Thursday, 10 May 2012

Why would the White House consider 

Susan Sarandon a security risk?

Published April 24, 2012

Susan Sarandon, almost as well-known for her liberal activism as she is for making movies, is claiming that she was recently denied a security clearance to visit the White House, and that the government has tapped her phone.

We know we’re under surveillance, I’ve had my phone tapped,” Sarandon told the audience during a question and answer session at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. She also said she had twice seen a file the government holds on her by filing Freedom of Information requests.

A rep for Sarandon did not respond to's request for further comment, and government officials are staying mum on the matter, too. So why, as Sarandon claims, would the feds would want to keep the Oscar-winner on close watch, and out of the White House all together?
"We know we’re under surveillance, I’ve had my phone tapped"
- Susan Sarandon
Based on her history of activism and outspoken nature in pursuing her agenda, it makes sense that the White House would be leery about her motives for a White House visit,” Michael Wildes, an immigration lawyer at New York-based Wildes & Weinberg, told FOX411’s Pop Tarts. “Her motivation to bring this out is more than likely about her political agenda more so than it is her looking for attention. But, wire taps do not necessarily have to be indicative of someone that is a serious security threat, especially in the Patriot Act era.”

Sarandon’s liberal activism has spanned over four decades. She has also put her celebrity behind several Democratic presidential hopefuls, including John Kerry and John Edwards; called for elections to be monitored by international authorities; vehemently protested against the invasion of Iraq; and rallied for the withdrawal of U.S. troops overseas.
Most recently, Sarandon came under fire for referring to Pope Benedict XVI as a ‘Nazi,’ and spoke out in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. But given that President Obama is running for reelection, some say it is in his best interests to distance himself from the “Dead Man Walking” star.

By any objective standard, Susan is an extremist. Her far-left activism would have resulted in her being labeled a ‘subversive’ in decades past, and she is not someone Mr. Obama and his administration are likely to want to associate with given the upcoming election,” said California-based attorney, David Wohl. “Sarandon’s recent labeling of the Pope as a ‘Nazi’ could result in severe damage to the President’s re-election prospects with Catholic voters should he invite her to the White House."

Sarandon may also conside her self-suggested status as a security threat a boon to her activist reputation.
If true, it’s a badge of honor in her circles,” noted Jason Maloni of Levick Strategic Communications. “Plus I expect she’s not applying for a government job anytime soon."

Miami valedictorian fighting deportation

By John Couwels, CNN
(CNN) – An immigration judge has ruled two teenage girls, including a Miami high school valedictorian, are to be deported for being in the country illegally.
Daniela Pelaez, 18, and her sister Dayana came to the United States with their parents from Colombia 14 years ago and never left - overstaying their tourist visas.
A Miami immigration judge ruled this week that the two girls must be deported to Colombia, leaving the teenagers in shock.
"Education not deportation!" chanted fellow students Friday during a protest outside the North Miami Senior High School, where Pelaez is valedictorian.
The high school senior has a 6.7 grade point average and is at top of her class out of 823 students, said a school administrator.
"She's a good citizen, besides being a brilliant girl," said North Miami Senior High School administrator Larry Jurrist, who added he can't understand why the judge decided to deport the girls.
Pelaez told CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux Friday that her family has been battling to stay in the United States legally.
"Colombia is my roots, but this is all I know," said Pelaez, who has applied to continue her studies at several top-tier schools, including Dartmouth College, Duke University and Trinity College.
The teenager wants to study cellular and molecular biology for a career in the medical field.
"What I have worked for since I was 4 years old - to live the American dream. And I feel like I earned it," she said.
The teen was shocked by the judge's ruling since her brother was allowed to become a citizen and is currently serving in the U.S. military. He has toured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Nestor Yglesias issued a statement Thursday on the teens' case that read: "Daniela and Dayana Pelaez have reserved the right to appeal an immigration judge's decisions ordering them to return to Colombia. ICE will not take any action against them while they pursue additional legal options."
The federal agency could also decide to take no further action, allowing the girls to remain in the United States.
"Can you imagine that? Literally putting a postage stamp on her forehead and send her packing," Michael Wildes, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said about the case.
"This is completely out of character for our country," he told CNN. "I know the courts and the prosecutor will do right by her."
Pelaez said her attorney will appeal the judge's ruling and the teenager hopes she will get the opportunity to stay in the United States so she can decide in April which college to attend.

