Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Once again, ANY Democrat over ANY Republican!


Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

President and Vice-President: BARACK OBAMA and JOE BIDEN

As I write this, it’s only one week before the November 6, 2012 election, and as tiresome as it gets to hear each general election described as “the most important election of our lifetimes,” November 2012 may well be the most important election of our lifetimes. At stake is the very existence of what few shards of social democracy have ever existed in the U.S. At stake, in fact, is the very existence of an American society. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — the American Right’s second favorite politician of all time, after Ronald Reagan — famously said, “There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals.”
In Mitt Romney’s America, we are all on our own. If we take a million dollars’ worth of family fortune and build it into a billion dollars, we are great, we are worthy and we deserve everything we get without any pesky government bureaucrats taking a dime of it away from us. If we lose our jobs, it’s our fault for not having had the right skills at the right time. If we’re sick or disabled, it’s the job of our families, our churches or private charities to help us. If they won’t, so what, it’s not their problem.
Romney has tried — with remarkable success — to moderate his image in the Presidential debates (his re-invention of the “Moderate Mitt” that won the governorship of Massachusetts and came closer than anyone except the Grim Reaper to ending Ted Kennedy’s Senate career turned a race that seemed to be breaking Obama’s way into a nail-biting toss-up). But facts are stubborn things.
The real Romney remains the one who told his super-duper-rich buddies in Boca Raton, Florida on May 17 that 47 percent of the electorate would vote for Obama no matter what because they “believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.” The real Romney is the one who said in a Republican Presidential candidates’ debate on June 14 that the federal government shouldn’t have any role in disaster relief because “we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”
And the real Romney is the one who proved in August that he meant what he said on those occasions when he selected Wisconsin Congressmember Paul Ryan as his running mate. Though Ryan has done his own pirouette to the middle, shedding his public devotion to the writings of Right-wing novelist Ayn Rand (at least partly because Rand, an hysterical — in both senses, overwrought and funny — defender of lassiez-faire free-market capitalism, was also an atheist who believed that if two adults wanted to have sex with each other, it was nobody’s business but theirs), he spoke at a celebration of Rand in 2005 where he called Social Security and Medicare ““third party or socialist-based systems” which he wants to privatize to “break the back” of a “collectivist philosophy.”
Ryan says now that he wants to preserve traditional fee-for-service Medicare for people now 55 or older and offer private vouchers as an “option” for younger recipients. But his original plan was indeed, as Democrats have said, to destroy Medicare as we know it by completely replacing it with vouchers to purchase private health insurance— which in practice would mean senior citizens would be paying more for their coverage and getting less. He said that the debate over Social Security and Medicare was  “a fight of individualism versus collectivism” and that collectivism will have won “if we do not succeed in switching these programs, in reforming these programs from what some people call a defined benefit system, to a defined contribution system ... and I’m talking about health care, as well — from a third-party or socialist-based system to an individually owned, individually prefunded, individually directed system.”
There have been a number of socially significant 100-year anniversaries in 2012, but one of the least discussed ones is the failure of former President Theodore Roosevelt to regain the Republican nomination in 1912 in his bid to unseat his hand-picked replacement, William Howard Taft. Theodore Roosevelt had committed sins against Right-wing ideology that made him persona non grata among many of his fellow Republicans then and now, including calling unscrupulous corporate owners and managers “malefactors of great wealth,” using the power of the Presidency to broker settlements of major strikes instead of to break unions, actually committing government to protecting the environment and, in the independent Progressive Party campaign he organized after he lost the Republican nomination, becoming the first major Presidential candidate in U.S. history to call for universal access to health care.
Theodore Roosevelt’s failure marked the beginning of the end for progressive Republicanism. It also began the process by which the American Left — or what’s left of it — remains in a political bind: either work in electoral politics through the Democratic Party, and accept the compromises, frustrations and limitations of participating in a pro-capitalist party largely funded by the 1 percent; form alternative Left parties (Green, Peace and Freedom, Justice) which allow their participants to feel “pure” but never actually elect anybody or shape the political debate; or work outside the electoral system altogether. Working with the major parties was easier for Leftists when there were actually two of them with large progressive constituencies and we could play Democrats against Republicans and see who gave us the better deal — but the rejection of Theodore Roosevelt’s candidacy in 1912 began the evolution of the Republican Party into precisely the kind of militant, ideological, extremist party the institutionalization of the two-party system in America was supposed to prevent.
Today the Democratic Party remains a “classic” American political party, loosely organized, consisting of candidates and constituencies at cross purposes with each other, torn between the demands of its voter base (relative economic egalitarianism; protection of workers’ rights; access to employment and health care; civil-rights protections for people of color, women and Queers) and the demands of the corporate rich who finance its campaigns.
The Republican Party has become something that wasn’t supposed to exist in the U.S.: relentlessly ideological, internally disciplined, with plenty of “enforcers” both within the party structure and outside it (Grover Norquist, talk radio, Fox News) to impose ideological purity and relentlessly pursue a policy of destroying the social safety net, a “drill, baby, drill” energy policy that will hasten the demise of the human race, smashing all workers’ rights and environmental protections, “unleashing the private sector” by getting rid of virtually all government regulations, redistributing wealth and income even further upward through tax cuts skewed towards the 1 percent, taking a bulldozer to the wall of separation between church and state, getting government out of the boardrooms and into the bedrooms, and maintaining itself in power indefinitely by disenfranchising voters unlikely to support it (particularly poor people, young people and people of color).
The Republicans don’t have to worry about contradictions between what its voter base wants and what its funding base wants because they are the same thing — because millions of the 99 percent have been won over to the idea that freedom and prosperity will come from making the rich even richer. The fact that this idea has been repeatedly tried and has repeatedly failed — it failed in the 1920’s when it was called “trickle-down economics” and it has failed more recently as “supply-side economics,” which is why the Republican propagandists of today call it “unleashing the private sector” — doesn’t stop either the Republican leaders who embrace it, the corporate rich who propagandize for it (and who, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s loathsome Citizens United decision, have more money than ever not only to promote it but to keep their identities secret as they do so) or the millions of Americans who listen to talk radio, watch Fox News and accept its pronouncements as gospel.
That’s why Zenger’s in 2012 is taking the position that any Democrat is better than any Republican. We’re supporting every Democrat on the current election ballot, ones we’ve had problems with before (like Congressional candidates Scott Peters and Juan Vargas) as well as ones we’ve long admired (like San Diego Mayoral candidate Bob Filner). The stakes are simply too high for us to afford to do anything that might help bring about the total Republican takeover of American politics. As I’ve written in these pages before, progressives and Leftists in the U.S. today are in a similar situation to progressives and Leftists in Germany in the early 1930’s, and we need to learn from our German predecessors’ mistakes. They piously denounced each other and fought useless, meaningless and counterproductive internal battles that only hastened the total takeover of the Nazis. We need to avoid both destructive internal battles and an excess of ideological purity. The Republican Party plans to change America in ways nearly as far-reaching as the changes the Nazis imposed on Germany — and, like it or not, the Democratic Party, despite its serious imperfections, is the only force in U.S. politics that can stop them.
When I wrote the Zenger’s endorsement of Barack Obama for President in 2008, I had few if any illusions about him. I had hopes that his election would galvanize a popular movement the way Franklin Roosevelt’s had in 1932 and John F. Kennedy’s did, to a lesser degree, in 1960. I hoped having at least a fair-weather friend in the White House would encourage the development of a mass Left that would put pressure on Obama to honor all his fine liberal words on the campaign trail. Instead the Left stayed home — progressives in the Democratic Party didn’t want to “embarrass” the new President and Leftists outside it didn’t believe his election made a difference anyway — and it was the Right which was galvanized by the Obama victory, which took to the streets en masse and created a grass-roots movement, captured popular outrage and turned it into electoral victories for the crazy Right-wing policies that had sunk the economy and allowed Obama to win in the first place. Had the Occupy movement begun three years before it did — and had it had the same single-minded focus on affecting the electoral system the Tea Party has — the history of Obama’s term would be far different and far more productive for progressive ideals.
So the task for progressives and Leftists now is to come together, do what we can to re-elect Obama, vote for Democrats straight down the line on every ballot — and be prepared to stay in the streets as long as we need to in order to turn back the tide of the Right and counterbalance the enormous pressure on Obama and the Democrats to sell us out.

