Upfront: Pardon plea

Noam Chomsky calls on Obama to issue mass pardons for undocumented immigrants

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On Friday, December 23, Noam Chomsky issued a video message regarding immigration.

By Alexandra Rosenmann

Retired MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky issued a video message on Friday, December 23 regarding the critical problem faced by undocumented immigrants on the verge of a Trump presidency.

“President Obama, to his credit, has issued personal pardons in deserving cases, but he should go far beyond,” Chomsky stated.

On Dec. 19, just weeks before leaving office, President Obama pardoned 78 people and shortened the sentences of 153 other prisoners. The recipients were all non-violent, low-level drug offenders deserving of a second chance. In total, President Obama has pardoned 1,000 individuals since taking office; more than 50 times that of George W. Bush.

Chomsky then dared the president to set a new record.

“He should proceed to what is, in fact, an urgent necessity, to grant a general pardon to 11 million people who are living and working [in America], productive citizens … threatened with deportation by the incoming administration,” Chomsky insisted.

Donald Trump has promised to immediately deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, the White House has shut down House Democrats’ request for Obama to pardon Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients through his executive power.”

“As we have repeatedly said for years, only Congress can create legal status for undocumented individuals,” a White House official told BuzzFeed.

President-elect Trump said in early December that he would “work something out” for the DACA Dreamers. But considering that Trump campaigned on the promise of deporting every single illegal immigrant, Chomsky isn’t too hopeful.  

“This would be a horrible humanitarian tragedy,” Chomsky said of Trump’s deportation plan.

“And moral outrage can be averted by a general pardon for immigration infractions which the president could issue,” Chomsky said. According to Peter L. Markowitz, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, it’s possible.

“President Obama can still act to bring humanity and justice to an immigration system notoriously lacking in both. He can do so by using the power the Constitution grants him—and only him—to pardon individuals for “offenses against the United States,” Markowitz explained in July, just three weeks before Trump officially became the GOP nominee.

Markowitz then revealed that the president’s pardon power does not solely apply to criminal offenses, and can be used to grant a fairly wide range of amnesties.

“It’s a common assumption that pardons can be used only for criminal offenses, and it’s true that they have not been used before for civil immigration violations. However, the Constitution extends the power to all ‘offenses against the United States,’ which can be interpreted more broadly than just criminal offenses,” Markowitz said, citing Jimmy Carter’s 1977 pardon to half a million draft violations.

Chomsky had a request for viewers as well.

“We should join to urge [President Obama] to carry out this necessary step without delay,” he added.

North Bay sanctuary?

By Tom Gogola

On the eve of Noam Chomsky’s call to Obama to pardon the undocumented, Maria de LosAngeles was one of about 30 artist-activists who participated in a march and protest on December 22 in Santa Rosa. The event was a so-called “suitcase action,” in which activists took to the streets to demand the city declare itself a sanctuary for the undocumented in light of recent suggestions from the incoming administration that the country is headed for a brutal round of roundups and deportations, and the end of the Obama-era DACA program.

De LosAngeles is a DACA Dreamer who now finds herself in the crosshairs of anti-immigration zealotry and xenophobia. She helped organize the event and march, and describes it as a success as she highlights that it “was not necessarily a protest,” but more of a gathering for performance artist-activists to push the city to declare itself a sanctuary city. The designation has no legal or official import and simply indicates that a city or town won’t participate or sanction federal raids against undocumented immigrants within their borders.

Before heading back to Brooklyn, where de LosAngeles works as a university professor, she says city leaders here have at least pledged to have a conversation about sanctuary status in Santa Rosa, and she notes that newcomer City Councilman Jack Tibbetts attended the rally-performance on Thursday. Outgoing Mayor John Sawyer is still on the council (he was replaced by Chris Coursey by a vote of the council); right after the election, Sawyer issued a statement of support for undocumented immigrants, but, as the Press Democrat noted, stopped short of endorsing the call for Santa Rosa to join some 40 other cities around the country that have made the pledge to protect their most vulnerable citizens. Now there’s a petition urging the city to join the movement. Local sanctuary cities include Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose.

The hot-button sanctuary issue has re-emerged across the country and across the state, the latter prompted in part through a bill recently introduced by state Senate Pro Tempore Kevin DeLeon that would essentially render the entire state a sanctuary zone by telling the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stay the heck away.

That bill, SB 54, has been met with some pushback from the elected Marin County Sheriff, Robert Doyle, after the county’s Human Rights Commissioner recently called on the Marin County Board of Supervisors to pass their own anti-ICE resolution.

As they did in Santa Rosa, Marin officials set out to assuage the fears of the immigrant community immediately following the Trump election. A late-November report in the Marin Independent Journal (IJ) highlighted that local law enforcement officials were fanned out in Novato and San Rafael, the county’s two largest cities, meeting with immigrants.

Earlier in December, the IJ also reported on Doyle’s concern with the proposed resolution from Human Rights Commission member Christina Leimer. Doyle told reporter Richard Halstead that while he supported the general thrust of the effort, he took issue with the call to the supervisors to, as he said, “pass an ordinance prohibiting law enforcement from cooperating with ICE.”

He went on to wonder to the IJ whether the state even had the authority to tell local law enforcement whether they could or couldn’t engage with ICE agents. He opposed the Marin resolution, which essentially localized deLeon’s California Values Act.

“I objected to that because I took an oath,” Doyle told the IJ. “People have to remember there are immigration laws, and there are ways to come into the country legally.”

There are, and there are also the so-called Dreamers, many of whose parents came to the country as undocumented immigrants and now face punishment for the actions of their parents.

“I am a dreamer,” says De LosAngeles. “I am concerned.” She says the only way for her to become a U.S. citizen in short order is to get married, and that’s not a priority for de LosAngeles.

Deportation would mean the loss of her university job, not to mention the loss of a community that has sustained her and other Dreamers.

“I grew up here undocumented, I’m undocumented and I have many friends, too, who are undocumented,” she says. “Local support for sanctuary cities is very important because nationally, everything is on the line.”

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