A Voice in the Wilderness In Defense of "Mere Conservatism"


The Plumb Line: Taxes and the American Way

By: Caitlin Doemner, Contributor


After being hounded by the media for his “low” tax rate (he only paid $1.94 Million in taxes because he had given away a third of his income to charity), Romney and the President went back and forth on tax policy throughout the debate last night. The main thrust of Romney’s tax plan focuses on lowering the tax rate, but he expects to increase revenue in two ways: first, by closing loopholes and deductions, and second, by allowing the lower tax rate to encourage business growth in the United States. Obama’s rebuttal was “there aren’t enough loopholes”.

For those of you unfamiliar with the tax code, think of it a 5800 page block of Swiss cheese. Only 30 pages focus on raising taxes -- the remaining 5,770 pages are devoted to REDUCING your taxes.* So when Romney says he can find $5 trillion worth of deductions in the tax code, he probably isn’t joking. In fact, looking at his 14.1% effective tax rate, I’d say he’s personally very familiar with them.

But what most people don’t understand -- and the problem Romney’s going to face in Congress -- is that our tax code is the culmination of decades of well-meaning politicians desperately trying to incentivize “good behavior” among its citizens. For example, the government wants to encourage home ownership, so you’re allowed a deduction for the interest you pay on your mortgage. There are also “credits” (N.B. “deductions” reduce your taxes, but become null when your burden reaches zero; “credits” are monies given to you by the government regardless of your tax burden). When the government wanted to encourage us to have children, it started paying us a $1,000 credit for each dependent we had.

The easiest way for the government to empower the private sector (something I’m a fan of) is by offering tax deductions to citizens for taking positive action. The two biggest areas of the economy where the government wants to encourage private growth include job-creation and housing development. Thus, we see huge deductions available for real estate investors and business owners.

As Romney pointed out, the biggest business owners get the biggest deductions and the small businesses are left paying a ridiculously high rate. In fact, sole proprietorships have it the worst because they get hit with a 15% “self-employment tax” -- payroll and welfare taxes that are normally split with one’s employer. If Romney can actually reduce taxes to 25% for those small businesses and make up the difference from their larger corporate brothers, he has my support.

Caitlin Cogan Doemner, MBA, is the CEO for Lifestyle Livelihood, LLC which focuses on building wealth through business development.

(*For more on this topic, check out Tom Wheelwright’s new book “Tax Free Wealth” published by BZKPress.)




What’s the deal with Mary Jane: Part 4 (The Conclusion)

By: Caitlin Cogan Doemner, Contributor

(If you haven't read Part 3 yet, we recommend that you do)


The Conclusion

As I think about the arguments for and against legalizing marijuana, it seems to me that both sides have some powerful points. To help me gain a different perspective, I'd like to think a bit abstractly about the nature of rules and freedom. Please bear with philosophical tangent…

I believe there are natural and artificial laws with natural and artificial consequences. You jump up, and the natural law of gravity results in the natural consequence of falling back to earth. Artificial laws are those imposed by man -- if you go over the speed limit, you get a speeding ticket.

Within the artificial rule category, there seem to be rules intended to protect yourself and rules intended to protect others.

As a parent, I use the former to train my son to make wise decisions with the understanding that if he fails to develop a corresponding self-governing mechanism, he will fail as an independent adult. Hence, when he fails to do his homework and gets a poor grade on his test, we take away privileges, because when he's older and has a job, not doing work will get him fired. Which will significantly restrict his privileges.

I'm sure you seen the Overprotective Parent. They have rules for everything! This parenting style inevitably results in two kinds of kids: the Rebel, who throws the good rules out with the bath water; and the Obsequious Child, with no ability to decide anything for themselves because they've always been told what to do. So, excessive restriction of freedom seems to result in either too little or too much will. With Aristotle, good parents are always trying to cultivate that golden mean, the Self-Governing Child.

AristotlThe role of government is not the same as that of a parent. It can't and shouldn't be trying to raise self-governing citizens. A government-by-the-people only works with already self-governing people. Unfortunately, looking at our current level of personal responsibility as a society from a historical perspective, it seems to me we have reached the lowest levels since Rome. We are an adolescent people, either looking to be told what to do or rebelling without a cause.

So what's to be done?

It seems the answer is either make the laws more severe or get rid of them entirely (regarding marijuana use anyway); the middle courses attempted in the past have only exacerbated the problem.

Let's look at the first option. Since the natural consequence of abusing drugs is physical harm and death, the artificial consequence should be similarly dire. Individuals caught abusing drugs could be caned; those caught dealing might be shot. Seems to me, fewer people would attempt either.

The trouble is that free will has always been a good enough thing in itself that it trumps even the worst of possible projected consequences (see: Eden). God Himself considered death preferable to tyranny.

le_peche_originelSo how can government simultaneously maximize personal freedom while protecting the weak?

