Posted on May 28, 2013 in Countdown

Graham’s Immigration Amendment: NSEERS Incarnate

Well, Lindsey Graham has really done it this time. Senator Graham (R-SC), a “Countdown” favorite (in the ironic sense) has succeeded in not only thwarting important efforts to prevent profiling in all its forms from the nation’s forthcoming comprehensive immigration bill, he’s effectively trying to reinstate National Security Entry-Exit System or NSEERS. Oh, you remember NSEERS, right? – that now defunct, (or so we thought) ineffective Bush-era policy which leveled extra scrutiny against immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries. Well, now it’s back in the form of Senator Graham’s accepted amendment to S. 744, the “Senate Gang of Eight’s” bill, which is now being debated by the full Senate. Under Graham’s amendment, the Department of Homeland Security would have to conduct “additional security screening” on applicants for legal residency if they are or were previously a “citizen or long-term resident of any… region or country known to pose a threat, or that contains groups or organizations that pose a threat, to the national security of the United States.” But don’t get Senator Graham wrong; he says he’s “not dictating that [the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State] have to pick any region or country over the other.” Ok Senator, we believe you.  The fact that this amendment passed the Senate Judiciary Committee markup is truly disappointing, but we’re not giving up. Check out our joint letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, and tell your senator to oppose profiling in all its forms. We have to fight this.  

Profiling is Profiling

Remember the hot news item from a couple weeks ago that revealed that the IRS had targeted certain Tea Party groups for increased scrutiny when applying for 501(c)3 status? Well, if you haven’t heard about it, brush up on the facts, and then you’ll be able to answer the following question: What do some Tea Party groups, and the Arab American and American Muslim communities have in common? We know you got the answer right: they’ve both been singled out. And so, like we did with Associated Press a couple weeks ago when we found out that their rights had been infringed upon by the Department of Justice, we’d like to welcome the Tea Party to the club. It’s wrong to profile, and target people based on their political beliefs, and it’s right that there was a national and bipartisan rebuke. But for some reason, we're having a hard time understanding why profiling targeting our communities and other communities or color haven’t received the same national outcry. Is profiling our communities any less wrong? Last week on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” correspondent Jason Jones asks a prominent Tea Party advocate Wayne Allyn Root what he thinks. One of our favorite Arab American activists Linda Sarsour was on hand to give her two cents. Watch it. You might be surprised to learn how civil rights somehow don’t apply when it concerns certain communities. 

General Idris’ Staggering Request

One of the most vocal advocates of American intervention in Syria, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, quietly slipped into the war-torn country over the weekend in an attempt to push the Obama Administration to provide the rebels with greater support. Senator McCain crossed from Turkey into Syria with Gen. Salim Idris, a leader of the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella group that nominally commands rebel groups inside Syria. Once there, they met with rebel fighters and commanders from around the country who had gathered for the occasion. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Gen. Idris revealed the level of American support he seeks: “What we want from the US... [is] weapons and ammunition, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons. Of course we want a no-fly zone and we ask for strategic strikes against Hezbollah both inside Lebanon and inside Syria.” Needless to say, this is a staggering request, requiring US forces to attack not one but two sovereign countries and risk igniting a regional conflagration that could make the current war in Syria seem tame by comparison. Of course, McCain is correct that what is happening in Syria is a tragedy and deserves more attention from American policymakers, but injecting more weapons and publicly supporting opposition groups with troubling links to extremists is unlikely to help. McCain would do better to focus on the humanitarian implications of the Syrian crisis, such as its impact on Palestinian refugees.

Reid Threatening the ‘nuclear option’

No, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not advocating for a nuclear strike on some foreign foe – thank goodness. But he is threatening Republicans in the Senate with the so-called ‘nuclear option’ in response to an unprecedented delays in the confirmation of various Presidential nominees. Here’s the problem: Historically, when a President wins an election, he usually gets to pick his cabinet. Call it a perk of the office – you get to choose who works for you. It doesn’t really matter if, for example, the President is a Democrat and the Senate is controlled by Republicans - the President usually gets his way. But, during the Obama presidency, the filibuster has been used time and time again to block nominations of certain cabinet members. Think back to the filibuster of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s nomination, and also consider Richard Cordray, the President’s nominee for director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who, almost two years after his nomination, still remains in confirmation limbo. Traditionally, even just the threat of a filibuster would speed up the confirmation process, but now, with today’s hyper-partisan Congress, things are much different. Most people agree that the abuse of the filibuster has gotten out of control, and the current situation is unsustainable. It’s highly unlikely that Senator Reid will take the ‘nuclear option,’ but something has to be done about filibuster reform.

Obama’s Counterterrorism Hurdles

Last Thursday, President Obama delivered an important speech on counterterrorism policy at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. Obama spoke persuasively about the need to balance ongoing efforts to fight al-Qaeda with the reality that the US cannot remain at war forever. Much of what the President said, on issues from drones to surveillance, was received well, but as always, the proof will be in the pudding. Many of the issues mentioned in the speech also require congressional approval, a difficult hurdle since many post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, and the money that funds them, have significant support on the Hill. For example, President Obama reiterated his desire to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but provided no clarity on how he would avoid the congressional opposition that has scuttled his efforts so far. Similar caveats apply to his proposals to limit the use of drone strikes and move the drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon. Perhaps the most important part of the speech was Obama’s call for Congress to eventually rescind the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the legal justification for most counterterrorism programs. Nearly 13 years after its passage, the AUMF needs to be revisited and scaled back. Obama deserves credit for acknowledging that the country cannot remain perpetually at war. However, on some subjects, Obama failed to acknowledge his own administration’s role in the policies he denounced, such as when he called for the protection of the civil rights of American Muslims without acknowledging his CIA’s support for the NYPD’s surveillance programs. Though the President has acknowledged the problems with the concept of never-ending "war on terror,” his speech also sought to redefine a new enemy, and therefore possibly new tactics to combat that threat. We will be watching closely to see how his words are translated into deeds.

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