Stupid Is as Stupid Writes – Good writing advice

Not as concise as the classic Orwell piece, Politics and the English Language, but some good experiments that show the advantages in writing simply:

Most writing experts agree that “direct, declarative sentences with simple common words are usually best.”1 However, most undergraduates admit to intentionally using complex vocabulary to give the impression of intelligence to their readers. Does using complex vocabulary in writing actually increase the perception of higher author intelligence among readers? According to Carnegie Mellon University professor Daniel M. Oppenheimer, the answer is No.2 Oppenheimer’s 2006 article published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly,” effectively makes the case against needless complexity in writing. The paper includes five experiments: the first three show the negative influence of increased complexity on perceived author intelligence, and the latter two investigate the role of fluency (ease of reading) more generally on judgments about author intelligence.

Oppenheimer’s work provides valuable information on how to avoid the common pitfalls of trying to sound smart when writing. The research also provides an insightful framework to explore how needless complexity may be harming public perception at larger scales, such as the perception of academic journals and disciplines. In what follows, I will briefly outline the experiments and findings in Oppenheimer’s paper and apply them to academia to show how disciplines vary in the degree of unnecessary complexity. This complexity comes at a cost, and fields like gender studies are paying the price.

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Experiment 1: Does Increasing the Complexity of Text Make the Author Appear More Intelligent?

In the first experiment, Oppenheimer showed that using longer words causes readers to view the text and its author more negatively. Six personal statements for graduate admission in English Literature were taken from writing improvement websites that varied greatly in quality and content. Excerpts were taken from the six essays and three versions of each were prepared. Highly complex versions were made by replacing every noun, verb, and adjective with their longest respective entry in the Microsoft Office thesaurus. Moderately complex versions were made by only altering every third eligible word, and an original was left unchanged. Each of the 71 participants read one excerpt and decided whether or not to accept the applicant and to rate both the confidence in their decision and how difficult the passage was to understand.

The more complex an essay was, the less likely students were to accept the applicant regardless of the quality of the original. Interestingly, controlling for difficulty of reading nearly eliminated the relationship between complexity and acceptance. The opposite is not true, however, suggesting that differences in fluency are what cause the negative relationship between complexity and acceptance. Complex texts are rated poorly because they are hard to read.

Experiment 2: Is the Perceived Intelligence of the Author Affected by the Complexity of the Translation Used?

Even geniuses sound unintelligent when they use big words. Concerns about the word replacement algorithm in experiment one hurting the quality of the text due to imperfectly matched meanings led the author to a second, more natural test. One of two different translations of the first paragraph of Rene Descartes Meditation IV were given to 39 participants. Two independent raters agreed that one of the translations was considerably more complex despite comparable word counts. Participants read the text and rated both the intelligence of the author and how difficult the passage was to understand. In order to investigate the effects of a prior expectation of intelligence, half were told the author was Descartes and half were told it was an anonymous author.

Readers rated the author intelligence higher in the simple translation, whether or not they knew the author was Descartes. As in experiment 1, loss of fluency appeared to be the cause of poor ratings for the complex translation, but statistical significance was not reached for its mediating influence in this case.

Experiment 3: Does Decreasing the Complexity of Text Make the Author Appear More Intelligent?

Have a big vocabulary? Dumbing it down with this method might improve your writing. A dissertation abstract from the Stanford sociology department with an unusual number of long words (nine or more letters) was selected for the experiment. A simplified version of the text was made by replacing every long word with its second shortest entry in the thesaurus. The 85 participants were instructed to read one of the abstracts and rate both the intelligence of the author and how difficult the passage was to understand.

Readers rated the author intelligence higher and the difficulty of understanding lower in the simplified version. Again, fluency had the predicted effect, but failed to reach statistical significance. This supports experiment 1 by showing that a word replacement algorithm does not necessarily impair the quality of work and make it harder to understand. The message is clear—complex texts are harder to read and get rated more poorly.

Experiment 4: Does Any Manipulation that Reduces Fluency Reduce Intelligence Ratings?

This experiment is a compelling argument against using silly fonts (I’m looking at you, Comic Sans). Presenting text in a hard to read font is an established way of reducing fluency. The unedited version of the highest quality essay from the first experiment was given to 51 participants in one of two fonts: italicized “Juice ITC” or normal “Times New Roman.” See below for a comparison:

The participants were instructed to read the text and rate the author’s intelligence. All of the instructions and rating scales were written in the corresponding text to prevent readers from assuming the author had chosen the font, which could be taken as a hint about their intelligence.

Readers who received the “Juice ITC” version rated the author as less intelligent than those who read it in “Times New Roman.” This establishes the effect of fluency independent of complexity, and supports the idea that complex texts are rated poorly because they reduce fluency.

Experiment 5: Do Manipulations of Fluency Have the Same Effect if the Source of the Decreased Fluency is Obvious?

People tend to discount the role of fluency when it has an obvious source. For example, Tversky and Kahneman found that although people typically use fluency as a cue for estimating surname frequency, if they are in the presence of obvious causes for fluency (personal relevance, famous name) they stop using fluency and even overcompensate.3 To test this, 27 participants were given an unedited essay from experiment one that was either printed normally, or with low toner in the printer making it light, streaky, and hard to read. Readers were asked to decide if they would accept the applicant as well as rate the confidence of their decision and the author’s intelligence.

Participants who read low toner texts were more likely to recommend acceptance than those who read the normal version. They also rated the intelligence of the author more highly in the low toner condition. When the source of fluency is obvious, people become aware of their bias and overcorrect.

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The implications of the first four experiments can be neatly summarized: “Keep it simple, stupid.” As experts have long recommended, you should use short, common words and easy to read fonts. Someone who makes good points, but relies on complex words and jargon to do so, likely pays a price in terms of the perceived quality of their work and mind. Reading Oppenheimer’s paper made me wonder if the same rules hold true on the broader scale of academic disciplines. If a field tends to use needlessly complex language more than other fields, is it viewed as less credible?

To test this hypothesis I set out to compare the complexity of the top journals from various fields to their perceived credibility using average word length as a proxy for complexity and SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) as a proxy for credibility. Specifically, I chose to compare the top journal in astrophysics, biochemistry, sociology, and gender studies. To estimate word length I sampled the first five full articles from the latest issue of each journal and divided the number of characters by the word count. Each journal’s complexity score reflects the average word length of the five selected papers.

There was no relationship between SJR and complexity score (names of the journals and papers used for the analysis, as well as results, can be found here.) This could be for a number of reasons: the top journal of a field is not necessarily reflective of the field as a whole, average word length could be a bad proxy for complexity, SJR could be a bad proxy for credibility, small sample size, etc.

Or, could it be that I was confusing complexity with needless complexity?

