By Reynold N. Mason
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, DREAM, was first introduced in 2001. If it becomes law, alien students who graduate from high school, have no criminal record and entered the U.S. before age 16 can become legal residents, if they have lived here for 5 years. They will be given the opportunity to earn conditional legal status by serving 2 years in the military or completing 2 years of college. The bill, known as the Dream Act, died last September, just before the midterm elections, but it can and should pass in the new congress despite the naysayers. But in order to shepherd this piece of humanitarian legislation through congress its proponents must display some political savvy. It was foolhardy to push Harry Reid to attach Dream to the defense authorization bill last September, when it was evident that it had no chance of passage. It may have made supporters of the bill feel good but it squandered political capital. Predictably not a single republican supported the bill. But Mr. Reid scored political points on the eve of his tough re-election fight. Hispanics, who make up more than 25 % of the population of Nevada, Mr. Reid’s home state, rewarded him with two thirds of their vote according to exit polls. This was a big factor in his re-election. Reid now owes a political debt to all those who supported his successful re-election bid. Proponents of DREAM must be sure to collect on that debt.
Will Republicans support DREAM?
Just a few days before his bruising re-election battle against Sharon Angle, Mr. Reid sat down with Jorge Ramos of Univision for an interview. When pressed on the issue, he promised to introduce DREAM in the lame duck session of congress. “We support DREAM”, he said “I just need a few republicans to help me” (The Hill 11/01/10). Republicans will control the house come January and the democrats do not have a filibuster- proof majority in the senate so political tight rope walking will be necessary. The bill has the support of most democrats, among them leaders like Dick Durbin, and Senator Schumer of New York. But now that the democratic majority in the house has been decimated, the question is, will enough republicans defect to the democratic side and back the bill?
Republicans will control the committees in the house and, come January immigration policy will in large part be in the hands of the new house speaker John Boehner, with Rep. Steven King of Ohio heading the immigration sub-committee. The republican focus has been on enforcement and border security not on a path to citizenship or legalization of those here illegally. Representative King is on record as favoring a change in birthright citizenship to keep children of illegal aliens from becoming U.S. Citizens by birth and, has voiced support for the Arizona law, SB 1070, that created a storm of controversy when it was enacted last year. But democrats who, by and large support DREAM are not entirely powerless. Senate democrats like Schumer and Durbin must lead. They along with Senator Reid must persuade their republican colleagues to back the bill. And President Obama must throw the weight of his office behind the bill. His campaign promise to push immigration reform is as yet unfulfilled.
In addition, among the newly minted batch of lawmakers who will have a say come January are, Marco Rubio, of Florida, Susanna Martinez, the first Hispanic governor of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval, governor-elect of Nevada, also Hispanic. Their states are major players in the immigration debate and they could help nudge the debate in the right direction. In key states, Hispanics constitute an increasing share of the vote, 13% in Colorado, and 38% in New Mexico, with significant voting strength in California, Nevada and Texas. The new dynamics of electoral politics in not lost on republicans. They will have to address issues of concern to Hispanics if they hope to gain control of the senate in 2012. Despite their anti-immigrant rhetoric, republicans know that there is no chance of cultivating Hispanic support unless the moderate their position on issues of concern to Hispanics. They know that the wedge issue driving the Hispanic tide in the democrats’ direction is immigration. Hispanics must use this to their advantage. They should avoid the mistake of black who vote blindly democratic. Both political parties must be made to understand that the Hispanic vote is winnable, but there must be courtship. And in order to win Hispanic support whispering sweet political nothings won’t do. They must whisper sweet DREAM.
There is hope for DREAM
The outlook for the bill is not as grim as it might appear on the surface. There are power brokers on both sides of the issue. Rep. Michael Honda of California, chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus, recently told the SF Chronicle that work on Comprehensive immigration must continue. He plans to introduce an immigration bill in the next congress that will include family reunification. If they are smart, democrats like Honda can shepherd the Dream Act through congress. They must bear in mind that republicans covet the Hispanic vote and use that as leverage. They must bear in mind too that those who want enforcement and border security are not anti- immigrant nativists. It is time to stop labeling republicans as racist or anti-immigrant simply because they insist on enforcement. The Immigration and control Act of 1986, which granted amnesty to undocumented aliens, failed because in had no enforcement mechanisms, and here we are facing the issue once more as result of that defect in the law. Common sense is what will get dream passed, not grandstanding and political platitudes aimed at shoring up the Hispanic voter base.
DREAM is a social, not a political issue
Americans are fed up with our current system on piecemeal immigration laws and want something done about it. Their overwhelming support of the Arizona immigration law is an expression of frustration with the laissez- faire immigration posture of the Federal government. At least Arizona did something. Wrong or right, it was action. And that is what Americans want on the immigration question, action, not empty words aimed at the political bases of the right or the left. The problem of forgotten illegal children is not lost on Americans. But they are not likely to support the Dream Act as a stand-alone bill. They want to know that the problem is solved once and for all, and that we will not be facing a new wave of illegal immigrants who simply walk across our open borders. A recent poll by FAIR found that 69% of Americans think that immigration is an important issue and that president Obama has not been aggressive enough in enforcing our laws. Governor-elect Sandoval of Nevada, a Hispanic, supports the Arizona immigration law which allows police to ask about immigration status after they stop someone for some other infraction. He was elected in spite of his position, protests and lawsuits challenging the law notwithstanding. . And in New Mexico, governor-elect Suzanna Martinez wants to repeal the law allowing illegal aliens to obtain drivers’ licenses. She also opposes in state tuition for undocumented students. Supporters of DREAM must accept the application of our immigration laws and let the chips fall where they may. Opposing law enforcement is foolhardy and hypocritical. We cannot give cover to illegals by thwarting enforcement of our immigration laws. Bringing DREAM to the congress is crucial to the lives of young undocumented children trapped here without papers. Their dream should not be held hostage to political calculations. Some 65,000 of them graduate from high school each year. And when they do, they encounter a roadblock-- their undocumented status. These young people will become a permanent underclass consigned to the shadows of American society without the relief the bill promises. They were brought here as minors by their parents, they cannot legally work or get a driver’s license. DREAM is their only hope. “I think that it is not only the right thing to do for these students, but also the right thing to do for our country,” said U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, “In this economy, we should all be trained and prepared. These children were brought here by their parents, often as children without any choice…... America is the only country they know. They did exactly what was proposed it in their schools. Our country needs the benefit of their skills, their talent and passion”. President was correct when he said in a debate during the campaign of 2008, that these are American children for all intents and purposes. The DREAM Act is a narrow commonsense piece of legislation that would help thousands of talented children achieves their full potential by earning a college degree of serving in our military. It should become the law of the land. And it will. But its supporters will have to accept that Americans will have none of it, unless we join in supporting enforcement of our immigration laws.