Especially Important Local Races in San Diego

Mayor of San Diego: BOB FILNER
County Supervisor, District 3: DAVE ROBERTS
San Diego City Council, District 1: SHERRI LIGHTNER

Voting for every Democrat over every Republican is harder in California than it is in many other states because local offices are nominally “non-partisan.” That’s like calling a glass of water “non-wet.” All politics are partisan, and the three races above are particularly important:
Bob Filner for Mayor: Over a decades-long political career, Bob Filner has been as consistently progressive as you can be and still hold a major elective office in U.S. politics. He’s spoken at Occupy events while virtually all other local politicians shunned them. He’s personally led homeowners defending their homes against foreclosure. He’s been a militant force for veterans needing his help as a Congressmember to get the benefits the government promised them when they signed up.
Filner’s opponent, Carl DeMaio, is a virtual exemplar of modern-day Republicanism at its worst. A hypocrite — he claims to have built up a private business when he really became rich on the taxpayers’ dime, charging governments for advice on how to outsource — he views public employees and their unions much the way Luke Skywalker viewed the Death Star. He’s promised to do for (or to) San Diego what Scott Walker did to Wisconsin.
Dave Roberts for Supervisor: It’s been a surprisingly low-keyed race, but this openly Gay Democrat has managed to win the endorsement of the Republican he’s seeking to replace, Pam Slater-Price. Since 1994 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has been an all-white, all-Republican fiefdom. Roberts won’t bring ethnic diversity but at least he’ll bring political diversity and be one vote against the current all-Republican Board’s refusal to take many federal and state grants to help the county’s poor and sick people.
Sherri Lightner for City Council: With Republicans on a roll in recent San Diego City Council races, Lightner’s re-election is essential to keep a Democratic majority on the Council and either block the worst of Mayor DeMaio’s initiatives or make sure Mayor Filner actually can get things done.
These three races, plus Scott Peters’ campaign for Congress against particularly loathsome Republican Brian Bilbray and No on Proposition 32 (see below), are the priority campaigns of the San Diego Democrats for Equality.

Superior Court Judge, District 25: ROBERT AMADOR
County Board of Education, District 1: GREGG ROBINSON
Community College District Board, District B: BERNIE RHINERSON
Community College District Board, District D: MARY GRAHAM
San Diego Unified School District Board, District A: JOHN LEE EVANS
San Diego Unified School District Board, District D: RICHARD BARRERA
San Diego Unified School District Board, District E: MARNE FOSTER

In the June 2012 election, a Right-wing crazy named Gary Kreep slipped onto the San Diego County Superior Court bench by mobilizing his key supporters to vote for him while no one else was looking. Now another one, Jim Miller, is trying the same thing. While Zenger’s opposes the whole idea of electing judges — we think the framers of the U.S. Constitution got it right when they had judges appointed and guaranteed life tenure except for serious misconduct in office — Robert Amador is a former prosecutor who has been rated “well qualified” by the San Diego County Bar Association while Jim Miller has been rated “unqualified.” The San Diego Democrats for Equality rated Amador “acceptable” (their highest level of support for a Republican) and Miller “unacceptable.” The conservative Lincoln Club first endorsed Miller, then rescinded their support and endorsed Amador instead.
On the school board races, we’re going with experience in the classroom — virtually all our candidates are current or former teachers — and in Robinson’s case, his record as a teachers’ union leader and his participation in Occupy events and other progressive causes. In the primary we endorsed Bill Ponder for San Diego Unified School District Board, District E, but we’ve changed our minds this time around less because of Ponder himself than the company he keeps; he’s aligned himself too closely with the corporate school “reform” crowd that believes in non-elected school board members and relentless testing regimes used not only to measure student achievement but to damn teachers and entire schools as “failing.”

Proposition 30 (Temporary State Taxes for Education and Public Safety): YES
Proposition 38 (Tax to Fund Education): NO

We’re discussing these two propositions together because they’re related. Proposition 30 is the initiative put on the ballot by Governor Jerry Brown and carefully crafted to include both a sales tax increase and an income tax increase on high earners. The point is to avoid an estimated $5 billion cut in education funding (the current state budget was built on the assumption that 30 would pass and therefore will have to be cut severely if it loses) and also to make more money available for public safety and other important government functions.
Proposition 38 is a rival proposition put on the ballot in a signature-gathering campaign financed by its author, Molly Munger. It’s being sold on the basis that it raises income taxes only — though the tax hikes are spread throughout the entire population instead of being concentrated on the top earners — and all the money raised will be earmarked only for education. Governor Brown tried to keep this off the ballot because he knew that having two tax increase proposals on the ballot would only make it difficult for either one to pass.
Given that Munger’s half-brother, Charles, Jr., and their father, Charles, Sr., have emerged to fund the No on 30 campaign as well as Yes on 32 (see below), it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Molly’s initiative was a stalking horse designed to make sure no tax increase passed and the power of progressive California was broken once and for all. Vote YES on 30 and NO on 38.

Proposition 31 (State Budget Changes): NO

This is a close one because Proposition 31 — the last remaining shards of an ambitious project by a group called California Forward to call a convention to rewrite the California Constitution — actually does some genuinely good things. It would require that all tax cuts be accompanied by clearly spelled-out spending cuts so state legislators and voters would know how they would be paid for. It would require the legislature to adopt a two-year budget so they’d be forced to do long-term planning in a state that’s been woefully short of it.
But it also would give local governments broad new powers to set aside inconvenient state regulations — and in a county like San Diego, where the Board of Supervisors has been all Republican for longer than some people eligible to vote this year have been alive, that could spell disaster for environmental protection and health care. NO on 31.

Proposition 32 (Getting Unions Out of Politics): HELL NO!