With Guilty Verdict, Deportation is Possibility for Ravi
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Now that Dharun Ravi has been convicted of 15 charges related to his use of a webcam to spy on his gay roommate, he may also face possible deportation proceedings.
Ravi, 20, is a legal resident who was born in India and spent most of his life in New Jersey.
Anyone convicted of a crime that is defined as involving “moral turpitude” or an aggravated felony can face a deportation proceeding. It’s up to federal immigration officials to bring the case, and an immigration judge to make the final determination.
Michael Wildes, a New Jersey immigration attorney, said federal immigration officials have discretion on whether to proceed with a deportation case against Ravi. The former federal prosecutor thinks it is likely that Ravi will face deportation proceedings.
There's a lot of pressure on immigration because of the media and the attention of the world on this matter and I believe strongly that they will bring it,” Wildes said.
However, the determination of whether the convictions involve moral turpitude or are aggravated felonies is a complicated one, according to David Isaacson, an immigration attorney with Cyrus D. Mehta and Associates. It would take him several hours of research, if not days, to determine how the Ravi convictions fit into the federal statutes, according to Isaacson.
The federal law on whether a crime is defined as an aggravated felony involves 20 sub-sections. The case law on defining moral turpitude goes back to 1913, Isaacson said. It's a vague legal term used to describe conduct that is considered contrary to justice, honesty or morality.
Ravi was convicted by a New Brunswick jury Friday of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, hindering a prosecution and witness tampering. Ravi’s lawyers said they will appeal the verdict.
A federal decision on whether to move forward on deportation will likely be made after Ravi is sentenced in May, since sentencing is one of the factors that determines whether or not to deport.
The government does not publish statistics on how many people it attempts to deport after a felony conviction, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University institute that tracks federal enforcement agencies. The institute conducted a study of 156,713 people facing deportation because they were convicted of aggravated felonies and found that deportation rates changed depending on the number of years an immigrant lived here, which country they were from and their legal status. It also found aggravated felonies usually involved violent or drug-related crimes.