The constitution grants citizenship to anyone born in the US, except children of foreign diplomats. This has been the case for nearly 150 years. But in recent years the right to U S citizenship by birth--Jus soli-- has come under attack by those who think that it is being abused by illegal immigrants to gain a foothold to U S citizenship.
Last July Senator Lindsay Graham proposed a change to the 14th Amendment which grants American citizenship by right of birth. He proposes to change the long-standing legal tradition because he believes that as the law now stands, pregnant women, so called “baby tourists” travel to the US to give birth for the sole purpose of acquiring US citizenship for their children. ‘Birthright citizenship is a mistake’, goes the mantra, ‘people come here to have babies. They come here drop a child and leave. It’s called drop and leave.’ Valid or not this point of view has been gaining momentum. And although for the past 142 years the fundamental principle of birthright citizenship has been one measure of certain U S citizenship, it is now being seriously challenged. Earlier this month, a group of lawmakers from 15 states launched State Legislators for Legal Immigration, to coordinate efforts to develop legislation to deny birthright citizenship to children of illegal aliens. A review by Think Progress found, based on past votes that 59 % 0f republican legislators support repeal of birthright citizenship. Since 1995, there have been 28 bills introduced in congress seeking to end birthright citizenship. A recent Gallup poll found that immigration is one of the issues on the minds of voters this election cycle, behind only the economy and terrorism.
Other than Dred Scott, this writer has found just one case in which the claim to U S citizenship by birth has been denied by the US Supreme court, to someone born in the US. The issue in the Dred Scott case was muddled by the question of slavery and the right of the children of slaves to U S citizenship by virtue of birth. But that question was settled by the adoption of the 14th Amendment which states: “All persons born or naturalized in the US and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the US and of the state wherein they reside”. In 1898, Wong Kim Ark, born in the US was denied re-entry into the country. The Supreme court ruled that he was entitled to re-enter the country because he was born in the US, even though his parents were both Chinese nationals. But those seeking to change the law argue that the Wong Kim case is inapposite because the US had no immigration restriction on alien migration at the time. At least one Federal judge has said that the 14th Amendment can be changed by statute (see Kleindienst v Mandel, 408 US 753,). Under this view, the words “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” was meant to include citizens or subjects of foreign states born in the US. To support their contention, jus soli opponents point to the case of Elk v Wilkins, in which the Supreme court ruled that Elk, an Indian born on a reservation who later renounced his allegiance and claimed US citizenship, was not a US citizen by birth under the 14th Amendment. As a member of the Indian tribe, the court reasoned, he owed allegiance to his tribe not to the US, and therefore did not become a citizen of the US by birth. Under this approach, children of parents residing in the US only temporarily or on a student’s or work visa would not become citizens of the US, neither would children of persons who over stay their visas , to say nothing of children of those who were born here as a result of illegal entry by their parents.
Modifying birthright citizenship
State Legislators for Legal Immigration, proposes to change the law so that children of foreign nationals will become citizens only if a parent is a US citizen of legal resident. Bills have been introduced in congress seeking to make this the law of the land. Representative Nathan Deal, now a candidate for Georgia governor, introduced H.R.698 in 2005, seeking to limit birthright citizenship in just this manner. Sponsors of the proposed change believe that the current policy of granting US citizenship to children of illegal aliens is an improper application of the 14th Amendment. In the US senate, Senator Mitch McConnell has said that the 14th Amendment is outdated and should possibly be repealed. Senator Chambliss of Georgia is on record as saying that the law should be revisited. And senator Jonny Isaacson, also of Georgia, has said he would support legislation to limit birthright citizenship only to individuals whose parents are legally in the country. The current US policy of birthright citizenship is somewhat unique. Most EU countries, under pressure from increased immigration have modified birthright citizenship so that not everyone born within their borders become citizens. In the UK, Australia,and South Africa, for instance, birthright citizenship is no longer automatic. The same is the case for German and Canadian nationality laws.
The immigration issue has been put on the back burner for now because, as President Obama has said, congress does not have the stomach for such a controversial issue in the face of impending midterm elections. But Immigration is likely to be one of the issues that the next congress tackles. A CBS poll earlier this year showed that Americans are divided on the issue of birth- right citizenship, with 47 % favoring a change and 49 % favoring keeping the current law. One recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that ((there were 340,000 children born in the US in 2008 with parents who were illegal aliens)). In total 4.3 million US born children, according to the study, were children of illegal immigrants. In response to the increasing frustration with illegal immigration, some states have enacted harsh measures aimed at illegal immigrants. Arizona whose anti-immigrant law is now under review by an appellate court, is in the process of drafting a law that will deny birth certificates to children of illegal immigrants.
While law makers and activists debate removing the economic incentives to illegal immigration, namely jobs, others have turned their attention to birthright citizenship with the avowed purpose of changing it to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants and bring US nationality laws in line with those of other countries. But the proposals to change the 14th Amendment raise nettlesome questions of constitutional law. Those who oppose change say that the law covers all aliens regardless of immigration status and is not subject to change except by an amendment to the constitution itself. Yet those who support comprehensive immigration reform have reason to worry. The expected republican takeover of congress next year could move the issue to the top of the congressional calendar. By last count, according to Think Progress, 130 republican lawmakers support the change.