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric from supporters that this is “political reform” and it applies equally to labor unions and corporations. It prohibits both unions and corporations from making automatic deductions from people’s paychecks to fund political contributions. Sounds fair? No, because in the real world unions get the bulk of their political action funding from employee contributions while corporations don’t. It would be like “equally” banning the rich and the poor from eating dog food.
If you don’t believe me, read the legislative analyst’s description in the official ballot pamphlet (p. 29): “Many unions use some of the funds that they receive from payroll deductions to support activities not directly related to the collective bargaining process. These expenditures may include political contributions and independent expenditures — as well as spending to communicate political views to union members. Non-union members may opt out from having their fair share fees used to pay for this political spending not related to collective bargaining” — so Prop. 32 isn’t needed to protect workers’ rights not to have their money used to promote political causes with which they disagree. They have that power already.
The legislative analyst continues, “Other than unions, relatively few organizations currently use payroll deductions to finance political spending in California.” In other words, Prop. 32 would virtually annihilate the role of organized labor in funding politics in California while leaving corporations and wealthy individuals able to contribute as much or more, both directly to candidates and indirectly through PAC’s, as they do now. Californians wisely rejected milder versions of this measure in 1998 and 2005. They should do so again. (Emphasis in the legislative analyst’s quotes added by this author.) HELL NO on 32!

Proposition 33 (Corporate Welfare for Mercury Insurance): NO

Like Proposition 32, Proposition 33 is one of those bad ideas that keeps coming back because deep-pocketed individuals (in this case, one deep-pocketed individual, Mercury Insurance founder and CEO George Joseph) have the money to get it onto the ballot and the sheer determination and gall to keep doing so no matter how many times voters turn it down. It’s Joseph’s attempt to carve out an exception to current California auto insurance law that will benefit his company specifically. As Michael Hiltzik wrote in the October 21 Los Angeles Times, “By making auto insurance more expensive for exactly the people who should be encouraged to buy it — young and low-income drivers — Proposition 33 would drive up the number of uninsured drivers on California roads. That isn’t good for anybody.” NO on 33.

Proposition 34 (Replacing Death Penalty with Life Without Parole): YES
Proposition 35 (Increased Penalties for Human Trafficking): NO
Proposition 36 (Reform of “Three Strikes” Law): YES

We’re lumping these three together because they all have to do with criminal justice. The late comedian Lenny Bruce said, “Capital punishment means killing people who killed people to prove that killing people is wrong,” which eloquently summed up my own opposition to the death penalty. Proposition 34 is being sold less on the overall humanity or morality of the death penalty and more as a money-saving measure — mainly because the process of seeking, imposing and defending a death sentence through the courts is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. And if you’re going to have a death penalty at all, it needs to be because you don’t want to risk executing an innocent person. You may never be able to give back the years or decades a person who turns out to be innocent has spent in prison, but at least s/he is alive to enjoy the exoneration and freedom they never should have had to lose in the first place. You can’t revive an execution victim. I’ve long believed capital punishment is a sign of barbarism, and ending it a victory of civilization. YES on 34.
Proposition 35 was a tough one for me. Its goal — to end the economic and (especially) sexual exploitation of human beings — is laudable. Many of its provisions make sense, including educating law enforcement officers to see people “working the streets” in the sex trade as potential victims of trafficking instead of assuming they’re willing criminals. Even the lengthening of prison sentences for trafficking — though a regrettable example of the tendency of Americans to believe that the way to control a social evil is to make it illegal, and the way to control a social evil that’s already illegal is to make it more illegal — can be defended on the ground that the longer a sentence is for a particular crime, the more likely law enforcement officials are to take it seriously and devote more resources to stopping it and catching its perpetrators.
But where the authors of Prop. 35 lost me is when they decided to finance it from asset forfeitures from the (alleged) traffickers themselves, to block their access to the Internet (whether they used the Internet to commit their crimes or not), and worst, to put traffickers on the sex offender registry. Asset forfeitures are already one of the most abused parts of the anti-drug laws, and the sex offender registry is an offense against justice which should be abolished, not expanded. Its only function is to facilitate and encourage vigilantism. A reluctant NO on 35.
Proposition 36 is another long-overdue reform. While not abolishing the awful “three strikes” law altogether (that would be too much to hope for), at least it requires that the third “strike” needed to impose a life sentence automatically must be a “serious or violent” felony. No more life sentences for stealing pizzas. YES on 36.

Proposition 37 (Labeling Genetically Modified Foods): HELL YES!

This should be a no-brainer. Whatever your opinion on the merits of genetically engineering technology — which is not the same thing as the selective breeding farmers have been doing for millennia — people have the right to know what they’re putting into their mouths. Adam Smith, the founder of capitalist theory, said that a free market would work only if buyers and sellers were equally informed. If you’re going to buy something — especially something that literally becomes part of you, the way food does after you eat it — you have a right to know what’s in it. It’s fascinating to see people who ordinarily consider themselves believers in “free markets” and opponents of government regulation now telling us that we don’t need to know what’s in our food because we can trust the government to tell us whether it’s safe or not. If genetically modified food is so great, the people making it can get us to buy it willingly instead of slipping it onto store shelves secretly in the dead of night and trying to trick us into consuming it. YES on 37.

Proposition 39 (Closing Corporate Tax Loophole): YES

In a vain attempt to get a Republican in the state legislature to vote for his proposed temporary tax increase (which he later had to put on the ballot himself through initiative signatures as Proposition 30), Governor Brown and the Democrats in the legislature put into the state budget a pro-corporate tax loophole that allows companies to decide how to do their own taxes and pick the option that gives them the lowest tax. (Gee, I wish I could do that.) This proposition would undo that ridiculous decision and increase the state’s income by a badly needed $1 billion per year. Unless you’re a member or a fan of the 1 percent, this one is easy. YES on 39.

Proposition 40 (State Senate Districts): YES

First, Republican activists in California pushed hard to get the task of drawing legislative and Congressional districts out of the hands of the state legislature and assign it to an independent commission, thinking this could get them a few more Republican — or at least closely divided — seats. Then, when it didn’t work out that way, they sought to repeal the new State Senate lines with a referendum — a process that gives voters the chance either to ratify or defeat a bill passed by the legislature. Now they’re saying, “Never mind.”
In one of the weirdest statements ever to appear on a ballot even in a state where the referendum and initiative processes have become as perverted as they are in California, the No on 40 side (written by the referendum’s sponsor, Julie Vandermost), says, “As sponsors of Proposition 40, our intention was to overturn the commission’s State Senate districts for 2012. However, due to the State Supreme Court’s ruling that kept those districts in place for 2012, we have suspended our campaign and no longer seek a NO vote.” In other words, since they couldn’t get what they wanted immediately, Ms. Vandermost and those mysterious other “sponsors” took their football and went home. YES on 40.

Proposition Z (San Diego school bonds): YES

If there’s ever a time to borrow money to build and refurbish schools, now — when interest rates are at record lows and the money will mean construction, which will mean jobs — is it. YES on Z.

