Monday, June 30, 2008

Immigration Reform

Immigration reform is among the hot topics of this election season, and candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have differed in their response to this issue.

The US has had a long history of immigration and naturalization, starting with the "free white persons" who are of "good moral character," to the diverse communities from around the world. With over 1 million immigrants entering this nation annually, limits have subsequently been placed, and harsher policies, such as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, have resulted in the deportation of millions since 1996.

With an estimated 12-20 million undocumented immigrants in the nation today (an exact number is impossible to determine), while many recognize that this nation's foundation is built by immigrant and/or historically marginalized communities, many argue that undocumented immigrants are a threat to the nation's economic and political stability. The immigration reform debate today centers around the question of granting amnesty, increasing border controls, deportation, national security, and worker or residential programs.

The blacklogs of people waiting for naturalization is additionally a large issue. CAIR has long urged the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to naturalize backlogged applicants. As of March 2008, over 350,000 applicants are backlogged. USCIS director Emilio Gonzalez said, "Our goal is to resolve this current processing delay as immediately as possible without taking shortcuts in the process that compromise national security or the agency’s integrity."

Where do Obama and McCain stand on immigration?

The issue of immigration has long been questioned in McCain's campaign, likely intentionally so. He continues to send mixed messages as he moves to the moderate stage, arguing for increased border security, holding a tougher line for employers that hire undocumented immigrants, and a path to citizenship, but explaining that the reform would be a "two-stage solution" rather than a "comprehensive reform". Rhetoric took a turn again, and McCain plans to travel to Latin America this week. The campaign hopes to use the issue of immigration as an asset, and perhaps keeping the stance shaky can help do that.

Obama's stance on immigration is not very different, though he repeatedly emphasizes that he is a champion for comprehensive immigration reform. Obama originally voted for the border fence, as did McCain, but has since then deemphasized his support, which is unpopular among Hispanic voters. Additionally, he supports a guest-worker program, arguing it will improve wages and conditions for all workers, supporting the failed Senate bill that McCain had cosponsored, though many argue that it would create a class of second-rate citizens who would never have equal rights. Obama very strongly supports giving undocumented immigrants a path towards acquiring driver's licenses, legal residency, and citizenship, stressing that it would have a positive impact on the economy of the US.

Senator Obama recently criticized Senator McCain for seemingly stepping away from the comittment to immigration reform. Appearing before a conference of Hispanic officials in Washington last week, McCain, while stating that this country values the contributions of the millions who have come to the US from Mexico, Central, and South America, emphasized the the US needed to secure its borders, adding that it should be done a humane fashion. Obama later accused McCain of walking away from the issue in an attempt to secure the GOP's nomination. McCain's campaign responded by saying that Obama had worked to defeat last year's reform, claiming that Obama's word "cannot be trusted."

The recent clash on the issue is not likely to die away soon, as both contenders vie for the Hispanic vote, in addition to the vote of other ethnic communities with high rates of immigration to the US.

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Pack Your Bags!

Sen. Barack Obama is taking a little trip across the pond. Campaign officials have announced that the Senator will be visiting Europe and the Middle East before the summer concludes. Included among the nations to be visited are France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Afghanistan. The reason surrounding the trip from a strategic point of view is to help improve on what voters see as a weakness in his lack of foreign policy experience. He needs to prove to the American people that he has the diplomatic expertise necessary to handle the international demands of the presidency. He has visited Russia, the Middle East and some African nations in the four years that he has been a member of the Senate compared to Sen. John McCain's eight visits to Iraq. Though, while McCain has the experience and the "war hero" title to fall back on, there is a certain amount of uneasiness surrounding his age. Such doubts may be even harder to disprove than Obama's lack of experience as clearly, there is nothing McCain can do about his age.

Is this a cheap election-year move or is it a sincere effort at building foreign relationships? I would venture to suggest that while it certainly has a lot to do with his campaign's strategy, this trip will also serve as a way for Obama to foster relationships with the nations that will be of particular interest to him if he wins the presidency. Building international rapport now will save him time in future international endeavors if he is to accomplish anything of great significance.

Clearly Obama has foreign policy experience but will it be enough to sway voters? Compared to McCain's many years in Congress and his war record, four years as a junior senator from Illinois does not seem enough to prepare Obama for the nation's highest office. Then again, this is not a single-issue election; there are more topics that voters will be equally concerned with which Obama has a strong record on, particularly in comparison with his rival McCain. This is a necessary move for the Obama camp, but it certainly will not be sufficient to ensure success in November.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Obama Stays in Safety Town

No, not the traffic safety school you may have attended as a child but the realm of political rhetoric that refuses to depart from the tried and true in Democratic politics. But wait. What is this advocate for change doing, sticking to the status quo of political opinion?

The answer: He's trying to win.

Among other things, his now ambiguous stance on the Second Amendment after Thursday's Supreme Court ruling in D.C. v. Heller, on the surface, suggests that Obama does not back the change he is constantly advocating. However, taking into account the strategic nature of the American political landscape, one sees that strategy, action and belief are seldom in alignment. Furthermore, with attacks on his religious affiliations, his contributors and his race, Obama's attention has been diverted throughout his campaign away from the issues he wants to reform, arguably more than his rival, John McCain.

