Immigration and the Black Community: Finding Synergy to Promote Progress

Congress and the Obama administration are wrestling with how to deal with the surge of Central American children fleeing escalating gang violence in their native countries and crossing the US-Mexico border into the United States to escape. While it is true that violence has skyrocketed in recent months in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Panama, it has been an ongoing and pervasive problem in those troubled developing nations. But what is really driving the influx of children, in particular, are lawless human traffickers purposefully spreading misinformation about the United States’ deferred deportation policy for children of undocumented immigrants currently in the US who were brought here by their parents.

In June 2012, frustrated about a contentious Congress’ inability to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package created by the Democrats, President Obama issued an executive order that instructed the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency not to deport certain immigrant children here unlawfully. Those children who qualified under the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” policy and came forward were given a temporary status and a work visa. However, the status only benefited those who have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007 and was present in the US on June 15, 2012. New border crossers do not qualify.

Facts don’t matter to opportunistic smugglers who used some of the language in the policy to convince parents that the US was accepting children to immigrate there. Their misinformation campaign persuaded parents to willingly pay the smugglers to shepherd their kids into the US. Since October 1, an estimated 57,000 children have crossed into the US.

Immigration is that contentious issue that no one wants to touch and it has also incensed many African Americans who say they are frustrated that on the same week there was record gun violence deaths in Chicago, the nation shifted to focus on children of “outsiders.” Consider that the White House requested an estimated $3.7 billion funding package to staff more agents, judges, and workers to process the children and return them to their homes. The money would be to supplement depleting resources and funds of an agency going broke, and to expedite the return of the kids.

To have them stay too long during processing, Nancy Pelosi and other politicians have said, would send the dangerous message that all they need to do is cross the border and they’d get to stay for a couple of years and possibly slip away into the shadows. That outcome would open the flood gates to more unaccompanied minors in the future. A senior U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told The Washington Post the goal is to process the immigrants and have them deported within 10 to 15 days to send a message back to their home countries that there are consequences for illegal immigration

The passions that enflame over immigration is perhaps why African and Caribbean undocumented immigrants in the United States have stayed quiet on the issue. You don’t see their communities joining with the Latino and Hispanic advocates demanding immigration reform.

“There is reluctance on the part of the Caribbean community to become too vocal on the topic out of being too associated with the challenges and misconceptions of ‘undocumented’ Latino – particularly Central American – immigrants in the West,” said veteran political strategist and commentator Charles Ellison. “They don’t view themselves that way and they don’t want the society viewing them that way either.” Africans do rally immigration reform issues outwardly, at times, Ellison added. And in recent weeks, we have seen some African-American leaders such as Al Sharpton call on African Americans to join the Latino American fight for a fair immigration policy.

Right now, as civil rights icon Angela Davis put it in recent years, there is somewhat of a disconnect between the Black struggle for equality and that of Latinos where a lot of Black people feel like: “That’s not my fight.”

A recent public policy poll indicated that a majority of blacks, 58%, support the controversial Arizona immigration law that would have permitted the police to request verification of the legal residence or citizenship status of motorists stopped for routine traffic violations. But leaders like Sharpton are urging African Americans to consider Black migrants from Africa and the Caribbean who account for 15% of the immigrant population. Around 400,000 black immigrants in the United States are here without legal status. Sharpton has also said on his radio and television show that the black immigrants would likely become allies to the plight and cause that African Americans face.

Ellison agrees with Sharpton’s perspective.

“There are natural connections between the Diaspora migrant communities and the African-American community,” Ellison added. “Plus, he [Sharpton] sees an opening here to increase African American or Black voting numbers – right now, census counts are potentially low-balled since there are a lot of African and Caribbean migrants that are not lumped together with Black Americans – some have said that the total Black population may be on par or even slightly greater than the Latino population if you count African and Caribbean migrants. “

But, tension is still there.

“African Americans highly respect Caribbeans and Africans, but you can sense envy because there is the perception that Caribbean/African migrants come to the U.S. and are so successful so fast,” added Ellison who writes forseveral websites including The Root and The Philly Tribune. “Part of that is you have modern Diaspora and island societies that are, for the most part, all-Black and run by Black people—for better or for worse—and that has an impact on thinking, confidence levels, motivations.”

Meanwhile, Ellison notes that African Americans have had to deal directly and consistently on a personal, psychological, emotional, economic, cultural and political level with Whites for centuries.