Here's my suggestion, and I am open to revisions:

1. Legalize the use of marijuana for adults 21 and older.
2. Limit growing marijuana to authorized growers (with ridiculously heavy fines for infractions) to minimize access by minors.
3. Increase the severity of selling or otherwise distributing marijuana to minors (zero tolerance felony subject to the same parole conditions as pedophiles maybe?).
4. Tax marijuana sales sharply and devote the proceeds to educating children about the dangers of drug abuse and rehabilitating abusers.

In this way, the government can protect the innocents from the fools, rather than the fools from themselves.


What’s The Deal With Mary Jane?: Part 3

By: Caitlin Cogan Doemner, Contributor

Click for Part 1 and Part 2


Legalizing Marijuana: Just Say “No”

If you’re only worried about the health of your lungs, the health risks of marijuana are less extreme than tobacco; unfortunately, if you also care about your brain, marijuana’s effects are significantly worse. Use of marijuana distorts sensory and time perception, inhibits coordination, impairs cognitive functions such as recall, learning, and problem-solving, and in larger quantities can cause disorientation, hallucinations, and delusions. Long-time users have been known to develop anxiety, paranoia, schizophrenia, and other psychological disorders.  The argument that because some dangerous substances are legal (like alcohol and tobacco), other dangerous substances should be legalized is short-sighted. We know that alcohol is responsible for killing an average of 75,000 Americans every year; tobacco claims over 400,000 annually. Legalizing marijuana will inevitably increase the number of users and the corresponding number of deaths. Legalizing marijuana is the equivalent of signing a death warrant for thousands of people every year.

Anecdotally, drug users start experimenting with marijuana, but eventually get into heroin, cocaine, or other harder drugs. While advocates of legalization claim that marijuana is not a gateway drug, “ a study of over 300 fraternal and identical twin pairs found that the twin who had used marijuana before the age of 17 had elevated rates of other drug use and drug problems later on, compared with their twin who did not use before age 17.” When society legalizes a drug, it implicitly endorses its use, and increased availability will inevitably increase demand. This increased acceptance and availability would almost certainly increase the chances of the drug finding its way into the hands of minors. Due to the psychoactive nature of the drug, smoking marijuana during one’s adolescent years can seriously – and permanently – impair a person’s cognitive development.snoop-dogg-smoking

While the scientific data about marijuana serving as a gateway to harder drugs may be inconclusive, its legalization would certainly serve as a “gateway drug” politically. The legalization of marijuana would set a precedent that could eventually result in the legalization of harder drugs or all drugs. The legalization of marijuana presents a slippery slope dilemma to legislators: When you begin legalizing vice, where do you draw the line? Gambling? Prostitution? While individuals may have differing personal feelings about the issue, public policy needs to act in the best interests of its citizens. For those of us who believe in objective morality, doing what’s right trumps doing what’s popular.

Government was instituted by God for the preservation of justice, which includes punishing evil, rewarding good, and protecting the weak. While many of our citizens may have the strength of character and body to use marijuana moderately and wisely, there are thousands of individuals who are likely to indulge in the drug without wisdom and develop an addiction. In 2008, an estimated 4.2 million Americans were dependent upon or abused the use of marijuana. Addictions enslave a person’s will, removing their freedom to choose what is truly in their best interests, and frequently negatively affects their personal lives, as well as their familial and professional  commitments. In accordance with Paul’s admonition to avoid putting stumbling blocks in others’ paths, the majority of citizens who could indulge in marijuana safely should accept the legal prohibitions as a means of aiding the wellbeing of their fellow citizens and protecting those weaker than themselves.

The toll on “human capital” would very likely offset any economic advantages of legalizing marijuana. Marijuana use not only harms the user, but frequent use can undermine socially constructive behavior: “Marijuana users themselves report poor outcomes on a variety of life satisfaction and achievement measures. One study compared current and former long-term heavy users of marijuana with a control group who reported smoking cannabis at least once in their lives but not more than 50 times. Despite similar education and income backgrounds, significant differences were found in educational attainment: fewer of the heavy users of cannabis completed college, and more had yearly household incomes of less than $30,000. When asked how marijuana affected their cognitive abilities, career achievements, social lives, and physical and mental health, the majority of heavy cannabis users reported the drug's negative effects on all of these measures. In addition, several studies have linked workers' marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers' compensation claims, and job turnover. For example, a study among postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment urine drug test had 55 percent more industrial accidents, 85 percent more injuries, and a 75-percent increase in absenteeism compared with those who tested negative for marijuana use.” So, not only would fewer people attend college, but worker productivity would decrease as well.  The Drug Enforcement Administration says legalization of drugs will cost society between $140-210 billion a year in lost productivity and job-related accidents. Additionally, increased health care needs and more car accidents will result in higher insurance premiums for all.