Defense begins today in Rutgers webcam case, must 
 chip away at narrative

Thursday, March 8, 2012 Last updated: Friday March 9, 2012, 8:01 AM
The Record

Prosecutors in Dharun Ravi’s bias intimidation trial have methodically built a brick-by-brick case over the past 10 days, producing two dozen increasingly damaging witnesses and ending with a video of Ravi admitting that he invaded the privacy of his Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi.
Now it’s the defense’s turn.
Ravi attorneys, Steven Altman and Philip Nettl, face a potential uphill battle when presenting their defense, given that the state’s case has unfolded like a novel, with Ravi as the main character. Their goal will be to plant a seed of reasonable doubt with the jurors, one that perhaps showcases Ravi as an immature college kid who didn’t realize the consequences of his actions.
The question is, did he intend and actually commit a crime?” said Michael Wildes, a former federal prosecutor who has also served as Englewood’s mayor. “This is what a jury will have to decide.”
Ravi has been defined by the state as anti-gay and manipulative, someone who plotted to humiliate Clementi by using a webcam to spy on his tryst with another man. Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge just days after his first encounter was streamed live.
The plot has developed slowly, giving jurors time to reflect, as witness after witness testified that Ravi used Twitter to encourage others to view a second Clementi tryst, poking holes in the defense’s contention that the webcam was being used to safeguard Ravi’s iPad.
There was dorm mate Molly Wei, who said that Ravi set up the webcam that streamed the first encounter that was viewed in her room. Then came Rutgers student Lokesh Ojha, who testified that he helped Ravi aim the camera toward Clementi’s bed. Rutgers police said that Ravi withheld information as they conducted a search for Clementi, before they knew his fate.
Clementi’s companion, cloaked in mystery and identified only as M.B., testified that he had sex with Clementi on two dates — and saw the webcam and felt students were staring as he left the dorm room one night. A “viewing party with a bottle of Bacardi and beer” was also discussed on the stand.
Technology provided an unexpected twist, showing that Ravi deleted dozens of texts between himself and two other students. And a review of Clementi’s online accounts revealed that he had repeatedly checked Ravi’s Twitter page in the days and hours before he jumped to his death.
A video of Ravi’s interview with investigators provided a fitting conclusion to the prosecution’s case, letting jurors hear and see Ravi admit that he invaded Clementi’s privacy, but “didn’t realize it was something so private.”
While the defense is expected to last for two days, it’s still not known if Ravi, of Plainsboro, will testify. If he does, it would likely be on Monday.
Ravi, 20, faces multiple counts of invasion of privacy, hindering apprehension and bias intimidation - a hate crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors say Ravi intended to intimidate Clementi because he was gay.
A glimpse of Altman’s plan of attack was revealed Thursday when he told the judge he would call character witnesses and Rutgers students to the stand. Also expected are a Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office investigator and a Rutgers detective.
The defense also argued for the dismissal of some of the charges including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation counts. The judge later told the attorneys to assume that the charges would all stand but he would review his notes overnight and could revisit several of the counts.
In order to prove the bias intimidation counts, prosecutors must show that Ravi intimidated Clementi because of his sexual orientation. In the invasion of privacy charges, they have to demonstrate that Ravi set out to expose sexual conduct without permission.
Among Nettl’s arguments were that Ravi didn’t invade Clementi’s privacy because he had a right to view the contents of his room regardless of what was happening in it. Another was that the state hadn’t shown any evidence that Clementi was intimidated or put in fear because of Ravi’s actions – an element of bias intimidation.
Altman and Nettl could call witnesses to show that Ravi was not homophobic and never intended to humiliate or embarrass Clementi. Altman has maintained that Ravi set up the camera because he was worried his iPad would be taken by M.B. — which is what Ravi told investigators during his Sept. 23 police interview.
Altman has already been successful on cross examination in getting prosecution witnesses, particularly Rutgers’ students, to say under oath that Ravi hadn’t expressed any hatred toward Clementi and wasn’t homophobic.
Wei also bolstered the defense’s case when she said Ravi told her he set up the webcam because he was concerned M.B. would take his iPad. She had also been charged with invasion of privacy but accepted a plea deal that required her to testify.
Prosecutors have contended Ravi’s theory of why he used the webcam was an excuse and the interview was an example of him covering up his actions.
Chris Leibig, a Washington, D.C.-based criminal defense attorney of 16 years who has been following the case, said while the defense has a big burden, they would do well to “humanize Mr. Ravi and make obvious that this was not his intention and that he didn’t harbor any specific anti-gay bias.”
They need to build on the fact that, yes, he acted like an immature jerk, but this is not a criminal case,” he said.

