Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

This week's immigration blog roundup discusses the White House meeting on immigration reform, the National DREAM Graduation Ceremony, remarks from President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a new report on ICE misconduct.

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Counting All Votes

An equal right to vote is at the core of our democracy.  With an African American in the White House, it’s increasingly popular to believe that racial bias no longer exists, especially when it comes to voting.  There’s no doubt that our nation has made significant progress in securing equal opportunity, but there’s still a long way to go.  That’s why it was so important that the Supreme Court left in tact a key provision of the Voting Rights Act earlier this week.  In reauthorizing this part of the Act, Congress reviewed a mountain of evidence showing that, unfortunately, voting discrimination is still a significant problem—especially in those places that were previously segregated by law.

A large, bi-partisan majority of Congress reauthorized the Act after hearing evidence about the hundreds of recent cases in which states, cities and counties denied or suppressed African American, Latino, or Native American votes.  They heard of elections rescheduled or cancelled to prevent black workers and students from voting, of election districts intentionally drawn to dilute Latino voting strength, of polling places selected in remote locations to discourage minority voting, of false prosecutions, intimidation, and more.  The evidence was from the last decade, not from the 1950s, ‘60s, or ‘70s.

To be sure, these tactics are are more subtle than the fire hoses and violence of past decades.  But without continued enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, they would have denied the equal right to vote and, thereby, struck at the heart of our democracy.  Things have changed—in large part because of the Voting Rights Act—but the Supreme Court correctly determined that this is not the time to walk away from the civil rights guarantees that protect us all.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.

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Public Opinion Round Up: Demand for Health Care Reform and of What Kind

As lawmakers consider a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system, we analyzed the most recent public opinion findings, and present them below. The highlights include: 1. Demand for major reform of the system immediately, 2. Guaranteeing that everyone has access to health care is very important, 3. Americans live in fear of loosing their health care coverage, and finally, 4. Public attitudes on reform are reminiscent of those in 1993.

Demand for fundamental change or reform of the system now.

86% say that they view health care reform as an integral part of tackling the nation’s economic crisis - survey by the University of Michigan financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

71% say that the health care system needs to be completely rebuilt (41%) or needs fundamental changes (30%) - Pew Research Centerpoll, June 10-14.

61% say that it is more important than ever to take on health care reform now especially given the serious economic problems facing the country - Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, June.

43% of voters think that their ability to get affordable health care will become worse than before the current economic situation, 30% that it will become better, and 22% that it will go back to the way it was before - ABC News June poll.

1 out of 2 Americans are worried about paying for future care, and one out of four fear of losing coverage in the next year survey by the University of Michigan financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

What kind of change.

A majority (53%) think that changing the system so that all Americans are guaranteed access to all medically necessary care is a more important goal than finding a way to limit the overall annual increase in health care costs (36%). In 1993, that the results to the same question were 74% to 20% respectively - Pew Research Center.

Prevention oriented health care: 76% of voters believe the level of funding for prevention should be increased. Support is high across the political spectrum, and demographic groups (for instance 86% of Dem, 71% of Rep, and 70% of Ind) -Democracy Corps Survey, May ’09.

72% of Americans state health care is a human right in a ’07 survey of Americans by Belden Russonello and Stewart for The Opportunity Agenda. Extended focus group research among specific demographic groups that make up 60% of the population, indicated that health care is seen as a “basic necessity” for survival like food and shelter, as well as needed to fulfill the human right to “pursuit of happiness.”

Reduction of health care premiums and costs, and security are the most important elements of a reformed system for Americans, including “that no one would ever again lose coverage and no insurance company could drop a consumer or raise rates for pre-existing conditions, health, gender or age” - Democracy Corps June 2009.

Public attitudes on health care and their expectations for reform have not changed. Similarly to 1993:

A large majority wants change. Almost 60% are dissatisfied with the current health care system, and three-quarters say health care should be either completely rebuilt or reformed in major ways. Dissatisfaction is higher among those who lack coverage, unemployed, and married women.

Public wants reform but is risk averse. A large majority is dissatisfied with the health insurance system in the U.S. but only a small minority (24%) is dissatisfied with their own health insurance plans- and here lays the people. Based on focus groups by Democracy Corps following their survey [and by others including research by Belden, Russonello and Stewart for The Opportunity Agenda] are showing people are not satisfied [but rather risk averse] - they have traded off wage increases, stayed in a job rather than leave, paid into a high-deductible plan, and made other compromises so they can have insurance and their choice of doctor when they need it. But that makes those voters who want reform risk averse — they want to confirm key elements in the plan.

39% think that they and their family would be better off if the President and Congress passed health care reform, while 36% think that it wouldn’t make a difference.