Legalizing marijuana doesn’t make economic sense and will likely harm the most vulnerable members of our society.

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What’s The Deal With Mary Jane?: Part 2

By: Caitlin Cogan Doemner, Contributor

For Part 1, click here


Legalization of Marijuana: The Road to Liberty, Security, and Prosperity

In this article, I will be making a case for full legalization of marijuana on a federal level as opposed to simple decriminalization which punishes offenses by means other than prison (see traffic violations).

Most social contract theorists agree that the basis of government is to protect an individual’s rights from the infringement of others; therefore a government should only intrude into matters which affect the relationship between its citizens and others. On personal matters, such as what an individual chooses to eat or drink, the government has no right to intervene, unless such actions negatively affect another individual. For example, one should be free to get thoroughly drunk inside one’s own home, so long as the drunkard does not injure or threaten to injure another person (by getting into a car, let’s say). The government has no right to “protect” its citizens from themselves; hence, there is no law against gluttony. In so far as the government prohibits the individual growing and usage of marijuana, it oversteps its bounds.

If health is a concern, marijuana seems to offer fewer risks than tobacco.  Smoking tobacco has been proven to cause chronic obstructive lung diseases as well as cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, lungs, stomach, kidneys, and pancreas; smoking tobacco increases risk of coronary heart disease and strokes while decreasing bone density. All told, smoking tobacco causes more deaths each year than by HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined. The health risks of marijuana are limited primarily to brain function; according to this study by the American Medical Association, even high use of marijuana did not affect lung health. In fact, marijuana seems to offer positive medical benefits, which is more than the tobacco can boast.

Unfortunately, these potential benefits to the drug cannot be adequately researched and utilized without legalization. For this reason, the California Medical Association, a group of more than 35,000 physicians, officially supports the federal legalization of marijuana. The legalization of marijuana will allow for regulation of the drug with specified standards for concentration and purity that will protect users and open up new avenues for studying the medical value of the plant for use in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and glaucoma, as well as pain management for a variety of other patients.

But what is medical value compared to increased justice in our legal system? The United States has the highest number of prisoners per capita in the world at 715 per 100,000 people. The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627. The others have much lower rates: England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63. Not only do we send an inordinate number of individuals to prison, we also give them significantly longer sentences than other nations. Coincidentally, this number began to skyrocket in the 1970s after President Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs (our previous average was less than 200 per 100,000). According to the CEPR, if we reduced the incarceration rate of non-violent offenders by even one-half, it would lower correctional expenditures by $16.9 billion annually. This chart from the CEPR report shows how disproportional our incarceration rate has become in terms of population growth and traditional crimes:

chart_cepr_incarceration1-fig5Legalizing marijuana would alleviate some of the pressure felt in the correctional system currently and free up resources in the police and judiciary realms that would allow for a greater focus on violent crime.

Sun Tzu would tell you to not to pick a fight you can’t win.  Unless the United States government can eliminate the demand for marijuana, it will never eradicate its supply.  By keeping marijuana illegal and reducing the supply, we are only putting more money and more power into the hands of the drug cartels. Legalization would dramatically increase the supply of drugs, but according to this Australian study, it does not seem to seriously affect the number of new users (the report  estimates an increase of less than 1%). This influx of supply with inelastic demand would introduce capitalism into the market, increasing quality while decreasing price, strangling the deadly drug cartels that rule our southern border and reducing the domestic street crimes associated with drug use.

And lastly, in this flagging economy, let’s not forget the financial advantages of legalization. While people argue about the actual numbers, the revenue generated by the industry would likely be in the billions. Even with home growers avoiding taxation and the increased production decreasing prices, the savings of judiciary costs and influx of revenue would help balance the budget (at least, here in pot-loving California).

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The Plumb Line: What’s the deal with Mary Jane?

By: Caitlin Doemner, Contributor


Confession: I’m a drug-virgin. Though I’ve enjoyed the occasional cigarette, I’ve never even been offered a joint. Or special brownies, which I’d probably prefer. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to spell “marijuana” until Google helped me out.

So I started researching this article series by reading “How Stuff Works.” (I was unable to secure a doctor’s note for more “primary research.”)

First, the science.

Marijuana is the prepared version of the plant Cannabis sativa for use as a psychoactive drug and medicine. The major psychoactive compound is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, and the concentration of this compound determines the potency of the drug, usually ranging between 1 – 5%, with some samples as high as 22%. Potency is influenced by the climate conditions, genetics, harvesting and processing of the plant (usually its blossoms). THC enters the bloodstream most quickly through the lungs, but has more lasting effects when ingested. Once the THC reaches the brain it binds with cannabinoid receptors (hence the name?) to affect short-term memory, sense perception, coordination, learning and problem-solving. The “high” is often described as relaxing, creating a feeling of haziness or lightheadedness, followed occasionally by feelings of paranoia or panic. While the effects may wear off in a few hours, the chemicals stay in the body for 20 hours – 10 days. Fatalities from overdosing are rare, usually when hashish oil is injected intravenously.alan shlemon

Second, the history.