Atlanta, October 10 2010: Last week the US supreme court heard argments in the case Snyder v Phelps. Mr. Snyder is the father of a marine killed in Iraq. Members of the Westboro Baptiste Church, namely Fred Phelps and his extended family, showed up in Maryland, having traveled all the way from Kansas, to picket the funeral of Mr. Snyder's son.
Led by Mr. Phelps, they carried signs saying, among other things, "Thank God for dead Soldiers", "You're going to hell",. The members of the church say that Iraq is our punishment for tolerating homosexuality and immorality.
The idea of protesting and picketing a funeral is repugnant to most people. Let alone picketing the funeral of a fallen soldier. Yet Members of reverend Phelp's church have staged over 44,000 demonstrations across the country, many at the funeral of fallen servicemen. They claim they have the right to their shameless protests under the first amendment of the US constitution, which protects free speech. But the father of the fallen soldier, Mr. Snyder, says that all he wanted to do was lay to rest his son, in peace.
Mr. Snyder was emotionally tramatized by the protest at funeral of his son and sued the church for intentional infliction of emotional distress. He won, and was awarded $11 million in damages. Phelps appealed and the case made its way all the way to the high court. This controversy puts the issue of hateful speech and the degree to which we must tolerate such speech squarely into the hands of our nine justices who must make the final call that will hereafter determine to what degree people in Mr.Snyder's situation will have to brook the antics of demonstrators who spew offensive, hateful and hurtful opprobiurm aimed a them, at their time of bereavement.
As distasteful as most find the funeral protests of this church to be, its members have found support for their right to be offensive among some of the country's leading scholars. Several groups have taken their side and have filed friend of the court legal briefs in support of the church's right to hold its protests. Simply because someone's speech is offensive, they argue, is not reason enough to stiffle it.
Speech that is hateful or unpopular or, with which we vehemently disagree, may still be entitled to protection under our constitution. Congress and the courts may impose limits on what we can say if those limits are reasonable. But under our constitution, neither can ban free speech. One cannot, for instance yell "fire' in a crowded theater because of the harm that is substantially certain to ensue. The issue is when, where and in what manner speech such as insisted on by the Phelps is permissible.
The court must balance the Phelps' right to free speech with the right of the Snyders who simply wanted to bury their son without being assaulted with epithets most people would find shocking and offensive, particularly at the funeral of a loved one. Most Americans of conscience side with the Snyders, as do many members of the US congress. But the court will be the final arbiter.
America is a free country to be sure, and Americans have taken unpopular positions and have given voice to, at times in our history, treasonous utterances. Just ask King George. In more recent times, Dr. Martin Luther King was jailed and his supporters persecuted because they expressed opinions that were unpopular, even offensive to many at the time. Yet there needs to be a limit to the verbal assault that we as citizens must constitutionally endure.
The time, place and manner in which we exercise our right to say what we think, must be put under reasonable control. A Nazi demonstration at a convention holocaust survivors, for instance, would seem to be too undeserving of constitutional protection. And a KKK rally at a convention of the NAACP would likewise fall into the trash heap of expression that is too provocative to permit under the circumatances.
Perhaps the time has come to extend some protection from harrassing, hateful protests to families during burial of their loved ones. I would draw the line at the cemetary gate. Mr. Snyder is not a public figure, and never thrust himself into the limelight or sought out public notice in any way. His son's funeral, seems an inappropriate time for the taunts and opprobrium heaped upon him and his family in the name of expressing opposition to the war or homosexuality.
By Reynold N. Mason
At the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago in 2008 candidate Obama gave a speech highly critical of absent black fathers. He urged them to remember their filial responsibilities and be more engaged in raising their children. “But if we are honest with ourselves”, he said “we'll admit that what too many fathers also are missing - missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men”. We know the statistics - that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it". It is true that many black fathers are absent. But they are absent not because they lack filial instincts but because many of them are in jail, and when they are released they are in effect dead. Felony conviction results in loss of federal rights to vote, sit on juries, run for or hold public office, as well loss of numerous other privileges enjoyed by ordinary citizens. The loss of one’s civil rights after conviction for a felony is most pernicious. It precludes one from participating in the affairs of his community and country. A right which, since the civil right Act of 1964, all Americans take for granted. Black men are indeed absent in large numbers from the lives of their children but much of the blame must be placed on the justice system which has a disparate impact on people of color.
Last year a group of black and hispanic men challenged in the Massachusetts law that stripped them of the right to vote while in prison because the law had more of a negative impacted on African Americans and Hispanics. There was a higher proportion of these minorities in prison than their proportion of the Massachusetts population, so proportionately many more minorities were denied the vote than whites. In turning back the challenge the court said “Criminals behind bars have no business deciding who should govern the law-abiding citizens of the Commonwealth. This proposed amendment will ensure that criminals pay their debt to society before they regain their right to participate in the political process". Currently, thirty-five states prevent felons from voting while on parole or probation or both. Eleven states disenfranchise felons beyond the term of their prison, probation, and parole. Two states strip felons of the right to vote for life
The United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.3 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails -- a 500% increase over the past thirty years several times as many per capita as other Western nations, and many more than any other nation in the world.
Although blacks comprise 13% of the population, and 14% of monthly drug users, they account for 37% of drug arrests.. Blacks are arrested for drug offenses at rates 2 to 11 times higher than the rates for whites. African Americans account for 56% of people in state prison for drug offenses. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that a black male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of going to jail; Latino males have a 17% chance and white males have a 6% chance. Despite black youth accounting for 16% of the juvenile youth population, they are 28 % of the arrests and, 37 % of the youth in jails and 58 % of youth sent to adult prisons. More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the "war on drugs," in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. (These numbers come from studies conducted by the Sentencing Project, a non-profit research and advocacy group.) As a result a disproportionately high number of minorities caught up in the cock-eyed system of justice and are deprived of their right to vote in large numbers. The Sentencing Project estimates that 5 million persons will be barred from casting their ballot in the upcoming midterm elections, because they have been disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. George W. Bush won election to the presidency in 2000 and 2004 by margins of less than 5 million votes.
