March 29, 2013 12:51PM

Many Family‐​Sponsored Immigrants Are Workers Too

The current U.S. immigration system gives more preference to the family members of American than to foreign workers. As a result, about two-thirds of immigrants who received a green card in 2011 gained it through family-sponsorship.

Some supporters of immigration reform see the family-sponsored immigration sections as a problem, arguing that family sponsorship should be scaled back while the number of workers should be increased. Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick, in their book Immigration Wars, wrote that “Narrowing the scope of family preferences [to immediate family only] would open hundreds of thousands of opportunities for immigrants even without expanding the current numbers of legal immigrants who come to the U.S. each year.”

The family-based categories they would propose eliminating add up to fewer than 140,000 green cards a year. 

Avoiding a lot of legal nuances and annual variations, this is how the family-based immigration system currently awards green cards:

Read the rest of this post »
March 28, 2013 5:12PM

Scientology in the Public School Classroom

Are charter schools uniquely susceptible to bad ideas?

Yesterday, NPR reported that a group of charter schools in Arizona are employing a teaching method called “Applied Scholastics,” which is based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the eccentric science fiction author and founder of Scientology. A teacher at one of the schools described the training sessions as “very weird.” Last year, the Tampa Bay Times reported that a charter school in Clearwater, Florida was also using the Scientology‐​influenced teaching method. 

Some charter school critics leapt on these stories to discredit the entire charter school movement. Responding to the Clearwater revelation last year, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post argued that the use of Applied Scholastics “underscores continuing oversight problems with some charter schools across the country.” Apparently Strauss would prefer students to attend traditional government schools that have lots of oversight, like Prescott Middle School in Baton Rouge:

Inside the industrial looking brick walls of one of Louisiana’s poorest performing middle schools, Scientologists finally have achieved a longtime goal.

A study skills curriculum written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard is being taught as mainstream public education.

All the eighth‐​graders at Prescott Middle School are being taught learning techniques Hubbard devised four decades ago when he set out to remedy what he viewed as barriers to learning.

The state eventually took over Prescott and now a charter school organization is seeking to make it a charter school.

The reality is that no entire group of schools — public, private, or charter — are immune from adopting silly education fads or outright quackery. We should hold schools accountable for their performance, but using such examples to smear large swaths of unconnected schools without even attempting to demonstrate a systemic problem is intellectually dishonest.

March 28, 2013 3:54PM

Government Surveillance of Travel IT Systems

If you haven’t seen Edward Hasbrouck’s talk on government surveillance of travel IT systems, you should.

It’s startling to learn just how much access people other than your airline have to your air travel plans.

Here’s just one image that Hasbrouck put together to illustrate what the system looks like.

He’ll be presenting his travel surveillance talk here at Cato at noon on April 2nd. We’ll also be discussing the new public notice on airport strip‐​search machines issued by the TSA earlier this week.

Register now for Travel Surveillance, Traveler Intrusion.

March 27, 2013 5:46PM

Did Gay Marriage Bans Help Bush Win in 2004?

Dan Balz writes in the Washington Post, as many reporters have this week, 

In 2004, Republicans used ballot initiatives barring same‐​sex marriage to spur turnout among their conservative voters. That strategy helped then‐​President George W. Bush win reelection.

But did it? I argued in 2006 that it didn’t:

It’s true that states with such initiatives voted for Bush at higher rates than other states, but that’s mostly because the bans were proposed in conservative states. In fact, Bush’s share of the vote rose just slightly less in the marriage‐​ban states than in the other states: up 2.6 percent in the states with marriage bans on the ballot, up 2.9 percent in the other states.

Political scientist Simon Jackman of Stanford has more here (pdf). He concludes that the marriage referenda tended to increase turnout but not to increase Bush’s share of the vote. And in a county‐​by‐​county analysis of Ohio, he found no clear relationship between increased turnout, support for the marriage ban, and increased support for Bush.

Matthew Dowd made the same point yesterday:

Speaking from experience as the chief strategist in 2004 for President Bush, I saw in close detail how little gay marriage could influence turnout of conservatives or evangelicals. In 2003 and 2004, we did a series of public opinion tests on different messages related to the micro targeting project that would cause voter groups to turn out more in President Bush’s favor. We tested social issues as well as messages related to the economy, national security, taxes and the size of the federal government. Not a single social issue (which included gay marriage) fell on the effectiveness scale in the top eight messages.

Further, in analyzing the election returns in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential race an interesting set of data was revealed. In states that had gay marriage amendments on the ballot including key target states, there was no statistical difference in turnout of conservatives from states that did not have these amendments on the ballot. Gay marriage had no effect on turnout even among the most conservative potential voters in both the data before Election Day and the returns on Election Day.

Other senior officials from the 2004 Bush campaign confirm: It wasn’t gay marriage that brought social conservatives to the polls, it was national security and the war on terror.

At any rate, as Balz noted, the politics of gay marriage have changed for sure, in Ohio and elsewhere.