First referenced in a Chinese medical text in 2737 BC, marijuana spread across India and North Africa, reaching Europe as early as A.D. 500. It seems Muslims developed the blossoms’ resin into hashish since the consumption of alcohol was banned by the Q’ran. The Spanish brought it to the New World and the English grew it as a cash crop. Opium was still the preferred drug of choice until the Prohibition. The first campaign to brand marijuana as a “gateway drug” began in the 1930s and it became a symbol of independence by the “hippies” of the 1960s. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified it as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin and LSD, and though the Mexicans eradicated known marijuana fields with herbicide in 1975, the country remains the United States’ number one supplier. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize possession of marijuana in 1973; California was the first state to establish a medical marijuana program in 1996, but voters have rejected more recent attempts to legalize the drug.

Third, the economics.

The Office of Drug Control Policy published a study in 2004 estimating that the nation was spending $12.1 billion in police and court costs and another $16.9 billion in correction costs annually on marijuana related charges.

This decade-old price tag was calculated by multiplying the criminal system’s expenses by the percentage of marijuana arrests; not an exact figure by a long shot, but ironically, the closest thing I could find to a hard number. This difficulty finding real data is the result of several factors.

First, and most importantly, the fact that marijuana is still an illegal drug and therefore, everyone in the industry is trying very hard to avoid statisticians, makes it difficult to gauge the size and nature of the market. Second, even on the legal side of this issue, figures like the above-mentioned justice system costs are difficult to assess because criminals are rarely being incarcerated exclusively for marijuana. Often, marijuana is just one piece of an arrest warrant and court verdict, so determining how much money is spent fighting the “war on drugs” is like deciding which shade of gray qualifies as white and which as black. Third, the largest costs are not quantifiable – what value do you place on a mom who neglects her children as a result of drug abuse? How do you price a man’s life spent in prison for marijuana charges? The social and human costs of drugs are the highest and least able to be evaluated.

So here is my plan: Instead of playing a numbers shell game of costs and savings, I’m going to look at the decision-affecting factors as objectively as possible and see what I can make of this highly-contentious issue, arguing first for and then against the legalization of the drug. My theory is that the number of zeroes after the dollar sign shouldn’t really affect whether or not legalization is a good decision. We’ll see.


Coming Next Time: Legalizing Marijuana: The Road to Liberty, Security, and Prosperity

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The Plumb Line: Immigration (Part 4)

By: Caitlin Doemner, Contributor

(For Part 3, click here)


In My Opinion

The Alabama law hits on two large issues in the immigration debate – the relationship between the federal and state government in immigration enforcement, as well as the proper scope for public benefits offered to illegal immigrants.

Federal Authority vs. State Power

As in many other cases, the lawsuits that the Department of Justice has brought against Arizona, Alabama, and other states will bring an issue that ought to be resolved in Congress to the Supreme Court’s docket.  Congress (a body of 535 elected officials with distinct views) has exclusive authority to determine immigration policy; not the Supreme Court, a body of 9 appointed members with fairly predictable viewpoints and almost no public accountability. What I fear is that when these lawsuits are brought before the Supreme Court, regardless of what they decide, it will set a significant precedent that will dramatically affect the legislation Congress is able to pass in the future.federalist_papers

In my view, the states are currently within their rights to establish enforcement policies that do not conflict with the federally-established immigration laws.  I believe one of the greatest advantages of living in a states-based country is the freedom it allows; states can respond to the different needs of their citizens while remaining unified.  If some states, like Oregon and Alaska, wish to become “sanctuary states,” and others, like Arizona and Alabama, wish to practice “attrition through enforcement,” it falls within the rights of the people. Now, by definition, this practice will result in an inconsistent enforcement of laws, with the almost inevitable result of frustration and confusion, but these are secondary to the constitutionality of the matter. My Conclusion: So long as Congress does not prohibit the states from establishing legislation regarding the enforcement of federal policy, they should be allowed to do so.

Education for Undocumented Residents

What I find ironic is that opponents of states’ rights to enact harsher legislation that is in keeping with federal law are the same people you find supporting states’ rights to enact legislation that opposes federal law, i.e. individuals who want to keep Alabama from passing legislation that mirrors Title 8 advocate giving state funding to undocumented residents which is prohibited according to Title 8.

In order to be consistent, I feel that states should have a right to establish their own legislation regarding college tuition for undocumented students, and therefore I support the DREAM Act’s initiative to eliminate the federal provision denying postsecondary benefits on the basis of residency. 