The Sentencing Project looked at the numbers of blacks deprived of the right to vote due to conviction of a felony and the numbers tell a sad story. In Connecticut 0.86% of the population have been disenfranchised as against 6.2% of blacks; in Delaware 7.54 % overall but 19.3% of blacks; Florida 9.01% overall, 18% of blacks; Iowa 5.39 % overall 33.98% of blacks; Kentucky 5.97% overall 23% of blacks; Nebraska 4.77% overall 22% of blacks; Rhode Island 2.5% overall 18.86% of blacks; Virginia 6.70% overall 19.76% of blacks. In every state, the proportion of blacks who have lost their right to vote is far out of proportion to that of whites. President Obama overlooked a far more important story in his father’s day message, the story of blacks being banished by the blight of discrimination nearly a half century after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. President Obama and President Clinton have both admitted violating drug laws. The statistics suggest that President Obama might have found himself trapped in the system that, by and large, is responsible for unfairly keeping black men locked away from their families. Yes, black men are absent, and as Candidate Obama said in his 2008 father’s day rebuke to black men “the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. You and I know this is true everywhere, but nowhere is this more true than in the African American community."
By Reynold N Mason JD
Last week as Americans commemorated 9/11, Muslims across America were conflicted. Ramadan, this year ended on 9/11. Good people of the Muslim faith were afraid that any celebrations on their part would be misperceived by angry Americans. Celebrations of Ramadan were cancelled from Fresno, California to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. And to compound the matter, the simmering issue of the mosque at ground zero flared anew because of the proposed Koran burning by a Florida pastor on 9/11. For months now the controversy surrounding the building of the mosque near ground zero has raged, dominating the headlines and providing fodder for the pundits. This issue will not just fade away and our leaders, religious as well as political, need to confront it head on. A few weeks ago, I opined in this space that like all Americans, Muslims are entitled to lay claim to religious freedom, including the right to build their place of worship on private land. But the opposition has been vocal and fringe elements have occasionally crossed the line into violence.
‘Americans are angry’ said one radio talk show host speaking of the mosque controversy, “more than 68 per cent of Americans oppose the mosque at the proposed location”. There were anti-Muslim flare ups in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and in Carlton, NY, where youths harassed worshipers at a mosque and fired a gun disrupting services. Americans are demanding the imam pull up stakes and leave town. Governor Patterson of New York even offered an alternate site on state land. When the governor’s proposal was turned down by the imam, immediately, the motives of the mosque sponsors were looked upon with suspicion. “Why in the name of commonsense “, asked one pundit, “would the imam want to proceed with the mosque in the face of such angry opposition?” This must mean the mosque is intended as a triumphal symbol, marking the place of a great Islamic victory over the infidels. We should bear in mind that the unpopularity of the cause is not the metric by which we measure our constitutional freedoms. The civil rights act of 1964 was even more unpopular. Southern states opposed it, and southern democrats voted against the act in congress 87 to 7 . Southern republicans were opposed 10 to 0.
Americans of every stripe have voiced their concerns. And while those opposed to the mosque have a point, (the site is a virtual grave yard of loved ones lost on 9/11) We must bear in mind always, that Muslims are under no obligation to alter their plans just because we do not wish them to build their mosque near ground zero. And they are under no obligation to cotton to the demands that they choose an alternate site. Rosa Parks was offered an alternate seat on the bus in 1955. Who, in retrospect, would argue, in spite of the cost in blood, that Rosa parks made the wrong decision? Who today would dare argue that those nine black students, who braved angry white mobs and defied governor Orval Farbus to integrate Central High School in Arkansas should have, for fear of reprisals, remained safely at home? Who would today claim that James Meredith, the first black to enroll at the University of Mississippi should have stepped aside, despite the riots that broke out following this historic event? Americans were even angrier then and a good many expressed that anger in senseless violence.
Those who stand in the way of the mosque are just as guilty as Alabama Governor George Wallace who, in 1963, stood in the way of Vivian Malone and James Hood, two blacks attempting to enroll at the University of Alabama. America is too large and too diverse a nation for cultural and religious issues to be always resolved smoothly or without conflict. Neither the mosque nor the Muslims who propose it are a menace to the republic. We can profit from the examples of our own history. Each conflict in our history has seen America emerge stronger and more cohesive, more respectful of the differences in culture and creed that make us unique. The issue of the mosque near ground zero is just one more test of yet another part of the great engine of diversity that drives this country. For blacks, it was civil rights and today for Muslims, it is the incendiary issue of religious freedom that is dividing Americans of every stripe.
Despite pretentions to motivations such as respect for the 9/11 victims, the plain truth is that bigotry has dominated the issue of the construction of the mosque near ground zero. America needs vocal support of the embattled Muslims, not muted voices afraid of political fallout. Principled voices, if they are raised above the guttural level of this fratricide will be the ones that determine whether the present squabble over religious freedom will be an asset or a liability. As Rabbi David Saperstein put it “We know what it’s like when people attack us physically, verbally and others have remained silent…..” Simply asserting their first amendment right to freedom of religion is unavailing to Muslims because of the unprincipled and bigoted opposition to the construction of the mosque. They face foes every bit as determined as the proponents of Jim Crow in the old South. This is a standing invitation to fair-minded people to heed Rabbi Saperstein’s counsel and prove that religious freedoms in America are safe from assault. If this challenge is met, our freedom will be far more certain, and less vulnerable to attack by the forces that seek to divide us. We must put ourselves in the position of those who believe differently from us and consider what they must feel when their appeal to the first amendment is rebuffed simply because of their faith.
This crisis has a silver lining. Unless grounds of religious freedom are fully and often tested and discussed, freedom of religion will become just dogma. Not the living, breathing truth. It will harken back to the dark days of the American past when, despite the often repeated words “all men are created equal” in the minds of most Americans enslaving an entire race could be rationalized. Like children repeating the 12 times table by rote, we would have no idea of the true meaning of the religious freedom gifted to us by our founding fathers. This crisis presents us another learning opportunity, an opportunity to burnish and strengthen the freedoms we all cherish in the crucible of public debate.