“That has an impact whether we admit to it or not,” he added while noting that African and Caribbean immigrants would quickly criticize Black Americans for not taking full advantage of the opportunities here in the states or certain of ‘their ways.’”

Still, he doesn’t think it’s significant enough to be destructive.

And the likelihood of this group becoming allies with and empathizing with struggles of African Americans can be seen in the fact that Black immigrants, being the most educated of all immigrant groups, still face high levels of unemployment and struggle, possibly because they encounter discrimination and racism that African Americans have been dealing with all their lives here in the US.

The synergies and natural connections are there. Now if only the two communities can find their way to support one another and jump aboard the immigration reform fight bandwagon there could be mutually beneficial progress.

Conservative Supreme Court Justices Affirmative Action Case Also Attempts to Alter the Equal Protection Clause

On Tuesday, the Obama Administration issued guidance via a “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges and universities, clarifying for them that the latest Supreme Court Affirmative Action decision issued last month still permits schools, colleges and universities to consider race in admissions decisions under certain conditions.

But what the letter top Education and Justice department officials sent to elementary, secondary and universities did not say was that they have to bide their time and prepare for more challenges. Indeed, the recent case represents a further chipping away at the interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In the case handed down on April 22, Schuette, Attorney General of Michigan v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integrations and Immigration Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN), the majority conservative justices on the bench sought to protect a voter referendum forbidding the University of Michigan from using race-conscious admission policies arguing that the 14th Amendment requires the government to treat all citizens equally. The language from the Equal Protection Clause of that amendment, opponents of Affirmative Action argue, also prohibits discrimination against Whites and Asians, in many cases of competitive admissions where there is an abundant number of Asian-American college applicants surpassing their proportion in the US population.

Attempts to Change The Equal Protection Clause

But this is a newer, modern reading of the 14th Amendment which was adopted after slavery and was relied upon to dismantle state-sanctioned Jim Crow practices of the 1960s. It was never meant to protect Whites and as a case referenced in the opinion notes, whites haven’t needed protection from racial discrimination, historically.

Yet, over the past few decades, there has been a concerted effort in a series of Affirmative Action challenges to change the Equal Protection Clause, by turning it on its head and using it to dismantle race-conscious policies in school admissions (Bakke, Michigan, insert others) and government contracting (Metro, Adarand). The new interpretation seeks to prohibit minorities from benefiting from preferences thought to harm the majority race.

Recall the last time the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision in a case involving race-conscious admissions was in the University of Michigan Law School case in 2003, Grutter v. Bollinger. In that case, the Court decided that numerical set-asides to achieve racial diversity in college admissions and quotas was impermissible. Yet, in a 5-4 decision, the majority, more liberal justices found that diversity is a compelling government interest and that schools can craft admission policies that are not quotas to achieve diversity. Once a state school studies its admission history and determines that all other race-neutral options have failed to achieve diversity.

The Schuette Case

And it was that case that precipitated the referendum that was the center of this Schuette case. That holding emboldened parties and institutions with deep pockets who are opposed to Affirmative Action to take steps to get a referendum on the ballot in Michigan and amend the constitution to prohibit race used in Admissions. A coalition which gave itself the ingenuous name, Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, reportedly so it could convince some black and Latinos to help gather the 260K+ signatures needed to put an initiative on the ballot, Proposal 2. This initiative would remove the ability for university administrators and boards to adopt admissions policies that consider race.

To much surprise, because early indicators suggested it was unpopular, the initiative passed. It is now Article I, Section 26, an amendment to the Michigan Constitution. Once passed, the anti-affirmative action groups challenged the Michigan university’s admissions policy for violating the state constitution.

The Federal Appellate court in the 6th Circuit struck the amendment on appeal for going against a Supreme Court case which prohibits states from putting up higher hurdles for minorities to participate in the political process.

The court was referring to the “political-process doctrine” which permits the judiciary to strike an action that changes or adds an additional layer of processes in a way that denies minorities the ability to participate in democracy equally and fairly. This treatment in race and politics was created by two past US Supreme Court cases: Washington v. Seattle School District and Hunter v. Erickson.

In Hunter, a referendum voted by the majority of voters in the city of Akron, Ohio attempted to shut down an anti-discrimination in housing ordinance passed to address widespread racial discrimination in housing sales and rentals. The referendum amended the city charter to remove the anti-discrimination law. Similarly, in Seattle, shortly after desegregation efforts were under way in Washington in the 1960s, like many other cities back then, the city amended its laws to stymie bussing and other desegregation efforts by the school board. Both cases were overruled under that doctrine.

