The Ramifications of Tax Shelters for America

Our friends at the American News Project have posted a video on the usage of tax shelters by the super-rich.  "Super-Rich Tax Cheats" shines a spotlight on the $1.5 trillion currently estimated to be hidden off-shore from the IRS by the very wealthiest of Americans.

Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) estimates the resulting lost tax revenue at approximately $100 billion.  The video puts this number into context by showing what the government spends on other programs.  This is more than the federal government spends on education and training ($89.9 billion).  It's triple what is spent on the environment and natural resources ($33.1 billion) and almost five times more than what we spend on temporary assistance for needy families, or TANF ($20.9). Besides looking simply at people clearly breaking the law, the video also has a short segment with Warren Buffet, one of the world's wealthiest men, arguing for tax fairness.  This is key if our nation is to be stronger and we are to truly come together as a community.

You can watch the video at the Huffington Post.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

*    Department of Homeland Security officials have come out in support of a Center for Immigration Studies report that claims that border control measures are the cause of a decrease in immigration to the U.S.  However, the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at University of California, San Diego has rebutted those claims and determined that the border patrol apprehends fewer than half of the undocumented immigrants that come into the country through the Mexico/U.S. border.  According to The Huffington Post, the Center for Immigration Studies (an anti-immigrant advocacy group) and the Department of Homeland Security failed to consider reasons other than border control measures that explain why immigration to the U.S. would naturally decline:

When citing the decrease in both apprehensions at the border and remittances sent by workers in the United States to family members in Mexico, Chertoff also failed to consider the fact that undocumented immigration naturally decreases when the U.S. economy is in recession. [Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies Dr. Wayne] Cornelius' report shows that undocumented migration clearly responds to changing U.S. economic conditions, with significant decreases during economic downturns such as the one we are in now.

Moreover, Chertoff's border control measures are completely inconsistent with the fundamentally positive effect immigration has on American communities.  Providing opportunity for immigrants has been a core value in the U.S. since its founding.  To see more immigration myths dispelled, read The Opportunity Agenda fact sheet, Immigrants and Opportunity.

*    In one of last month's blog roundups on The State of Opportunity, a story about a sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona appeared.  That same sheriff, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is in the news once again.  An editorial in The Washington Post discusses how  "Sheriff Joe" and his officers have been continuing the "policing strategy" of locking up all Hispanic people they encounter, regardless of if they have any evidence that they are undocumented immigrants or have committed any crime.  According to Arizona Central, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has had to resort to calling for a media mobilization against Arpaio:

"He (Arpaio) has become the false messiah," Gordon said. "But when the light is shined on him, people will see that he isn't helping to fight illegal immigration and he's just making the situation worse. You've got an individual with a badge and a gun who's breaking the law and abusing his authority."

We need real solutions, ones that are brought about by comprehensive immigration reform and promote opportunity for all, not a gross miscarriage of justice carried out by a rogue officer like Arpaio.

*    Thankfully, not all police officers feel the same way Arpaio does - George Gascón, a former assistant chief in the Los Angeles Police Department, has written this op-ed for The New York Times.  In it he argues that using local police officers as a means to enforce federal immigration policy will ultimately lead to the public, particularly in communities of color, distrusting the police department:

Here in Arizona, a wedge is being driven between the local police and some immigrant groups. Some law enforcement agencies are wasting limited resources in operations to appease the public's thirst for action against illegal immigration regardless of the legal or social consequences...

If we become a nation in which the local police are the default enforcers of a failing federal immigration policy, the years of trust that police departments have built up in immigrant communities will vanish. Some minority groups may once again view police officers as armed instruments of government oppression.


*    The effects from the ICE raid in Postville are still being felt, reminding us just how detrimental this raid was to the Iowa community and America as a whole.  The Des Moines Register is reporting that the new employees at the Agriprocessors plant have had a significant, negative effect on the local community:
The impact is evident: New laborers are changing Postville. The Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant, the site of the immigration raid, once employed men and women with families. Now, its workers are mostly young, single people with no stake in the community and nothing to lose...

The rise in crime has strained Postville's tiny police department. One night in June, the calls were so numerous that police asked the local bar to close early.