The complexity score is similar for Gender and Society (5.5) and Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics (5.3), but is the difficulty of understanding for the underlying content the same? Almost certainly not. Previous research has developed a Hierarchy of the Sciences that uses objective bibliometric criteria to assess the “softness” of an academic field.4 Unsurprisingly, the ranks are as follows, from hardest to softest science: physical (physics, mathematics), biological-hard (molecular biology, biochemistry), biological-soft (plant and animal sciences, ecology), social (psychology, economics), and humanities (archaeology, gender studies). The authors state that as you progress from mathematics to humanities there is “a proportional loss of cognitive structure and coherence in their literature background.” In other words, Gender and Society uses equally complex language to describe “softer” phenomena. Therefore, the degree of needlesscomplexity is higher than in similarly complex texts where the underlying difficulty of the concepts is greater.

The point is clarified by the following examples taken from papers analyzed for this article. Excerpt 1 comes from an abstract in the Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics,5excerpt 2 comes from an abstract in Gender and Society.6

  1. In our modern understanding of galaxy formation, every galaxy forms within a dark matter halo. The formation and growth of galaxies over time is connected to the growth of the halos in which they form. The advent of large galaxy surveys as well as high-resolution cosmological simulations has provided a new window into the statistical relationship between galaxies and halos and its evolution.
  2. In Hegemonic Masculinity: Formulation, Reformulation, and Amplification, James Messerschmidt provides a comprehensive and nuanced explanation of hegemonic masculinity, including the sociohistorical context of its development, and an incisive analysis of research that has utilized the tricky concept.

I applied the methodology of experiment 3 from Oppenheimer’s paper to both (simplified long words). Let’s see how they change.

  1. In our modern understanding of galaxy creation, every galaxy forms within a dark matter halo. The creation and growth of galaxies over time is linked to the growth of the halos in which they form. The advent of large galaxy surveys as well as high-resolution cosmological models has provided a new window into the statistical link between galaxies and halos and its evolution.
  2. In Powerful Maleness: Design, Redesign, and Expansion, James Messerschmidt provides a full and nuanced account of powerful maleness, including the sociohistorical context of its development, and an incisive analysis of research that has utilized the tricky concept.

In the first excerpt there were nine words that had nine or more letters, and four could be replaced with a shorter word without distorting the meaning. In the second excerpt there were more long words, despite the fact that the passage is much shorter (38 vs. 64 words). Of the 12 words that met the criteria in excerpt 2, nine of them could be replaced without altering the meaning. Therefore, the density of both long words and needlessly long words is higher in the second excerpt.

Does this needless complexity harm the public perception of gender studies? Yes. Good luck convincing laymen about the oppression of women using terms like “subalterneity” and “phallogocentrism.” It will be difficult to understand, and therefore judged negatively. Take, for example, a passage from one of the most influential works from arguably the most influential gender theorist, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory” by Judith Butler.7 

“When Beauvoir claims that ‘woman’ is a historical idea and not a natural fact, she clearly underscores the distinction between sex, as biological facticity, and gender, as the cultural interpretation or signification of that facticity. To be female is, according to that distinction, a facticity which has no meaning, but to be a woman is to have become a woman, to compel the body to conform to an historical idea of ‘woman,’ to induce the body to become a cultural sign, to materialize oneself in obedience to an historically delimited possibility, and to do this as a sustained and repeated corporeal project.”

The above is a reasonable argument for separate definitions of sex and gender that is totally obscured by jargon and wordiness. It could be reworded as follows without losing any meaning:

“According to Beauvoir, to be a woman is more than to be biologically female. It also involves behaving in the way women are expected to based on historical precedent.”

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In summary, a lack of fluency (often caused by needlessly complex words) causes readers to negatively judge a text and its author. The degree of needless complexity varies across academic fields and this needless complexity likely harms public perceptions of the fields where it is most pronounced. All of this raises one last question: why do disciplines like gender studies insist on needless jargon? Three hypotheses seem most likely: historical coincidence, physics envy, and conscious deception.

The first two hypotheses suggest well-meaning authors. It is possible that the early writers of certain fields like gender studies set a bad precedent by coining long, unintuitive words that are now important to the field, while other disciplines were fortunate to have such tractable terms as black holes and dark matter. Alternatively, given the widespread attitude (at least in some circles) that the humanities and social sciences are softer, less challenging, or less valuable than other fields of inquiry, one could see academics in those fields internalizing a sense of inferiority. This attitude is known as physics envy. In order to prove their intelligence, to themselves and to others, they might be tempted to complicate simple ideas and use complex vocabulary to describe them—just like the Stanford undergraduates interviewed by Oppenheimer.

The third hypothesis, that they are consciously deceiving readers, brings us back to Oppenheimer’s fifth experiment. If you recall, participants in that experiment rated more highly the text quality and author intelligence of text printed with low toner. It was obvious to them that the low toner was biasing their judgements in a negative way, so they overcompensated. The question remains, what sources of poor fluency are obvious enough to hit the inflection point where instead of hurting perception they begin to help it? Does heavy use of complex academic jargon count as an obvious enough source and, if so, are writers incentivized to use it? If laymen are self-aware of the jargon reducing fluency, they may give the text and the author benefit of the doubt when it is undeserved.

Ultimately, this is an empirical question waiting to be answered. In the meantime, if the writers who are producing needlessly complex pieces are doing so to deceive the public, we can take solace in the fact that it isn’t working very well— there is only one sociology journal in the top 100 (Administrative Science Quarterly, #78), and one gender studies journal in the top 1,000 (Gender and Society, #975) of journals ranked by SJR.

Source: Stupid Is as Stupid Writes

Latinos Increasingly Concerned About Their Place In U.S. Society, Survey Finds

Hardly surprising given the language of President Trump and the impact of his policies:

One out of every two Latinos in the United States says that life has become more difficult for them in the past year, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

Mark Lopez, director of global migration and demography research at Pew and a co-writer of the survey, says the findings reflect a turn “towards being pessimistic about the country, about the direction of the country and also the future for their own children.”

Lopez says Latinos have traditionally been more optimistic than the general U.S. population about life in the United States. “But that’s changed,” he says.

Nearly 4 in 10 Latinos say they experienced some kind of harassment related to their ethnicity in the past year.

Chart showing that four-in-ten Latinos experienced an incident and heard expressions of support tied to their background in the past year.

Yet a similar number say they have also heard expressions of support for Latinos.

The experience of 38-year-old Janet Sadriu illustrates both of these findings.

Sadriu was driving on a two-lane, 35 mile-an-hour city street in Houston recently when a driver passed her on the right, pulled next to her and started yelling obscenities at her at a red traffic light. She pulled out her phone and started recording him.

Houston resident Janet Sadriu recorded this video when a driver started yelling obscenities at her at a red traffic light.

“I don’t know him,” says Sadriu, “but he automatically assumed I’m Hispanic. I have black hair, I’m not blue-eyed and white.”

