One Small Lesson On Race Relations


I am a white woman. Because of my skin color, I often get pre-judged and discriminated against by darker skinned people who do not know me. They assume I have nothing valid to offer when it comes to the issue of race. However, I beg to differ. Being a part of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious and multi-political family, I have plenty of experience dealing with racism and turning people’s minds around or, sometimes, inside out. I haven’t experienced every single racial injustice that can be imagined, but I have learned a little something from my own experiences.

One such experience involved my oldest son. He is bi-racial, half black, half white. One afternoon I got a call from his high school principal. My son had received a disciplinary action. The school thought I should know about it. I told the principal I was on my way if he had time to discuss it. He did.

I arrived at the principal’s office and found in his office himself, my son, and my son’s teacher present for this meeting. I did not enter this meeting with any pre-conceived ideas as to who may be right or wrong. I did not enter this meeting defensive and assume my son had done no wrong. He was a teenager. He got it wrong about as often as he got it right. That’s why he still needed parenting.

The principal introduced everyone then let the teacher explain the situation. She said, “Class was almost over and we had completed our work for the day so I let the kids hang out and talk for about ten minutes before the bell. Your son was hanging out with his friends. I didn’t hear what all was being said but I did hear your son’s comment because he said it very loud. He said, ‘But, I’m BLACK, nigga!”

At this point my son interrupted and exclaimed, “Exactly! I am!” I corrected him and told him it was inappropriate to interrupt. He needed to respect her right to talk and he would get his turn.

The teacher then told me she went over to my son and told him he could not speak like that and say the “N” word and he began to argue with her that he could because he’s black. She told him, “No you are not black. You need to report to the office because you are going to be getting ISS (in school suspension).” That was the end of it until I arrived.

I asked the teacher if she was unaware of my son’s ethnicity. Did she not know that he really was half black? She did not. She “assumed” he was Indian. I laughed and told her he gets that alot. I assured her that he was, indeed, black. The gringa then was certain that he was not being singled out for disciplinary action because he was “black”. To be honest, the idea never occurred to me that my son would experience racism in the diverse school he went to. This just simply affirmed it.

I turned to my son and asked him if what she had said was true. He said it was. I asked him if she left anything out that was important. He said she didn’t. I then asked the principal exactly what school policy had been violated. He explained the “N” word was not a word allowed on campus.

I turned to my son and told him, “You did the crime. You are going to do the time.” He protested that it was unfair. That he was black. It wasn’t racist for him to say that word. The purpose of the policy was to prevent racists from calling black kids names. He wasn’t doing that. Why should he be punished? Hearing such logic in his argument warmed the gringa’s heart to a degree, but his logic was flawed.

My pearl of wisdom for that day was to explain to my son all about double standards as well as to respect where other people are coming from. He enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a family and area that was very diverse. Because of this he also enjoyed the privilege of not being exposed to white supremacist hate. He had no idea just how disgusting that word is. His only personal experience with it was hanging out with his friends and using it as a form of “smack talk”. To his crowd, they just didn’t see why everyone made such a big deal out of a word. It was just a word.

He needed to learn that prior generations used that word completely differently. He would just have to wait until all those folks died off and his generation was the ruling old folk class and then they could all use that damn word as much as they like. But for now, the word is offensive. It’s history is offensive. As long as my generation is still alive and running the show, he better only use that word in private.

As far as double standards were concerned, the purpose of the policy was to create an environment of respect. The school was not going to practice a double standard and let a black student say a word the school would not allow students of other races to say. I was going to support the school’s decision to enforce the policy because the gringa was also not going to raise her son up to live a double standard. Allowing or disallowing a particular behavior simply based on skin color is racism.

I asked him if I allowed this word to be spoken in my home or in my presence outside the home. He admitted I did not. I told him he was to respect the authority of the school and not say it just as he respected my authority and did not use it around me.

As the United States continues to deal with race issues today, I support almost every cause against injustice of any kind against any people being singled out for race, ethnicity, religion or financial status. Wrong is wrong and right is right. You’re either a racist or you’re not a racist. It’s very simple. Morality knows no racial, religious or financial barriers.

As a person battles for their cause, it is important to remember exactly what your are fighting for or fighting against. If you are fighting for racial justice, do not make the mistake of becoming a racist yourself. Personal rage and frustration is perfectly understandable, but it cannot cloud your judgment and then hijack your movement. Racists come in all color, genders, and ethnicities. If you find yourself behaving in a way that you in turn point the finger at another and accuse them of wrongdoing, you may be a racist. You are most definitely a hypocrite. It’s very simple.