Proposition H (Medical Marijuana/Del Mar): YES
Proposition T (Medical Marijuana/Lemon Grove): YES
Proposition W (Medical Marijuana/Solana Beach): YES

Until the federal government has an attack of good sense and either reclassifies marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II (which would in one stroke eliminate all the maddening conflicts between state and federal law and allow states and localities to authorize medical use of marijuana without fear of federal raids or sanctions) — or, better yet, gets rid of the prohibition of marijuana altogether and allows states to regulate and tax it — these initiatives, which authorize medical marijuana dispensaries and tax them to benefit local government, are worth supporting. YES on H, T and W.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Queer Ugandan Asylum Seeker Dominates Shepard Remembrance

Reminds Crowd of 300 That In His Country Queer-Bashing Is Public Policy


Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Joseph Bukambe


Ben Cartwright (in foreground)


San Diego Women’s Chorus

The annual commemoration of Matthew Shepard’s death on October 12, 1998 drew a sizable crowd of 300 people to the streets of Hillcrest for a nighttime march October 9 and a rally at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center thereafter, but the star of the event was a slightly built Queer refugee from Uganda. His message was that while in the U.S. the murder of a Queer man like Matthew Shepard is considered a despicable crime, in his country it’s social consensus and virtually public policy.
“This is my first time speaking on behalf of one of us, a friend, a brother whose life was taken in cold blood,” said Joseph Bukambe. “I was born in Uganda, and I’m Gay. I fight for Gay rights in Uganda and everywhere I go. I’m very familiar with hate crimes. The country I come from is one of the worst countries to be Gay. In my country, you get life imprisonment for being Gay. I’ve lost a lot of friends who were killed for being Gay. Me, myself, I was beaten up by my family. They tied me up. They wanted to kill me just because I was Gay. For a long time I walked around with scars on my body. At one time I thought I was worthless and useless, I couldn’t fit. People would see me and run away because they didn’t want to associate with ‘your kind.’ I used to go to church, and they would preach, ‘You’re going to hell. You’re not welcome here.’ So I grew to have a lot of hate.”
Bukambe said things started to turn around for him when he decided he wouldn’t let the hatred of his family, friends, churches and society define him. “One day I said I’m not going to live like this,” he said. “I’m not going to let them win. I’m going to stand up and tell the world what I believe. People used to call me a whole lot of names, and that’s not me. Now I say, ‘You don’t get to tell me what I am. I know what I am. I’m fabulous.’ Each and every one of us here is special in the eyes of God. I grew up in a church and I was taught a lot of lies: that I was going to hell, that God doesn’t love me, stuff like that. But as I grew up I got to know God in a special way, and now I know God loves all of us. He created us just as we are. He doesn’t make mistakes. People used to tell me I was a mistake, but I say, ‘No, I’m not a mistake.’”
Right now Bukambe is fighting for asylum in the U.S. “I ran away from my country because they wanted to kill me, as they killed a lot of my friends,” he said. “Right now my case is not going anywhere. If I lose, I’ll be sent back to my country to die. But I want to stay, and one message I want to leave with you is that there must be a voice and a face to our brothers out there who are living with discrimination every day, who are being killed every day, who don’t have a voice. So if we go out there and be a voice for each and every one of these people who have lost their lives or are still facing discrimination, we will make a difference and make the world a better place for each and every one of us.”
The annual Matthew Shepard remembrance in Hillcrest began five years ago, when community organizer and activist Ben Cartwright became concerned that 10 years after Shepard was killed, he’d been largely forgotten in San Diego’s Queer community. “In 2008, we realized it was 10 years since Matthew Shepard passed, and no one was doing anything about it,” Cartwright said. Though his case became a cause célèbre and his name was attached to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Obama in October 2009, Cartwright felt that Shepard’s life and cruel death should be commemorated in an annual march.
The first year, the remembrance ceremony took place in front of Obelisk Bookstore at the memorial plaque honoring John Robert Wear, who was knifed to death on the streets of Hillcrest in 1991 by Queer-bashers who thought (wrongly, it turned out) that he was Gay. Later the event expanded to a march from Fifth and University to the Center, though it always stopped for a ceremony to place candles and flowers at the plaque. But the building housing the Obelisk burned in July 2011, and the construction crews working to rebuild it have blocked off the part of the sidewalk containing the plaque.
“On December 10, 1991 John Wear and his friends were on their way to Soho [a then-popular coffeehouse in Hillcrest],” said a speaker identified only as Eric, but also known as Sister Iona Dubble-Wyde of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. “They were attacked by three men and John was stabbed and died three days later.” He said he wanted people to know what that plaque meant and not just walk over it on their way to somewhere else. “We want people to stand up for each other’s rights and not be a stereotype,” Eric said. “The first thing is to come out, and the second is to register and vote.”
“Our biggest hope is to inspire and conquer,” said Cartwright, who added that San Diego Remembers — the official name of the organization he formed to sponsor the Shepard commemorative — “is the first program, group or board a lot of these people have been in. Some of them have since joined other boards.” One group he particularly pointed out to is the San Diego support organization for the Trevor Project, a nationwide organization aimed at keeping Queer young people from committing suicide.
The program also featured a song by the San Diego Women’s Chorus, whose conductor explained that the song, “What Matters,” was written by singer-songwriter Randi Driscoll directly in response to Matthew Shepard’s murder. “She sent it to the Shepard family as her personal condolence,” the chorus’s leader said. “It was later released as a benefit for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and has since raised over $15,000. Randi has said that this song is a testament to Matthew’s life, the Shepard family, and the unconditional love they represent. We hope this song inspires you to live more freely, cry more openly, and love more deeply. And just remember, in the end, all that matters is your love.”

Occupy San Diego Celebrates First Anniversary

Mayoral Candidate Filner Comes to Embarcadero for Peace Rally


Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Occupy’s First Anniversary (photo: Charles Nelson)

Occupella Chorus (photo: Charles Nelson)

Occupy Together (photo: Charles Nelson)