Under Obama, guest-worker visa policy creates left-right conflict

By Gene J. Koprowski Published: 12:24 AM 01/09/2012

Non-resident visitors to the United States have their passports checked at immigration control after arriving at McCarran International Airport, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Under the Obama administration, skilled foreign professionals like doctors and software engineers find dim hope in Emma Lazarus’s poetic lamp lifted “beside the golden door.” These huddled, high tech masses are, quite often, told by Washington policymakers to consider launching their careers in other countries.
One physician trained in South Africa, for example, recently applied for a visa to work in the U.S. Despite the shortage of skilled doctors in America, the Obama administration failed to grant him “extraordinary worker” status. For him, there will be no work at a pharmaceutical company, no hospital shifts, and no opportunity to start his own consulting firm.
New York City immigration attorney Andrew P. Johnson, who represented that doctor, told The Daily Caller that the administration concluded his client — who also has a master’s degree in public health — should work at a “non-profit.” The federal government, he said, put the doctor through a “bureaucratic labyrinth,” and eventually restricted his job mobility once he was in the U.S.
He was eventually forced to be based in Europe,” Johnson told TheDC.
Only 85,000 skilled foreign workers, including doctors and those with master’s degrees in technical subjects, are allowed in the U.S. every year to fill jobs in Silicon Valley, high-tech hospitals, and engineering firms. That’s fewer than are needed: The U.S. continues to lag behind the rest of the developed world in new graduates of university science, technology and mathematics programs.
A properly working guest worker program is “important to our economic growth,” Michael Wildes, another New York immigration lawyer told TheDC.
But progressive think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and other liberal interest groups are pressuring the administration to drag its feet even more. The left claims foreign professionals are being hired here because they are cheaper to employ than American workers, and that U.S. employers like Siemens, Pfizer and others treat them like indentured servants.
Foreigners, they say, are often hired before Americans are given the chance to interview for a job. “Many firms exploit these loopholes for competitive advantage and profit, at the expense of American workers and the American economy,” Ron Hira, an EPI research associate, wrote in a recent U.S. News & World Report op-ed.
Meanwhile, a bi-partisan bill to bolster business worker immigration, sponsored by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, languishes in the U.S. Senate.
At a time of persistent high unemployment in the U.S. and increasing public concern about immigration and border control, liberal policy wonks argue, Congress may be receptive to the idea that the law should require employers to offer Americans jobs before offering them to foreign nationals.
On the opposite end of the policy spectrum is the argument that reforming America’s “guest worker” program would prevent the U.S. economy from falling even further behind.
The guest worker program, overseen by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services inside the Department of Homeland Security, includes the “H-1B” guest worker visas, “L” visas for foreign employees of U.S. companies, and “O” visas for those the government considers “extraordinarily” talented.
Johnson worries that it has been more than a decade since business immigration visa law was last brought up to date.
Nowadays, with outsourcing so common,” he told TheDC, “those jobs can primarily be lost to other nations, or the U.S. company can operates overseas.”
Allowing the immigration of more skilled managers who already work for technology employers like Microsoft or IBM, says the American Immigration Lawyers Association, would also be good for the American economy.
Individuals are coming to establish a new entity related to their employer abroad, thus planting a seed of opportunity for U.S. workers,” AILA president Eleanor Pelta said.
Johnson claimed that rather than seeing this shortcoming as an economic development issue, the Obama administration and liberals in Congress are postponing change in order to make it part of “comprehensive immigration reform,” a strategy that would include an amnesty proposal for illegal aliens.
When there are enough qualified U.S. applicants, the government can reduce the number of visas available,” he explained. “But if we ignore the shortages — in engineering, IT and medicine — a U.S. company will set up operations outside the U.S., or outsource the job, and we will have lost another taxpayer.”

Friday, 4 May 2012

What Are the Chances Webcam Suicide Defendant Will Be Deported?

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Editor-In-Chief
Friday Mar 16, 2012

Everyone has been following the dramatic case of Dharun Ravi. The former student at Rutgers University in New Jersey set up a webcam and invited others to watch his gay roommate entertain another man in their dorm room.