March 27, 2013 1:14PM

If Supreme Court Has Jurisdiction, DOMA Likely Falls, With a Controlling Federalism Opinion from Kennedy Alone

The jurisdictional arguments were even more complicated today, but if the Supreme Court reaches the merits, there seem to be five votes to strike down DOMA’s Section 3: the four “liberal” justices on equal protection grounds and Justice Kennedy because the federal government is intruding on state authority to regulate marriage. Now, my prediction is worth what you paid for it – and one or more of the liberals (or even Chief Justice Roberts) could join Kennedy to make the resulting ruling less stark — but there are good reasons to believe that a 4−1−4 merits decision is possible even if Kennedy is ultimately persuaded by the equal protection claim. To the extent the swing justice is wary of the political implications of striking down all states’ marriage laws, then he might not want a ruling that would set the logical precedent for such a move. There was a definite sense at the Court that the provision of DOMA that limits marriage to opposite‐​sex couples for purposes of federal law isn’t long for the world, but a 4−1−4 decision would have no controlling theory.

More broadly, on a day when oral argument got surprisingly more lively than it did over California’s Prop 8 yesterday, all the justices took the opportunity to ask pointed questions of the various counsel arguing issues that ranged from the U.S. government’s awkward participation in the case, the standing of the House of Representatives to defend DOMA, the meaning of equal protection, and the role of federalism in all this. Justice Kagan focused on the “moral disapproval” that motivated Congress to pass DOMA in 1996, Chief Justice Roberts expressed growing frustration with Solicitor General Verrilli’s treatment of federal‐​state relations, and Justice Kennedy continued musing aloud about whether and how to decide the case. We’re in for a real cliffhanger of a ruling.

March 27, 2013 11:00AM

Booming Industry Warrants Federal Support. Apparently.

As if U.S. agriculture isn’t subsidised enough already. Sen. Charles Schumer (D‑NY) visited a hops yard yesterday to raise the profile of, and inevitably seek federal support for, what he hopes will be New York’s first commercial hops yard. In the second subtitle of his press release, Senator Schumer sings the praises of NY’s “booming craft beer industry” and yet simultaneously makes the somewhat contradictory claim that the industry suffers from a lack of capital:

NYs Booming Craft Beer Industry Has Created Demand for Locally Grown, Organic Hops, But NY Is One of Few States Without a Major ‘Hop Yard’ & Capital Is Major Obstacle – Startup Costs Run as Much as $100K For Equipment Alone

The solution seems pretty obvious to me. That “booming” industry would provide steady demand for hops, making it sound like a worthwhile investment for private financiers. Perhaps Senator Schumer can pony up the $100K, since he’s so bullish about the industry. Not so fast. The next sentence?:

Schumer: Federal Loans & Loan Guarantees Would Provide Important Growth Spurt for Budding Hudson Valley Hops Industry

March 27, 2013 10:50AM

Jim DeMint’s Misfire on Marriage

Jim DeMint, former senator and future president of the Heritage Foundation, writes a column for USA Today opposing gay marriage. But like so many social conservatives, he supports his position with a sleight of hand. DeMint writes:

Without strong families grounded in marriage, we cannot hold back the ever‐​expanding power of government. As the marriage culture weakens, Big Government grows. Just look how the welfare state has expanded as the unwed childbearing rate has grown from single digits in the 1960s to more than 40% today.

Marriage policy exists to encourage a man and a woman to commit to each other permanently and exclusively as husband and wife and to be father and mother to any children. Sound marriage policy strengthens civil society and reduces the role of government.

The erosion of marriage costs taxpayers. And it’s not just conservatives who say this. Even the left‐​leaning think tank, Brookings Institution, attributed $229 billion in welfare expenditures between 1970 and 1996 to the breakdown of marriage.

Yes indeed. Stable families are less likely to be on welfare. As Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of Brookings write,

Our research shows that if you want to avoid poverty and join the middle class in the United States, you need to complete high school (at a minimum), work full time and marry before you have children. If you do all three, your chances of being poor fall from 12 percent to 2 percent, and your chances of joining the middle class or above rise from 56 to 74 percent. 

But DeMint and other social conservatives make a logical leap when they connect that point to gay marriage. Gay people making the emotional and financial commitments of marriage is not the cause of family breakdown or welfare spending.

When DeMint says that “family breakdown” is causing poverty – and thus a demand for higher government spending – he knows that he’s really talking about unwed motherhood, divorce, children growing up without fathers, and the resulting high rates of welfare usage and crime. 

So why raise the problems of broken families and then propose to prevent gay people from getting married? Why all the focus on issues that would do nothing to solve the problems of “family breakdown” and what DeMint has elsewhere called “the high cost of a dysfunctional society”? Well, solving the problems of divorce and unwed motherhood is hard. And lots of Republican and conservative voters have been divorced. A constitutional amendment to ban divorce wouldn’t go over very well with even the social‐​conservative constituency. A legal ban on premarital sex would address the problem, but even social conservatives realize that it would be an imprudent exercise of state power. Far better to pick on a small group, a group not perceived to be part of the Republican constituency, and blame them for social breakdown and its associated costs.

But you won’t find your keys on Main Street if you dropped them on Green Street, and you won’t reduce the costs of social breakdown by keeping gays unmarried and not letting them adopt orphans.