A protest rally also took place in Postville last weekend - it was documented in a video, which is now available on YouTube.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

    On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a ground breaking executive order requiring all city agencies to provide language assistance services for people who speak Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian or French Creole.  According to The New York Times, this is the first time that all New York City agencies will be forced to follow the same standard in providing translation and language interpretation services to people who do not speak English:

Immigrant advocates and city officials say it is the most comprehensive order of its kind in the country. The mayor refused to be specific about how much the services will cost, saying only that it was a "relatively small" amount given the size of the city's budget. He added: "This executive order will make our city more accessible, while helping us become the most inclusive municipal government in the nation."

The Opportunity Agenda fact sheet Immigration Reform: Promoting Opportunity for All details the need for immigrants to have access to language assistance services in order to achieve their full potential. In providing immigrant groups with this access, Mayor Bloomberg has taken the entire city forward and empowered communities throughout New York.

     Politicians have also been busy down in Washington, D.C. working to provide language assistance for immigrant families across the United States.  At noon today, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressman Mike Honda are introducing the "Strengthening Communities through Education and Integration Act of 2008." In addition to providing English language literacy and civics education to immigrant families who are in the process of becoming citizens, the bill:

will help immigrant communities become a more integral part of the American fabric and maximize their social and economic contributions.

Legislation like this is crucial to aiding immigrants on their way to becoming U.S. citizens, and is a necessary part of treating immigrants like full and equal members of our community.

    The aftermath of the ICE raids in Postville, Houston, and most recently Rhode Island, is still being felt in communities across America.  However, a Washington Post article describes how it is not only workers and their families feeling this strife - now, it is employers as well:

The crackdown's relatively high costs and limited results are also fueling criticism. In an economy with more than 6 million companies and 8 million unauthorized workers, the corporate enforcement effort is still dwarfed by the high-profile raids that have sentenced thousands of illegal immigrants to prison time and deportation.

    A story in the MetroWest Daily News calls attention to a local organization in Massachusetts, the MetroWest Immigrant Worker Center, that is defending the rights of immigrant workers in the U.S.  Immigrant workers are routinely subject to labor law violations, including the denial of compensation and overtime, as well as unnecessary injuries on job sites.  In addition, the article points out that all immigrants, including undocumented ones, have worker rights:

Contrary to what many people think, illegal workers have rights. Although in the country illegally, those who work are entitled to be paid for their labor and overtime. If they are injured on the job, they are eligible for workers' compensation coverage, said [Diego] Low, [director of the MetroWest Immigrant Worker Center] who has been advocating for immigrant workers' rights for the last 25 years.

*    A DMI Blog posting points to an extremely upsetting Associated Press report of a beating in a Pennsylvania town that left a 25 year old Mexican immigrant named Luis Ramirez dead.   

Hate crime or not, the killing has exposed long-simmering tensions in Shenandoah, a blue-collar town of 5,000 about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia that has a growing number of Hispanic residents drawn by jobs in factories and farm fields.

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Monday Health Blog Roundup

*    The New York Times is reporting that a recent study of the American health care system, conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, has found that while the U.S. has the most expensive health system in the world, the quality it delivers is grossly inferior to other industrialized nations' health care.  The report highlighted the fact that many of the improvements made in the U.S. health care system over the years, such as decreasing the number of preventable deaths, dwarfed in comparison to the greater achievements other countries made:

Other countries worked hard to improve, according to the Commonwealth Fund researchers. Britain, for example, focused on steps like improving the performance of individual hospitals that had been the least successful in treating heart disease. The success is related to "really making a government priority to get top-quality care," [Karen] Davis, [president of the Commonwealth Fund] said.

The report also emphasized the inefficiencies in the U.S. health care system and the role they play in diminishing quality:
The administrative costs of the medical insurance system consume much more of the current health care dollar, about 7.5 percent, than in other countries...
Bringing those administrative costs down to the level of 5 percent or so as in Germany and Switzerland, where private insurers play a significant role, would save an estimated $50 billion a year in the United States, Ms. Davis said.