Justice Sotomayor Reaches Correct Conclusion

Justice Sotomayor, in an opinion to this case, agreed that the referendum in this Michigan case was another example of the majority using their numbers to make it harder for minorities to get a law passed that would benefit them. Given that race-conscious admission policies only benefited Black and Hispanic college applicants, it would be a hard haul for that group to successfully get its own ballot initiative passed in order to amend the constitution. Meanwhile, Sotomayor noted, recipients of legacy admissions or athletic scholarships only needed to convince the college governing bodies if they wanted to promote admission policies that impacted them. She argued that the Supreme Court owed it to itself to follow its own precedents or findings from recent cases and apply them to this case and consequently strike the amendment. But in this case the majority in an opinion written by Justice Kennedy focused more on the argument that voters have the right to overrule their government, and based on that reasoning reversed the federal court and upheld Michigan’s anti Affirmative Action amendment in its Constitution.

But Sotomayor was right.

The case is not about whether the framers of the Constitution imagined a time when the voters would be able to interject themselves in the process and create law directly rather than through elected officials, but about the burden it created. (This reasoning espoused by the swing vote in this case, the usual liberal Justice Breyer). For minorities who would benefit from race-conscious policies to undo the amendment, they’d have to undergo the costly and burdensome ballot initiative process. That is the change in process and burden that triggers the political process doctrine that past US Supreme Courts have used to strike down referendums like this one.

While democracy does in fact empower majority rule vote, historically, in US history and judicial jurisprudence, courts have and continue to curtail when the majority exercise their power in numbers to suppress or oppress minorities based on race, Sotomayor opined.

Unfortunately, for Affirmative Action proponents, Sotomayor’s opinion was the minority opinion. Justice Kagan had to recuse herself because she worked on the case while Solicitor General before being seated on the Bench, leaving only Justice Ginsburg, the only other woman on the Court to side with her.

And as Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, in order for them to distinguish the Seattle and Hunter cases, they have to acknowledge first that the political process doctrine existed to empower the judiciary to stop abuse of power by the minority – and that the majority’s decision isn’t always in the best interest of society.

Scalia Would Overturn all Past Decisions Recognizing Racial Impact in Laws

And that is why, perhaps, Justice Scalia brazenly wrote in his separate concurring opinion that if it were up to him he would overrule those laws altogether. The opinion acknowledged that a race-neutral law could have a disparate impact on minorities yet Scalia disagrees, or doesn’t want to accept that some laws do in fact negatively affect one racial group more than another. Instead, he thinks that a law must be crafted to intentionally harm minorities, not simply have a disparate impact.

To admit that would require him to accept a host of other disparities in our criminal and civil justice system and it’s clear he wouldn’t want to do that.

Instead, Scalia used his concurring opinion to further expound upon his own personal disdain and animosity for any law that benefits minorities, suggesting “it is hotly disputed whether the practice of race-based admissions is ever in a minority’s interest.”

He further wrote that the Equal Protection clause wasn’t created to protect groups of people but the individual. Except when that individual is black or Hispanic and he needs protection from a policy that targets him personally as an African American or Latino, then what?

The fact remains, the framers were indeed protecting one group, Black Americans and that was their intent, and a man who usually insists on staying close to the intent of the framers is willing to bend in this case and contort the intent of 14th Amendment so it is a law to protect Whites, not as initially intended.

A New Way to Get and Keep Black Men Out of Prison

Attorney General Eric Holder testifies before a House Judiciary Committee in Washington

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in this file photo taken May 15, 2013. The Obama administration on Thursday threw its weight behind a proposal that it says could cut the average prison sentence for a federal drug defendant by 11 months, a change designed to help reduce the massive U.S. prison population. (Photo Credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/Files)

In March, the Department of Justice announced another aspect of the Obama Administration’s “War on Drugs.” Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed a plan to reduce prison sentences for low-level drug dealers, as part of the Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative.

The announcement supports a January proposal from the United States Sentencing Commission to alter the federal guidelines to reduce the average sentence for drug dealers by about a year, from the current 62 months to 51 months.