“Learn English,” he rants in the video. “It’s my country. Get out.”

Sadriu was born in Mexico. She’s a U.S. citizen and has lived in the United States since 2009.

“I was shocked and shaken,” she says. “I was afraid that this man was going to follow me and pull out a gun.”

Sadriu, whose 2-year-old daughter was in the car with her, filed a police report.

Sadriu says she was angry when she posted her video on social media. “I was thinking of other immigrants who are out of status,” she explained, “and who are afraid to speak up or ashamed and would not expose this man’s ugly behavior.” But she’s also hoping for change, so that “by the time my daughter is older, she is going to live in a world where all the racism and hate and bullying is gone.”

She says the response has been overwhelmingly kind and supportive.People from all over don’t agree with this type of behavior,” she says.

According to the Pew survey, 38 percent of Latino respondents experienced similar incidents in the past year. Some said they were asked not to speak Spanish in public or were told to go back to their country.

Nearly two-thirds of Latino respondents say that Trump administration’s policies have been harmful to their communities. The survey found many Latinos are more worried about deportation and family separation. They are also more concerned about their personal finances than in past years, even though the country’s economy is doing well and Latino unemployment is at historic lows, according to Pew.

Social media documents harassment

Other recent examples of harassment include an incident in May, when a lawyer in Manhattan threatened to call ICE agents on the kitchen staff making his lunch.

Last month, a Colorado woman harassed two women for speaking Spanish at a supermarket.

At Andy’s Restaurant in Lovettsville, Va., in October, a Guatemalan family was accosted by a white woman finger-wagging at them for speaking Spanish. In the video, the woman is heard demanding, “show me your passports,” followed by, “go back to your f****** country.”

A response to the belligerent woman was posted on Andy’s Facebook pageby the restaurant owners. “Thank you for thinking that you have a right to express your venomous and vitriolic views — no matter how odious and ignorant — wherever and whenever you desire,” they posted. “Thank you —and we mean this with all the aforementioned respect that you rightfully deserve — for never returning to Andy’s. You are not welcome.”

Comments to Andy’s Facebook post quickly poured in from all over the country with words of support like Caroline Hart’s: “Thank god for human beings like you.”

Janet Sadriu, the Houston mom who experienced verbal harassment while driving “just for my looks,” has a message for Hispanics who encounter such harassment. She urges them “not to be afraid and speak up.” There are more good than bad people out there, she says.

Source: Latinos Increasingly Concerned About Their Place In U.S. Society, Survey Finds

John Ivison: Neither left nor right should politicize Canada’s immigration system

Naive to expect that parties will not politicize immigration and related issues.

The question is how they do so, what language they use, and the extent to which and how they virtue signal and practice identity politics.

The major parties largely stay within reasonable bounds. Bernier, as Ivison notes, does not:

The personal pronoun is best avoided, even by opinion columnists. In this instance it is necessary, to provide some context.

I was in a sombre mood on Remembrance Day, having posted a tribute on Twitter to three generations of my family who wore a uniform so I didn’t have to.

As I scrolled through the flotsam on my feed, I came across a tweet by Maxime Bernier, the former Conservative leadership candidate who recently broke away to form his own party. He was lamenting the case of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row charged with blasphemy and who, after being acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, is now at risk of extra-judicial assassination.

Bernier was quite rightly decrying the “barbarism” on the streets of Karachi. But he twisted his condemnation for his own political ends, calling for the need to “protect our society” from a threat that patently does not exist on the streets of Canadian cities.

“Radical multiculturalism is the misguided belief that all values and cultures can co-exist in one society. They cannot,” his tweet said.

The tweet came across as a transparent ploy to attract support by espousing views which, if sincerely held, he kept to himself for 15 years as part of a government that regularly expanded the number of immigrants coming to Canada from countries like Pakistan. The fact that he expressed such intolerance on Remembrance Day amplified its effect.

Some time later, I came across a video of two Eritrean children who were new to Canada and were discovering the sheer delight of their first snowfall. With Bernier’s comments still disturbing my mood, I rattled off a tongue-in-cheek retweet: “This is the kind of extreme, radical multiculturalism we’ve been hearing about. Clearly, a grave threat to our way of life.”

My comment touched a nerve, going viral with about 10,000 people “liking” it. Some people got into the spirit of it: “They are going to take our spots on the toboggan hills — I’m afraid there won’t be enough snow left for the rest of us,” wrote Rudy Reimer, not entirely seriously.

On reflection, perhaps it sullied something that should not have been politicized. “Too bad you had to use such a happy, carefree occasion to take a political swipe at some conservatives who have a genuine concern over Canada’s immigration policy,” Eric Nissen responded.

Many, many people criticized me for glibness, and, in turn, federal immigration policy, accusing it of importing “criminals and terrorists.” The father was probably busy making a bomb, one brave individual wrote behind the cloak of a ridiculous pseudonym.

The 2019 election will be won by the party that can best address the anxieties voters are feeling about the affordability of housing, wages and the cost of living. But as this little incident highlighted, deep political cleavages over cultural diversity are hardening as the consensus over mass immigration comes under increased pressure.

The nation is split on the issue as never before in recent memory. Research by Abacus Data suggests there is a 55-45 per cent divide between those who think immigration is a net positive versus those who think it is a net negative.

Conservative voters are most concerned — 63 per cent agreed with the statement that immigrants are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and healthcare. But so did 32 per cent of Liberal supporters and 42 per cent of NDP voters.

The divisions and anxieties may not be as sharp as in the U.S. and parts of Europe, but Canada is not immune from the culture wars.

I’m an immigrant but I have concerns about the risks of the system being politicized. The Liberal Party is intent on raising the proportion of family-class permanent residents and refugees because it plays well in certain ridings.

There are also legitimate concerns about the integrity of the system as migrants seeking a better life stream across the Canada-U.S. border. The number of Nigerians claiming refugee status in Canada surged by 300 per cent in the first six months of 2018. Further, there very real worries that the models used to set immigration levels in the coming decades have not taken account of artificial intelligence and its impact on labour markets.

But these are not the concerns we are hearing from Bernier. “We must start pushing back against this politically correct nonsense that is destroying our society and our culture,” he said in a speech in Calgary last weekend.

Is our society being destroyed? Is Remembrance Day under threat? It didn’t seem that way on Sunday, as millions of Canadians paid their respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifices for our freedoms.

Bernier was using ultrasonic messaging, playing on a prospect frightening to many Canadian-born voters: that they will end up as a minority population in their own country.

Canada has long been said to suffer from a range of neuroses, from separation anxiety to an inferiority complex. But the real fear for many in English and French Canada in 2018 is that “the elites” are ignoring their concerns in favour of protecting the rights of minorities. Gains for immigrants are seen as losses for the native-born, who already see themselves as being under financial pressure.