The president's plan is favored by a small majority (45%), and opposed by 36%.
The above findings are based on a new Democracy Corps June survey where Stan Greenberg, pollster for Clinton at the tenure of his effort for health care reform, replicated questions he asked in 1993 for the President. Greenberg is convinced that “the country will support comprehensive health care reform — if progressives respect how voters will assess our plans, provide key information about how reform will work (particularly to reduce costs) and if the President carries forward with his educative role.”

Visit The Opportunity Agenda's website for more.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

This week's immigration blog roundup discusses a new report on hate crimes, new research by the Office of Immigration Statistics, a proposed worker identification card, and state news.

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Investing in opportunities for youth = investing in the community

Recently, in Baltimore, Maryland several hundred youth, their parents, teachers, and other supporters gathered to protest Mayor Sheila Dixon’s series of proposed budget cuts to various youth resources.

These youth and community members highlight the discourse on how cities and neighborhoods across the must deal with the absence of supportive environments for youth. Fewer opportunities for positive activities in neighborhoods mean that more children and youth will turn to the streets and engage themselves in unstructured activities. Therefore, it is necessary for cities to continually question what resources are available to effectively engage youth in their communities. The concern for youth has focused heavily on schools, and while this is an important aspect, more attention must be paid to what happens after school, and during the summer months. Investing in opportunities for youth is the key to creating effective social capital, which can thereby strengthen the lives of youth and the communities in which they live, attend school, and work.

The people of Baltimore understand this. After their protests Mayor Dixon promised to restore some funds and is open to using other revenue for youth programs.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's website.

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Missing Luke

Written by Alan Jenkins, Executive Director of The Opportunity Agenda.  This post originally appeared at Our Future.

I learned last week that my friend and law school classmate Luke Cole had died in a car accident while vacationing with his wife in Uganda.  Luke was an incredible guy with an infectious positive energy about him and the belief that he could change the world for the better.  In a number of big and small ways, he did.

Luke became an environmental justice lawyer before most of us in the public interest legal field even knew what environmental justice was.  He didn’t invent the concept, but he realized early on that communities of color—from American Indian reservations in the West to hog farming communities in the South to inner-city neighborhoods in the Northeast—were struggling with common problems of multiple environmental hazards and inadequate environmental protection.  He realized, too, what government and private research would eventually confirm: that the racial character of these communities was the greatest predictor of the level of environmental degradation they would suffer.  Greater than class.  Greater than region of the country.

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Real Choices for Reproductive Justice

It is certainly an important time for America's discussions of health, but also an important time to talk about equality in America as it relates to access to reproductive health care.

University of Pennsylvania professor Salmishah Tillet wrote on June 4th about where reproductive justice fits into the broader discussion of civil rights.  She argues that the threat to reproductive justice that George Tiller's murder constitutes is critically important to women of color, who often face particular challenges in obtaining comprehensive family planning materials.  She says:

While abortion is rarely seen as a civil rights issue, the dismantling of Roe v. Wade would have dire consequences for African-American women....  Today, reproductive injustice continues to adversely affect African-American women. Federal underfunding of adequate family-planning programs and lack of access to inexpensive, readily available contraceptives certainly play a role."

However, this civil right is being challenged for African-American women and women throughout the United States.  Recent events remind us that legislation is only the beginning of what access means.  Aside from financial barriers, abortion providers are increasingly terrorized out of serving American women.  In many communities, violent extremist groups provide endless challenges to providers of women's health care. In a recent LA Times article, DeeDee Correll describes the safety concerns that Tiller's friend and colleague Warren Hern endures every day

"Hern has been familiar with the hazards for decades. After performing abortions for more than half of his life, the 70-year-old doctor has never been injured, but the constant threats with which he has lived since 1973 have transformed his life into a series of security measures: sleeping with a rifle, scanning rooftops for snipers, wearing a protective vest.

"'It ruins your life,' Hern said."

Under these circumstances, it is no surprise that, according to the Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, the number of abortion providers in the US has fallen by 11% since 1996.

Obviously, this is a difficult issue to stand up for when the stakes are so high.  This anonymously produced video, "Silenced," details the challenges faced by those who work at abortion clinics.  It was released on May 26th, just five days before Tiller's death.  Recent events make it painfully timely.

The abortion debate seems to be spiraling out of control, as evidenced by "pro-life" activist Bob Enyart's recent irresponsible statement in the LA Times: "If a Mafia hit man gets killed, people recognize it's an occupational hazard."  Additionally, Sotomayor's nomination raises the stakes in the debate about reproductive justice.  At such a defining moment, and with so many voices are chiming in about reproductive justice, it is important to come out strong and show support for the doctors that provide access to critical health procedures for all Americans.