Excuses aside, however, if Obama is to be the leader of this nation, he needs to do more than look and speak the part. Essentially he cannot continue to play it safe. He is going to have to try a little harder to demonstrate that he can bring about the "change we can believe in" that graces countless Obama t-shirts and bumper stickers.

Discussion from Politico.

Unity in Unity

As the GOP sets its election strategy, the Democrats take new steps to unite at this point in the Presidential Elections.

In Unity, New Hampshire, the state where candidates Obama and Hilary each received 107 votes in the primary in January, the symbolic idea espoused by the town’s name came to life. As the Democratic Party has historically been divided, and much more so earlier this election season, the unified tone is refreshing.

While there was no mention of securing anyone as Obama’s running mate, there was certainly an emphasis to aide Senator Clinton erase her over $12 million debt in campaign expenses.

As the two “Unite for Change,” it will be interesting to see what comes next, regarding changes in the platform and speech as stances cover more of the middle ground, and the choosing of running mates.

GOP Sets Elections Strategy

Many have criticized Senator John McCain for laying low during such a critical time before the elections but it seems that the Republicans haven’t simply be absent: they’ve been planning. Planning for a national campaign strategy to combat Senator Obama and the Democrats.

The GOP unveiled its plans to paint a different picture. It wants to paint a picture of McCain as a champion, war hero and patriot; as someone who is selfless and willing to take a risk for the betterment of others. The other prong is to paint Obama as a very “normal” politician who looks out for himself and as a candidate who is always trying to travel the same, safe road. The consultants for the Republican part are trying to undo the damage done by the current administration by pushing a message that says ‘Washington is broken” rather than placing the blame for failures squarely on the current administration’s shoulders.

My thoughts?

Kudos GOP! Looks like you’ve got the right elements- now let’s see if this approach works. Framing a message around their candidate gives Republicans the room to set the frame itself rather than responding, as they have been doing over the last few months (due to shortage of funding). The Democrats are no doubt framing their own issues and platforms so it remains to be seen how the duel will shape up.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Trading Muslim-Jewish Differences for Votes

With Obama's meeting with AIPAC, McCain's long time support for Israel, and recent snubs against Muslims within the political sphere by the denial for scarved women sitting in one of Obama's campaign rallies, McCain's dismissal of a Muslim American businessman from a campaign committee, and the lack of any of the candidate's solid effort to reach out to Muslims or visit a mosque among their houses of worship visits, Salam Al-Marayati and Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative have recognized that the current Presidential contenders have been looking to gain the support of Jewish Americans at the expense of Muslim Americans.

While Obama's and McCain's political stances are unsurprising given the current climate and culture of our nation, their actions essentially overlook, if not completely ignore, the sentiments of a large constituency. Al-Marayati and Jacobs especially find this problematic, insisting that their "cowardly politics" is an exploitation of Muslim-Jewish differences in pursuit of votes and is damaging to our nation's values and interests. Expounding upon cleavages has historically been damaging to a nation's unity and only gives in to the ideologies espoused by minority, radical groups, rather than supporting the moderate cause these candidates seemingly hope to portray.

Jewish and Muslim voters actually have much more in common than many think, with similar values at stake and shared histories of facing discrimination and exclusion. Additionally, with the recent rise of Muslim American civic engagement and the momentum of the interfaith movement, candidates have more of a reason now than ever to recognize the value of an inclusive campaign, making a greater effort to reach out to diverse constituencies, and encourage pluralism.

Al-Marayati and Jacobs have a hopeful sentiment: "Abraham Lincoln argued against the politics of fear, holding out hope for the 'better angels of our nature.' Our presidential candidates must display such higher thinking in the coming months. Likewise, we -- American Jews and Muslims -- must do the same."

Gitmo Gets More....

With November fast approaching, the candidates are trying to figure out how to attack each other. With Senator McCain's more conservative view on national security differing from Senator Obama's far more liberal view, there are sure to be some clashes.

Right now, a group of Gitmo detainees are awaiting their trial which could start as early as September (under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, detainees can have a trial within 120 days of being detained). With November elections so close, it'll be interesting to see what the different camps have to say about such a trial.

McCain's office has already called for more stringent rules on national security efforts while Obama's office believes that there needs to be a more focused approach on implementing and carrying out laws rather than simply tightening the rules. has a great analysis of the issue.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Pew Forum

The latest report as part of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey on religious beliefs and practices and their relationship to social and political views was recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report offers a multitude about the role religion plays in the nation’s social and political spheres. A comparative analysis of the findings indicates that Muslims, on both ends of the political spectrum, have views that generally align with the national average. On questions ranging from party affiliation and political ideology, to specific issues from abortion and environmental protection, to the role of the U.S. in foreign affairs, the Muslim voice echoed that of other faith-based communities from around the nation. While the sample size is not substantial, the Pew Forum’s findings here and in other reports have been useful in depicting the variety of interpretations and ideologies in the religion, rather than the one or two that is thought by many, and the similarity of Islam's diversity to the diversity found within other faith traditions.

