Immigration reform still on the agenda

January 26, 2011, 9:46 pm | Posted by

Given Congress’s failure to pass the DREAM Act in the lame duck session, it was pleasing and surprising to hear President Obama broach the issue of immigration in the State of the Union:

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. (Applause.) I know that debate will be difficult. I know it will take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation. (Applause.)

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who has at times been an outspoken critic of the administration’s approach to immigration reform, responded on The Hill’s Congress blog this morning:

It is no secret that I am always pushing him to do more to address the issue, but by including immigration in the speech, it makes it clear that the President knows it is not an issue that can be ignored or a problem that will resolve itself without his consistent and persistent attention.

After the heartbreaking defeat of the DREAM Act, one can be forgiven for being less than optimistic about immigration reform’s political prospects in the near future. But a mention in the State of the Union at the very least signals that the faith community’s effort to keep the issue on the agenda when politicians wanted to sweep it under the rug has made a difference. Here’s the video:

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Fact-check: Radicalism in American Mosques

January 26, 2011, 12:03 pm | Posted by

peter_king.jpgScott Keyes at Think Progress had a good post yesterday outlining one of Rep. Peter King’s favorite “proofs” of radicalization in the American Muslim community that justify his upcoming hearings: the allegation that 80% of mosques in America are controlled by radical Imams.

As King identifies, the original source of the 80% figure was a 1999 address at a State Department open forum by an obscure scholar, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani.

What Kabbani revealed in a later interview, was that his figure was based on an entirely unscientific survey; his methodology involved him visiting a handful of mosques and making a personal judgment of whether they were radical. Of the over 2,000 Muslim places of worship in the U.S., Kabbani stopped in at 114, of which he decided ninety had been “mostly exposed…to extreme or radical ideology,” thus the 80%.

But this was only one of many dubious claims Kabbani made that day. In the same speech, he warned that Al-Qaeda had managed to obtain 20 nuclear warheads from the Central Asian mafia that would soon be smuggled into the U.S. in suitcases for attacks on major universities. He also alleged that major Muslim organizations advising the government were extremists, though he refused to identify the organizations when pressed.

Despite the obvious unreliability of the numbers or Kabbani’s expertise, it has served the purposes of right-wing activists eager to find support for their elaborate conspiracy theories about “creeping Sharia.” Rep. King made the smart decision not inviting these activists to testify at his hearings, but if he wants to be taken at his word that his hearings aren’t meant to cast suspicion on the entire Muslim community, he should start by not citing the work of suspect sources who use junk methodology to claim the vast majority of Muslim houses of worship foster extremism.

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Peter King’s Transformation

January 24, 2011, 4:45 pm | Posted by

William Wan has a good story today in the Washington Post on Rep. Peter King’s upcoming hearings on the alleged “radicalization” of American Muslims. Wan tracks the evolution of Rep. King from friend and champion of the Muslim community to one of its biggest antagonists.

As Wan illuminates, King reacted strongly to a perceived betrayal by the Muslim community after the 9/11 attacks. But King’s perception seems to rest on a few isolated quotations from individuals affiliated with a mosque on Long Island that made it into a newspaper article in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

The day after the newspaper article appeared, the mosque’s founder, Faroque Khan, went to a neighboring synagogue in a largely unsuccessful attempt to retract and explain what members of his mosque had said.

In the weeks that followed, Khan and others issued progressively stronger statements condemning al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden for the attacks. They forwarded these to King’s office, but the damage was already done.

To King, the fact that those words were ever uttered branded the mosque’s leaders as radicals.

King’s refusal, even nine years later, to accept the good-faith retraction and apology from the Long Island mosque leaders suggests a wide communication gap that has grown between the congressman and Muslim leaders in his district. It’s clear from their continued outreach to Rep. King that they want to restore their previous relationship; here’s hoping he accepts their invitation.

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Media Hit of the Week

January 21, 2011, 3:47 pm | Posted by

Faith in Public Life’s blog is just one component of our communications and strategy work. Our work with partners on advocacy campaigns, grassroots mobilization and coalition building often earns coverage in news outlets across the country.

In what we hope will become a weekly feature, we’re introducing a “Media Hit of the Week” blog post to share our partners’ successes and highlight what we’ve been up to lately. You’ll also be able to find an archive of all these featured hits (along with many others) on the “FPL in the News” section of our website.

This week many in the faith community were focused on defending healthcare from repeal efforts. A Wednesday story in the Huffington Post picked up our report describing this activity:

The organization Faith in Public Life published a report on Tuesday, which summarized the efforts of people of faith to express their support for the health care law.

“Nearly 10,000 Americans of faith have signed petitions from PICO National Network and Faithful America to Members of Congress opposing repeal efforts and urging productive, bipartisan cooperation to make sure health reform legislation works for all American families.”

The report also outlined extensive efforts by clergy leaders across multiple denominations and in cities across the country to educate their congregants on the benefits of the new health care law.

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Bishops not backing health care repeal

January 20, 2011, 1:08 pm | Posted by

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops received considerable attention and criticism for their opposition to final passage of the Affordable Care Act last year. Given the stakes of the debate and flaws in the USCCB’s analysis of the bill’s restrictions on federal funding of abortion, some questioned the strength of the bishops conference’s stated commitment to universal health care. So it struck me as noteworthy that the bishops did not support House Republicans’ effort to repeal health care reform. RNS’s Daniel Burke filed a story on this today:

The U.S. Catholic bishops will not join efforts to repeal the new health care law, even though they staunchly opposed the bill last year after concluding it permits federally funded abortions.

Instead of pushing repeal, the bishops said Tuesday (Jan. 18) they will devote their energy “to correcting serious moral problems in the current law,” according to a letter sent to Capitol Hill from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Bishop Stephen Blaire, and Archbishop Jose Gomez, who all chair political committees at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, echoed that message in a separate letter to all 535 members of Congress outlining the bishops’ top political priorities.

By not supporting House Republicans’ campaign to repeal the health care law, the bishops averted another clash with Catholic health care workers and nuns, who had bucked the hierarchy last year by publicly backing the bill.

I don’t want to read too much into this, but the bishops’ divergence from the GOP’s commitment to wholesale repeal of the Affordable Care Act signals a serious weakening of the bloc of religious groups that aligned against the legislation last year. Imagine for a moment that a major protestant denomination that supported health care reform last year turned around and backed repeal on the grounds that the Affordable Care Act did not provide truly universal coverage. That would send shockwaves among faith groups that worked hard to pass health care reform. I wonder what Christian leaders who opposed reform last year have to say about the USCCB’s new position. Given the contrast between the Catholic church’s longtime support for the principle of universal health care and the religious right’s rejection of this priority, this division was bound to come back to the surface sooner or later.

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