Moving Forward Together

This week, thousands of community leaders and hundreds of local organizations are holding events in 40 cities to kick off the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America.  In a national campaign launch event at the National Press Club and Campaign Summit on Wednesday in Washington, DC, they will call for commonsense immigration reform that offers real solutions, upholds our nation’s values, and moves us forward together.

Progressives should join and support this effort, for at least three reasons.

First, the campaign offers workable policies that will benefit struggling American citizens as well as immigrants around the country.  One of the chief flaws of our broken immigration system is that the 12 million undocumented men, women, and children in our country have no realistic way to get legal and participate fully in our economy and society.  They are subject to exploitative wages and working conditions that have ripple effects throughout our national workforce. And the tax dollars that their lawful income would bring are sorely needed by cash-strapped states, cities and towns.  By contrast, the punitive approaches offered by immigration opponents—building walls at the border or rounding up and deporting 12 million people—are neither realistic nor humane.

Second, commonsense immigration reform will advance our shared values of fairness, accountability, and shared prosperity.  Creating a system for undocumented immigrants to get legal, pay full taxes, learn English, and participate fully will be fairer for everyone, and will end the raiding of homes, due process violations, and detention of families (including young children) that none of us want to see in America, but that became part of the immigration landscape during the Bush administration.

Third, fixing our broken system is key to addressing many of the other priorities that progressives care about, from health care reform, to the strengthening of labor protections, to creating an economy that works for everyone. Commonsense immigration reform is not just another issue; it’s integral to building a stronger and more prosperous nation.

President Obama has said that he will begin moving immigration reform forward this summer. Progressives should stand behind him every step of the way, and ensure that the reform that emerges upholds our values as well as our shared interests.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's website.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

This week's roundup covers the national Reform Immigration for America Campaign Summit, the United American Families act, a ruling reversal, and state news.

Immigration advocates and activists are gathered in Washington D.C for the Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign Summit. The summit, which began yesterday and will continue through Friday, is sponsored by the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America, a coalition of organizations and individuals pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. As the largest gathering of organizers and allies this year, the summit includes speakers from leading organizations that represent immigration as it encompasses the labor, faith, education, business and the community at large. This past Monday 40 separate local launch events occurred throughout the country. The summit precedes a meeting that President Obama and congressional leaders are planning on June 8 at the White House.

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Separate and Unequal

The theme of equality was central to our nation’s founding, with the declaration that “all men are created equal.”  Our country’s history has witnessed the gradual evolution of that core principle from a ruling class that countenanced slavery and subordination toward an egalitarian vision that embraces the inherent equality of all people.  We fought a civil war in part to give life to this proposition.  It is embodied in our Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under law, and in the other Civil War amendments.  And epic social movements of the past two centuries have moved our country, in fits and starts, further still toward the reality of truly equal opportunity.  As Abraham Lincoln said of the Founders’ vision:

“They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”

It's because of this rich history that recent happenings in Nevada and California are so discouraging.  First, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage.  Meanwhile, this week Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons vetoed a law that would give domestic partners similar rights and benefits to those enjoyed by Nevada married couples.

In a statement (PDF) released by the Governor, he writes: "My disapproval of this bill should not be taken to suggest that domestic partners are in any way undeserving of rights and protections."  But this is a canard.  As Justice Carlos Moreno, the sole dissenter in this week's California Supreme Court ruling, said:

"Granting same-sex couples all of the rights enjoyed by opposite-sex couples, except the right to call their officially recognized and protected family relationship a marriage, still denies them equal treatment."

He continued to say the ruling "places at risk the state constitutional rights of all disfavored minorities."

Granting gay couples anything but the ability to marriage is fundamentally separate and unequal.  These actions in California and Nevada are a troubling trend and particularly discouraging in light of the recent advances in gay rights in so many other states.

For more, visit The Opportunity Agenda's website.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

This week's blog rounds up a few immigration-related issues, such as military service, public health and, of course, the Sotomayor nomination.

Standing FIRM answered the question "What does Obama's SCOTUS nomination have to do with immigration reform?"  While commentators are suggesting that the nomination is an indication of Obama trying to delay immigration reform, FIRM reminded us that the President is already scheduled to meet with Congressional leaders on immigration reform on June 8th.