By Reynold N. Mason Esq.
Shane Seyer was 12 years old when his mother dropped him off at the home of a neighborhood friend for the first time. She had to work and Shane was not yet old enough to be left home alone. By the age of 14 Shane Seyer was a father. The caregiver, an older woman had begun a sexual relationship with the boy that ultimately led to her pregnancy. The woman, unable to find work to support herself and the baby, applied for welfare (AFDC) [see: War against fathers Part 1]. She was paid more than $7,000.00 for the support of the child before Welfare demanded that she sue the father to establish paternity. The Welfare Agency brought an action against Shane, now 14 years of age, to establish paternity and compel him to repay to the State the money paid to the mother for the support of his son. They say love begets love. But in Shane’s case love begat an unwanted child.
And since the love of money is the root of all evil, all heck broke loose. Shane defended himself by claiming that he was under the age of consent at the time the baby sitter took unlawful liberties with him and became pregnant. The sitter was charged with statutory rape because the boy was not old enough to consent to the activity, although he admittedly engaged in it voluntarily. The sitter was unwilling to pursue Shane for child support, but had no choice in the matter. Under AFDC, she had assigned her right to any future order of child support to the state, and they were hell bent on getting their money back. Shane was hauled into Family Court for child support. And at the tender age of 15 he found himself standing before a family court judge, beads of perspiration oozing from his pores, giving him the appearance of a diver emerging from a dip in the pool.
The tension in the court room was palpable. The boy’s mother was inconsolable. The babysitter and her family sat at counsel table staring straight ahead. As the judge reentered the court room to deliver his decision, all heads turned and a hushed silence descended on the room that just moments ago was abuzz with the chatter of anticipation. Everyone had an opinion, and the people in court room divided themselves into two tidy groups, one to the left and the other to the right of the center aisle. One group lining up behind petitioner, the babysitter and the AFDC lawyer, the other behind Shane and his family,( who had turned out in force, ) depending on where their sympathies lay. The judge, stern and robed in judicial black sat down and intoned the usual pleasantries, then in his deep judicial tenor Said “ladies and please be seated”. Never before in the state of Kansas had this issue come before a court. Much hung on this decision.
“THE ISSUE BEFORE THIS COURT” said the judge, “is whether an underage alleged victim (alleged, huh!) of a sex crime can be held liable for the support of a child born as a result of such a crime…..” What the court uttered next still echoes in the ears of parents in Kansas and elsewhere. “If voluntary intercourse results in parenthood,” said the court, “then for purposes of child support, the parenthood is voluntary. This is true even if the 14 year old boy’s parenthood resulted from a sexual assault upon him within the meaning of the criminal law.” Wow! What this means for all fathers, old or young, is that is that there is no escaping the obligation for child support. Shane was held liable for the support and maintenance of the child, even though he was a minor and a sexual assault was committed upon him resulting in his becoming a father at tender age of 14. This is not ancient legal doctrine. It happened in the 1990’s and is still the law today.
How would you have ruled had you been the judge? Please limit our comments to 100 words or less.
By Reynold N. Mason Esq.
Willie Gary is a wealthy Georgia attorney, no doubt about it. He earns over one million dollars per month. When he met an attractive, svelte runner vying for a spot on the US Olympic decathlon team in 2000, he was smitten. The romance quickly blossomed and not long afterwards, Willie and his new flame were sharing a luxury pad. But things soon soured and the couple separated. By then there were twin boys whom Willie had fathered. For his brief dalliance with the mother he was forced to shell out $28,000.00 per month for child support. As part of the support package Willie had to make the down payment on a house for the boys and his ex- girlfriend, along with her 13 year old daughter by another man and, prepay for four years of college e for the boys. In addition, Willie made a lump sum payment of $175,000.00 for the support and maintenance of the twins. How in the name of justice could a court hang such financial albatross around the neck of a father? Mind you, Willie had been supporting the boys in fine style before the ex- paramour decided she could do better before a Family Court judge.
The truth is, this is not child support. And the judicial hypocrites in black robes well know it. Most state laws provide that children should be maintained, along with the mother in the circumstances to which they have become accustomed. That bit of legal absurdity has been used to justify exorbitant awards of child support that bear no relationship to the needs of the children. Georgia law applicable to Willie’s case provided that children should have the same economic standard of living as a child with parents of similar means living in an intact family. One wonders how a woman who existed on a nurse’s salary all of her adult life can, in so short a lapse of time, become so accustomed to her new high living circumstances, financed by her paramour, that he is obliged, on pain of legal lynching, to continue to pay for her lifestyle long after the relationship has soured?
What happened to Willie Gary is not uncommon. Many other well-to –do fathers have been snared by the child support trap, as I noted in part I of this series. What, these drones do with their newly acquired fortunes is anyone’s guess. The average American family subsists on $50,000.00 per year. So it is difficult to imagine one woman reaping a bonus of $28,000.00 every month disguised as child support. Any fair-minded person, including fair-minded feminists (that may be an oxymoron) would agree that this whopper of a monthly stipend is excessive and beyond the bounds of common sense. In the case of Willie’s ex, she contracted squander mania. Behaving as if she had hit the mega millions jackpot, she made investments, one netting her a profit of $100,000.00, with the child support money. She went on a wild spending spree that often had her waiting anxiously for the next $28,000.00 installment to arrive. She had frequent overdrafts on her checking accounts, and past due fees and charges on her revolving accounts. She became so addicted to the easy cash that the court, in a rare episode of judicial lucidity, expressed concern about her spending habits. Refreshing. The court was concerned that the mother’s pattern of borrowing from friends to tide her over until the next check arrived would have a negative impact on the boys’ welfare. The court said that Willie’s ex, in perfect physical and mental health and capable of full time employment had refused to contribute to her own upkeep. She held a college degree but testified that she had no intention of getting a job.
