Nel's New Day

April 5, 2014

April Commemorates the President’s 2 Million Deportees

April is the month that President Obama will deport the two-millionth immigrant since the beginning of  his first term—the largest number of any president. It is also the month that the House—again—refuses to address any undocumented immigrant legislation despite the bill sent them from the Senate.

Protesters rallied across the nation today in Not1More demonstrations in an effort to stop the country from separating families through deportation. Immigration activists are also holding Fast for Families at the National Mall on April 7-9 to culminate the past month of action with over 1200 women fasting through 70 events in 35 states, Washington, D.C., and Mexico City.

Women and children compose three-fourths of all immigrants, but only 25 percent of work visas are provided to women. Easily renewed H-1B visas for “highly skilled” workers, mostly given to men, are stepping stones to permanent status. Women are left with “dependent” visas for spouses, H-4, which prohibits them from working.

Stanford Law School’s Vivek Wadhwa testified to the House Judiciary Committee that Saudi Arabian women have more rights than wives of H-1B visa workers. These “dependent” women have no recourse against their husbands’ abuses. In the reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and other GOP leaders blocked protections for immigrant women as they now oppose immigration reform.

In their efforts to arrest immigrants, hundreds of black-garbed men from the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) descended on a meat packing plant in Postville (IA). The 2008 raid was the largest raid in any workplace and the only one that fabricated a charge of identity theft to deport the immigrant workers.

In her soon-to-be-published book Shattered Dreams, Virginia Gibbs documented the mental health impact of the raid on women and children through personal interviews with 35 mothers. She wrote:

“[T]he raid left … left families broken apart, mothers unable to earn a living for their children and forced to wear highly visible electronic ‘bracelets’, concern for families back home who depended on the immigrants for food and medicine–all this shattered the women and children’s self-esteem and hope.”

All the men among the 400 workers were tried within 48 hours, threatened with two to three years in prison waiting for a trial if they didn’t plead guilty to a 165-day prison term. Forty women were left in Postville to care for their children. They could not find work or leave the state or work; all of them had electronic trackers.

According to Gibbs, the women left their native countries, mostly either Guatemala or Mexico, to work in the United States because of extreme poverty, their children’s malnutrition, violence against women with impunity, and violence in the country. Genocide during a 30-year civil war in Guatemala was a large factor. Only 2 percent of the 10,000 rapes in Guatemala in one year were brought to trial. Because of the drug trade, Mexico has seen 48,000 deaths in the past five years. In addition, women working in factories are disappearing at an alarming rate and discovered mutilated, raped, and dead.

Undocumented workers, especially women, are helpless in the face of employer abuses—sexual harassment, underpayment, unsanitary and unsafe conditions, lack of training, etc. Workers are demeaned, shouted at, and constantly fearful of deportation, which would put their children back into a life of malnutrition and danger. At 14, children work in slaughter houses, run heavy equipment, and have contact with dangerous chemicals. No one has safety equipment unless inspectors alert employers to coming into the plant, and workers are charged for this equipment for the short time that these items are used.

The raid caused children to become openly angry, either acting out and pushing others, or silent and introverted. They suffered from separation anxiety because mothers were ashamed to tell children the fathers had gone to jail. Even good students refused to return to school because that’s where they were during the raid, but they avoided being home because their fathers were gone. They also evidenced worry, extreme fear, confusion, guilt, and shame. Many children not directly involved in the raid experienced many of these behavior patterns because of what had happened to their friends.

Mothers suffered from depression, nightmares, insomnia, fatigue, fear, and physical problems—symptoms of PTSD. They felt completely out of control and helpless. As one woman said, “It was like the end of the world.”

The lack of immigration reform exists across the culture of the United States. In its Spring 2014 issue with a focus on “Feminist Response to Pop Culture,” Bitch magazine has two articles about the part that undocumented people play in music and media portrayals: “Riffs of Passage” and “Out of the Frame.”

One reason for the large number of deportations is the Congressional Bed Mandate, the so-called “requirement” that 34,000 undocumented immigrants be detained every night at a cost of $5 million every day. That totals $2 billion a year, $10 billion since President Obama took office. The money goes directly to either the private prison industrial complex or cities and counties that house immigrants.  Contracts for private prisons force taxpayers to pay whether prison beds are empty or full. The advantage to prison companies is that inhumane treatment for undocumented immigrants in prison doesn’t produce an outcry.