Now, a jury is deciding Ravi’s fate. Rather than accept a plea bargain by pleading guilty, Ravi rolled the dice by going to trial. By doing so, he also exposed himself to possible deportation. 
Ravi and his parents are immigrants from India who reside here as permanent residents. He faces 15 charges, some of them felonies. By law, if convicted of certain felonies, he can be permanently barred from the United States. 
But what are the chances of sentence actually being carried out? EDGE spoke to one of the most prominent attorneys who specialize in such cases about this very public trial. 
Now in private practice in New York, Michael Wildes is a former federal prosecutor and mayor of Englewood, N.J. He has appeared on CNN and other newscasts as an expert on deportation cases. Wildes represented the government in several high-profile immigration cases, including one prohibiting former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from residing in New Jersey during a United Nations summit. 
According to Wildes, if a person is charged with a felony conviction of more than a year in jail -- or if under a year if the crime is one of "moral turpitude" under the law -- the convicted defendant can, indeed, be deported. Not only that, but he very likely would be. 
Very likely if convicted, he would be placed into removal proceedings," Wildes said. The only remedy would be if Ravi could prove that he would be subject to torture in an in Indian jail; highly unlikely to stick, according to Wildes. Additionally, he would be serving his time in a U.S. jail before deportation; it’s highly unlikely that, upon arrival in India, he would be seized by authorities there and put to torture. 
There is one other avenue of possible escape: claiming that his removal would prove an insurmountable hardship to his family; also nearly impossible in this case, Wildes noted. Nor would his age (he’s under 21) or having been a college student have any bearing. Having reached the "age of majority," that is, over 18, he is considered a full adult under the law.
The operative term for deportation is "aggravated felon." Would that apply to Ravi? Yes, Wildes believes, if he is convicted of the crimes with which he is accused. "This is a cutting-edge case," the lawyer added. "He really feels innocent, that he committed no crime. He felt it might have been in poor taste, but not criminal in nature." (Wildes added that neither he nor anyone else knows what kind of deal the prosecution offered Ravi’s lawyers in return for a plea deal.)

The governor, of course, can commute the conviction. But, given the gravity of what happened to Tyler Clementi, the shy, aspiring violinist who so dramatically ended his life by jumping off the massive George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, and the attendant publicity, it is unlikely in the extreme that Chris Christie, a Republican with half an eye on higher office, would intervene on his behalf. 
The case has fascinated the legal world, because of the intersection of so many circumstances that are only making their way into the legal world: bias via Internet spying; intimidation and humiliation via webcam; bullying through webcam. 
If convicted, Ravi will have to surrender his passport and his family will have to post a hefty bond. Any conviction, of course, will probably be suspended pending the inevitable repeal. Ravi comes from a wealthy family that has made it clear that it intends to stand by him.
Even so, Wildes concluded, "It all goes to show that if he had a deal and didn’t do it, he either thought he had a very good immigration lawyer or he has a very bad criminal lawyer."

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The big costs of drug crimes, especially for immigrants
Published: Monday, March 26, 2012, 12:02 PM

Spend any time in a New Jersey city after nightfall, and it’s clear: young people come out when the sun goes down. For most, a night out is harmless enough. But once drugs enter the picture, there can be serious consequences.
These consequences can be most severe for immigrants. Besides the adverse health effects and incidence of violence that may effect anyone involved in drug-related crime, for a noncitizen even a misdemeanor conviction can lead to mandatory detention and deportation. This is true even for persons who have been living here legally for most of their lives, and who have spouses and children who are U.S. citizens.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is the most common drug violation resulting in arrest in New Jersey. The majority of these arrests disproportionately affect Latino immigrant communities, despite studies showing whites are the principal users of the drug. The effects on these communities, which include large numbers of recent immigrants and visa holders, are immediate and significant. Detention and deportation are real possibilities for immigrants convicted of even low-level drug offenses. Only a narrow exception is extended to first-time drug offenders with legal immigration status who hope to avoid deportation.
Perhaps more alarming are the ancillary effects: the ways in which drug crime affects those not directly engaged in drug possession or sale. For instance, the recent shutdown of a popular restaurant in New York where police suspected drugs were being sold on the premises, and a probe into a Hoboken restaurant in 2009 believed to be the seat of a major drug ring led to the suspension of employees.
Under the law, simply being within reach of drugs may be legally actionable, meaning in situations like these, even employees not directly engaged in drug activity could be at risk. Such incidents could directly affect immigrant communities, many members of which are employed in the restaurant industry. In this uncertain economy, even a temporary job hiatus can be harmful – and depending on an individual's visa status, loss of employment could result in immediate forfeiture of legal immigration status and permanently forestall the path to citizenship.
Even those not subject to deportation can expect to have a more difficult time finding and maintaining employment. And, as is true for those facing any legal charge, individuals should expect to face major expenses from defense attorneys (if they decline counsel from chronically overworked public defenders), immigration attorneys (where applicable) and court fees. These costs are often prohibitive for hardworking families pushed to the brink by financial hardship.
From adverse health effects to compromised safety to financial hardship, it’s hard to overemphasize the importance of helping New Jersey residents understand the significant costs associated with drug crime – and the particular consequences affecting those with pending immigration status. Through education, we can help young people and others to make better decisions by avoiding the significant personal and communal costs of entering the criminal justice system.
Michael Wildes is the managing partner of the U.S. immigration law firm Wildes & Weinberg, P.C. Mr. Wildes is a former federal prosecutor and completed two terms as the Mayor of Englewood, where he resides.