The gravy train finally came to a stop for Willie’s ex , but not entirely. The court reduced the child support payments to $60,000.00 per year, a mere $10,000.00 more than the average US family of four will take home this year for the toil and moil of two working adults. Collectively, fathers in Willie’s circumstances must hope that this ray of judicial light that illuminated the abuse heaped on fathers paying child support, especially wealthy ones, will gradually shine into the dark corners where, under color of law, fathers are fleeced and put on a fast track to the poor house. Fair minded people should be morally outraged. And our legislators ought to move to banish the state of mind that allows a court to couch its decisions in the “style to which she has become accustomed” disguise. But instead, the NCSL, (National Council of State Legislators) in one of its recent annual conferences, offered a primer to state “child support professionals’ titled CS 101. In that conference, the NCSL suggests that the best way to encourage fathers to pay support is to
1) Restrict driver licenses
2) Require employers to report all new hires to the child support agency.
3) Take aggressive approach such as booting the cars of fathers in arrears, or by publishing a “most wanted” list of deadbeat dads.
They were concerned, they said, with the basic issue of fairness among parents. Give us a break.
The regressive one-sided approach to this issue ignores credible research on the issue of nonpayment of child support. Sanford Braver, an ASU professor who studies the economics of the family found, in one study, that the main reason for nonpayment of child support among men is unemployment. And in a recent study, the US Census Bureau found two-thirds of custodial mothers admitted that fathers did not pay because they were unemployed. It is high time we wake up and take a good hard look a system that produces the outcome in the Willie Gary case. The problem is not deadbeat dads, but rather unrealistic, crushing sums of money fathers are forced to pay in the name of child support.
You can read the record in Willie Gary child support case; Gary v Gowns, cv108224/2005 in Fulton County Court Ga.
By Reynold N Mason Esq.
When it comes to child support in America, common sense has gone to the dogs. What justification could there be for compelling a father to pay $51,000.00 for the support of one child? This is not fiction. $51,000.00 a month is what Eddie Murphy pays to Melanie Brown, for the support of his child. A simple calculation shows that the mother will have received more than $11 million dollars by the child’s 18th birthday. This is not a quirk or an aberration. Rapper Nas, was forced to pay $350,000.00 to his ex-wife to avoid jail. In New York, P. Diddy’s court-ordered child support payment of $21, 782.00 is the highest ever in New York. By the child’s 18th birthday, the mother will have received over $4.5 million in support payments from P. Daddy. The list of celebrities trapped in the fangs of this monster is so long that it will persuade even hard-core feminists that the system is abusive toward fathers. But when the gavel comes down in family court, even the ordinary Joe has reason for dread.
Consider the case of Major Wingate, a college student and basketball hopeful. He fathered a child by his girlfriend while at the university of Tennessee. He did not make it to the NBA, so on the advice of his handlers he headed overseas to try and kick start his basketball career. Wingate played basketball in China, Romania, Puerto Rico and other countries in the hope he would be noticed by NBA talent scouts. His career sputtering, he returns home and is promptly jailed by a judge because he had fallen behind in his child support payments. The judge was concerned that being such a global traveler he might not show up for his trial. Child support has driven even the wealthy into penury. Lawrence Taylor, former NFL great and now a Hall of Famer, was driven into bankruptcy by exorbitant child support. Once he left the NFL, LT was unable to maintain the high level of child support on his diminished income. Darryl Strawberry, even while he battled cancer and unemployment was snared by the child support trap. To avoid jail he was forced to pay $350,000.00 in back payments and another $10,000.00 per month to catch up on arrears on $194,000.00. At the settlement conference, the prosecutor promised: “If Mr. Strawberry fails to meet his payments he will go to jail.” Strawberry was also ordered to keep up the regular $12,000.00 monthly payments for the two children.
Child Support Enforcement : the birth of a monster.
No one questions the deeply rooted and firmly held belief that parents have a moral obligation to support their children. But the good intentions of federal bureaucrats have gone awry. In 1996, faced with an increasing bill for AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), the Clinton Administration transformed the system of child support into a penal apparatus, replete with its own bureaucracy of child protective services, support collection agents, social workers and, of course, the courts. This system operates outside the constitutional order and, over the last decade has transformed child support enforcement (CSE) into a tyrant that operates by its own rules. The original intent of CSE was to recover money paid to needy families to support children of fathers who had abandoned the families or were ‘willfully absent parents’ who were not supporting their children. The single mother problem was draining welfare funds, especially in the inner cities and swelling the welfare rolls. The intention was to recover from absent fathers, money paid by the government for the support of their families. This system now called TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) was tied to need, and helped families whose income was not enough to meet family needs. Mothers were required to have paternity established and assign to the state, any benefits established by a future child support order. A mother who did not have paternity established had her payments reduced. The government then goes after the absent parent to recover its money. This effectively made the state a collection agency. Billions of federal dollars are available to states that meet federal guidelines for recouping welfare payments from absent parents. In 2006 the Federal government paid $4.2 billion to states under TANF. The result is that states now use the program to increase their caseload. In New York, for example, every parent is required to make child support payments through the Support Collection Unit (SCU) and all employed parents must pay through deduction directly from their pay check.
By this legislative sleight of hand, New York and sister states have entrapped willing fathers and brought them into the system intended only for “welfare families” increasing their caseload and their share of federal dollars for the increased support collection. The states have become, under this system, virtual collection agencies taking a cut of whatever they bleed out of fathers, absent or not. This quasi legal artifice is used to trap support paying fathers, not just “willfully absent’ parents, and bring them into the TANF program, with no eligibility requirements. All that is now required is entitlement to child support. The father need not be absent and may even be current on his voluntary payments. An entire industry has sprung up turning a family matter into a lucrative for- profit business, plunging middle class families into the abyss of CSE and dooming untold number of fathers to virtual serfdom.