My Conclusion: Let each state’s citizens decide how to allocate their own resources, but these applicants should not be eligible for federal financial aid because it suggests an unsupported unity by the states on this matter.

If you noticed, I didn’t touch deeply on the economic consequences of providing benefits to immigrants, and that is because my research indicated (1) a lack of hard numbers substantiated by actual data, and (2) even where the numbers were available, they were nuanced and difficult to interpret alone.  For example, regarding the Alabama state law, Alabama spent an estimated $298 million on immigrants; but immigrants paid an estimated $130 million in state and local taxes (personal income, property, and sales).  Add to that the value migrant workers provide farmers in labor alone, and you have very likely evened the cost-benefit playing field. Therefore, I do not feel that economic arguments lend themselves decisively to either side of the debate.

General Thoughts

I knew very little about the immigration debate before embarking on this series of articles and honestly did not know where I would land on the issue.  Now, at the end of my research, I have decided that I favor making it increasingly difficult to enter the country illegally and increasingly easy to enter legally. As an example of what I mean: Build walls. Increase funding for border security. Allow states to enact harsh measures against illegal immigrants. But also enact the DREAM Act. Create programs that enable migrant workers to work seasonally in the United States and return to their homes when done Streamline the citizen application process to get people through as quickly and safely as possible.

I believe we would see a large increase in economic fecundity if we established a quick and simple tiered approach to working and living legally in the United States. This report about the effect of immigration on American jobs published by AEI supports my belief that immigration has a positive impact on domestic job growth.

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The Plumb Line: Immigration (Part 3)

By: Caitlin Doemner, Guest Contributor


(For Part 2, click here)

Public Education: Right or Privilege?

[Update:  As of December 12, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Arizona’s appeal regarding its immigration law]

While doing my research on the new Alabama law, I discovered that as a result of a case called “Plyler v. Doe” in 1982, every child in the United States is entitled to public education from Kindergarten through 12th grade, regardless of legal status.

It seems that in 1981, Texas said the state would not provide funding for the education of children who were not “legally admitted” into the United States, thereby authorizing local schools to deny enrollment to such children.

Based on the Supreme Court’s statements, it seems that Texas’ two main arguments were as follows:

(1)  Education is not a fundamental right, and therefore the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not apply.

Court’s response:  Although education is not a fundamental right, it is not like the deprivation of “some other governmental benefit”; education serves “a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage.”  These children should not have a lifetime of hardship imposed upon them because they are “not accountable for their disabling status. These children can neither affect their parents' conduct nor their own undocumented status.”

(2) Educating illegal immigrants does not serve the best interest of the State or its citizens, and therefore the State should not be responsible for funding.

Court’s response:  Denying education to “undocumented children constitutes an ineffectual attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration.”  Evidence does not support the argument that excluding undocumented children improves the quality of education in the state, nor should these children be singled out because they are less likely to “remain within the State's boundaries and to put their education to productive social or political use within the State.”

Times must have changed, because twenty years later, Texas was the first state to allow undocumented residents to qualify for in-state tuition prices (saving them over $11,000 per semester in 2011).  It was his signature on this 2001 bill that seriously hurt Governor Rick Perry’s chances at the Republican nomination this year (remember his “heartless” comment in the September 22 debate?).

Interestingly, federal law (Title 8, Chapter 14, Sec. 1623) states:

"an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State... for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit."

Thus, Texas’ law, as well as California’s DREAM Act, and other such measures now enacted in 13 states, seems to violate federal immigration policy. The California Supreme Court upheld the legitimacy of its DREAM Act, stating that since non-residents can meet the law’s requirements, the tuition discount is not based on residency and therefore does not conflict with the federal prohibition.  In June 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the verdict, thereby upholding the California Court’s ruling and leaving the DREAM Act intact.

Federal DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Acts have been repeatedly presented to and voted down by Congress. The legislation was reintroduced in May 2011 and would enact two major changes to the law:

1.The DREAM Act would permit certain immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status and to eventually obtain permanent legal status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military; and

2.  The DREAM Act would eliminate a federal provision that penalizes states that provide in-state tuition without regard to immigration status.

Arguments against a Federal DREAM Act

The DREAM Act is not popular. Last September, a Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll indicated that the majority of Americans do NOT support providing public benefits to illegal immigrants. Only 18% supported the giving federal or state grants for college, which the DREAM Act would enable aliens to apply for and receive.  Adding illegal immigrants to the pool of applicants for financial aid would reduce the help available to low-income U.S. citizens. It also penalizes foreign students applying to U.S. colleges for abiding by the law.supreme-court-1

The Federal DREAM Act rewards illegal immigrants, first by providing a way to become U.S. citizens if they just stick around long enough, and second, by allowing them to receive in-state tuition rates, which were intended to provide a benefit to state taxpayers whose tax dollars support state colleges.  Although the amnesty is retroactive (only applying to past, not future, immigrants), it sets a precedent that incentivizes future immigrants to move here illegally.  The law absolves immigrant parents of their responsibility to do right by their children and violates our commitment to the rule of law.