There are racists and fascists out there — I spent a busy morning blocking them on Twitter. But most people who feel unease at higher immigration levels don’t see themselves as racist. Many could be persuaded to reassess, if our leaders could articulate a vibrant Canadian cultural identity that benefits from newcomers.

We certainly need a rallying call more convincing than Justin Trudeau’s contention that “there is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada” — the world’s “first post-national state,” as he told the New York Times Magazine.

The former is demonstrably untrue, the latter gibberish.

It requires real leadership to articulate and promote the consensus that still exists over cultural diversity. Canadian identity is built on hockey, maple syrup, snow and lumberjacks. But it goes beyond that, as Shane Koyczan noted in his wonderful poem, We Are More.

Canada is “an experiment going right for a change,” he wrote.

“We are an idea in the process of being realized,
We are young,
We are cultures strung together,
Then woven into a tapestry,
And the design is what makes us more
Than the sum total of our history.”

Amen to that.

Source: John Ivison: Neither left nor right should politicize Canada’s immigration system

Supreme Court to grapple with murky legal rights of immigration detainees

A case to watch:

Should an immigration detainee have the same right to challenge their ongoing detention as their criminally convicted peers?

That’s the quandary at the centre of a Supreme Court of Canada case opening on Wednesday in Ottawa.

While Canadian citizens serving a jail sentence are entitled to argue their case before a judge, foreign nationals held for immigration violations must appear before a federal tribunal, which has been criticized for rubber-stamping their continued incarceration.

Canada’s highest court is being asked to clarify if immigration detainees are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and can access what is legally known as habeas corpus — a legal recourse that allows anyone held by the state to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

Until now, immigration detention has been a murky area of law between two levels of authority — the federal government, which is responsible for immigration matters and runs the tribunal, and the provinces, which are in charge of detention facilities.

Provincial courts often defer to the Federal Court to deal with immigration detention through judicial reviews, but these reviews only examine if any legal errors are made by immigration officials in detaining or releasing an individual. The federal judges don’t consider the lawfulness of an immigration detention, and all they can do is send a case back for a new decision.

The Supreme Court case is centred on Pakistani immigration detainee Tusif Ur Rehman Chhina, who had been held for almost 30 months while officials tried to deport him.

In Ontario, long-time immigration detainees have been asking the provincial court to release them on habeas corpus since 2015. In September, Ebrahim Toure, who had been held for 5-1/2 years, won his freedom on the same grounds.

“What we are saying is it’s advantageous and preferable for immigration detainees to have direct access to habeas corpus,” said Barbara Jackman, one of the three lawyers representing Chhina. “Habeas corpus is a right, not a discretion.”

Chhina arrived in Canada in 2006 and was soon granted asylum. However, he was ordered deported in December 2010 after a series of criminal convictions here. Border officials made three failed attempts to obtain travel documents from Pakistan for Chhina’s deportation while keeping him behind bars.

In 2016, Chhina claimed to the Alberta provincial court that his lengthy detention was unlawful. The request was denied after a judge ruled the matter was beyond the provincial court’s jurisdiction.

Chhina’s lawyer Nico Breed then took the case to the Alberta appeal court and won. His client was finally deported in September 2017, but the Public Safety Minister and Attorney General of Canada proceeded with the appeal to the Supreme Court.

In their submissions, government lawyers said immigration detainees are entitled to regular independent reviews, which must justify their continued detention or grant their release.

“In immigration matters, provincial superior courts ought to decline the exercise of jurisdiction to grant prerogative relief, including habeas corpus,” the federal government argued in its submission to the Supreme Court.

“There is no need to depart from that approach when reviewing immigration detention decisions of allegedly lengthy and uncertain duration.”

However, immigration lawyers have argued the odds are stacked against detainees the longer they are held.

“The system is structurally against the detainee. The tribunal looks at the reason the person is held and racks up more reasons not to release him,” said Jackman.

Even if the Supreme Court rules in favour of her client, Jackman said she doesn’t believe provincial courts will be inundated by immigration detainees because the majority are released in under three months.

Last year, 3,557 people were held in immigration detention in Canada. Eighty-eight per cent of detainees were released within 90 days. But in 80 cases, people were held for more than a year.

Source: Supreme Court to grapple with murky legal rights of immigration detainees

Hate crimes in U.S. up 17 per cent in 2017, third consecutive year with increase

Latest numbers (Canadian numbers should be out shortly):

Hate crimes in the United States rose 17 per cent last year, the third consecutive year that such crimes increased, according to newly released FBI data.

Law enforcement agencies reported 7,175 hate crimes occurred in 2017, up from 6,121 in 2016. That increase was fueled in part by more police departments reporting hate crimes data to the FBI, but overall there is still a large number of departments that report no hate crimes to the federal database.

More than half of such crimes, about 3 of 5, targeted a person’s race or ethnicity, while about 1 of 5 targeted their religion.

Of the more than 7,000 incidents reported last year, 2,013 targeted black Americans, while 938 targeted Jewish Americans. Incidents targeting people for their sexual orientation accounted for 1,130 hate crimes, according to the FBI.

The FBI has urged local police departments to provide more complete information about hate crimes in their jurisdictions.

Of the more than 7,000 hate crime incidents in 2017, more than 4,000 were crimes against people, ranging from threats and intimidation to assault, to murder. More than 3,000 were crimes against property, ranging from vandalism to robbery to arson.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said the new figures are “a call to action – and we will heed that call. The Department of Justice’s top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes. They are also despicable violations of our core values as Americans.”

Whitaker said he was “particularly troubled by the increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes,” which are already the most common type of religious hate crime in the United States.

Anti-Semitic hate crimes rose 37 per cent in 2017. Anti-Islamic hate crimes declined 11 per cent last year, with 273 such incidents, the data show.

Source: Hate crimes in U.S. up 17 per cent in 2017, third consecutive year with increase

How Stan Lee and His Marvel Superheroes Fought Against Racism

One of the better articles out regarding Stan Lee’s anti racism messages in his stories:

“It’s an extension of the fairy tales we read as kids. Or the monster stories or stories about witches and sorcerers. You get a little older, and you can’t bother with fairy tales and monster stories anymore, but I don’t think you ever outgrow your love for things that are fantastic, that are bigger than you are—the giants or the creatures from other planets or people with superpowers who can do things you can’t.” – Stan Lee

Stan Lee has passed away at age 95, and the famed “Smilin’ Stan” that the world knows as the face of Marvel Comics leaves behind a towering legacy. Lee created characters and told stories that reflected the struggle in American society between the idealized way we view ourselves and the harsh ugliness in our culture that is impossible to ignore. Born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City, the beloved comics legend co-created iconic superheroes like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, the Avengers, the X-Men and Black Panther in the 1960s, helping to establish Marvel Comics as the foremost rival to longstanding D.C. Comics.