If adopted, the change would impact nearly 70% of all drug trafficking offenders and reduce the average sentence by 11 months, or nearly 18%, Holder said in a statement to the Sentencing Commission earlier this month. The Bureau of Prisons said if the proposal was adopted the prison population would drop by 6,550 inmates at the end of five years.

“This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges – while measured in scope – would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” Holder said during his testimony. “And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.”

The plan has bipartisan support from the two main political parties in Congress, which are equally interested in putting a dent in the United States record of being the world’s largest incarcerator of its citizens. America has held that honor since the 1970s and currently one in every 100 adults in the US are in prison. Currently, roughly one third of the Department of Justice’s budget is allocated to the prison system, a fact that has enabled Holder to gain supporters among fiscal conservatives and Libertarians. Consider that in 2010 alone, the federal government and states spent $80 billion on incarceration, and of the 216,000 current federal inmates nearly half are serving time for drug-related crimes. The effort is also in line with other relatively new policies since President Obama’s first term.

Back in 2010, Congress unanimously voted to reduce the 100 to 1 disparity between sentences for crack cocaine offenses compared to powdered cocaine. Before the Fair Sentencing Act passed, Blacks automatically received harsher sentences for the same crimes as a White offender given that crack was a drug more prevalent in black neighborhoods while powdered cocaine was more used in White ones. In response to the Fair Sentencing Act, last December President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses and imprisoned from 15 years to life. The relief also set free a man who was only 22 years old when he was sentenced to three life terms over a drug deal.

A year after the Fair Sentencing Act passed, the Obama administration also expanded the number of drug courts as part of the five-year plan. Back then, the nation’s 2,600 drug courts diverted about 120,000 people each year into treatment facilities instead of prison, a white paper from The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) observed. Given that many of the drug offenders would not be there if they were clean, the effort focused on getting people treatment to reduce the recidivism rate.

The Second Chance Act, which Congress passed with bipartisan support, supports state, local and tribal reentry courts, as well as family-centered programs, substance abuse treatment, employment, mentoring and other services that improve the transition from prison and jail to work to reduce recidivism.

Also, the ONDCPhas been working with HUD to encourage home leasing to ex-offenders who aren’t registered sex offenders or were in jail for manufacturing methamphetamine (otherwise known as “crystal meth”). Meanwhile, the Justice Department awarded $100 million to 178 state and local reentry grants and another $83 million to 118 new grantees this past September.

The cost of treatment drug abuse (including research, training and prevention efforts) was estimated to be $15.8 billion.  That’s a fraction of these overall costs of drug abuse which are estimated at about $193 billion a year through lost productivity, health care related costs, and incarceration. Researchers reveal that residential treatment is more cost effective if offenders attend post-release treatment.

The outcome of all of these efforts should mean a significant drop in the incarceration of African American men and women and with the state  of the black family always in a fragile balance and state, more unified families will be a good thing.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline Starts in Preschool

Who knew that the school to prison pipeline started at pre-school?

That is the overarching message that some have taken away from a recent Department of Justice report indicating that even though black students represent 18% of preschool enrollment 42% of them have been suspended once, and 48% suspended more than once. It was also discovered that black and Hispanic schoolchildren are more quickly referred to law enforcement.

The report from the Civil Right Division’s Educational Opportunities Section analyzing its 2011 to 2012 Civil Rights Data Collection database discovered that even though African-American students made up just under one in five preschoolers enrolled during the 2011-2012 school year, they accounted for nearly half of all preschool students who faced more than one out-of-school suspension. And for many the punishment is dished out beyond the principal’s office.

“This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at an event presenting the findings at J.O.  Wilson Elementary School in Washington, DC. “Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed.  This Administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities.”

The findings came from analysis of a comprehensive collection of data from 97,000 of the nation’s public schools in 16,500 school districts and representing 49 million students that the Justice Department recently started assessing and extracting data from to determine trends.

A press release about the data linked it to the prison pipeline, noting that the “data  reveals particular concern around discipline for our nation’s young men and boys of color, who are disproportionately affected by suspensions and zero-tolerance policies in schools,” also noting that “suspended students are less likely to graduate on time and more likely to be suspended again. They are also more likely to repeat a grade, drop out, and become involved in the juvenile justice system.”

The pre-school research shows that clearly there is less patience for excited outbursts, a child speaking out of turn or rattling off endlessly to make a point. Black children are punished, put out the class and reprimanded for conduct that may be a natural and incidental to exploratory play and expression. When warnings, parent-teacher meetings, taking away recess and other benefits are options, kicking a child out of enrichment opportunities can be a dangerous thing.

