When Will This Winter End?

As winter fights to make its last stand, I can't help but think of the tens of thousands of Americans sleeping this night with no shelter.  In our benchmark study on public opinion and domestic human rights (2007), you could see it in the stars, that America was in favor of a change that lifted us all up closer toward opportunity for all.  Even though a large majority of Americans were for expanding human rights (67%), issues like housing still ranked low (51%) compared to that of equal opportunity regardless of race, or quality education.  Yet having a roof over your head is one of the most vital securities needed to maintain a stable existance, the foundation needed for not just obtaining the reach of opportunity, but even maintaining a status quo of existence.

I'm curious to see if this low number toward housing has shifted, due in part to the personal experience that now millions of Americans have toward housing.  President Obama noted it last night—indeed it is one of the great challenges our country faces.  And as we strive toward real change, its critical to look into the lives of those who struggle the most, so that we might be truly transparent as a community, assuring that everyone—even those who sleep in the darkness of subway tunnels—have a chance at bettering their lives during this era of great change.

Indeed, struggle bring solidarity.  And the struggles we face now as a nation, I believe, will bring us greater change in the long run.  Those issues that American's championed more strongly, like equal opportunity regardless of race, or quality education, are issues that have stories deeply rooted in their own personal experiences.  Not everyone has been homeless, but most have gone to public schools, and others have had sick grandparents with high medical costs.  Now that housing has become something personal, perhaps America is in a position to look face to face with one of the more serious conditions holding back people from opportunity—the lack of the fundamental security needed for human survival.

Having said this, it is good for us to look toward change that looks at the things we often try not to see, turning our gaze away whenever hardship looks us straight into our blind eyes.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's blog.

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Immigration Blog Roundup

This week's post will round up currently available immigration-related resources:

Demographics

Data collected by the Census Bureau in 2007, summarized by the New York Times and the Center for Immigration Studies.

The Department of Homeland Security's new reports on:

The DHS website also has a 2007 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

Enforcement

Employment

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' January 2009 Employment Situation Summary includes statistics on Latino and Asian unemployment rates.

Lastly, Immigration Prof Blog speculates on new leadership on immigration in Washington, D.C.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's blog.

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Now For the Hard Part...

Two weeks ago in this space I called for equal opportunity guarantees in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Ensuring equal and expanded opportunity for all, I argued, will be crucial to a broad and lasting economic recovery that upholds our nation’s values.

I’m happy to report that, while the legislation did not include these specific protections, the Obama Administration included them explicitly in it’s Office of Management and Budget’s instructions to federal agencies on their implementation of the Act. That’s a policy-wonky way of saying that the Administration is holding itself accountable for ensuring that recovery investments promote equal opportunity.

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Immigration Blog Roundup

In this week's Immigration Blog Roundup, I'll cover the Obama Administration, the economic situation, and a few immigrant profiles.

Standing FIRM looks at President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's position on immigration reform. Although Emanuel has previously stated that immigration reform cannot be addressed immediately, Politico reports that Emanuel was crucial to the inclusion of benefits for immigrant children and pregnant women in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).  Standing FIRM also notes that immigration has been a contentious issue with both the SCHIP and Stimulus bills, and will remain so until Congress addresses comprehensive immigration reform.  In a guest blog on Latina Lista, Christina Jimenez of Drum Major Institute argues that the Administration and Congress missed an opportunity to connect progressive immigration reform to economic stimulus in the stimulus package.  Standing FIRM points us to a resource - an immigration symposium on the new Administration held by Penn State.  Webcasts of the event are included.

Feet In 2 Worlds reports that 61% of New York City bodegas are at risk of failing, demonstrating how immigrant small business owners are being affected by the economic slowdown.  Immigrants are also sending fewer remittances to families in their homeland as they struggle to support their families in the United States.  In contrast, Dollars&Sense reports that the Department of Homeland Security's $15 billion immigration affairs budget has supported an "immigrant-crackdown economy" that has helped to boost profits for the prison business.

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Change Brings Change

One of the things I love most about New York City is the eclectic range of subway musicians playing or singing their heart out for a quarter here, a quarter there.  I think this is why I've become so into Playing For Change.  The project not only gives an impressive look at the directors ability to sync up street musicians from around the world.  But, it also is a beautiful bridge to illustrate multi-culturalism, and how we're all in it together.

The project isn't completely new.  Bill Moyers sat down with the producer, Mark Johnson, last October.  The video was recently released on iTunes, and I can't stop watching it.  You can watch it for free at Playingforchange.com.

