Deporting Justin Bieber has become the second most popular petition in the three-year history of President Obama’s online petition program, tapping a depth of anger at the Canadian pop singer — and leaving the White House to ponder how to respond.
The chance to sign the Bieber petition expires Saturday, 30 days after it was posted by Roger Skrzynski II, who said he did it partly as a way to expose problems with the petition website.
But the petition gained more traction than he imagined. With more than 260,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, the petition is ahead of other favorites such as building a “death star” or legalizing marijuana. Indeed, the only petition to have gained more signatures was a 2012 plea asking that Westboro Baptist Church be declared a hate group.
“I feel like I finally brought America together on an issue for once,” Mr. Skrzynski told The Washington Times this week.
Mr. Bieber, who turns 20 on March 1, stirred up anger among Americans with his arrest in January. Charges of drunken driving in his Lamborghini in a drag race in Miami Beach, Fla., was one in a string of incidents, including an assault charge in his native Canada and a Los Angeles investigation into whether he egged a neighbor’s mansion, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
The petition asking the White House to deport Mr. Bieber drew considerable attention, including from Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who told a radio station that he had three daughters and would love to sign.
Animus against Mr. Bieber has taken other forms, too. A billboard in Chicago hyping Friday’s U.S.-Canada showdown in the Olympic ice hockey tournament showed Mr. Bieber and two Chicago Blackhawks players — Canadian Jonathan Toews and American Patrick Kane. The only words: “Loser keeps Bieber.”
The White House started its petition page in 2011 as a way to give Americans a chance to drum up support for their causes. Initially, any petition that gained 5,000 signatures earned an official response. The threshold was raised to 25,000 and then, at the beginning of Mr. Obama’s second term last year, was increased to 100,000.
The White House said it would respond to the Bieber petition, though it did not say when.
“Every petition that crosses the threshold will be reviewed and receive a response. Response times vary based on a number of factors including issue area and total volume of petitions,” said spokesman Matt Lehrich.
Some petitions have waited years for replies, and it’s unlikely the White House will divulge anything too newsworthy when it does answer. In response to other questions dealing with legal issues, White House aides have said they wanted to steer clear of interfering.
About the only White House response that made news was a 2012 petition asking for Mr. Obama’s home-brew recipe. In reply, the White House released recipes for a honey ale and a honey porter.
Some analysts who study online democracy movements have criticized the petition site as half-baked. They say the White House keeps control of all of the information and doesn’t engage enough with the questions asked.
Many recent petitions involve foreign countries bashing each other, including a string of pleas for the U.S. to either to intervene or stay out of Ukraine’s civil unrest. Mr. Skrzynski, 24, said he created the Bieber petition in part to expose such problems.
“I’ve been actually waiting for something to come along that I could put on there because I really don’t like the website itself. It’s too open to foreign signatures. It’s a way for people in foreign countries to petition our government,” he said. “I kind of wanted to put a joke on there to maybe get the White House’s attention. Maybe they could fix it.”
He said, though, that he is truly concerned about the message Mr. Bieber’s actions are sending — particularly to his young female fans.
Mr. Skrzynski, who on his petition identified himself only as “J.A.” from Detroit, said he used those initials — taken from his middle name and the street where he grew up — in case the petition enraged anyone.
Bieber defenders tried to rally behind their man by starting several petitions pleading with Mr. Obama not to deport the singer. One even asks that Mr. Skrzynski’s petition be removed.
“It’s completely unfair to deport Justin Bieber and revoke his green card. He is a young teen whom is going to make mistakes in life,” B.V., in Dumont, N.J., wrote. “Don’t deport someone who was forced into depression by the media and is bullied everyday of his life for being successful. He hasn’t done anything dramatically horrible. Deportation shouldn’t even be considered for someone whom is growing up and learning about their life.”
That petition earned 1,209 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. All told, the four Bieber-backing petitions had slightly more than 14,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, the two petitions for deportation were nearing 300,000 signatures. At its height in late January, Mr. Skrzynski’s petition was earning 2,000 signatures an hour, though the pace has dropped off considerably.
Mr. Skrzynski said he hoped his petition did raise questions about the immigration system. “I think if it was a poor immigrant — actually someone just poor, middle class — they would probably be on their way out,” he said.
As for Mr. Bieber, he is not in danger of deportation or having his visa revoked based on the charges against him. Under federal law, O-1 visas, which are issued to high-profile academics, performers and others the government deems worthy, are valid as long as the recipient isn’t convicted of a crime of violence.