*    An article in Friday's Washington Post discusses the potential that community health providers have to save states millions of dollars in health care costs by shifting some of their health programs' emphasis to preventing illness.  A recent Trust for America's Health report found that nonprofit community programs could have an enormous role in developing health initiatives such as anti-smoking laws, healthy eating and physical activity programs.  However, despite the fact that many of these programs target at risk groups in impoverished areas, they face a serious lack of funding:
The researchers found that many such programs lack funding, a chronic problem for many preventive health initiatives.

"People think preventive health care pays off 20 or 30 years from now, but this shows you get the money back almost immediately, and then the savings grow bigger and bigger," [Senator Tom] Harkin [D-Iowa] said.


To learn more about the importance of community health programs, please see the previous posting on The State of Opportunity titled Local Progress in Tackling Health Disparities.

*    An opinion piece in yesterday's Chicago Tribune calls attention to the health disparities among women with HIV.  Black women have higher rates of HIV, despite the fact that studies have shown that they do not engage in "risky sex" any more than white women do:

A black woman in a poor neighborhood, for example, who engages in the lowest levels of risky behavior is dramatically more likely to acquire a sexually transmitted disease than higher-risk women in communities with low rates of infection, according to public health experts...
In short, who you are, and where you live and, consequently, the sexual partners you choose, matters when it comes to HIV prevention.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

*    "The Shame of Postville, Iowa," an editorial in Sunday's New York Times, calls attention to an essay written by Erik Camayd-Freixas.  Mr. Camayd-Freixas is a professor and court interpreter who witnessed the aftermath of last month's ICE raid on the Postville community.  He was disgusted when he saw the injustice in the legal system that the workers were subjected to; instead of being deported immediately, over 260 workers were charged with serious identity fraud crimes and sentenced to 6 months in prison:

What is worse, Dr. Camayd-Freixas wrote, is that the system was clearly rigged for the wholesale imposition of mass guilt. He said the court-appointed lawyers had little time in the raids' hectic aftermath to meet with the workers, many of whom ended up waiving their rights and seemed not to understand the complicated charges against them.

The editorial also added:
No one is denying that the workers were on the wrong side of the law. But there is a profound difference between stealing people's identities to rob them of money and property, and using false papers to merely get a job. It is a distinction that the Bush administration, goaded by immigration extremists, has willfully ignored. Deporting unauthorized workers is one thing; sending desperate breadwinners to prison, and their families deeper into poverty, is another.

*    Following the allegations of Guantanamo Bay-like treatment at ICE facilities, the Seattle Times has an article detailing numerous stories of abuse at an ICE facility in Tacoma, Washington.  The stories are part of a 65-page Seattle University Law School report titled "Voices From Detention".  Detainees claim that they are routinely subjected to physical and verbal abuse, strip searches and manipulation:
The report's authors said conditions are consistent with those at detention centers across the country. They are calling on Congress to pass laws that protect the rights of detainees...

Detainees in the study say they were pressured to sign documents or asked to sign paperwork they didn't understand, a practice their attorneys say often leads to their unwitting deportation...

The report said one woman, after an attorney's visit, was strip-searched and told to open her legs while a female guard peeped into her private parts.


To learn more about detainee treatment at ICE facilities, see this posting on The State of Opportunity.

*    Even after weeks of people discussing the horrific effects of the Postville and Houston raids, ICE has done it again - according to The Providence Journal, ICE agents arrested dozens of maintenance workers in a raid of Rhode Island court houses on Tuesday:

The raid led to a noisy demonstration by at least 100 people outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 200 Dyer St. last night. Police officers arrived as the crowd grew; at one point the police pushed a line of demonstrators across the parking lot.

For a full summary of the stories on the Rhode Island ICE raid, go to the Citizen Orange Pro-Migrant Sanctuary Sphere posting.

*    The New York Times is also reporting that many immigrants in New York City, most of them Latino, face being disenfranchised in the November election because the federal government is taking so long to fully process their citizenship applications:

At stake are the applications of at least 55,000 people in the New York City area who have been waiting at least six months -- and as long as four years -- for their documents to be processed, the lawyers said.

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