Night March

Eva David at Canvass for a Cause

Bob Filner

Gabe Conaway

Dave Patterson

Maurice Martin

Stephanie Jennings

Cathy Mendonça

“I know most of the American people don’t want us to stay in Afghanistan, but by simple inertia it keeps going,” Congressmember Bob Filner, candidate for Mayor of San Diego in the November 6 election, told a small but dedicated group of Occupy San Diego (OSD) members and supporters at a San Diego Veterans for Peace (SDVFP) rally outside the U.S.S. Midway on the Embarcadero downtown October 7. “Thank you for standing up. The rest of America should listen. It’s time to add the voice of reason, to say to Mr. Obama and everybody in Congress, ‘Support the troops! Bring them home now!’”
Filner’s presence before a crowd of Occupy people, many of whom don’t believe there’s any difference between the Democratic and Republican parties and some of whom reject electoral democracy altogether, marked him as different both from current San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Filner’s election opponent, City Councilmember Carl DeMaio. Sanders worked with the San Diego Police Department, which he used to run before he entered politics, to clear the Occupiers out of Civic Center Plaza last fall. DeMaio denounced them and held a counter-demonstration of his own, trotting out food-cart owners in the plaza whose businesses had supposedly been ruined by Occupy.
The VFP rally was the climax of a schedule of events that was originally supposed to last only one day but, as the planning continued, stretched out to a full weekend of outdoor gatherings, meetings, marches and celebrations. The slogan on the leaflet was, “It’s Been A Year Since We All Woke Up Together … AND WE HAVEN’T SLEPT YET!” Judging from how tightly the weekend was scheduled and how many events were crammed into it, one could readily believe that the Occupiers are a new breed of people who’ve somehow managed to eliminate the need for sleep.
The Occupy weekend opened with a meet-up at noon Saturday, October 6 at Sixth and Nutmeg in Balboa Park. They spent the afternoon, according to their schedule, “breaking bread” and holding teach-ins and workshops on various issues. At 5:30 p.m. they scheduled an “OSD Celebration Rally” and then staged a “light march” to the Canvass for a Cause (CFAC) headquarters on 10th Avenue in Hillcrest. The lights were little Christmas-tree lamps mounted on signboards to spell out, “YES ON 37” — the initiative on the November 6 ballot to require that genetically modified foods sold in California be labeled as such. Saturday ended with a “birthday celebration” inside CFAC featuring musical performers.
Sunday began with an assembly in Civic Center Plaza with the SDVFP, followed by a march to the U.S.S. Midway — a former aircraft carrier converted into a museum with an outdoor restaurant on the rear deck. Eva David, an Occupy activist and president of Activist San Diego (ASD), came to the mike at the SDVFP rally to announce ASD’s latest and biggest project — KNSJ 89.1 FM, a radio station under construction in Descanso whose programming is already available on line at www.knsj.org — couldn’t resist pointing to the Midway and saying, “I don’t know any enemy we have that we need something like that to fight. When I see the Midway I see the physical projection of the paranoid delusion of the people running this country.”
Ironically, the marchers had to thread their way through another monument to the greed of the 1 percent to get to the Midway at all. Many of the normal routes to the Embarcadero from downtown were blocked off by construction of monumental buildings on the San Diego waterfront in a project masterminded by anti-union, anti-Queer hotel owner and developer Doug Manchester — and, like many of San Diego’s major construction projects, bullied through a complaisant city bureaucracy and City Council by sheer will power and gall. The march took place in the shadow of banners advertising “San Diego’s New Waterfront” and giving August 2013 as the completion date for a project that has been criticized for cutting off the view of San Diego Bay for anyone not wealthy and fortunate enough to live or work in the new Manchester buildings.
Though Bob Filner was present — he was virtually the only elected official in San Diego County to acknowledge the Occupy anniversary — that didn’t stop many of the other speakers from bashing the Democratic Party as much or more than they criticized the Republicans. Gabe Conaway from CFAC, representing the Bradley Manning Support Network, said of the first Presidential candidates’ debate Wednesday, October 3, “Little did the majority of the viewing audience know that the Democratic and Republican parties had secretly negotiated a deal that dictated the topics for debate and excluded independent voices. At the same time that this weapon of mass distraction has lured some of the American public into an illusion of democracy, the story of the last few decades has been largely ignored.”
Conaway described Manning as “a young [U.S. Army] private who found the courage to do something no one else had been able [to do]. This private was confronted with the evidence of how our rulers operate. … Private Manning wanted you to see a video of the U.S. military committing war crimes in Iraq, as well as other information that led to the ouster of all combat troops from Iraq. Manning wanted you to know that our government outsources torture; that there is an official policy to violate the U.N. Convention against torture, to ignore evidence of torture, and that we still transfer detainees to regimes that torture. Manning wanted you to know that U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse and child trafficking by the defense contractor DynCorp in Afghanistan. That company receives $2 billion of your tax dollars every year.”
According to Conaway, Manning’s information revealed “that both the Bush and Obama administrations lied about civilian deaths in their dirty wars” and that both administrations maintained secret “death counts” of 109,000 Iraqis killed by the U.S. between 2004 and 2009, 66,000 of whom were noncombatants. He also said that Manning’s documents showed that Obama worked with the president of Yemen to cover up a secret drone bombing campaign in that country. For this, Manning was not only arrested and charged under military law with 32 separate crimes — some of which carry the death penalty — but was held in solitary confinement for over a year, itself a violation of the Geneva Convention against torture, and was forbidden from having sheets, pillows or even clothes in his cell. “All of this happened under Barack Obama, the man some people in this country refer to as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ the Constitutional scholar who declared Manning’s guilt long before any semblance of a trial,” Conaway sneered.
Dave Patterson of SDVFP mentioned the U.S. use of drone aircraft in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere in the world and said that under the rules of the drone program, “The President can kill anyone he wants without talking to anyone. It’s unbelievable. Our President has the ability to assassinate anyone at will.” Patterson said his group leads an anti-drone protest against General Atomics, San Diego-based manufacturer of the Predator and Reaper drones, every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. at General Atomics’ plant, corner of Scripps Poway Parkway and General Atomics Way in Poway. For more information, e-mail dpatterson998@yahoo.com or visit www.sdvfp.org/events/.
“We lost 4,485 U.S. troops in Iraq,” said retired Air Force Col. David Gapp, who added that despite popular belief that the U.S. military involvement in Iraq is over, “we still have 100,000 contractors in Iraq.” Gapp brought a large sign on which he mounted photographs of U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan because “I want you to see the kids who have been blown up and dismembered. My dad was killed in Viet Nam. I was 12 years old. He left my mom with four kids. … Before Obama took office we’d had 650 people killed in Afghanistan. Now we have 2,115. When Obama took office we had 33,000 troops in Afghanistan. He ‘surged’ to 110,000 and now we have 68,000. Officially, there have been 10,000 Afghan civilians killed, but we think it’s closer to 100,000.”
Maurice Martin, who leads a branch of Veterans for Peace on the campus of San Diego City College — and who did his fighting in a U.S. war against El Salvador in the 1970’s that officially didn’t exist — talked about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the high rate of suicides among U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’ve been dealing with PTSD and it’s cost me my home, my wife, my children,” Martin said. “Many of us veterans can’t go back to the Veterans’ Administration (VA) because you don’t go back to the dog that bit you. One thousand new clinicians won’t help 600,000 people diagnosed with PTSD. We need protections to help veterans and their family members as well.”
“In our fear and weakness, we’ve allowed to be put into place laws that prevent us from protesting our elected officials,” said Melissa Behrens of Occupy San Diego. “I was raised to believe that being an American meant recognizing our community responsibility to protect freedom, and that it’s worth fighting for. The system was built on the idea that no man should infringe on the rights of another. That’s why we have checks and balances. We the people have an obligation to be a check on all of them and make sure those who defend this country are not misused and wasted.”
“Capitalism is a system of economic competition that becomes a system of military competition,” said Avery Dennison of the International Socialist Organization. “Neither Obama nor Romney will withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan unless forced, not because Iraq or Afghanistan are so important but because they’re fighting a war for spheres of influence with China, Russia, Europe and the other rich countries. That’s why capitalism sets up a ‘two-party’ system that makes it difficult to end the wars. It would not work as a system to contain dissent unless one party was ‘better’ than the other, but it’s ‘better’ only as a way to co-opt dissent.”
Local activist Cathy Mendonça from the Committee Against Police Brutality saw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as just the latest struggle for imperial and colonial control of the rest of the world, not so much by rich countries as by corporations that exist beyond traditional loyalties to any one nation. “They are traitors,” Mendonça said of these international corporations. “They strip us of our resources, keep us politically passive and enrich themselves at our expense. … Neocolonialism may have slicker rules, but it’s still an old game at our expense. … To assert their control over our future, the state and the elites can and will use the police to maintain the system and keep the people in fear.”
“I want to talk about the moral costs of war,” said Stephanie Jennings, one of the three co-founders of the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice (SDCPJ), formed three days after the September 11, 2001 attacks. “Afghanis, Iraqis, Syrians, Bahrainis, Yemenis are dying in the dozens for every one of us that dies, and I want to remind us of our moral imperative. We in this movement are on the side of right.”