Professor Michael A. Olivas of the University of Houston wrote of the nominee:

Judge Sotomayor's life and legal career are arcs possible only in this country: a hardscrabble life in a South Bronx housing project, educational opportunities made possible by her own intelligence and hard work, and a legal career devoted to public service.

A new poll by America's Voice also reminded us that immigration reform is a crucial issue for Latino voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama and largely expect him to "do the right thing" on immigration. blogged this week about the positive impact immigrants have had on cities losing its populations.  Philadelphia shrank by 30 percent between 1950-2000, and was stabilized by immigrants replacing those leaving.  Now community leaders in Cleveland are looking at the Philadelphia example to address their own population decline, which could shrink to under 400,000 in 2010.

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The Power of a Diverse Supreme Court

In nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the President has made good on his promise to appoint someone with stellar qualifications and intellect who understands the experiences of everyday Americans. Raised in a Bronx housing project by her widowed single mother, Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and has had a remarkable legal career as a prosecutor, a private attorney, a trial court judge, and an appellate judge.

As a young lawyer, I had the privilege of serving as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. Justice Blackmun was a wonderful man and a brilliant, dedicated jurist, but someone whose life had been rather insular before joining the Court. I remember him saying on many occasions how much he had learned from his colleagues on the bench and, particularly, from Justices Sandra Day O’Connor—a former state legislator and pioneering female jurist—and Thurgood Marshall—a civil rights hero who both experienced and helped defeat legal segregation. Justice Blackmun learned so much from these colleagues because they shared his intellect and commitment to fairness while bringing to the task a starkly different set of life experiences.

With few exceptions, the current Court is similarly insular and in need of new perspectives. With her remarkable credentials and inspiring life story, Judge Sotomayor promises to enrich the Court’s decision making for decades to come.

This post first appeared on The Stimulist.  Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's website.

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When Insurance Isn't Enough: Ending Bureaucratic Barriers to Preventative Care

A human right to health care means more than a guarantee of an insurance card in your pocket. It means that you have access to quality, comprehensive health care, because being healthy is as fundamental to fulfilling our full human potential as are food, clothing, and shelter.  An insurance card in every American's pocket is a start, but not much of one if that card only leads to unaffordable and unexpected bills, or bueracratic nightmares.  Unfortunately, the status quo Americans currently face within the private insurance market is too much of the unaffordable, unexpected, and bueracratic, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported:

Company health plans increasingly are offering to pay the full cost of preventive services such as physicals, colonoscopies and mammograms to help employees stay healthy. But some patients then find they owe money for such screenings, sometimes hundreds or thousands of dollars, because their insurers didn't consider certain procedures preventive.  When the mix-ups stem from simple billing errors, consumers may be able to get them corrected quickly. But sometimes patients are stuck with unexpected bills, or have to wage a protracted battle to get them reversed.[...]

This type of billing problem is tied to the system of codes that doctors use in the claims they send to insurers. Every service performed by a physician is translated into a code. So is the patient's diagnosis. Based on those codes, insurers automatically send out payments and generate explanations of benefits for consumers.  Health-care providers must choose from among thousands of separate codes, which are developed by medical groups and government agencies. Patients get socked with unforeseen bills when their doctors' offices don't use the specific codes that their insurers classify as preventive.[...]

Insurers say they can review the order of codes on a claim, and may be able to reclassify the payment. But they can't add or remove codes. "We'll actually advise the individual to go back to the doctor's office" if there appears to be an error, says Ingrid Lindberg, customer experience officer at Cigna Corp.

Quality health care that lives up to our human right means comprehensive health care that offers everyone the services they need, including all preventative care, screening, treatments, therapies, and drugs needed to protect our health, and the reproductive services, mental health and substance abuse treatment central to healthy communities.  But it also means that Americans shouldn't have to fight through bueracratic red tape in order to access those rights, especially when it comes to preventative care.  Any health care reform that includes private insurance plan options must ensure that Americans who go to their doctor to prevent future illnesses don't all end up with unnecessary headaches.

Visit The Opportunity Agenda to read more.

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Paid Sick Leave Takes a Big Step Forward in Congress

As the country considers how we might reform our health care system, it is important to note that good health requires not just health insurance, but also the flexibility to care for oneself or one's family when sick, and to help prevent the spread of contagious diseases through the workplace.  Today, Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced a bill, dubbed the Healthy Families Act, that would guarantee American workers up to 7 paid sick days each year, and allow workers to take these paid sick days to care for ill family members.