Former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi 

faces jail for spying on gay roommate

Last Updated: 10:12 AM, March 17, 2012
Posted: 1:28 AM, March 17, 2012

He should have taken the plea deal.

Ex-Rutgers student Dharun Ravi yesterday was slapped with a guilty verdict that could land him years in prison — and lead to his deportation — after using a Web cam to spy on a gay roommate who later committed suicide.

The 20-year-old’s sensational conviction — on all 15 counts — in a New Brunswick, NJ, court came after he had turned up his nose at a sweetheart deal that would have kept him out of prison, requiring him only to perform community service and undergo counseling.

In the dramatic verdict that capped three weeks of riveting testimony and three days of deliberations, Ravi was found guilty on charges that, in 2010, he illegally spied on and bullied an angry and humiliated Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death days later from the George Washington Bridge.

Three of the raps — including bias and invasion of privacy — each carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison. Experts have said Ravi will likely get about 10 years.

The Indian-born Ravi also could be deported after his sentencing May 21. Although he has lived in the United States since he was a boy, he is not a citizen.

As the verdict was read, Ravi lowered his head and shook it slowly back and forth. His lawyer, Steven Altman, rubbed his back.

Free on bail while his lawyers consider an appeal, he left court with his father’s arm around his shoulder.
Meanwhile, Clementi’s mother, Jane, wept in the front row in court after the first guilty count was read. Clementi’s father, Joe, later urged students to be more mature and responsible.

You’re going to meet a lot of people in your life,” an emotional Joe Clementi said afterward. “Some of these people you may not like. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean you have to work against them.”

Although Ravi was never legally implicated in Clementi’s death, his spying on his roommate’s gay rendezvous was inexorably linked to the suicide.

Prosecutors said the verdict sent a powerful message that there is a price to be paid for bullying and intolerance. The case had attracted worldwide attention because of the technology used in the bullying tactics.

[The jurors] felt the pain of Tyler,” said Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan. “They obviously understood what [Tyler] must have went through and what he felt.”
Juror Kashad Leverett, 20, a Middlesex County College student, said the evidence — which included Twitter posts and text messages of Ravi inviting his friends to tune in to the Web cam he trained on his roommate’s bed — was very strong.

He was a young, immature kid, but at the same time, what he did was wrong, and the state proved its case,” Leverett told The Post after the verdict.

He said that the jury was not in conflict and that it could have reached a unanimous verdict within a few hours of getting the case but decided to take more time.

Prosecutors said Ravi remotely accessed his Web cam from a friend’s room on Sept. 19, 2010, and saw Clementi kissing a man.

After spreading the word through talk, Twitter and texts, Ravi took to the Internet to invite friends to tune in for a repeat performance two days later when Clementi asked him for the room again.