S.A.M.E., Centro Cultural Co-Host Immigration Event

Program Focuses on DACA and Queer Couples’ Immigration Issues


Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

LISTEN TO THIS EVENT! Download links:

Artworks exhibited at the event

Ginger Jacobs

José Medina

Antoinette Gonzalez

San Diego’s Centro Cultural de la Raza was the scene of a politically and historically important event Saturday, September 29: a forum on Queers and immigration co-sponsored by the Centro and the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.). According to Cathy Mendonça, long-time S.A.M.E. activist and recent appointee to the Centro’s Arts Advisory Commission, this was the first time the Centro had produced an event in collaboration with an organization openly advocating for Queer equality, though openly Queer people —including the late Aïda Mancillas, formerly the Centro’s director — have been involved with it before.
Mendonça produced the event, and her partner José Medina MC’d and started the program with an impassioned speech about the long-standing connection between the immigrant rights and Queer rights movements. But the featured speaker was immigration attorney Ginger Jacobs, who spent half her presentation outlining the controversial and confusing new immigration program known as DACA — “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” — and the other half addressing audience questions regarding Queer people, particularly Americans involved in relationships with foreign nationals, and their rights (or lack of same) under current and likely future immigration laws.

“We’re Aware of the Difficulties”

“I was born in Mexico in 1966,” Medina said. “My father found work in the San Diego tuna canneries, Bumble Bee in the Logan area, when the canneries employed thousands of people in union-protected jobs with good wages. My whole family moved to the U.S. in 1969, and I got my citizenship papers in 1987. I’m very aware that I’m a lucky person in dealing with the U.S. Immigration Service. My parents had the time to cut through the red tape, get in that line and ‘wait our turn’ for our papers, as the Right-wingers like to say.” But, he added, he was well aware of the pressures on undocumented people that cause them to immigrate, not only from Mexico and Latin America but Africa and Asia as well: “Hungry faces on their children will cause a parent to do impossible things. A parent will risk death in the desert, and will risk imprisonment under cruel laws passed by cruel hypocrites, who in turn eat very well from the literal fruits and vegetables that come from the labor of low-wage immigrant workers.”
Medina reviewed the history of Queer involvement in immigrant rights issues as well as the Latino civil rights movement — starting in spring 1969, when the Committee on Homosexual Freedom (CHF) in San Francisco, which staged militant Queer rights actions months before the June 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, joined the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) campaign to boycott Safeway over their sales of non-union grapes. “They picketed alongside [UFW members and straight supporters] with signs such as, ‘Gays Out of Safeway,’” Medina said. “In spite of some hostility from a few, [UFW founder] César Chávez himself and most of the UFW welcome the Gay Liberation Front’s assistance and respected them for it.”
According to Medina, since S.A.M.E. was founded in November 2008 after California voters approved Proposition 8, which banned the state from legally recognizing same-sex marriages, it has consistently been involved not only in marriage equality and other Queer liberation struggles but labor, anti-war and pro-immigrant rights. He recalled S.A.M.E.’s involvement alongside labor activists outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt, targeting hotel owner (and now U-T San Diego publisher) Doug Manchester both for his anti-union employment policies and his donation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in seed money to get Proposition 8 on the ballot.
“In 2009 there was a march from City College to the downtown office of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to demand that she support humane immigration reform,” Medina said. “I and a few of my LGBT [Queer] colleagues marched with a rainbow flag. Reaction to the flag was not anger, not resentment, not disgust — ‘Oh, look at the Gays piggy-backing on this issue for attention’ — there was none of that. It was curiosity and puzzlement: ‘Gays? Immigration? La Migra? Marriage equality? How do you make the connection?’ Well, just as immigrants have been scapegoats for the nation’s troubles, so Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender people have also been scapegoats as well. Harassment and discrimination, on the job and elsewhere, are familiar to immigrants and LGBT people alike. And if you’re an LGBT person who wants to or has immigrated to the U.S., there are stories of despair and of hope that can be shared by other immigrants.”
In 2010, Medina said, S.A.M.E. joined immigration rights advocates to call President Obama to account for his failure to push for comprehensive immigration report, and also participated in the protests against Arizona’s infamous SB 1070, a law that requires local law enforcement officials to demand that suspected “illegal” immigrants show papers and prove they have a legal right to be in the U.S. or face being turned over to federal authorities for deportation. S.A.M.E. joined massive protests against this law both in San Diego and in Arizona. “I even spoke at a rally on May Day, 2010 comparing that law’s effect on Latinos to the profiling of Jews and Gays in Germany in the 1930’s,” Medina said.
The most moving part of Medina’s presentation was a series of stories of individual Queer immigrants, many of them also involving U.S.-born Queer citizens who love them and, unlike straight Americans who fall in love with and marry people from other countries, can’t arrange for them to come to the U.S. so they can live here as a couple legally. “Lee, a young woman who emigrated here from South Africa when it was still under apartheid, got a work visa as a nanny,” Medina said. “While working here, she realized that she was Gay. She became frightened of what would happen to her on her return because the apartheid government could arrest you and put you in prison just for the ‘crime’ of being Gay. Lee stayed in the U.S. when her visa expired, fearing imprisonment. Thus she became ‘illegal,’ leading a life of hiding for years. While living this life, hiding, Lee met and fell in love with a woman. They became a family, with twin boys, for about 10 years. However, they separated. Lee was the primary caregiver for the boys, but because she was ‘illegal,’ she could not go to the courts for custody. She had no legal ties to her boys, and upon discovery in court of her ‘illegal’ status, she could face deportation, loss of her family, and imprisonment under that racist regime.”
Medina also told the story of Janet Dagley, “mother of two kids — a straight daughter and a Gay son. Her daughter fell in love with and married an Irishman. She sponsored him to emigrate to the U.S. Janet’s son fell in love with a man from the Czech Republic, but he is not allowed to sponsor his loved one to emigrate. Janet’s son now has to move to Europe. A family has been forced to separate. Though Janet is glad his son found someone, Janet has said, ‘If you want to make a mother angry, give one of her children a right you deny the other. And if you want to break a mother’s heart, force one of her children to move far away from her in order to keep his household together.’”
Another story Medina told was that of Jesús and Ernesto, a Gay couple who came from Spain. “Jesús came in as a lawful immigrant and works in medicine, researching a cancer vaccine,” Medina said. “Ernesto emigrated on a student visa. Ernesto’s visa expired in 2011. Jesús is not allowed to sponsor Ernesto for lawful residency. Jesús will not abandon Ernesto, so they will be forced to leave the U.S. and leave the cancer research behind.”
Medina’s next story was about Allah Pitcherskaia, a Russian Lesbian “who fought for and won her case for asylum. In Russia she was subject to arrest, imprisonment and involuntary psychiatric ‘treatment,’ including electroshock therapy, to ‘cure’ her of her homosexuality. She was denied asylum at first when the court ruled that, although she had been subjected to involuntary psychiatric treatment by the Russian authorities, they intended to ‘cure’ her, not punish her. Allah won her appeal, and on that appeal the court then found that even if the abuser does not intend to harm the victim, if the victim experiences the abuse as harm, this can rise to the level” of the “well-founded fear of persecution” that is the legal requirement for asylum.
“We have a Transgender born Luis Reyes Reyes, who goes by the names Linda, Josephine and Cukita, who escaped from a terrible situation in El Salvador and crossed into the U.S. without papers 25 years ago,” Medina also said. “When her ‘illegal’ status was discovered in 2002, she was set to be deported back then, but she filed for asylum. During her proceedings it was discovered that Reyes Reyes had been kidnapped, beaten and raped by a group of men because of her sexual orientation. She was threatened by these men with more brutalities if she told anyone. Asylum was at first denied, but Reyes Reyes fought back and appealed. The court has remanded the case for further proceedings, and while it reviews the case, Reyes Reyes is currently in custody and separated from other prisoners ‘for her own protection.’”
Medina’s final story was of a Japanese immigrant, Takado Ueda, and her American spouse, Frances Herbert. “They are a bi-national couple who have been together for more than a decade, and were legally married in Vermont last year,” Medina explained. “But because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage, they don’t have spousal status for immigration purposes. Ueda’s student visa had expired. She too had become ‘illegal.’ In the summer of 2011 Ueda received a letter ordering her to leave the country by December 31. She did not comply, and for months they lived in uncertainty, but they fought back and filed a lawsuit to stay together. Immigration officials have now granted them a two-year reprieve to review the case, and this allows them to work and for Ueda to apply for a Vermont driver’s license.”
According to Medina, all the stories he told, except for the two asylum seekers, centered around the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA), passed by a Republican-majority Congress and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton, which prevents the federal government from legally recognizing same-sex marriages and allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other U.S. states or foreign countries. Medina praised the Obama administration for refusing to defend the constitutionality of DoMA in court and for offering special programs for some immigrants who were brought here “illegally” by their parents. But he criticized Obama for having failed to achieve humane immigration reform and for having deported more people than any other President over the same amount of time. “Love sees no borders,” Medina said. “All justice is one. No human is ‘illegal.’ No love is ‘illegal.’”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