Across the country, bar associations, labor unions, social workers, and collection agencies have all hopped aboard the gravy train. Their sleek advertisements can be seen on television inviting mothers to avail themselves of collection services, “no fee unless we collect.” These programs, of dubious social value, keep the cash flowing into state and private coffers by draining money from fathers sliding into poverty under the weight of an unfair system. According to a Preliminary Data Report from the Washington office of child support issued in 2003, the non- welfare cases, divorced and separated fathers, accounted for 83% of the CSE case load, and 92 % of the money collected. At its inception welfare cases comprised 100 % of the CSE caseload. The report found that “most states make a profit on their child support program”, and are free to spend the money in any way they see fit. Because of this disconnect, every fatherless child is looked upon as a source of revenue for states strapped for cash. The scramble for federal dollars, in addition to interest and penalties on arrears, is the engine driving the exponential growth of the CSE behemoth. This system allowed Ohio to rake in $240 million and California $640 million in 2003, according to the Green Book for the House Ways and Means committee for 2003.
Before the birth of CSE, nearly all support was paid directly from one parent to another without officious meddling by government bureaucrats. The criminal enforcement methods that have become de rigueur were employed only in welfare cases to compel recalcitrant inner city fathers to repay money paid for support of their children under TANF. These methods, meant for welfare cases, now apply to all child support cases, even though there is no willfully absent parent or refusal to pay support. For men in general, and for a few women, child support has been transformed from a system of public assistance into penal machinery, bilking willing and able fathers of their hard-earned money, often beyond their ability to pay. When this happens, the full range of criminal sanctions is brought to bear. These sanctions can crush and paralyze fathers and destroy second families. Missed payments lead to jail for contempt, loss of driver’s license, asset seizures, garnished paychecks, tax refund intercepts and even revocation of a father’s passport. The machinery leaves no stone unturned; employers are now required to file a report whenever a new employee is hired. In a few jurisdictions a father in arrears may find his car booted. The burden of alleviating welfare has shifted from the government onto the backs of middle class fathers. It is a forced march to the poor house, and those who fall behind will be tagged with the vile moniker “deadbeat dads.” One writer has said the constitution never granted the states license to steal, but in 2010, the fleecing of working fathers is occurring before our eyes disguised as the CSE monster.
My thanks to Stephen Baskerville of the Institute for policy Innovation and, to Larry Holland and Jason Bottomley; their work on this issue has brought important policy questions to light.
by Reynold N. Mason Esq.
Over the past week the noise surrounding the building of the proposed mosque near ground zero has drowned out other nettlesome issues on the political scene. Only the Shirley Sherrod controversy eclipsed the squabble over the building of the mosque. Ironically, Shirley Sherrod, whose father was shot in the chest and killed by a bigot, was herself victimized by the very bigotry and prejudice that led to her father’s killing, and now has given rise the controversy over the ground zero mosque.
After 9/11, prejudice against Muslims has become de rigueur. Many Americans view Islam as somewhat of a cultural pariah, inferior in teaching and practice to American mainstream mores and, as a violent political ideology. Hate crimes against Muslims spiked in the aftermath of 9/11, from 354 in 2000 to 1501 in 2001. A good number of Americans view Islamic rules about marriage, divorce and custody as regressive. We rail against amputation for stealing, and the stoning of an adulterer but we impose the death penalty on criminals. We criticize Islam’s unequal treatment of women, but we treat divorced fathers like serfs, in virtual servitude to alimony drones. American feminists have successfully changed the courts and the law, as well as American attitudes about divorce, custody and child support. Instead of viewing fathers as individuals we make sweeping assumptions and treat all fathers as second class citizens. We incarcerate unemployed fathers who are not able to pay child support. So who are we to criticize Islam for making sweeping assumptions about women? Our cultural elitism is misguided and misplaced. Simply being different does not make us superior.
The Islamic community has just as much right to build near ground zero as the catholic community would have to erect a cathedral at the same site. Sara Palin is wrong and misguided in her expression of opposition to the mosque. Islam did not destroy the World Trade Center. A few Islamic extremists did. We do not condemn the entire Catholic Church or seek to drive it away from schools because of a few pedophiles in its ranks. But we refuse to apply the same discriminating logic to Islam. Instead we lay responsibility for the misguided acts of a few extremists at the door of the mosque. Muslims are entitled to the same religious freedoms as every other American. Unless we can demonstrate that the proposed mosque would endanger the peace and safety, then we are wrong for opposing it.
For once, mayor Bloomberg is right. In spite of polls showing New Yorkers oppose the building of the mosque at ground zero, he has taken a principled position. As a representative of all the citizens on New York, he has an obligation to refrain from expressing any preference for one religious group over another. He is right to ignore calls of those engaged in demagoguery over this fundamental America freedom, the freedom of religion. It is wrong for Rick Lazio and others seeking political advantage to engage in unprincipled opposition to the mosque.
Democracy is organized anarchy. There must, of necessity, be dissent, disagreement and dialogue. But the knee-jerk response to the proposed mosque near around zero is based on irrational fear and prejudice, and has no place in the democratic process. It is that species of prejudice that spawned Jim Crow jurisprudence in the old south that we as Americans would like to forget. It is high time we heed the lesson of our own history. America interned its innocent citizens of Japanese descent during world war two because the empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. And in the 1790’s, (as Morton Borden writes in: Jew Turks and infidels) when most Americans were Protestant Christians, 11 of the states denied Jews the right to vote or hold office. ((Americans should not demonize and vilify all of Islam because it is at odds with many of our cherished American values, such as equality, freedom of expression, the traditional family, and separation of church and state)). The erstwhile speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, in opposition to the ground zero mosque has said: “There should never be a mosque near ground zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” To him I say, we should never abandon our obligation under our constitution to respect religious differences. This is the basis for true religious freedom that we as Americans have enjoyed. It is unjust and unwise to deny Muslims the free exercise of religion. Opposing the ground zero mosque is a smoke screen, a decoy, behind which we seek to hide our Islamaphodia. It is religious intolerance plain and simple.
Guns win, lock stock and barrel
by Reynold N.Mason Esq.
June 28 2010 will go down as a historic day for both supporters and opponents of gun rights. The Supreme Court handed down its long awaited decision in the McDonald V Chicago case. Otis McDonald the plaintiff in the case, lives is a bad Chicago neighborhood. His home and garage have been burglarized more than six times. According to Mr. McDonald, the gang bangers have taken over the neighborhood. But he could not keep a hand gun in his home much less on his person. He sued the City of Chicago and he finally won. The Supreme Court finally has said, what for two hundred years it has dodged, ducked and avoided. Yes, the 2nd Amendment means what it says, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged. So why did all those smart Harvard lawyers in the City of Chicago not know that little tidbit of constructional wisdom?