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The Pentagon (Finally) Displays Some Pragmatism

Urgency has a strange way of making people more pragmatic.  In the context of a crisis, outdated prejudices become stumbling blocks and, consequently, not so deeply held.  It's surprising, then, that it took the Pentagon so long to realize that, at a time when our military is stretched thin in two combat wars, turning applicants away from the armed forces due to immigration status was not a workable solution.

An article in this past Sunday’s New York Times discusses an Army pilot program which will allow immigrants with temporary resident status, but no green card, to enlist, provided that they have lived in the United States for at least two years and bring needed skills.  Enlistees will then have the opportunity to become citizens in as little as six months.

Opinions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aside, this move can easily be seen as recognition by the Department of Defense that excluding any group of individuals from full participation in our nation’s rights and responsibilities weakens us all.   As Lieutenant General Benjamin C. Freakley, the top recruitment officer for the Army, said, “The Army will gain in its strength in human capital, and the immigrants will gain their citizenship and get on a ramp to the American dream.”Opinions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aside, this move can easily be seen as recognition by the Department of Defense that excluding any group of individuals from full participation in our nation's rights and responsibilities weakens us all.   As Lieutenant General Benjamin C. Freakley, the top recruitment officer for the Army, said, "The Army will gain in its strength in human capital, and the immigrants will gain their citizenship and get on a ramp to the American dream."

The Department of Defense has now joined the ever-growing list of employers who understand that integrating immigrants into our social, civic and economic life is the only way to remain competitive and uphold our commitment to economic mobility.  Now if only we could find a way to give every employer the ability to grant citizenship.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

The Immigration Prof Blog points us to the just released report on "Immigrant Integration in Los Angeles: Strategic Directions for Funders".  The report focuses on Los Angeles where "one third of our residents are immigrants, nearly half of our workforce is foreign-born, and two-thirds of those under 18 are the children of immigrants."  The report explores potential avenues to immigrant integration that reflects "fundamental American values: opportunity in the case of economic mobility, democracy in the area of engagement, and openness reflected by host society attitudes and policies."

Some key findings of the report include:

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Recovering Opportunity

This week President Obama promoted his much-needed economic recovery package in a prime-time news conference and a trip to economically depressed Elkhart, Indiana, where the unemployment rate has topped 15%.  Cities and towns like Elkhart are bellwethers for where the nation as a whole could be headed without swift and bold governmental action.

As the President said in Elkhart, "That is not only our moral responsibility - to lend a helping hand to our fellow Americans in times of emergency - but it also makes good economic sense. If you don't have money, you can't spend it. And if people don't spend, our economy will continue to decline."

There's another bellwether even closer to home for the nation's first black president.  Unemployment among African Americans rose in January to 12.6 percent, nearly double the current, already high rate of unemployment (6.9 percent) for white Americans.  African Americans struggled throughout the 1960s, `70s, and `80s to gain equal access to manufacturing jobs, only to see those jobs evaporate with the advent of globalization.  With the weak economy, their inroads into other sectors like education, healthcare, and construction are faltering as well.

What is a daunting economic recession for most of the nation is a crushing Great Depression for many of America's communities of color.  Black male unemployment in New York City, for example, was a staggering 49% before the current recession.  The Native American unemployment rate on reservations is upwards of 80%.

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An Internship Where We Pay You

In a piece for Slate.com, Timothy Noah writes about the disturbing phenomenon of putting coveted summer internships up for auction at elite private schools.  Clearly this is putting those who cannot pay, but are well qualified for the position, at an immediate disadvantage.  Opportunity is quite literally being sold to the highest bidder.

Internships are widely seen as a great way for students to gain valuable experience which will help them pursue a job in the career of their choice.  What does it say about this country if the mere ability to put in a hard day's work is for sale?

With this in mind, The Opportunity Agenda is pleased to note our ability to offer a paid summer internship, within the communications department.  For more information, click here.

To read more from The Opportunity Agenda, visit our blog, The State of Opportunity.

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Dr. King's Modern Legacy

In the days just before and after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 80th birthday, I had the opportunity to visit two places that are integral to his modern day legacy: Washington, DC and the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.  As I witnessed the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president, I thought of Dr. King's admonition, in his 1963 I Have a Dream Speech, that "we cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote." Despite some continuing problems at the ballot box, this was an election about which Dr. King could be truly satisfied; African Americans turned out in record numbers to elect the nation's first African-American president.

In the same speech, Dr. King reminded the nation that "when the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the `unalienable Rights' of `Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'"

For anyone who's visited the Gulf Coast recently, it is obvious that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as the people of the Lower Ninth Ward--overwhelmingly poor and African-American--are concerned.  The world witnessed in 2005 how our government left the region's people to drown in their homes and suffer unspeakable conditions in the New Orleans Convention Center and Superdome.  More than three years later, that abandonment continues.

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Diaries

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