Even if you are okay with the basic idea of the law, there are plenty of flaws in the bill as presented (in 2010): (1) it is not exclusively for children since applicants must be less than 30 years old, (2) applicants are safe from being removed or deported regardless of inaccurate information or criminal status, (3) applicants are allowed one felony or three misdemeanors, (4) completing a degree is not a qualification for amnesty, and (5) DREAM Act aliens will receive all the rights that legal immigrants receive, including the right to sponsor family members for immigration.

Arguments for a Federal DREAM Act

Regarding these undocumented students, there are three basic options: deport them, ignore them, or pass the DREAM Act.  Deporting them would cost billions of dollars and return them to a homeland they don’t remember.  Ignoring them accepts the system’s failure and consigns them to the unproductive margins of society.  Passing the DREAM Act incentivizes these kids to work hard and earn the privilege of citizenship.

As stated by the Supreme Court, it is ethically irresponsible to punish children for their parents’ actions.  Granting children primary and secondary education but denying them legal and financial access to college condemns them to second-rate careers, regardless of their academic potential.  “The 1997 report ‘New Americans’ by the National Research Council found that immigrants -- both legal and undocumented -- with a college education save the government money, while those with just a high school diploma consume more in services than they contribute in taxes.”

According to the White House blog, the DREAM Act will (1) assist the military in its recruitment efforts, (2) bolster our competitiveness in the global economy by creating more college graduates, (3) increase government revenues by billions of dollars, and (4) allow immigration officials to dedicate their resources towards detaining and deporting criminals who pose a threat to our country.

When discussing the matter of providing public benefits to illegal immigrants, particularly education, there are many arguments for and against.

Which ones sway you?


The Plumb Line: Immigration (Part 2)

By: Caitlin Doemner, Contributor


United States v Alabama:

Defining the Roles of the Feds and the States in Immigration Enforcement

Instead of my proposed two points-one perspective model, it seemed more intuitive (and hopefully clearer) to tackle one issue from two perspectives simultaneously. Hence, today we’ll look at both sides of the Federal vs. State Authority discussion and next week I’ll tackle the Benefits Question.

As I mentioned in my last article, the DOJ’s lawsuit addresses the Constitutional validity of Alabama’s new law.  The question is: What should the relationship look like between the federal government and state and local agencies when dealing with immigration enforcement?

In accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has the exclusive power to regulate immigration, but in accordance with the Tenth Amendment, the States have power over anything not prohibited by Congress.  (For the Supreme Court’s take on this issue, see De Canas v Bica)

Currently, Title 8 requires aliens to “apply for registration and to be fingerprinted,” but the failure to do so is only a civil violation, over which the states have little or no jurisdiction.  Alabama’s law criminalizes a noncitizens’ failure to obtain or carry these registration documents, thereby empowering local agencies to act on the matter.

Arguing for Alabama

The law asserts that “The State of Alabama finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state… [It] further finds that certain practices currently allowed in this state impede and obstruct the enforcement of federal immigration law, undermine the security of our borders, and impermissibly restrict the privileges and immunities of the citizens of Alabama.”

Here’s what Alabama’s Attorney General, Luther Strange, has to say on the topic:

The State of Alabama’s primary responsibility is to serve and protect its citizens, and currently, the lack federal immigration enforcement threatens to harm Alabama’s citizens economically and endanger their security.

The federal government has adequate legislation governing immigration policy, but inadequate resources to enforce these mandates.  By creating legislation that mirrors Title 8 stipulations, Alabama is supplying the additional resources necessary to aid the federal government and enforce the law with greater consistency throughout the state.  Alabama recognizes that this level of support may not be necessary in all states, but serves the best interests of its own citizens.  The law does not conflict with current federal law and is thus fully within the state’s Tenth Amendment rights.  Alabama is simply aiding the federal government in the fulfillment of its legal responsibilities.

Alabama has approximately 120,000 undocumented workers (2.5% of their population) and they are placing a financial strain on the state economy.  These illegal immigrants are filling jobs when almost one out of ten Alabaman citizens is out of work. Their children are utilizing educational resources despite dramatic cuts in school budgets.  Their families utilize taxpayer- subsidized healthcare that was intended to protect the state’s poorest citizens.  Here is a report on the fiscal impact of illegal immigration on United States taxpayers.

