency, according to all the tracking polls, is really too close to call.

My only personal hope is that it is American voters who determine our next president and not, as in 2000, the Supreme Court.

Posted in The ELECTION

Because of Sandy, Is Global Warming the “October Surprise”?

Even though it is still much too soon to quantify the extent of the damage caused by this unusual storm, Sandy is obviously a monstrous disaster.

I do not wish to belabor the obvious, but with the election a week from today it seems very strange that global warming has been such a neglected topic throughout this long presidential campaign.  Even as both parties strive to outdo the other in relief to those affected by this storm, shouldn’t we be examining much larger issues?

The unusual and historic nature of this disastrous storm should prod both the democrats and the republicans to reconsider the importance of what the vast majority of our world’s scientists are telling us about global warming, sea level rise, and the vulnerability of our coastal populations not only in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, but all along our western and eastern coastlines.

If any good can emerge from the devastation caused by this one storm, perhaps it should be the growing awareness that we must reconsider our national policies regarding global warming.  And that we begin in every way possible to funnel our resources, as the impact of Sandy would suggest, into avoiding Katrina-like scenarios along our other two coasts.

Posted in The ELECTION

Shooting From a Helicopter?

Last Thursday a Texas state trooper fired at what he believed to be a truck smuggling illegal drugs across the border near La Joya, Texas.  The Texas state trooper fired at the truck’s tires in order to stop it as the truck was being chased through the brush and scrub which surround La Joya.  He shot at the truck tires from a helicopter (AP, New York Times, p. 22, 10/28/12.)

Eight suspects were arrested in the truck. Not including two illegal Guatemalan immigrants who were killed, apparently from the crash when the driver lost control of his vehicle.  The Texas state trooper who fired from the helicopter was put on administrative leave, which is the usual procedure.  No drugs were found in the truck.

This event is a travesty of American justice.  Professional law enforcers like the Border Patrol would never ever attempt to shoot from a helicopter at a speeding truck carrying drugs: this whole scenario is beyond belief.

The interdiction policies of the Texas state police immediately must be carefully reviewed and those responsible punished to the full extent of the law.  If indeed shooting at the tires of a suspected truck carrying drugs is permissible under the existing policy of the Texas state police at this time, then all those who put in place and permitted such a ridiculous and unprofessional policy bear full responsibility for this tragedy.

Posted in Border Security

DHS Finally Investigates the Border Patrol or Does It?

The Associated Press reported last week that the Department of Homeland Security’s own Office of the Inspector General was investigating charges of excessive force by Border Patrol guards at the Mexican border.  According to the article that appeared in the Washington Post, the investigation “… involves a review of accusations of brutality and excessive force as it works to determine whether reforms have been implemented.”

Foremost among the cases presumably to be examined by DHS’ Inspector General is Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas who died at the border near San Diego.  A video recently emerged which depicts what looks like blatant brutality against Mr. Hernandez as he is repeated tasered while lying on the ground surrounded by Border Patrol agents.  And last week at the border in Nogales, Arizona, a Border Patrol agent shot a young boy, aged 16, who allegedly was throwing rocks.  There are, as well, a number of other cases since 2010 in which Border Patrol agents have used deadly force.

But what is not being investigated by DHS’ Office of the Inspector General is the risky and dangerous work of being a border guard, on the one hand, and the marked decline in professional training recruits receive at their national training academy in New Mexico.

So the good news is that fewer illegal immigrants are successfully entering our country as reflected in Border Patrol statistics.  The bad news is that violence against agents is increasing along with the number of illegal border-crossers who are dying at the hands of border agents.

There are at least two major reality checks ignored only at the peril of our agents on the line.  The first is that Border Patrol agents since their rapid recruitment to meet the numbers of new agents mandated by Congress have consistently received less and less professional academy training.  Standards have been lowered so that a higher percentage of agents successfully graduate.  Actual training at the national academy shrank from more than five months to slightly more than fifty days.  So the end result of adding an additional 21,000 agents, on top of those needed to replace a high annual turnover rate, is men and women who must make lightening quick decisions in dangerous situations.  These agents require more training, not less.  The on-the-job mentorship that many Border Patrol managers tout is unfortunately a poor remedy for months lost at the academy under the watchful eye of trained and experienced law enforcement professionals.

The second reality check that no one discusses is the implications and consequences of explosive organization growth: the Border Patrol has grown too fast and too furious.  The current culture among the majority of Border Patrol agents in this largest federal law enforcement agency in our country frequently validates and tacitly supports excessive force.  Indeed, this is the history of the Border Patrol as repeatedly documented since its inception in 1924.  While changing, Border Patrol institutional culture still allows with impunity for agents to harass, abuse, and harm those they have interdicted.

The Border Patrol badly needs reform to protect its agents and those they interdict, but not just on the limited issue of excessive force.

Posted in Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, Customs and Border Protection

Mexican Bad Guys Go to B-School

The testimony in Brownsville, Texas, of former Gulf cartel tsar Rafael Cardenas Vela outlined the business practices and plans of a very successful regional Mexican drug operation.  Mr. Vela’s testimony a few weeks ago at his trial on a variety of heinous charges referred to his cutthroat organization, Mr. Vela bemoaning the pitfalls of his job because, “I can’t do everything myself”.

Mr. Vela seemingly confronted, as does every CEO, the business reality of too many details requiring too many hasty decisions.  One example Mr. Vela gave in his sworn testimony was the need to pay bribes of $1 million a month in order to sustain his bloodthirsty operations.

While jurors in Brownsville and the media in general were apparently impressed by the B-School practices of this ruthless drug organization, one individual, Will Glaspy who heads the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, reached a wildly spurious conclusion from Mr. Vela’s testimony in Brownsville.

Will  Glaspy, quoted in the Huffington Post, said, “You have to keep attacking the command and control elements again and again.”  In other words, the lesson learned from Mr. Vela is that the DEA and other law enforcers should continue to capture and/or eliminate those at the top of the drug monster, a daily endeavor we would neglect at our own peril.

But since this so-called “Drug War” initiated under President Reagan has been going on for more than 30 years, does not Mr. Vela’s testimony elicit a more precise lesson than that gleaned by Mr. Glaspy?  Clearly we have long since lost this Drug War.  And clearly it is getting much worse based upon the number of bodies piling up within Mexico and our inner cities; Chicago’s body count tied to drugs this year is a disaster.  Instead of continuing to spend billions each year following Mr. Glaspy’s philosophy, it would seem that by now we would have learned that treating drug users less as criminals and more as a public health issue will get us much further than yet another year of the Drug War.

Rather than waste time admiring the infrastructure of Mexico’s drug operations, including their use of hundreds of American local gangs within our border, why don’t we finally begin as a nation to redefine our national problem with illegal drugs?

Posted in Drug Cartels