As the New York Times reported:

The bill, the Healthy Families Act, would be binding on employers that had 15 or more workers. It would guarantee employees one paid hour off for each 30 hours worked, enabling them to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. They would be entitled to claim their days when they or a child, a parent, a spouse or someone else close to them became ill. [...]

The legislation’s preamble notes that nearly half of private-sector workers and three-fourths of low-wage workers do not receive paid sick days. Far too often, advocates say, such employees feel compelled to go to work even when ill, because they fear being fired or at the least losing the day’s pay.

The bill is perhaps mislabeled, and might be instead called the Healthy Workplace Act.  As one small business owner who has provided paid sick days since 2006 noted, having contagious workers come in can lower productivity as they spread the illness to others in the workplace.  “'A person is not coming in sick, and then two days later there are two employees not coming in, and then three days later three employees not coming in,' [Madison, WI coffee shop-owner Lindsey] Lee said. 'It has helped in the long run.'”

The United States is currently the only industrialized nation that guarantees no paid sick leave.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's website.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

This week's roundup includes some census data and new reports.

Politico reports that President Obama has invited Congressmembers to the White House on June 8th to discuss immigration reform.

Latina Lista takes on President Obama's decision to expand a program to check the immigration status of people in local jails - "up until now, this program has not done a very good job of identifying and penalizing people who commit heinous crimes versus those people labeled as criminals because of their legal status."  Spencer Hsu writes in the Washington Post that the expansion of this program could lead to a tenfold increase in immigrants identified for deportation.

Twenty workers who were arrested in the Postville raid two years ago have been awarded work visas. They must assist authorities in investigations and can apply for green cards in three years.

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The Simpsons: Keeping the Border to Springfield Open

There's no television show more quintessentially American than The Simpsons.  During it's twenty year long run, the show has become a mainstay of American life.  A prism on our society, The Simpsons has tackled one topical issue after another and despite its superficial appearance as having lax values, many would argue otherwise.  The show has even spawned several books about its religious themes.  Most recently, in their season finale, the show took a look at the immigration debate.  (You can watch it on Hulu.)

As an influx of immigrants (of Norwegian descent) make their way into Springfield, the locals respond favorably at first.  These Ogdenvillians have a strong work ethic, are good at what they do, and are embraced by Homer and his fellow townspeople.

Eventually, Springfielders simply grow weary (and wary) of the "others."

It's when working with the new immigrants—comically building a wall to keep these very people out—that the residents of Springfield realize just how similar they are to the new residents.  Both Ned Flanders and one the Ogdenvillians craves but has trouble finding four button cardigans. Bart and an immigrant child share a passion for graffiti.

The new immigrants have become part of the Springfield community. Newcomers are just as invested in Springfield and have become part of the town.  As The Simpsons shows us, immigrants' success is Springfield's success.

Clearly, this message has particular resonance in today's financial climate.  We need everyone's help and know-how to repair our economy, improve education, and generate jobs.  Immigrants have a stake in those systems and are part of the collective solution.

To read more, visit The Opportunity Agenda.

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The Aftermath in Postville

One year after the raid on a meatpacking plant netting 389 undocumented workers in Postville, Iowa, the town is dying.  The plant, Agriprocessors has filed for bankruptcy, the town nears bankruptcy, and the population has declined by half.

Once a bustling small town, with two main streets, the town is trying to cope with the loss of hundreds of residents.  Town revenue is down and businesses have been hit hard.  Most have closed.

"Anybody that would tell you that (Postville) is in recovery, that's not true. We're holding on by our fingernails," said Trevor Seibert, a landlord with several local businesses.

The housing market, too, has collapsed.  One rental agency says that nearly 70 percent of its properties are vacant.

"It's like you're in an oven and there's no place to go and there's no timer to get you out," said former ex-Mayor Robert Penrod, who resigned earlier this year.

In such a harsh economic climate, it's clear that these brutal raids help no one.  Reactionary policies that force people into the shadows haven't worked, and they aren't consistent with out values.  Those policies hurt all of us by encouraging exploitation and low-wage, under-the-table employment that depresses wages.  We need policies that help immigrants contribute and participate fully in our society.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's blog.

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