Clementi apparently got wind of the plan and pulled the plug. Two days later, he killed himself.

You really can’t know what someone’s thinking. You actually have to get inside their head and it’s very difficult to do that,” juror Bruno Ferreira told the Newark Star-Ledger. “I think just afterwards you think about it not being done once but being done twice, another day, then that’s why we came to that conclusion.”

Scott Kochman, an Internet safety expert, said the trial and verdict will raise awareness about the power of the Internet.
Most people have no idea that their webcam can be turned on remotely without their knowledge or permission,” said Kochman, the president of WebcamSafe, which makes software to block a webcam’s spying ability.

Michael Wildes, an immigration attorney and former federal prosecutor, said it is likely that Ravi’s immigration status will be reviewed.

If he receives jail time, immigration authorities have a little more time to prepare,” Wildes said. “But if not, they’ll get the papers ready to serve him in May.”

Managing partner, Wildes & Weinberg P.C.;
Former Mayor of Englewood, NJ

Will Governor Cuomo Seize A Major 

Opportunity With The DREAM Act?

Posted: 04/ 2/2012 7:28 am
Governor Cuomo's surprising silence on the New York DREAM Act is business as usual for many elected officials, but it's disappointing coming from him. The Senate bill and its companion legislation in the Assembly would provide financial assistance to immigrant students of illegal status who meet established criteria.
The chief executive of the Empire State, who was heralded for his leadership on same-sex marriage less than a year ago, is sitting noticeably on the sidelines when it comes to immigration reform. Being that the Governor has not publicly supported the DREAM Act legislation, many wondered whether it would be included in the budget as an addition to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) - at a relatively modest $17 million expense to the state.
But, an agreement for the budget was reached with no such provision for TAP included, leaving immigrant residents of New York with a familiar feeling: disappointment.
It is a strange departure from the apparent understanding Governor Cuomo has of investing resources to improve infrastructure throughout the state. What about an investment in the most critical infrastructure we have - people?
Surely, support from over a third of the state's Senators and Assemblypersons, as well as the full backing of Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Gillibrand, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, provides the Governor all the political cover he needs to support the bill. Perhaps the Governor feels that getting the necessary votes from Republicans would burn too much political capital, something he is not willing to do with the Minimum Wage legislation on deck.
We remember the Marriage Equality Act was passed at the close of session last June with considerable concessions from the Governor to conservatives to get it done. I suspect that if this bill does become law, it will be done in much the same way. This is far from a guarantee. Let us also remember Harry Reid trying to insert the federal DREAM Act in at the close of session in late December 2010, only to fail in getting it passed.
The best chance for passage is for three Republican Senators representing large immigrant populations to put their support behind the bill. Namely, Lee Zeldin, Jack Martins, and Carl Marcellino - all of whom represent districts on Long Island with strong Hispanic populations. With three months left in session and the Minimum Wage and Hydrofracking among the few pieces of major legislation on the docket this year, the hope is that something can still get done in the next few months.
It is well-known that there is more in play here: a possible Presidential run in 2016. However, I see this as a reason to get something done rather than a reason not to.
With the Obama Administration deporting people in record numbers and GOP candidates routinely one-upping one another in terms of how insensitive they can be to the wishes of the Hispanic electorate, one might see this as time of great opportunity for a rising star of the Democratic Party. With his track record in just his first two years in office, he would at once be able to rally a disillusioned progressive base with his endorsement of marriage equality and a dejected Hispanic electorate clamoring for their voices to be heard.
This is an opportunity not only for Andrew Cuomo, but for the United States as a whole. Immigration is in our DNA, it is a vital stitch in the fabric of America from coast to coast. When we have the opportunity to do the right thing we have an obligation to seize it. It is our charge as citizens to make it known that this is important to us and we expect our elected officials to provide the leadership in making it happen.
"From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome."
May the light never go out.