The number of detentions has grown from 70,000 in 1996 to 400,000 in 2012 because of “mandatory detention,” initiated in 2007. With no hearing, the sick, the elderly, pregnant women, asylum seekers, torture survivors, victims of human trafficking—even green card holders and legal residents of the United States—are detained because ICE cannot release immigrants and judges cannot review individual cases. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 prevents ICE from deciding which detainees are eligible for alternative forms of supervision. Congress also refuses to give discretion to federal judges to assign detention on a case-by-case basis.

While detention costs $164 per day, community-based supervision programs can cost as little as $12 for the same time. Yet the agency’s budget for alternatives is less than $100 million as compared to the $2 billion detention budget. Last June, the Senate expanded the use of alternative methods, but the House rejected it.

In reality, the law requires that 34,000 beds be maintained for undocumented immigrants, but it does not require that these beds be filled. In early March, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson explained this at a House hearing. House GOP members refused to believe him. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said, “You shall fill 34,000 beds.”

A National Immigration Council report found that “between 2009 and 2011, over half of all immigrant detainees had no criminal records. Of those with any criminal history, nearly 20 percent were merely for traffic offenses.” ICE mostly deported immigrants who posed “a threat to no one.” Only one in five deportees qualified for a “Level 1″ priority, a category that once encompassed crimes like murder and federal drug trafficking, but now has broadened out to include “theft, filing a false tax return, and failing to appear in court.” Other immigrants were deported for much less.

President Obama’s budget for next year proposed a reduction in this area with fewer beds, but Congressional members won’t deny their constituents such a profit-making deal. Thus both Democrats and Republicans want to retain the “bed mandate.” Congress will reduce funding for food, lodging, education, and other basic needs but not for prison and defense budgets.

prisons

Treatment of immigrants is unjust, inhumane, and costly. It actually promotes crime because women are afraid to report sexual assaults and abuse whether in their home, on the streets, and at their jobs. It is time for reform.

April 20, 2012

ALEC Becomes Visible, Loses Support

Shrouded in secrecy, an ultra-conservative organization has operated for at least 30 years to destroy the poor and middle class people in the United States until George Zimmerman followed and killed Trayvon Martin, who was armed only with Skittles and an iced tea. Although law enforcement groups opposed the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, people in Florida are permitted to attack a perceived assailant without retreating. John Timoney, former Miami police chief, called the law a “recipe for disaster” and said that he and other police chiefs had correctly predicted it would lead to more violent road-rage incidents and drug killings.

Behind this law is not only the NRA but also the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a collection of wealthy corporations and highly conservative legislators, that exists to prepare ultra-conservative legislative bills that have swept the country as more and more states are held hostage by Republicans.

Once people began to learn about ALEC’s destructive nature, they protested, frequently with on-line petitions against its supporters. At least 12 major corporations, the number growing daily, have withdrawn their donations, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kraft, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Gates Foundation. Petitions are still out there to persuade State Farm Insurance, Johnson & Johnson, and AT&T to drop their support.

The pressure is paying off: ALEC has announced that it will be “eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.” That’s the task force that was behind the controversial voter ID, “stand your ground,” and anti-immigrant laws.

Complaining about “an intimidation campaign,” ALEC claims that its aim is “economic vitality.” Toward that end, they strive to break unions, repeal minimum wage laws, privatize public lands, repeal capital gains and estate taxes, oppose efforts to address human-created climate change, repeal sick day laws, require super-majorities to raise taxes, restrict women’s reproductive rights, and even push laws stating that kids’ eating rat poison is an “acceptable risk.”

In the name of “economic vitality,” ALEC has model laws in the educational field to teach creationism and stop the teaching of human involvement in climate change. Their ultimate goal is to strip public education of all financing,  funding only private religious academies. The Supreme Court allows Arizona to funnel public taxes to religious schools, and Tennessee now promotes creationism and climate change denial in its schools. Denying any involvement in ALEC, New Jersey governor Chris Christie uses its model bills for education “reform” including the use of standardized testing and reforming teacher tenure. ALEC is also in Minnesota working for “torte reform.” 

ALEC distributes hate messages, such as the pamphlets about the “Ten Harms of Same-Sex Marriage” and worse. According to this material from the Family Research Council, marriage equality would result in fewer people marrying or remaining monogamous followed by polygamy.