Lee’s characters and stories reflected the pathos in ‘60s culture—giving voice to adolescent angst via Spider-Man just as the youth culture boom of the decade was beginning to take hold; addressing then-current anxieties about space exploration via the Fantastic Four; using the Hulk as a metaphor for repression and government shadiness; and the X-Men functioned as a symbol for marginalized citizens’ fight for their right to exist. Alongside fellow luminaries such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee set Marvel apart not only by placing its super-powered protagonists in the middle of real-world troubles but beyond that, by giving voice to those issues. To fully appreciate what that means, one has to understand the cultural landscape when Lee rose through the ranks at Marvel.

In the mid-1950s, watchdog groups derided comic books as a scourge—a corrupting element in youth culture that promoted the occult, violence and deviancy. Lee and Kirby debuted Black Panther in 1966 in the pages of Fantastic Four. Marvel’s first black hero was prince of a fictional African nation called Wakanda and, despite some unfortunate characterizations (The Thing refers to the country as “Tarzan land” in an early panel), the presentation of a black superhero from Africa with supreme intellect and advanced technology was groundbreaking and indicative of what made Lee’s tenure special.

“Marvel has always been and always will be a reflection of the world right outside our window,” Lee said in a popular 2017 video. “That world may change and evolve, but the one thing that will never change is the way we tell our stories of heroism.

“Those stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender or color of their skin. The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance and bigotry.”

Lee has talked about the popular X-Men as a metaphor for black Americans’ struggle for civil rights. In Marvel canon, the X-Men are part of a human subspecies called mutants, born with superhuman abilities and hated by much of humanity for what they are. It has been widely accepted that Charles Xavier, the X-Men’s idealistic founder, was loosely based on Martin Luther King, Jr.; while the team’s most famous foe, Magneto, was drawn from Malcolm X. Xavier believes that humans and mutants can peacefully coexist; Magneto believes mutants must overthrow humans before they are decimated by their hateful oppressors.

“I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy,” Lee once said. “He was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course, but I never thought of him as a villain.”

“[Magneto] was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson.”

Lee understood how comic books reflected and affected those who read them. He also understood that great storytelling connected with the times. It should be noted that the dynamic between Xavier and Magneto, in particular, evolved over time, and in the hands of various other writers like Chris Claremont, the parallels with King and X became more apparent. Lee was uneasy about Black Panther being associated with the revolutionary party of the same name (so much so that the character was almost rechristened “Black Leopard”) and Magneto’s background as a Holocaust survivor was another Claremont development. As was the case with many iconic, long-running comics heroes, Lee’s original vision was expanded upon, but the history of collaboration has often led to commentary about how much credit should go to Marvel’s most iconic creator.

Lee loved the fans and loved the spotlight, to the point where there was criticism that he was a glory hound. His penchant for self-promotion spawned criticism from former colleagues and observers, especially those who felt he’d overshadowed and taken credit from collaborators like Jack Kirby and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. Kirby, whose artwork came to define the Fantastic Four and X-Men, was a freelancer, as opposed to a Marvel employee like Lee.

“There was never a time when it just said ‘by Stan Lee,’” Lee told Playboyin 2015. “It was always ‘by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’ or ‘by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.’ I made sure their names were always as big as mine. As far as what they were paid, I had nothing to do with that. They were hired as freelance artists, and they worked as freelance artists. At some point they apparently felt they should be getting more money. Fine, it was up to them to talk to the publisher. It had nothing to do with me. I would have liked to have gotten more money, too.”

“Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today…The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”

Regardless of ongoing controversy surrounding the contributions of Kirby and others, Lee should be remembered for being an agent of change in his medium. A 1968 post from Lee’s mail column has been making the rounds in the wake of his death. In it, Lee makes plain his stance on racism.

“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater—one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen—people he’s never known—with equal intensity—with equal venom.

“Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race—to despise an entire nation—to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God—a God who calls us ALL—His children.”

Stan Lee’s creative voice helped reshape the role of comics in American society and helped affect how American society saw comics. In doing so, Lee helped challenge his readers and his peers. His characters live now as part of the fabric of our culture—in blockbuster movies, acclaimed TV shows, video games and a host of other media. Generations of comic-book lovers saw themselves in those characters, and that was what he’d wanted all along. As some quarters of America tell themselves that politics have no place in pop art, the proof in Stan Lee’s history reminds us that the message has always been a part of the medium. Those who believe otherwise maybe have to consider that they aren’t the “good guy” in the story. After all—you can’t be a hero if you don’t stand for anything.

Source: How Stan Lee and His Marvel Superheroes Fought Against Racism

The anti-semitism intersectionality gap

While I dislike the term “intersectionality,” I haven’t found an alternative term that describes how the interactions between race, class, gender and religion and their complexities.

But conflating Jews with Whites misses the commonalities of discrimination and prejudice, even if they play out differently with respect to Jews compared to other groups:

My mom is stoic and rarely ever cries. Last week she FaceTimed me from California, dewy-eyed, while I was in the subway in New York. She mentioned the news—11 Jews shot in a synagogue in Pennsylvania. I had already read about it in the morning, but talking about it with my mom forced me to feel it.

She told me, “It’s okay to feel sad.”

I forget sometimes that I’m allowed to feel sad for Jews. The discourse in the School of Social Work around anti-Semitism has dwindled in large part due to the hyperbolic conflation of Jewishness with whiteness. I am therefore quick to forget that Columbia often fails to treat anti-Semitism with the legitimacy it deserves. My mom’s simple acknowledgement allowing me to feel Jewish pain reminded me that it was ok to feel so deeply.

My experience in the Columbia School of Social Work has often made me feel hollow. It can seem like I have no role as a Jew in both the course curriculum and in class discussions. “How Jews Became White Folks” is my school’s single mandatory reading regarding Jewish people in contemporary society. And, even though this piece takes a dive into important assimilation markers of the American Jew, this is only a 20-page reading shoved in among the several books and 40 articles that make up our curriculum. In discussions, fellow classmates have confessed that they have become frustrated when Jewish people speak up about their experiences. On one occasion, I tried to explain to a close peer how my Jewishness guides my social justice work and she told me that I needed to stop talking, since my white privilege dominated any authentic form of solidarity I could claim as a Jewish person. During my time at Columbia, I often wonder if I truly belong at the School of Social Work.

Why do my peers dismiss my Jewish identity due to my white skin? Why do I feel so disingenuous for being Jewish in social justice work?