Poor enforcement of immigration policy not only endangers national security by increasing potential terrorist threats, it also endangers citizen safety by sustaining an “underground community” living apart from the law. Because local law officers know their own communities better than federal agents, they are well-equipped to aid the federal government in the enforcement of immigration policy.  Alabama has an 8-year history of cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security; Alabaman officers have received training by the ICE and are adequately prepared to handle the finer distinctions of immigration enforcement, recognizing that they are bound by all federal civil rights statutes and regulations.

Thus, not only is H.B. 56 consistent with federal law, it improves the welfare of its citizens.

Arguing for the Department of Justice

The Department of Justice asserts that “various provisions of H.B. 56 conflict with federal immigration law and undermine the federal government’s careful balance of immigration enforcement priorities and objectives.”  H.B. 56 is preempted by federal law and will damage local and national security, strain relations between communities and nations, and depress the state economy.

By shifting the cost of enforcement onto the states, the law will result in fewer resources for local law enforcement officers to maintain their primary responsibilities, which will expose communities to greater risk. The law may increase distrust between citizens and law enforcement officers, making potential witnesses and victims unwilling to come forward.

Not only will the law affect local safety, but it will also negatively impact national security by forcing immigrants “underground” and making it more difficult to get their cooperation in terrorist-related and criminal investigations.  It will place greater burdens on federal agencies, “diverting their resources away from dangerous criminal aliens” and instead forcing them to deal with otherwise law-abiding noncitizens.  Laws such as H.B. 56 place strain on diplomatic relations with foreign countries, most particularly Mexico.  While states are concerned with the short-term impact of immigration, the federal government is forced to balance the costs and benefits of complex immigration policies and this law is likely to interfere with those priorities.

Having separate agreements for different states could result in inconsistent enforcement of laws with disparate treatment and lead to allegations of racial profiling and discrimination.  Most local law enforcement officers do not have adequate training to differentiate between the many different kinds of documents allowing aliens to be in the U.S. legally which could result in the harassment and detention of foreign visitors, legal immigrants and even U.S. citizens.

Stephen Colbert reports on farmers’ frustration with the law:

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Such harsh legislation will likely have a deleterious effect on the state’s economy; an economist from the University of Alabama estimates a $40 million loss if only 10,000 undocumented immigrants stop working in the state.  First, the estimated $130 million that undocumented workers pay in income, property, and sales taxes will disappear. Next, as immigrants fail to immunize their children, more communicable diseases will spread, harming the population’s general health and increasing public health costs.  When illegal immigrants are deported, U.S. citizen children will be put into taxpayer-funded foster care.  The school system stands to lose significant revenue with the decreased attendance triggered by the law.  Many industries, especially agriculture, are already reeling from the cost of labor shortages. Assuming they can recover, the cost of goods is likely to increase, putting greater financial strain on Recessionally-challenged consumers.  Not to mention, there will be fewer consumers as immigrants flee.

The matter of immigration is complex and both the federal government and the states are struggling to find the best solution for the problem.  The Supreme Court will probably offer their opinion in 2012. Until then, what do you think?

For the most recent developments in the Fed vs. State drama, click here.


The Plumb Line: Immigration (Part 1)

(Note: Read our Intro to the Plumb Line series here)


Obama Sues Alabama:
Investigating the Background Behind the New Law and its Lawsuit

By: Caitlin Doemner

On August 1 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of Alabama for its controversial new immigration law, which requires public schools to check students’ immigration status and criminalizes other immigrant-related activities.  Currently, children cannot be denied K – 12 educations regardless of their status as immigrants.  As a result of complaints that Hispanic families have begun pulling their children from school, the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation, requesting detailed enrollment data from Alabama schools. The state’s education department advised noncompliance, but recently expressed a willingness to cooperate.

Coming on the heels of a year and a half of litigation against other states’ immigration laws, the Department of Justice’s request highlights key issues in the immigration debate: the tenuous balance between state and federal authority on enforcing immigration legislation, and the matter of providing public benefits, like education, to illegal immigrants and their children.

What the Constitution Says

The crux of the Justice Department’s lawsuits against Arizona, Alabama, and most recently, South Carolina, hinges upon the U.S. Constitution’s division of powers. Unfortunately, the Constitution’s actual verbiage regarding immigration, or naturalization, is extremely limited. In Article 1, Section 8, it says: “The Congress shall have Power…. To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.”

free-copy-of-us-constitutionAmendment 14, Section 1 primarily addresses the rights of citizens, with only the last two clauses addressing everyone at large: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (emphasis added).

Historical Relationship Between Feds and States

Based on these sections, establishing immigration policy has generally been viewed as the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, with state and local authorities given specified authority to enforce federal laws, especially criminal laws, but with limited power over civil infractions. For example, state and local law enforcement officers can arrest someone for the criminal offense of entering the country illegally, but cannot arrest someone solely for the lack of legal status because that is a civil violation.