After the NRA conceived Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground law and promoted its passage, the gun-advocacy group brought the bill to ALEC in 2005, when legislators and corporate lobbyists on the Criminal Justice Task Force voted unanimously to adopt it as a “model bill.” Since becoming first an ALEC model and then a law in dozens of other states, the number of homicides classified as “justifiable” has dramatically increased, jumping 300 percent in Florida alone. In 2009, members of the same Task Force approved the model “Voter ID Act,” versions of which were introduced in a majority of states in 2011, illegally denying voters the opportunity to participate in elections.

Members of the now-eliminated Task Force have included for-profit prison providers like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has also served as the co-chair. The ALEC Criminal Justice/Public Safety & Elections Task Force has created model bills that lengthen sentences, dramatically increased incarceration rates, and—of course—privatize prisons, putting more of those inmates under the control of for-profit corporations.

Fifteen years ago, Scott Walker, currently Wisconsin governor, introduced the “Truth in Sentencing” bill passed by the legislature which requires inmates to serve their full sentence without options for parole or supervised release. The law removes incentives for prisoners to reduce prison time through good behavior and participation in counseling as well as eliminating the ability for judges and parole boards to decide that the financial and social costs of keeping a particular person incarcerated no longer furthers public safety goals.

Walker failed to make money for CCA by losing his bid to privatize Wisconsin prisons, but Arizona Republican Rep. Russell Pearce was more successful when he collaborated with CCA to privatize half the immigrant detention centers at the same time that he persuaded the state legislature to pass the ALEC “model” immigration bill that became SB1070. An immigrant contesting their deportation can wait up to a year for a hearing, even though many of those detained have not committed a crime and have no criminal record. Taxpayers give CCA $122 per day for each detained immigrant in these centers. Pearce is known nation-wide because of the successful recall against him.

ALEC also made money for the for-profit bail bond industry’s trade association, the American Bail Coalition (ABC), through ALEC’s anti-immigration laws. An immigrant facing removal in some cases may be released on bond and will often pay a commercial bail bondsman for  release. Immigration bonds are usually between $5,000 and $10,000 although the bond can be much higher. A for-profit bail bondsman who receives 10 percent of that bail as a nonrefundable fee can collect significant profits for doing very little. ABC has called ALEC the industry’s “life preserver.” After the dissolution of ALEC’s Criminal Justice/Public Safety & Elections Task Force, ABC moved over to the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force.

In one specific way, ALEC affects almost everyone in its attempt to raise prices for Internet use. Although ALEC’s restrictive bill  failed to stop the public broadband system in Lafayette (LA), the “model” remains in ALEC’s library. Lafayette’s system offers Internet speed at a 750-percent cheaper cost to users than rival Cox’s service at the lowest tier. If the corporations that run ALEC get their way in the future, you will never have cheaper and faster Internet service.

While ALEC tries to keep Internet subscribers paying top dollar, they use it to protest what they perceive as “unfair” treatment, sending their message out to conservative bloggers of how to defend ALEC. In addition to its false claim of transparency, it also touts its “diversity of thought … a non-partisan resource”: ALEC leadership has one Democrat and 103 Republicans. Because of the closed-door policy, constituents don’t know that corporations write and approve ALEC legislation. Bloggers were told that ALEC will soon launch a website called “I Stand with ALEC.” (Until it comes up, you can find real information about ALEC at a website exposing their activities.)

Sounding virtuous about its work, ALEC said, “America needs organizations like ALEC to foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way.” ALEC Task Force meetings are closed to the press and public and take place behind closed doors. The Koch brothers are large donors to ALEC; they well understand the importance of opacity.

Unfortunately, ALEC is not unique in the land of blueprint legislation, borrowing bill prototypes or model bills from a central national entity and then adapting them for introduction in statehouses. People who notice that the women’s anti-reproductive rights legislation sweeping Republican states pretty much look alike can thank Americans United for Life (AUL) that took over from ALEC in this area. Behind this organization is former Mike Huckabee staffer Charmaine Yoest and former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson, who now claims “that Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with Satan.” Johnson is also behind Komen’s defunding Planned Parenthood. Not much has been said about their funding, but they certainly seem to have clout.

As The Nation reports, conservatives in ALEC think everything in government should be “demonized, starved, or privatized.” That’s probably true for all conservatives.

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