This message from my peers, that Jews are white, isolates the Jewish people from the broader cultural context. It creates an assumption that renders the dialogue around anti-Semitism obsolete and minimizes the Jewish experience. Not only is this generalization detrimental to understanding the nuances and diversity of Jewish identity, but it also inhibits an honest conversation about the ways being Jewish has been contextualized in discourses of race, ethnicity, and culture. Frankly, perceiving Jewishness as a mere form of whiteness or as just a religion is ignorant. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel knew this, and cautioned us against these toxic and reductive comparisons when he said, “No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”

Intersectionality—the interrelation between race, class, and gender—is a central theme in our curriculum that promotes a solidarity-driven approach to social justice. Unfortunately, it seems that this ideology is not being taught to address issues pertaining to anti-Semitism. Social workers are often so concerned about abiding by these pre-established intersectionality guidelines that they unintentionally perpetuate the very kinds of discrimination that they supposedly oppose. Thus, Jewish students whisper to each other in the secrecy of dimly lit dive bars about our shared experiences of anti-Semitism, but we don’t risk speaking out in class. An intersectionality gap exists between engaging in discussions of anti-Semitism and those pertaining to other forms of racism. Rather than avoiding discussions of anti-Semitism, we must break the silence by discussing solidarity.

Before this shooting happened, people didn’t seem to care about the plight of the Jew. But I have found myself obsessed with the topic and unable to stop writing about it in different forms. I’m calling upon Columbia School of Social Work and schools of social justice everywhere to break this silence and take meaningful action to change their current practices of omitting Jewish identity and experience from their classrooms and conversations.

Source: The anti-semitism intersectionality gap

Gurski: Linking immigration and terrorism is wrong, in Canada and elsewhere

Good column by Gurski:

I never knew my maternal grandfather. He emigrated to Canada in the early part of the 20th century from western Ukraine (or eastern Poland, the details on that are fuzzy) and settled in Montreal where he worked at the CPR’s Angus workshops, along with a great many other immigrants, I imagine. He married and had four children, including my mother, and toughed it out during the Great Depression. He died in the mid-1940s.

I seldom think of him but his memory came back to me last week when I read of a new documentary, That Never Happened, by Saskatoon native Ryan Boyko, which premiered at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema among other venues. The film deals with the internment of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants in camps in remote areas of Canada from 1914-1920. These men were seen as citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with which we were at war, and hence they were viewed as enemies of the state. My grandfather is believed to have been one of those internees at the Spirit Lake detention site in northern Quebec (I have a copy of my grandfather’s passport which says he was tied to the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

The round-up of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants, and the monitoring of tens of thousands more, was the product of fear: fear of the other. In fairness, I suppose, Canada was at war and those were different times, but fear is still largely irrational and often unjustified. Nor has it gone away – as there are still those who paint immigrants as threats today.

To see this, we do not have to cast our eyes even as far as the shameful depiction by U.S. President Donald Trump of the thousands of desperate migrants making their way through Central America to the southern states as “terrorists and criminals.” An example closer to home is La Meute (the “Wolfpack”), a racist Francophone anti-immigrant group, doing the same thing in Quebec regarding the irregular migrants seeking to leave an increasingly unstable U.S. and showing up at Canada’s border .

Whatever you think of people on the move – and there are valid concerns over how the government is dealing with, and should deal with, these migrants – what is quite clear is that they present a very low to non-existent national security threat. Yes, it is always possible that there are unsavoury characters in the mix who may engage in criminal activities in Canada, but shrill fear-mongering about a wave of terrorists seeking to sow mayhem in our cities is unsubstantiated.

U.S. intelligence agencies, for instance, have stated publicly that Trump’s conviction that ISIL is using the cover of refugee flows to infiltrate the U.S. is false. In other words, the president’s own intelligence services have taken the rare step to openly tell Americans that there is no “there” there, despite Trump’s demagoguery.

I am neither naïve nor ignorant of the real terrorist threat, having spent 15 years with CSIS as a strategic terrorism analyst and having written four books on the topic. It is always possible that malefactors use the immigration system to enter Canada – and we have had examples in the recent past. At the same time, however, there is simply no evidence that this represents a significant risk for our country. Our intelligence and other government organizations are on top of this, and they will advise the proper authorities when they come across solid information about a real risk so that action can be taken.

The rest of us – yes, that includes members of La Meute and other anti-immigrant and Islamophobic groups – need to start trusting in those agencies and stop irrationally hitting the panic button on immigration. Canada needs more people for its economic and social development and immigration is one way to get those people. Immigration is a strength, not a weakness.

Besides, no one should have to endure what my grandfather did. No one.

Source: Gurski: Linking immigration and terrorism is wrong, in Canada and elsewhere

When the Dominican Republic Erased Birthright Citizenship

Useful history lesson, even if any proposal for change in Canada would not be retroactive:

This is a story about what happens when you limit birthright citizenship and stir up hate against a certain class of immigrants. It takes place in the Dominican Republic. Like most countries in the Americas, for a century and a half the Caribbean nation’s constitution guaranteed birthright citizenship for anyone born on its soil, with a couple of exceptions: the children of diplomats and short-term travelers. And like most other peoples in the Americas, Dominicans have had a more complicated relationship with immigration than the framers of that constitution might have anticipated.

The Dominican Republic has long been dependent on a steady stream of cheap immigrant labor that cuts its sugar cane, builds its buildings, and staffs the beach resorts that draw in billions of foreign dollars a year. Almost all of that labor comes from the only country close enough, and poor enough, to have people who want to immigrate in large numbers to the Dominican Republic: its Hispaniolan twin, Haiti. Some working-class Dominicans without clear Haitian roots resent poorer neighbors willing to accept lower wages and tough conditions. Many wealthy Dominicans who profit wildly off the cheap labor supply are eager to have strict immigration laws in place, too—not because they want less immigration, but because they want a freer hand. Immigrants in the country illegally have no protection from workplace regulations and can be rounded up, deported, and replaced whenever convenient—including right before payday. (Sound familiar?)

The Dominican Republic also has a long, brutal history of anti-Haitian racism. During his rule from 1930 to 1961, the fascist dictator Rafael Trujillo built a racialized concept of Dominican national identity on the fuzzy idea that the descendants of Spanish slavery on the eastern part of the island had higher levels of European ancestry than, and thus were superior to, the descendants of French slavery on the western part of the island. This rhetoric led to a 1937 rampage in which Dominican soldiers and allied citizens massacred thousands of people who they identified as Haitians. They forcibly separated people who’d long mixed together in vaguely delineated borderlands, consecrating a new national boundary that had been set largely by the occupying U.S. military a few years earlier, but which until then existed mostly on paper.

In the decades that followed, Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic remained largely confined to isolated company towns in the cane fields, known as bateyes. But in the late 20th century, Haitian immigrants and their Dominican-born children left to work in other parts of the Dominican economy. Nationalists, who’d grown up learning Trujillo’s propaganda, began to rethink the law.

