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Identifying Immigrants

The proposal seemed sensible enough: grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants to ensure the safety of state roads and provide security officials with a means to track residents who otherwise live in the shadows. Similar laws are already in place in seven other states. Yet New York’s Governor Eliot Spitzer’s license proposal was quickly scuttled last month after a wave of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, who argued the plan would provide an opening for terrorists. Hillary Clinton, a presidential hopeful, eventually disavowed the proposal after waffling on the issue at a presidential debate.

“The idea was right, the timing was wrong,” said Charles B. Rangel of New York. Perhaps he is right: the still-raw memory of Sept. 11, coupled with the country’s polarization over immigration, may have doomed the plan from the start. Yet there seemed to be another dynamic at work as well, one that taps into the fundamental problem at the root of our immigration crisis. There are reportedly 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. They clean our offices, pick our produce and care for our children. Yet for many people they remain merely statistics. By granting them licenses, we would be offering them recognition, literally giving them faces and names. Critics argue that “illegal immigrants” deserve no such legal validation, but they offer no practical alternative for dealing with the millions of undocumented workers in our midst. The demise of Governor Spitzer’s proposal makes it highly unlikely that another lawmaker will take up the issue, especially in an election year. So millions of immigrants will remain anonymous, making it that much easier for us to ignore their existence.


Violence Against Women

Violence against women has reached crisis proportions. The U.N. Development Fund for Women estimates that at least one in three women will be beaten, raped or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Seeking to address the issue, a bipartisan coalition in Congress is working for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act, which would authorize $1 billion over five years. Aimed not only at preventing violence, but also at supporting health care, survivors’ services and changing negative social attitudes toward women, the legislation is especially needed now, when rape is used as a weapon of war by both government and rebel forces in developing countries. Fearful of being shunned by their families and communities, victims rarely report the crime to police.

The legislation deals with all forms of gender-based violence, not only rape but also domestic violence, honor killings and genital mutilation. It creates the first State Department office working explicitly on this issue. Moreover, it aims to decrease the risk of sexual exploitation by military personnel, humanitarian workers and police involved in foreign peacekeeping operations by creating training programs for them and mechanisms for reporting abuse. Rita Sharma Fox, president of the Women’s Edge Coalition, has said that the legislation offers hope that violence will not continue to prevent women from going to work, getting an education and supporting their families. Given the widespread violence, Congress should not delay its consideration of this important measure.

Shut Up,’ He Explained

The usually unflappable King Juan Carlos of Spain broke character last month at a gathering of Spanish and Portuguese-speaking nations in Chile, when he told President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela to “shut up” after Chávez launched a tirade against perceived “fascists” at the meeting. It was the latest in a series of dramatic public appearances for Chávez, who recently visited Iran and announced the two nations “are united like a single fist” against the United States. Chávez has also cozied up to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and suggested they form a “strategic alliance,” surely setting off alarm bells in Washington.

It can be tempting to view Chávez as little more than diet Castro, a stuffed-shirt demagogue whose international popularity stems almost entirely from his anti-gringo performances. Why does Chávez matter? The real foreign relations story is oil, because Venezuela has it and everyone else wants it. But on the domestic front, Chávez has shown disturbing signs that he aims to create a police state. In August he suggested changes to the Venezuelan constitution to keep him in power beyond 2012, and his repeated threats to declare a state of emergency are widely interpreted as a power grab that would result in severely curtailed human rights. When Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara of Venezuela, who died last month, lamented a year ago that Chávez’s machinations have come “at the cost of so many human lives and the progress of his nation,” Chávez denounced him as a “devil in a cassock.” With oil prices reaching all-time highs, Chávez is in a position of geopolitical strength. Will the consequences include domestic tyranny?

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