Light at end of very long tunnel for US illegal immigrants may come from a man on a horse
Peter Kelton | October 22, 2007 at 11:08 amby
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<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />When prompted by a reporter's question, a consensus emerges among most of the Democratic Party political staffs and advisors who toil away in the backrooms: "Who would most likely become your Secretary of State?" Response: "Off the record?" "Yes, of course. Just trying to get a feel for things."
"Bill Richardson, naturally." Answers were not always that direct, of course, but Richardson does top the possibilities, according to workers for seven of the top eight candidates.
Whose staff was the lone dissident? The answer: Folks who work for Richardson, of course. "He's running for president and nothing else, and gaining on everyone." Perhaps. The mid-October polls showed Richardson ranked fourth in national surveys and also in each of the early primary states, with about 4 percent versus leaders with 10 times that. Still, he was up about 2 to 3 percentage points from where he started, which validates the staff claim of "gaining."
Now the big question is: What on earth has the Secretary of State got to do with emigration? It helps to remember that "emigration" is the act and the phenomenon of leaving one's native country or region to settle in another. It is the same as "immigration" but from the perspective of the country of origin.
In other words, it helps to understand the view of the émigré, a perspective readily available to a Secretary of State with Richardson's unique qualifications, according to the survey. Republicans weren't included in the survey because, according to Gallup's annual Governance survey, conducted Sept. 14-16, 2007, the Democratic Party enjoys a 15-point lead over the Republicans in overall "favorability," 53 percent to 38 percent.
The so-called Immigration Problem currently falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. That change happened when the Bush administration lumped scores of national departments together in 2003. Previously, getting into the states from abroad had been handled through the Department of Justice, since 1941, when Franklin Roosevelt took the function out of the Department of Commerce and Labor.
Always, the Secretary of State has had a major say in how things were done, since the State Department has the powerful visa-issuing authority.
In fact, the function of people resettling in the states has been shifted from one agency to another throughout history, beginning with the Immigration Act of 1891 that put it in the Treasury Department. In 1903 the immigration governance went to the now-defunct Commerce and Labor. The State Department really got involved big time under laws passed in 1921 and 1924, issuing visas by national quotas. As noted, the swelling bureaucracy moved from Commerce to Justice in 1941 when the United States entered World War II.
Basically, all the changes of who did what to whom, from one Federal department to another, reflected efforts to control who came to the United States.
Currently, under the Bush administration, the alphabet soup looks like this: Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has been folded into the vast bureaucracy of Homeland Security, eventually becoming the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The investigative and enforcement functions (including investigations, deportation, and intelligence) were combined with U.S. Customs investigators, the Federal Protective Service, and the Federal Air Marshal Service, to create U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The border functions of the INS, which included the Border Patrol along with INS Inspectors, were combined with U.S. Customs Inspectors into the newly created U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Insiders feel Richardson's record as a diplomat makes him the ideal nominee for the highest-ranking member of the president's cabinet, a person who could lead a common sense approach to relations with other nations and in particular one who could bring together the disparate elements that create the Immigration Problem. That the Secretary of State would actually manage emigration is unlikely, but he would have a strong hand in designing the blueprint and helping sell it to lawmakers. In effect, the argument is being made that the way people from other nations are treated is indeed a matter of foreign policy. And foreign policy is definitely the responsibility of the Secretary of State.
It helps to remember that "Emigration," from the Latin emigrates, to leave home and migrate to live somewhere else, eventually leads to the Immigration Problem, a political football in the states. As everyone knows, an estimated total of about 12 million people are considered illegal emigrants under current U.S. law. The rest of the population, every last one of them except for Native Americans, are either legal emigrants from somewhere else in the world, or they are descended from legal and/or illegal emigrants.
The standard joke among the Native American population in New Mexico, where Richardson is governor, is that they don't remember granting visas, residence permits, or any other permission to the foreigners who "settled" North America. Since 25,000 B.C. the Sandia people have left the earliest evidence of human existence in what is now New Mexico. So their descendants have an "attitude." There's a T-shirt sold in Albuquerque and Santa Fe that reads "I've Been for Civil Rights Since 1850" (when New Mexico became a U.S. territory with a population of 61,547). At that time, the indigenous population was a lot larger. In fact, the Native American population has been estimated at 2 million when Europeans began invading in 1492. It dwindled to 250,000 by the 20th Century, according to Jake Page, founding editor of Doubleday's Natural History Press and subsequently its publisher, as well as editorial director of Natural History magazine and science editor of Smithsonian magazine. Today, American Indians are 10.3 percent of the state's population, many of who still live on reservations.