Because nationalists tend to be political conservatives, they often feel pressure to pretend that the radical changes they’re making aren’t changes at all. In the 1990s and early 2000s, right-wing Dominican politicians tried to stretch a tiny loophole in birthright citizenship into a chasm big enough to swallow anyone of Haitian descent. Their main strategy was to claim that everyone with Haitian roots was “in transit,” no matter how long they (or even their parents) had lived in the country. Authorities also refused to issue Haitians’ children birth certificates, or ripped up the ones they had. Sympathetic local media helped make synonymous the words ilegal, inmigrante (immigrant), extranjero (foreigner), and haitiano. Even foreign reporters got used to referring to people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic—an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people, or roughly 10 percent of the Dominican population—as “Haitian migrants,” even though that category includes an estimated 171,000 Dominican-born Dominicans with two Haitian parents, and another 81,000 people with one.

Courts did not like this. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the Dominican government’s treatment of people of Haitian descent violated not only international human-rights law but also the Dominican constitution. Dominican presidents ignored the rulings, and ultimately pulled out of the treaty establishing the court. In 2010, the government called a constitutional convention, in large part to exclude a new group from the birthright-citizenship clause: the children of anyone “residing illegally in Dominican territory.” Given the spotty distribution of birth certificates, faulty census-taking, and lackluster registration efforts in the country’s impoverished areas, this change was bound to create widespread confusion. But the government’s target wasn’t poor people in general. It was people of Haitian descent.

Even that maneuver was not enough. Under all international or national norms, the new provision could only apply to people born after the new constitution came into force. But Dominican nationalists were more concerned about adults than newborns. Fortunately for them, the new loophole had a loophole: a new “constitutional tribunal”—separate from the existing supreme court—given the “definitive and irrevocable” right to interpret the constitution.

In one of its first acts, the tribunal justices—picked by former President Leonel Fernández and a small group of other leaders—took up the languishing case of a Dominican of Haitian descent named Juliana Deguis Pierre. She had sued when officials in her town refused to give her a national ID card—needed to vote and access social services—because, she said, of her dark skin and Haitian last name. Instead of ruling on whether she had been discriminated against, in 2013 the tribunal declared that Pierre should never have had citizenship in the first place because her parents didn’t have sufficient documentation to prove residency when she was born. Then it went even further, ruling that all those who could not prove that their parents had been legal residents when they were born—going all the way back to 1929, when the “in transit” exception was added to the constitution—were not citizens. Those affected were ordered to register with the government as foreigners by June 17, 2015.

Again, this order was clearly aimed at people of Haitian descent. Hundreds of thousands who had been Dominican citizens all their lives suddenly risked being rendered stateless and eligible for deportation.

It was obvious to human-rights groups, the United Nations, and pretty much anyone watching that the Dominican government was doing an end run around some of the most important principles of the rule of law—namely, that you can’t change the rules and then go around punishing people for having violated them in the past. The tribunal bent over backward to argue that nothing had changed, while taking 147 pages to explain the new situation.

A fundamental fact that sometimes gets missed in discussions about laws and court rulings is that they’re just words on paper. What those words signify to the people they govern is often just as important as what the law actually says. For instance, the original 1865 jus soli, or “place-of-birth,” birthright-citizenship provision in the Dominican Republic—enacted three years before the U.S. emerged from its Civil War with a Fourteenth Amendment and jus soli provision of its own—signaled a vision of the new Dominican state as a place open to just about everyone. As the historian Anne Eller has written, the provision came in a moment of heightened international cooperation when Haitians, who had thrown off French colonialism and slavery more than 60 years earlier, helped Dominicans win their final and lasting independence from Spain.

The 2010 constitution and the tribunal’s subsequent ruling signaled the opposite: that the Dominican Republic should be a place where poorer, blacker, more vulnerable workers—Haitians—were not welcome. And Dominican nationalists were determined to push that message to the hilt. Armed with the ruling now known simply as La Sentencia—literally “the verdict”—the whole country seemingly prepared itself for a mass expulsion. The military readied deportation buses and border-processing centers for the June 2015 registration deadline. Online trolls threatened critics and spread racist invective. Facebook and Twitter were filled with an ultranationalist, anti-Haitian narrative of Dominican history, which erased historic alliances and played up real and imagined abuses. Many pushed their completely unfounded belief that the true intention of Haitian immigrants and their children was to conquer the Dominican Republic and raise Haiti’s flag over the entire island.

Many Dominicans are not bigoted against immigrants. But as the deadline neared, the voices of liberals and moderates were drowned out in a sea of nationalist invective. The government framed the growing criticism of their policies as an “international campaign to discredit the Dominican Republic.” Nationalists simply branded those who disagreed with them as traitors. Emboldened by their government, sensing the moment was at hand, armed nationalists marched through Dominico-Haitian barrios and towns. In February of 2015, a Haitian man was lynched in the center of the country’s second-largest city, Santiago. When television footage of his body left dangling from a tree spread across the country, Santiago police blamed two undocumented Haitian immigrants for the crime. Dominican nationalists held a rally nearby and burned a Haitian flag.

Under pressure from the international community and fearing tourism boycotts, President Danilo Medina caved—somewhat. He proposed a second registration program that would offer a path back to citizenship to some of the people his government had just made stateless. The details were confusing, but that was the point. Hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic now lived in a state of institutionalized terror, enforced by police, the military, and vigilante mobs. Instead of the feared one-day mass expulsions that had drawn so much attention, Dominican authorities took a quieter approach. They deported an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 people of Haitian descent—more than a quarter of the Dominico-Haitian population—piecemeal over the next three years, according to Human Rights Watch. Tens of thousands more felt they had no choice but to escape across the border on their own.

In late 2015, I went to the Haitian border to visit makeshift camps that were home to thousands of people who had fled for their lives. Many had never been to Haiti before and didn’t know where to go. They had taken shelter in shacks made of cardboard boxes, tree branches, old clothes, and whatever other scraps they could find. Food was scarce. The shacks frequently burned down. People were forced to get their water from a dirty river. I met a grieving couple whose son had just died from cholera.

Many in the camps told me that they hoped the situation would soon calm down, and that they would be able to return. I doubt many have. According to Human Rights Watch, the Dominican government has only restored citizenship documents to about 19,000 of those denationalized in the five years since La Sentencia. Violence continues to break out between nationalists and people of Haitian descent along the border. Fear runs high. One leader of the Dominican hard right has proposed building a border wall. (No word on who might pay for it.)

Nor are there any clear signs that the purges and intimidation have helped non-Haitian Dominicans. Thanks largely to the fact that Americans and Europeans still flock to the country’s all-inclusive resorts, the Dominican economy is still growing. But that growth has slowed.

On the eve of the feared mass expulsions, to drive home the absurdity and danger, the renowned Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat compared the situation to a wild hypothetical: “It’s as if the United States said, ‘Yes, everybody who has been here since 1930, you have to prove you’re a citizen. You have to go back to the place where you come from to get a birth certificate from there.’”