The fact is that the lawyers and all the politicians knew that we all have a right to own a hand gun. They simply like to take the easy way out. The City of Chicago and all of its minions should read Justice Thomas’ concurrence. The Founding Fathers believed in the right to own guns and, to make sure that big brother did not take away our right to own a gun, they enshrined that right in 2nd Amendment to the constitution. That was a few hundred years ago. Then Blacks were freed and former slave holding states passed laws aimed at preventing former slaves from owing firearms. The majority in McDonald reached the right conclusion but dared not call a spade a spade. They danced around the issue with convoluted logic only the Chicago boys could understand. But Justice Thomas told it the way it was. He wrote:
The overarching goal of pro-slavery forces was to repress the spread of abolitionist thought and the concomitant risk of a slave rebellion. Indeed, it is difficult to overstate the extent to which fear of a slave uprising gripped slaveholders and dictated the acts of Southern legislatures. Slaves and free blacks represented a substantial percentage of the population and posed a severe threat to Southern order if they were not kept in their place. According to the 1860 Census, slaves represented one quarter or more of the population in 11 of the 15 slave States, nearly half the population in Alabama. The Southern fear of slave rebellion was not unfounded. Although there were others, two particularly notable slave uprisings heavily influenced slaveholders in the South. In 1822, a group of free blacks and slaves led by Denmark Vesey planned a rebellion in which they would slay their masters and flee to Haiti. The plan was foiled, leading to the swift arrest of 130 blacks, and the execution of 37, including Vesey.
That was back in the days when Nat Turner walked as a freeman. That could not be allowed to happen. Dred Scott had been overruled and blacks were finally US citizens but they did not enjoy the privileges and immunities of US citizenship. So the Congress passed the Privileges and Immunities Clause. This meant that blacks could now keep and bear arms, a right every white citizen took for granted. Southern Whites were fearful. Justice Thomas writes:
The fear generated ....led Southern legislatures to take particularly vicious aim at the rights of free blacks and slaves to speak or to keep and bear arms for their defense. Teaching slaves to read (even the Bible) was a criminal offense punished severely in some States. Virginia made it a crime for a member of an "abolition" society to enter the State and argue "that the owners of slaves have no property in the same, or advocate or advise the abolition of slavery. Other States prohibited the circulation of literature denying a master's right to property in his slaves and passed laws requiring postmasters to inspect the mails in search of such material. Many legislatures amended their laws prohibiting slaves from carrying firearms to apply the prohibition to free blacks as well. (declaring that "it shall not be lawful for any free person of colour in this state, to own, use, or carry fire arms of any description whatever"); Florida made it the "duty" of white citizen "patrol[s] to search negro houses or other suspected places, for fire arms.". If they found any firearms, the patrols were to take the offending slave or free black "to the nearest justice of the peace," whereupon he would be "severely punished" by "whipping on the bare back, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes," unless he could give a "plain and satisfactory" explanation of how he came to possess the gun.
This fear, writes Justice Thomas ……led to "systematic efforts in the old Confederacy" to disarm the more than 180,000 freedmen who had served in the Union Army, as well as other free blacks. Some States formally prohibited blacks from possessing firearms. Others enacted legislation prohibiting blacks from carrying firearms without a license, a restriction not imposed on whites. Additionally, "[t]hroughout the South, armed parties, often consisting of ex-Confederate soldiers serving in the state militias, forcibly took firearms from newly freed slaves." ….Take, for example, the Hamburg Massacre of 1876. There, a white citizen militia sought out and murdered a troop of black militiamen for no other reason than that they had dared to conduct a celebratory Fourth of July parade through their mostly black town. The white militia commander, "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, later described this massacre with pride: "[T]he leading white men of Edgefield" had decided "to seize the first opportunity that the negroes might offer them to provoke a riot and teach the negroes a lesson by having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable." None of the perpetrators of the Hamburg murders was ever brought to justice.
Organized terrorism like that perpetuated by Tillman and his cohorts proliferated in the absence of federal enforcement of constitutional rights. Militias such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, the White Brotherhood, the Pale Faces, and the '76 Association spread terror among blacks and white Republicans by breaking up Republican meetings, threatening political leaders, and whipping black militiamen. These groups raped, murdered, lynched, and robbed as a means of intimidating, and instilling pervasive fear in, those whom they despised. Although Congress enacted legislation to suppress these activities, Klan tactics remained a constant presence in the lives of Southern blacks for decades. Between 1882 and 1968, there were at least 3,446 reported lynchings of blacks in the South. They were tortured and killed for a wide array of alleged crimes, without even the slightest hint of due process. Emmit Till, for example, was killed in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The fates of other targets of mob violence were equally depraved. The use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence. As Eli Cooper, one target of such violence, is said to have explained, " '[t]he Negro has been run over for fifty years, but it must stop now, and pistols and shotguns are the only weapons to stop a mob”. Sometimes, as in Cooper's case, self-defense did not succeed. He was dragged from his home by a mob and killed as his wife looked on.
The type of violence and intimidation endured by Mr. McDonald and countless other victims of Chicago bandits, is nothing if not terrorism. It makes its victims feel just as powerless as freed blacks facing southern lynch mobs. It is a wholesale violation of their constitutional right to deny them the right to own a gun for self defense. The issue in McDonald was whether the court would uphold our right to own a hand gun to defend ourselves and our families against the kind of violence the 2nd amendment was designed to put a stop to. Five wise, courageous men answered a resounding, yes. Those who oppose owning handguns do not have to purchase one. But at last, they can no longer keep the rest of us from doing so. Ali Cooper was right. We have been run over for fifty years, but it must stop now, and pistols and shotguns are the only weapons to stop a mob.
Note: Several of the passages in this article are form Justice Thomas’ opinion in McDonald v Chicago decided June 28, 2010