“People have the fundamental right to create families, and people have the fundamental right to be with their families,” said veteran immigration attorney Ginger Jacobs, the principal speaker at the September 29 S.A.M.E./Centro program. “What we’re talking about here are human rights, and so it doesn’t matter if you meet the L, the G, the B, T, I, ally or whatever. We’re all here to talk about the same thing.”  That’s why she spent the first half of her presentation talking not about Queer-specific immigration issues but about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the elaborate program instituted by the Obama administration to prevent people who were brought to the U.S. as children by undocumented immigrant parents from being deported.
DACA had its roots in the administration’s announcement that it would use “prosecutorial discretion” in determining which undocumented immigrants would be targeted for deportation. The idea was to focus on deporting undocumented immigrants who had also committed crimes, joined gangs or already been deported several times before. Unable to get Congress to consider the DREAM Act — which would have allowed children of undocumented immigrants who were attending college or serving in the U.S. military to stay long-term — Obama decided to implement it administratively with the cumbersome DACA program.
“There’s a lot of misleading information about it,” Jacobs said of DACA. “Young people should be optimistic but careful, because there are some people who could be hurt by it just as there are many people who could be benefited. … They put a lot of constraints on it, but the idea is if you study hard, do what your parents say and go to college, you get a temporary two-year reprieve from deportation that allows you permission to work. You also get a Social Security number, which allows you to obtain a business license and a professional license.”
Jacobs said DACA was modeled on previous programs that allowed victims of domestic violence, violent crime, or natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina to stay in the U.S. and work. “It’s already in the law, and it’s up to the executive branch to use,” she explained. “It is not the DREAM Act. It does not provide a path to citizenship. The fight for immigration reform continues. We still need the DREAM Act so these people can become naturalized citizens. These young people are citizens in all but name,” she added — a reference to the fact that most of them have grown up thinking of themselves as Americans, swearing allegiance to the U.S. and no other country, and often speaking only English and not the language of their actual country of origin.
One of the hurdles in applying for DACA is the length of the list of qualifications and the elaborate documentation needed to back up an application. “The young person must have entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday,” Jacobs explained. “They must have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 [when DACA was announced] without status, so if you had a student or tourist visa you won’t qualify. You have to be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012. You need to have resided continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 — no deportations or extended visits to another country. At the time of application you must be in school, have graduated, earned a GED or be an honorably discharged veteran — which is actually more generous than the standard in the DREAM Act. Some young people have actually re-enrolled in school in order to qualify.”
Among the other qualifications for DACA are that the applicant must not have been convicted of a felony, a so-called “significant misdemeanor” — a term Jacobs says has never been used in immigration law before — or three “minor misdemeanors.” Driving without a license doesn’t qualify but driving while intoxicated (DUI) is a “significant misdemeanor” within DACA. Other “significant misdemeanors” include domestic violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, drug distribution or trafficking, or unlawful possession or use of a firearm. Also, the immigrant must be at least 15 when they apply. Jacobs estimates that 1.5 to 1.7 million of the estimated 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. meet the DACA qualifications.
Jacobs got a wide range of audience questions about DACA, including one that’s also been reported in the Los Angeles Times: will the information filed in a DACA application be used by the government to deport the applicant’s parents? No, Jacobs said. “It does not require your parents’ names be on the form, and if the parents are contacted, as long as they don’t have a criminal background or a history of immigration violations, it’s unlikely they’ll go after their parents.” She also noted that, unlike DACA, virtually all other immigration applications — including ones for green cards — require you to name your parents on the forms.
Another persistent question was what will happen to DACA if Mitt Romney defeats President Obama in the November 6 election. Jacobs said that new Presidents usually don’t act immediately to undo the work of previous ones. “It will be in place for two years because Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and all the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies have said, ‘We don’t trash programs just because there’s a change of Presidents,’” Jacobs said. Since September 29, Romney’s campaign has put out conflicting signals about DACA: Romney himself said he would leave it in place, but afterwards a member of his staff said they would process existing DACA applications but not allow new ones.
One questioner asked why only 29 people were given two-year visas under DACA between June 15 and September 29, and whether the administration was going slowly because of the upcoming election. No, said Jacobs: immigration proceedings just take that long generally. “Three months is ‘lightning-fast’ by immigration standards,” she explained. “I can’t believe that 29 applications have already been approved, given that it’s only been six weeks. One hundred thousand people have applied and 63,000 have passed through their initial processing and been told they should be ruled on ‘soon.’”
Jacobs talked about the arduous process of applying for DACA. “Everyone will be fingerprinted,” she said. “Any previous applications for immigration benefits will be examined, including asylum or marriage fraud. They will need to establish identity through a passport, a consular ID, a birth certificate or a school ID with a photo. School districts have been overwhelmed with requests,” Jacobs added, saying that vaccination records and school records have been particularly useful to prospective DACA applicants showing they meet the qualifications. DACA applicants will also need to be ready for an in-person interview.
Another requirement — physical presence in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 — can be established, Jacobs said, by “school records, employment records, bank records, utility bills.” Some applicants, she explained, have scoured their papers looking for old ATM receipts to prove they took money out of a bank account on June 15 and were therefore in the U.S. She said that people who otherwise qualify for DACA could be in trouble if they left the U.S. for an extended period in the last five years because “there’s going to be a serious question about how you got back in, including a false claim of citizenship.” Indeed, one of the principal benefits of DACA is that once you get the two-year visa you can leave the U.S. and come back — something no immigration law or policy has granted since the Reagan-era amnesty of the 1980’s.
Jacobs concluded her presentation on DACA with a warning to avoid immigration scammers. “‘Notaries’ and immigration ‘consultants’ advertise all over the place in Latino publications,” she said. “I have seen so many people robbed of tens of thousands of dollars and had their cases prejudiced severely by what these people have done to them. Please spread the word. The wrong kind of ‘help’ can hurt. Many people have done time for immigration fraud. It’s really scary.” Jacobs said the best place to go to find out what the DACA requirements are is the government itself; the forms required (I-821D, I-765 and I-765ws) are available at www.uscis.com.
According to Jacobs, if you need legal help on immigration issues you should only hire an attorney who’s a member of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, which you can check out at www.aila.org. She also recommended the Dreamers’ Assistance Network site at www.dreamerassistance.org, and her own law firm’s site is www.jsslegal.com. Another site, the San Diego Immigration Rights Consortium, at www.immigrantsandiego.org, linis to the Dreamers’ Assistance Network and also focuses on fighting the abuse of immigrants. Jacobs’ associate, Antoniette Gonzales, said that the National Center for Lesbian Rights is offering programs to help Queer DACA applicants at www.nclrights.org.