The past decade, however, has seen increased cooperation between federal, state, and local law authorities regarding immigration enforcement.  After 2001, government opinion began to shift, with the Department of Justice stating in a press conference that enforcing immigration law, even civil provisions, is within the “inherent authority” of the states.

In 2008, the Bush Administration introduced one of the most expansive collaborations between feds and states—the Secure Communities program which relied on partnership between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, integrating databases and screening fingerprints of detainees for the purposes of building deportation capacity.

Recent Contentions

The tension between federal and state authority exploded onto the public stage in 2010 with the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which made it a misdemeanor for aliens to be in Arizona without carrying the documentation required by federal law.  In July 2010, the Justice Department sued Arizona on the grounds that it infringed upon the federal government’s Constitutionally-granted authority over immigration and foreign policy. A U.S. District judge blocked the implementation of certain provisions of the law and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban, causing the Arizona governor to petition the Supreme Court to consider the case. Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s “business death penalty”, which seems to indicate an inclination to side with the states on the matter of enforcement.  Claiming that the lower courts have already addressed the provisions targeting undocumented immigrants, the Justice Department’s has requested that the Supreme Court leave the case alone.

ap_jan_brewer_arizona_immigration_jp_110509_wgAlthough Arizona was the first to pass such legislation, it was certainly not the last, with South Carolina, Georgia, and Colorado following close behind. In August, the DOJ sued Alabama for the controversial law it passed in June 2011 -- HB 56, reportedly the toughest law passed thus far and largely upheld by a federal district judge in September 2011.

Education for Illegal Immigrants

One of the key issues brought up by the Alabama law is the requirement that primary and secondary schools provide education to all children, regardless of their immigration status – a policy instituted in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982). In Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court determined that the Fourteenth Amendment (see above) applied to undocumented aliens; and although a state may withhold benefits from individuals who elect to enter our territory in violation of our laws, children are not situated to bear the consequences of their parents’ actions. While the Court recognized that “public education is not a "right" granted to individuals by the Constitution… neither is it merely some governmental ‘benefit’ indistinguishable from other forms of social welfare legislation.”

The matter becomes more subtle, however, after a student has graduated from high school.  Even before his “oops” flub, Governor Rick Perry had begun declining in the polls. One of the issues which became a target on his back was his passage of Texas HB 1403 in 2001. The bill, now Texas law 54.052, offers in-state tuition rates to all students who have resided in Texas for the three years leading up to their graduation from high school (or GED) and have provided an affidavit indicating an intent to apply for permanent resident status as soon as able to do so.

California’s brand new Dream Act (AB 131, 2011) offers more benefits to undocumented residents. Not only are students who meet the above qualifications entitled to in-state tuition breaks, they are now able to apply for and obtain the same kind of publicly-funded financial aid available to U.S. citizens and legal residents.

The controversial matter of provided state-funded benefits for illegal immigrants is just one of the topics receiving national attention as a result of Alabama’s new law and the corresponding lawsuit.


Next week: Why Immigration is a Federal Issue and Immigrants Deserve Education


The Plumb Line: An Introduction

A new feature here at A Voice in the Wilderness begins today, and I have to admit that I'm pretty pumped about it.  We're calling it "The Plumb Line" and the basic idea behind it is this: a deeper inquiry into the facts and factors involved with some of the most important issues of our time.  It's nearly impossible to do or write anything without any trace of bias and presupposition, but we're hoping to tackle some relevant topics from a bevvy of angles and opinions so that you, the reader, can wrestle with them and come to more informed positions. We'll have guest contributors and hopefully spark some lively dialogue in the "Comments" section of each post.

The first contributor I'm happy to present is our friend Caitlin Doemner.  She wrote the introduction below, and tomorrow I'll posting her first piece (on Immigration).

Hey, I’m Caitlin and RJ has been nice enough to let me guest write for his blog. Coming from a background of English, philosophy, art and business, politics is a new foray for me and so I’ve decided to tackle it with as few presumptions as possible. The Project, as I tend to think of it, entails looking at particular issues in the public forum in four-part series.

First, I want to research a matter recently in the media and examine its historical and wider ideological context. I fear these articles might be rather dry, since my goal is mortal objectivity. Second, I want to construct the best liberal arguments I can find relating to the issue. I hate it when people attack sound bites; they almost inevitably end up employing strawmen fallacies. Third, I plan on responding with the best conservative arguments. And last, I will attempt to assimilate everything I’ve researched and share my own meager thoughts on the matter. DISCLAIMER: My opinions are admittedly fluid and I should not be held responsible for them after the date of publishing. I reserve the right to change my mind in light of new data, better logic, and the occasional supernatural intervention.

I am continually scouting for new topics, fresh perspectives, useful resources, and interesting conversations, so please send me your feedback.

Caitlin Cogan Doemner

Photo Caitlin 2We're excited to have Caitlin on-board and look forward to welcoming other contributors in coming weeks and months.


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