Guess those “Moslems” aren’t so different after all...

The US a Christian Nation?

The strengthening of the relationship between faith and politics, particularly this election season, begs the question, is the US a Christian nation?

The United States of America was built upon a Christian foundation (specifically, a Protestant foundation), serving as a haven for those facing religious persecution in Europe. While religiously intolerant for many years, our founding fathers did not intend to establish this nation as a Christian nation, but rather as a nation for Christians (comparative to other faith traditions, such as the difference between an Islamic State and a nation for Muslims, or a Jewish State and a homeland for the Jewish). While there has historically been great tension in the creation and application of laws and societal discrimination as related to the Christian tradition and its relationship to the multicultural nature of the nation, the accomodationist momentum is great, especially as articulated by the first amendment of our constitution. Moreover, invocations of God in our political structure reflect our founders' individual spiritual natures, and are generally universal and unifying themes that do not inhibit belief or practice of any other faith.

Recent reports of hijab-donning women being denied a seat behind Presidential Democratic nominee Barack Obama at a campaign rally is an example of the strategic demarcation of a community of people, an action that has long played a role in shaping our nation, thanks to our historical amnesia. Recognizing our nation's values and political equalities, Obama apologized to these women: “’The actions of these volunteers were unacceptable and in no way reflect the policy of my campaign,’ he said. ‘I take deepest offense to and will continue to fight against discrimination against people of any religious group or background.’” Whether this statement reflects a genuine commitment or is an empty campaign promise has yet to be seen, but it is certainly a step in the right direction that aligns our nation's interests and values. The next step would be for the public to respect Obama's background, without, for example, following the fear-mongers who seek to defame him and Muslims around the nation.

As we become a nation that increasingly appreciates multiculturalism and religious pluralism, we must keep in mind that our similarities and universal values allow us to remain united, while respecting and learning from our differences. This requires the recognition, from the parts of the individual and collective, of the importance of political engagement from diverse communities.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Social Constructs of the Presidential Election

The current Presidential race has been deemed historic by many, referring to some candidates' race and gender. The social characteristics of candidates have been more contested than professional skill, capability to lead a nation, and political stance. Rumors about Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama's faith background have additionally been rampant this election season, as questions about the relationship between religion and politics increase.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article today, about how "Obama Walks a Fine Line With Muslims," where a website dedicated to refute "smears" against his campagin emphasizes that Obama "has never been a Muslim" and is "a committed Christian." While the campagin is working to dispel the false rumor that Obama has ties to radical Islam, it is at the same time, when done in such an offensive manner that seemingly marks being Muslim as a smear to a good reputation, harmful to his image of inclusiveness.
As was asked by so many before me, so what if he was Muslim? So what if he is African-American? So what if Senator Hillary Clinton is female? So what if Republican Candidate John McCain's age would potentially make him the oldest President?

The characteristics attributed to race, gender, faith, age, and other indicators, are all socially constructred. America has always prided itself upon the notion that these characteristics are meaningless, that universal values grant everyone basic human dignity and equal protection of rights. Our next President could very well be the first African-American President, or the eldest President. History, however, should not be made based on these characteristics, but rather on the level of knowledge, skill, and potential of these Presidents. While it is historic in the sense that it is a "first," and a stand against the discrimination rooted in our past, it is Obama's grassroots efforts and opposition to the War in Iraq, and McCain's calls for energy independence that I am proud of. More importantly, I am proud of our nation's citizens' ability to (hopefully) look beyond social constructs and recognize the political and social value system that these candidates stand by, regardless of their race, gender, faith, or other characteristic.

Our 35th President, John F. Kennedy, famouskly remarked, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President, who happens also to be a Catholic." I hope we can remember that the current Presidential candidates, and any future ones, are representatives of their political ideology and stance, espousing their ability to lead this nation and defend its values, engaging diversity and encouraging pluralism, rather than figure heads for a social construct.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Muslim Women in Hijab Denied Seat on Obama's Stage

Don’t shoot the messenger! Simply telling everyone what happened, that’s all.

According to, Two Muslim women in hijab, in separate instances were told by volunteers in the Obama campaign that they were not allowed to sit behind the presumptive nominee on the stage, because of their headscarves. One of the women was told it was because of the “political climate” that she would not be permitted to sit behind Obama, among other supporters. The other woman was simply told that they would not let anyone with any sort of headgear on stage (it has been reported that people, during other occasions, have sat behind Obama and have worn things like baseball caps or hats).

Monday, June 16, 2008

McCain's Age an Issue?

With a presumptive nominee locked in for the Democratic Party (Senator Obama), the Democrats are shifting focus on the national campaign against the presumptive Republican Nominee (Senator John McCain). In that battle, the Democrats are unleashing all they’ve got apparently; they keep attacking Senator McCain’s age. The senator from Arizona is 71 years old and would be the oldest president if elected.

The McCain camp is fighting back by saying his age means he has more experience. In addition, they’re trying to portray him in a more “youthful” light, by having Senator McCain hike the Grand Canyon. His aides and his wife climb that the Senator leaves them behind, every chance they get.