Queers, Marriage and Immigration

Jacobs also talked about the rights of Queer people — especially bi-national Queer couples — under U.S. immigration law. Though her speech took place over two weeks before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) unconstitutional — in a sweeping decision that held that Queers are a “suspect class” and therefore laws that target them should be subject to the same “heightened scrutiny” as laws that discriminate on the basis of gender — she devoted much of her talk to an optimistic vision of a “DoMA-free world” in which U.S. citizens involved in relationships with same-gender partners from other countries could not only legally marry their partners but sponsor them for immigration purposes on the same basis as heterosexuals can sponsor their spouses.
“A post-DoMA world will only benefit couples who are legally married in states that have marriage equality,” Jacobs said. “Domestic partnership is not enough. I think we’re going to be looking at a lot of people going out of state to get married. If you live in a non-marriage equality state like Texas, marry in a marriage equality state and live in west Texas, they are still under federal jurisdiction, so your marriage must be recognized” if DoMA falls. Actually that may not happen; the two major provisions of DoMA are the federal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, and the statement that states are not legally obligated to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Second Circuit ruling only addressed the federal definition of marriage, and left the part of DoMA that says states don’t have to recognize other states’ same-sex marriages in place. But Jacobs says that for immigration, at least, if DoMA falls the federal government would have to let you sponsor your non-citizen same-gender spouse for immigration if you so chose.
“What do we advise clients now?” Jacobs said. “If you’re someone who has to maintain ‘non-immigrant’ intent” — immigration-speak for being on a tourist, student or temporary work visa based on the assumption that you’ll return to your home country when it expires — “you may end up prejudicing yourself by marrying right now. If your non-citizen partner has no status at all, or if they have a work permit or visa that has ‘dual intent,’ you’re not prejudicing yourselves by getting married now, and if your partner has no status at all, marriage could help.”
According to Jacobs, even the federal Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA), www.justice.gov/eoir/biainfo.htm, is preparing for a DoMA-free future. Instead of automatically rejecting applicants seeking to sponsor same-sex partners, the BIA, said Jacobs, is “asking that the cases be ‘shelved’ and doing interviews and background checks” as they would to make sure an opposite-sex couple had a bona fide relationship and weren’t attempting marriage fraud. “The government is in the background preparing for DoMA to fall,” Jacobs said. She added that this is having a dramatic effect on what she tells clients with foreign-born same-sex partners: “Before, we had to say either, ‘No, I’m so sorry,’ or, ‘Can we do this through work?,” or, ‘Are Gays persecuted in your partner’s country of origin?’ Now we’re having the ‘Maybe you can get married’ talk.”
The audience questions Jacobs got during the presentation on Queers and immigration were quite a bit more impassioned and heartfelt than the ones she’d got about DACA — and her answers revealed that at least some U.S. immigration law has the bizarre, irrational quality of Franz Kafka’s The Trial or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Referring to the story Medina had told of the Gay couple from Spain, one of whom had a work visa to research a cancer vaccine and the other had a student visa — and they ended up moving back to Spain because they couldn’t legally remain in the U.S. — Jacobs said that under certain circumstances a person with a work visa can sponsor someone but a person with a green card cannot.
A woman in the audience who’s in a relationship with a non-citizen female partner asked if they get married legally, can her partner leave the country and re-enter without prejudicing her immigration case. No, Jacobs said, because a marriage establishes “immigrant intent” and could therefore backfire by being grounds for canceling her partner’s visa. “It’s always a risk if you have a U.S. citizen and a non-citizen spouse and you have them coming and going,” Jacobs said.
Another woman whose girlfriend is serving in the army of her home country asked if her partner could get in by joining the U.S. military. Once again Jacobs said no; you usually have to be a legal permanent resident before you can join (which is one reason she doesn’t expect many DACA applicants to come from the military instead of college), though for a time the Bush administration set that aside and offered foreign-born people legal residency and a promise of eventual citizenship if they enlisted.
Yet another questioner asked what would happen if a person involved in a same-sex relationship with a U.S. citizen already has an immigration case pending through a brother or sister. Would they still have to return to their home country? It depends on when the case was filed, Jacobs said. If it was before April 30, 2001, they can stay and do the case from inside the U.S. After that, they would not be able to pursue the case from the U.S. unless they’ve had continuous visa status. But marriage, she explained, would not negate the family petition unless they were marrying another foreign national who already had a green card.
Asked if a Queer person applying under family unification would have to deal with prejudice from the ICE agents handling their case, Jacobs said usually not. “If the hypothetical alien petitions through their brother or sister, gender, marital status or sexual orientation doesn’t matter,” she explained. “But if it’s done through a legal-resident parent, marriage cancels the right to petition from your parents, because the concept is that once you get married you’re no longer part of your parents’ family.” Jacobs also warned that the ICE designates certain countries as “high-fraud” and will look especially closely at any marriage-related application, opposite-sex or same-sex, involving a person from a “high-fraud country.”
Jacobs also talked about other options, including the so-called “U-visa,” which was designed to protect people who witnessed criminal activity from being deported but has increasingly been used to protect foreign-born victims of domestic violence from their U.S. citizen abusers. She discussed asylum, which is a sort of last-ditch effort to protect people who have, in the words of the law, a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their countries of origin. The U.S. government has recognized being Queer as a characteristic that can be the basis for a “well-founded fear of persecution,” especially in countries like Uganda or Iran where being Queer is a crime punishable either by life imprisonment or death.
But she said her firm has won asylum cases even with people from Mexico — especially Transgender people — despite the law allowing same-sex marriage in Mexico City. The problem with such cases — as well as cases of people in the western interior region of Brazil — is, as Jacobs explained, that “you have to show internal relocation is not possible. If you have the option of moving to a part of the country where you would be accepted, you won’t be approved for asylum.” Jacobs also got an asylum question about what happens if you’re from a country that technically has an anti-Queer law on the books but it’s rarely if ever enforced by the government. She answered that if you can show a risk of persecution from mobs or other “non-government actors,” you may still be able to win asylum.
“The law says you should not have to hide the fact that you’re Gay,” Jacobs said. “The law says that you have to have a characteristic that you cannot change or should not be required to change. The law says you have to show an objective risk. If the U.S. State Department says Gays are persecuted in your country of origin, it’s a good case. If the U.S. State Department says Gays are not persecuted there, it will be difficult. But it has to work on a case-by-case basis. You can never say, ‘This country, yes. That country, no.’”