Under the law, this movement of people is referred to like this: Illegal immigration refers to immigration across national borders in a way that violates the immigration laws of the destination country. Under this definition, an illegal immigrant is a foreigner who either illegally crossed an international political border, be it by land, sea or air, or a foreigner who legally entered a country but nevertheless overstay their visa in order to live and/or work therein.
If Richardson becomes Secretary of State, he'll be returning to the State Department where he began his career after earning a BA in Political Science and a Masters in International Relations from Tufts University in Boston. Richardson worked for the State Department on congressional relations, and then completed a 3-year stint as an aide to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
When pressed, his staff insists he's running for the Democratic Party nomination for president and has not considered the Secretary of State appointment, no matter how likely a candidate he may be.
Insiders don't hesitate, however, to flaunt his qualifications:
"Richardson was a Congressman for seven terms, from 1983-97, served as UN Ambassador from 1997-98 and was U.S. Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton from 1998-01. Richardson is the nation's only Hispanic governor.
"UN Ambassador and International Diplomat: Richardson is a gifted and respected diplomat who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001. He has personal charm, grace, wit and a 'knack for finding a warm spot in even the surliest of despots,' per Time magazine in 1996. And he is an excellent listener. He has successfully won the release of hostages, soldiers and prisoners in Iraq, Cuba, the Sudan and North Korea. At the UN and beyond, he has defused and deflected difficulties and crises all over the world."
So much for quoting party handouts: Here's what Richardson has said publicly about the current immigration situation:
"We have an immigration system that's broken. We have 10 million illegal immigrants in America, 25 percent in the last two years. So if you have an earned legalization program that has benchmarks of law-abidingness, that has benchmarks of working hard, and you combine it with tough law enforcement, more border guards, a crackdown on illegal smuggling, better detection of those that overstay their visas, stolen-lost passports--what is needed is a comprehensive immigration reform, not piecemeal, punitive measures . . . What I would do and what I think makes sense is there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel so these immigrants come out of the shadows. And that means a clear path toward some kind of legal status."
Richardson's own legal status came from birth laws that govern citizenship. Richardson's mother was Mexican and his father a non-Hispanic banker from Boston who worked for Citibank in Mexico City. He was born in 1947 in Pasadena, California. Richardson was raised in Mexico City until he was age 13, when they moved to Massachusetts in 1961. He attended private schools, then Tufts.
He governs a state with a Hispanic population of 43.4 percent. The average across the country is 14.4 percent Hispanic. Insiders say Richardson understands the complexity of the immigration problem better than anyone in the United States. What's more, "he's able and capable of presenting it, and he can be quite persuasive. You don't see North Korea with nuclear weapons, do you?"
The bureaucracy and complexity of the ''broken" immigration system remains staggering, insiders admit. For example, there are more than 80 different kinds of visa classifications in the State Department just to attend a university. "It'll take a lot more than tweaking," according to interviewees. One of the backroom considerations, admitted by some to be "off the wall," is using some form of national service as a way of earning citizenship (currently available primarily through military service). Many countries have a mandatory national service requirement, but not the United States. The thinking is one of the National Service proposals floating around Congress might become a vehicle by which an émigré could eventually earn citizenship or at least speed up the process. Service would include civil projects and would not be limited to military service.
Richardson would be expected to bring the same aggressive tactics to help the émigré find a legal home as he currently uses in, for example, trying to overturn a Bush veto of child healthcare legislation (SCHIP).
"Through my long career in public service, I've learned that leadership isn't just about doing things. It's about doing the right things, " Richardson said Oct. 12. "We're taking him to court, to overturn the regulations he issued this summer, which will cut needy children out of SCHIP programs. And we're pushing Congress to overturn his SCHIP veto . . . and restore funding for this critical program." The veto was not overturned, however, but Richardson is active in efforts to reach some kind of legislated compromise for child healthcare.
Insiders admit it's a long, long tunnel through which Richardson might be able to show a little light for the émigré. "But," they say, "Bill is a bright guy and the right guy." Clinton staffers in particular cite his sense of what's right versus expedient and contribute that in part to his understanding of the Native American population in New Mexico and his Hispanic heritage. "He would make a great Secretary of State," they say. It has been noted that former President Bill Clinton and Richardson are often considered good friends.
And what's Richardson on a horse got to do with solving the problem? Not much beyond symbolism. In the presidential campaign, Richardson is portrayed as a diplomatic troubleshooter who wields high-level connections and travels around the world to solve problems. The horse, however, stays home. Richardson has told reporters his "true recreational loves" include riding his horse. Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, has said President Bush, also an advocate of immigration reform, was afraid of horses. Richardson isn't.
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