This report came a couple months after another analysis found that participants advanced the age of a child they were told committed a felony, even police.  A Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study, released on February 24th found  “when asked to identify the age of a young boy that committed a felony, participants in a study routinely overestimated the age of black children far more than they did white kids. Worse: Cops did it, too,” a piece in The Wire summarized.

So something about black children cause people to see them as older than they are and by default expect a different set of actions and reactions from them.  We saw this in the Michael Dunn murder trial for the murder of teen Jordan Davis. Dunn said he thought the SUV full of black teens he said was threatening him were older adult men. He shot at them anticipating that they were capable of a lot worse than just usual teen trash talking.

Clearly, these studies reveal a deeper level of pathology assigned to black children that can have wide-ranging impact on them to the point they’d lose out on enrichment activities, become stigmatized and face harsh consequences.

Although some try to isolate the challenges in urban communities to those within them solely, the findings from these analyses reveal that there are institutional and societal influences and factors that add a layer to the uphill battle of surviving a life with less resources, support and opportunities.

Hopefully the information will be used to implement real, measurable change.

How Faith Communities Are Helping with the Affordable Care Act

In less than 10 days, the bell tolls on the Affordable Healthcare Act enrollment period.  Faith-based organizations have been essential to assisting the Obama administration in getting as many uninsured people covered as possible. Earlier this year, the US Health and Human Services stated that 6 out of 10 African Americans would be eligible for free or subsidized healthcare.  The challenge: to get them to sign up.

In fact, the pressure is on and the White House has been working overtime, primarily through grassroots efforts, to get the word out and get as many uninsured people as possible to sign up for healthcare coverage as mandated by the 2010 law. Ideally, 6 million people needed to enroll in the first year with that number gradually increasing to 24 million over time, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

By March 31, all Americans are supposed to be insured per President Barack Obama’s landmark law, euphemistically called Obamacare. Late last year, some reports indicated that many were still unaware about several aspects of the law, that healthcare was mandatory and were perhaps swayed by rhetoric from those who oppose the law.

“You can’t deny the impact of the intensity of the vitriol in the debate around moving towards the ACA, all of the politics and strategies utilized…the inane debates in Congress, the 40 plus attempts to repeal… the confusing array of information that’s out there,” Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter said on a January call with reporters. “The general public has real lives and real problems and they don’t have time to sit around having esoteric debates about this.”

Back in January, an estimated 6.8 million African Americans lacked coverage.  That is when the mayors from most cities were meeting in Washington and the White House used the gathering to call on some the mayors of urban cities with high minority populations like Mesa, Arizona’s Mayor Scott, Mayor Kevin Johnson and Sacramento, California and Baltimore’s Stephanie Rawlings-Blake who were also on that January call with Mayor Nutter. Each took turns to share what they were doing to get the word out about the law and each said they relied heavily on the faith community and coordinated programs with churches and mosques. It’s been all grassroots work with the churches on a national level as well.

Beginning last fall, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and its HHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, as well as the Office of Public Engagement, have been working with mayors in urban cities and the faith community to pump up enrollment numbers.

In September, about 1800 faith leaders participated in an information call and later the Health and Human Services department released a tool kit to churches, mosques and temples.  Over 21,000 people participated in 120 webinars HHS held for faith and community leaders, the White House reports.

Meanwhile, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett reached out to faith leaders like the Bishop TD Jakes of The Potter’s House; Reverend Luis Cortés, President of Esperanza; Rev. Otis Moss Jr of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church; and Rev. Gabe Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

And it’s not just churches either. This past February 18th. , the White House partnered with the National Council for Jewish Women  to put on the Jewish Community Day of Action for Health Care Coverage, where various groups nationwide held events and promoted “18 Ways to Make an Impact.”  The number 18 represents “life” in the Jewish tradition which was also why the Day of Action was held on the 18th.

In the Muslim community, groups like the American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP) have galvanized young Muslim health professionals nationwide to take lead to convince their community and mosque leaders and members to enroll before the deadline.

This week, the White House proudly stated that so far, 5 million people have signed up for insurance and that it is on track to meet internal deadlines. But if that number is truly accurate, and reflects actual sign-ups, then it would be a great payoff for the grueling grassroots efforts and the cooperation of the faith community for certain.