Reproductive justice is about real choices-- not just passing laws, but also training health care providers and ensuring access to crucial reproductive health procedures.  Keeping abortion providers safe, and ensuring that the provision of women's health remains a viable career is an issue of health and equal access to opportunity for all Americans.

Read more at The Opportunity Agendawebsite

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

This week’s immigration blog roundup includes a follow up to the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America summit, news about the H-2A guest worker program, the suspension of the Widow Penalty policy, and more.

What are the next steps after last week’s historical three day summit on immigration reform? At the summit, immigration reform advocates laid out an agenda for the coming months and focused on creating a cohesive message and grassroots strategy for the campaign.  Immigration reform groups will continue to place pressure on the Obama administration to help pass legislation this year.  Last week, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “comprehensive immigration reform is going to happen this session, but I want it this year, if at all possible.” The White House meeting intended to launch a policy conversation on immigration reform was postponed from June 8th to June 17th due to the President’s travel schedule.

Beginning on June 29th, the Department of Labor will suspend Bush administration regulations to the H-2A guest worker program for nine months. The regulations, which took effect on January 17, were adopted to govern wages and recruitment of immigrant guest workers in agriculture. The decision for suspension comes after organizations representing farmworkers filed a lawsuit arguing that the regulations lowered immigrants' wages and violated federal laws protecting workers' rights. Currently, several immigrant and civil rights organizations are pushing Congress to pass the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act (AGJobs) that would strengthen the guestworker program by providing more worker protections to foreign-born and domestic workers.

The Department of Homeland Security is temporarily freezing a policy known as the “widow penalty” of deporting widows and widowers of U.S. citizens. About 200 people were at risk of deportation under the policy that argues if the American spouse dies before a two year mark, the foreign spouse becomes a widow or widower curtailing eligibly for residency. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the agency is freezing any action against such widows and widowers for two years.

In Connecticut, Judge Michael W. Straus of U.S. Immigration Court dismissed a case against four immigrants arrested in a 2007 Fair Haven raid. Straus ruled that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were in “egregious violation” of the immigrants’ Fourth Amendment rights when they entered into their homes “without a warrant, without probable cause and without consent,” as required under the amendment. There is no current news on the cases of the other 26 immigrants arrested during the raid., which was one of many by the ICE in June 2007 following New Haven’s approval of a city I.D. plan aimed at helping undocumented workers open bank accounts.

Nuestra Voice blogged about Benita Veliz, an undocumented 23-year-old college graduate, who is one of many thousands of students hoping that Congress will pass the Dream Act. Benita is also facing deportation charges after being pulled over by the police in January. Although Benita had a Mexican Consular ID card, she was taken to jail and her deportation proceedings began. A court hearing on June 10, 2009 granted a three month countenance that will allow her to stay in the country until her next scheduled court appearance. Many have been following Benita’s case via her Twitter feed at Benita in Court.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's website.

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Achieving Our Promise of Universal Quality Education

There is a broad consensus that access to a quality education is a fundamental human right.  This consensus is reflected in the fact that every individual within our boundaries, regardless of race, ethnic background, nation of origin, or ability to pay, is entitled to a seat in a classroom from kindergarten through grade 12. However, the education that children actually receive varies dramatically by those very factors which are supposed to be immaterial.  There is real hope though, as a new crop of leaders and entrepreneurs is applying solutions that range from the systemic to the technocratic to move us from a standard of universal class time to universal high quality education.

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When Insurance Isn't Enough: Toward a Value(s)-Based Health Care System

Focusing solely on health care insurance and the overall national spending on health care will not get us the reform we need.  The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a piece by Michael Porter, Ph.D., arguing that true reform requires not just universal coverage, but "restructuring the care delivery system."  While the author is, within his own framework, still making a cost argument, he points us toward not just his stated need for a "value-based system," but also toward a "values-based system" rooted in our common human dignity and human right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Dr. Porter argues that "universal coverage in a way that will support, rather than impede, a fundamental reorientation of the delivery system around value for patients" requires six key components:

First, we must change the nature of health insurance competition. Insurers, whether private or public, should prosper only if they improve their subscribers' health [...]

Second, we must keep employers in the insurance system[....] Daily interactions with their workforce enable employers to create value by developing a culture of wellness, enabling effective prevention and screening, and directing employees to high-value providers.[...]

Third, we need to address the unfair burden on people who have no access to employer-based coverage, who therefore face higher premiums and greater difficulty securing coverage [...]

Fourth, to make individual insurance affordable, we need large statewide or multistate insurance pools, like the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector, to spread risk [...]

Fifth, income-based subsidies will be needed to help lower-income people buy insurance [....]

Finally, once a value-based insurance market has been established, everyone must be required to purchase health insurance so that younger and healthier people cannot opt out.

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