For some Americans, that was not a joke. It was an aspiration. Breitbartreaders roared their approval for the Dominican strategy under an article about the planned expulsions in June 2015. Several weighed in with racist invective about “the black Haitian people.” “Get Some, Dominican Republic!” one commenter wrote. Another felt inspired: “It is past time that we end birthright citizenship here in the US. I wouldn’t be as extreme as the DR was. Ending it retroactively for anyone born after 1929 seems a bit harsh but I would have no problem ending it for anyone born after 1980 … It is time for America to put Americans first.”

The day before the migrant registration deadline in the Dominican Republic, Donald Trump rode the gold escalator into the lobby of his New York office building and declared his candidacy for the White House with a racist tirade against immigrants. Before the summer was over, he announced his intention to end place-based birthright citizenship. As president, Trump has hired several opponents of jus soli birthright citizenship to immigration posts. One of them, Senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ice) Advisor Jon Feere, has praised the “clarity” of the Dominican Republic’s new immigration-limiting constitution.

Before the midterm elections, President Trump declared that he wanted to repeal the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment through an executive order. To anyone even passingly familiar with constitutional law, that seems like nonsense. Automatic place-based birthright citizenship has been a well-established practice for white immigrants since the United States was founded. It was enshrined as a universal right in the Fourteenth Amendment, and has been upheld for people of all races and classes since a Supreme Court decision in 1898. A U.S. president can’t just throw out part of the constitution—as even the outgoing Republican speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, noted.

But as Dominicans have ably shown, the most extreme rhetoric has a way of becoming real. And the consequences of inciting millions of people against vulnerable groups of immigrants are impossible to control. Representative Steve King—a freshly reelected white-supremacist Republican from Iowa who favorably retweets neo-Nazis—regularly introduces bills that are eerily similar to the Dominican law: denying birthright citizenship to anyone without a parent who is a citizen or “lawful permanent resident” of the United States. In late October, King crowed: “I am very happy that my legislation will soon be adopted by the White House as national policy.” And supposedly sober-minded conservatives may be little help. Days after criticizing the president, Ryan tried to walk back his comments, telling Fox News that he agreed the Fourteenth Amendment “should be reviewed.”

Source: When the Dominican Republic Erased Birthright Citizenship

Canadian citizenship and the challenges of birth tourism

A relatively neutral legal brief on birthright citizenship, noting that a proportionate response would likely not include ending birthright citizenship (but no mention of the Australian approach of qualified birthright citizenship). Stay tuned for my take:

The president of the United States recently indicated that he was preparing an executive order to end birthright citizenship in the U.S.  President Trump said that the United States was the “the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits.

In fact, the U.S. is not the only country in the world that grants birthright citizenship. Canada, Mexico and about 30 other countries grant citizenship to babies born in the country. Canadian citizenship can be acquired by birth pursuant to jus soli — “law of the soil,” which is codified in s. 3(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act.

Over the years, there have been calls to end birthright citizenship or limiting it to those born to at least one Canadian citizen or permanent resident parent because of a rising fear of “birth tourism.” Birth tourism is where pregnant visitors or non-residents give birth in Canada so that their babies can automatically be Canadian citizens.

It has been reported that there are a number of birthing hotels or baby houses in British Columbia where pregnant women pay thousands of dollars to come give birth in Canada so that their babies could be Canadian citizens by birth. Section 179 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulationspermits visitors to travel to Canada, including pregnant women. Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) publishes its own instructions and guidelines clarifying that “there is no provision in the IRPA to refuse a temporary resident visa (TRV) solely on the basis of the intent of the applicant to give birth in Canada.”

Opponents view birth tourism as an abuse or loophole of Canadian immigration and citizenship laws. They see this as a way for some wealthy foreigners to “game” the system and buy Canadian passports for their babies. An extreme view is that it is an immigration fraud giving a way for people to jump the queue. It is often argued that the practice erodes the value of Canadian citizenship.

There is also concern that birth tourism is costly to taxpayers because it allows Canadian-born children access to publicly subsidized education, health care and social security programs, all without necessarily contributing to the funding of these systems and programs by paying taxes. Moreover, there is no obligation under international law to automatically give citizenship to babies born in Canada. Countries including Ireland, Australia and the United Kingdom have either eliminated or have limited birthright citizenship over the years.

Proponents of preserving birthright citizenship argue that the principles of jus soli are part of our national identity and embodies the idea that every child born in Canada is equal. Eliminating birthright citizenship would impose additional public expenses and complicate the process for verifying citizenship and risks having two-tiered citizenship.

It would be an expensive undertaking to develop and maintain a new verification system for a localized phenomenon or “problem” that may not be prevalent or widespread at all. Indeed, Statistics Canada data reports that there were 385 babies born in 2017 to mothers whose place of residence was outside Canada. While these numbers are most likely under reported and do not tell the whole story, it does underline that this issue of birth tourism may be a hyperbole.

The benefits of Canadian citizenship to the newborn child may be immediate, but for the parents, there is no guaranteed path to permanent residency or citizenship by virtue of their Canadian-born child. Having a Canadian-born child does not necessarily allow someone to be prioritized for permanent residence status or citizenship. Canadian-born children may eventually sponsor their parents, but sponsors must meet age and income requirements before becoming eligible sponsors.

Having Canadian-born children may provide the child with opportunities attributed to the benefits of citizenship rather than being a backdoor to Canada for parents. These babies may grow up to be assets to Canada and contribute to Canadian culture, society and the economy. Any immigration benefits to the parents may be decades down the road when the Canadian babies become adults and can sponsor their parents.

It must be remembered that there are limitations to jus soli. Under s. 3(2) of the Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to foreign diplomats, consular officers or representatives of a foreign government or international organization or their employees in Canada are not Canadian citizens despite being born in Canada.

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case of Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Alexander Vavilov [2016] 2 F.C.R. 39 in December. The court will determine issues of standard of review and also weigh in on the question of whether diplomatic immunity is required to trigger s. 3(2)(a) of the Citizenship Act. The Vavilov brothers are Canadian-born but were stripped of their Canadian citizenship after it was discovered that their parents were Russian spies. The parents were deemed to be “representatives or employees of a foreign government” at the time of their birth. As such, the brothers were not eligible for Canadian citizenship by birth pursuant to s. 3(2)(a).

While birthright citizenship in the United States is a constitutional right and amendments thereof would be subject to a constitutional process, in Canada, birthright citizenship is codified in the Citizenship Act which can be amended by an act of Parliament. The question is whether Canadian laws should be amended to limit or eliminate birthright citizenship or whether policy and regulations could be implemented to curb the practice of birth tourism at the local level.

The proportionate response to birth tourism may not necessarily require a complete end to jus soli.

Kelly Goldthorpe is an immigration lawyer at Green and Spiegel LLP and Caroline Mok is an articling student at the firm.
 

Source: Canadian citizenship and the challenges of birth tourism