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Immigration and Welfare: What’s a Civilized Nation To Do?


The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act

August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law a welfare reform plan that not only changed things for the nation’s citizens, but also for the nation’s immigrants. Title IV of the bill contained the details on the provisions that affected “aliens”.

Title IV opens with the explanation that the basic principle of United States immigration law is self-sufficiency. With that in mind, it declares that aliens living in the U.S are to depend on their own capabilities, sponsors and private organizations to provide the resources for the needs of their families rather than depend on public resources. Despite these premises, the Act acknowledges the fact that aliens have been receiving public benefits at increasing rates. The legislation explains that this is due to inadequate eligibility standards that do not prevent aliens from enrollment in the public benefits system. One of the purposes of this legislation was to reform eligibility rules so that aliens comply with national immigration policy.

For their first five years in America “aliens” are prohibited from receiving any federal benefit. Exceptions to this are immigrants who: need emergency medical care; need short-term disaster relief; qualify for school lunch programs; qualify for Head Start programs; who need immunizations or treatment of a communicable disease; are granted asylum and refugee status; are permanent residents who have worked 40 qualifying quarters contributing to Social Security; are military veterans discharged honorably or are active duty military. Aliens who were receiving federal housing assistance up to the date the new law was enacted are exempt and can maintain their housing benefit.

So, what about immigrants who were currently receiving benefits and now were in a “disqualified” class? Is the government going to suddenly turn off the spigot and immigrant families scramble to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate a sudden loss of income support? Legislators laid out a plan for a transition period for these people. They would have a year to determine what benefit denial they qualified for and prepare for what this would mean for their home budget. Many of these programs required recipients to reapply for benefits on a yearly basis. At such time, disqualified “aliens” would simply be denied their benefit based on the parameters of this welfare reform bill.

Just what were the primary welfare programs this bill was concerned with? They were food stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security temporary assistance for the needy (SSI). The exempt programs, such as school lunch programs, were considered benefits that were “means” based. In order to qualify, not only was the immigrant’s income to be considered, but also the income of the immigrant’s sponsor. This was also required for an immigrant who attempted to qualify for State funded, rather than federally funded, benefits. If it was found that an immigrant had received a Federal or State benefit they would have actually been disqualified from receiving because of a sponsor’s financial means, the Federal and State government can now demand reimbursement from the sponsor.

The overall goal of this welfare reform was to move recipients from a welfare lifestyle to a working lifestyle over a five year period and permanently keep them self-sufficient. It also sought to remove from recipient status those who were on the dole and shouldn’t be, one such category being the immigrant. Was this goal achieved? Was this goal good for America? In 1994 the U.S. welfare system logged 14.4 million caseloads. Five years later, these caseloads had dropped to 5.3 million. The gringa thinks it’s safe to say, “Mission accomplished! Way to go President Bill Clinton! Umm, maybe.”

Why maybe? You see, many of these families were not actually completely self-sufficient. They simply moved from government generated income to the status of low-income. Single mothers especially were affected by this, becoming even poorer than when they were receiving benefits. As these families lost their Medicaid benefit by entering the workforce, they were often faced with employers who did not offer affordable health benefits. A worker supporting three people would not qualify for Medicaid if they earned more than $11,920 (for a family of three) annually. Now, the gringa would like to know who in their right minds thinks a family can afford health insurance and medical bills for three people if they make less than, say, about $70,000? Washington D.C. was way off base deciding this number was the qualifying poverty line.

Families that were accustomed to a housing benefit that kept their rent very low, were suddenly faced with paying full market rate for the roof over their head. That could mean, for a family that was earning $11,920.01, a penny above the qualifying poverty line, their rent could go from $200 to $700. You tell the gringa if you honestly think these poor, working class people could afford such a thing? Many could not. Remember, they also still had to pay their electricity bill. Sheesh. What was Congress thinking? The problem was not in the legislation itself. The problem was with what Congress thought the economic threshold of “poverty” should be. This presented the nation with a demographic that still was in dire need of public assistance.

So, although welfare was definitely reformed and got a lot of people off the government dole, a whole other problem was created. More families and disabled people simply became impoverished. Many of these people worked but did not earn a living wage. So, for the many anti-immigrant xenophobes out there who thought it was the immigrants who poured across the border and stole American jobs, the gringa will tell you to look at the numbers. From 1996 until 2001 it was not the immigrants filling these low paying positions. It was former welfare recipients, about 9 million to be exact.

So, if you want to measure success by the caseload numbers, yeah, Clinton achieved his goal. However, if you want to measure success by comparing quality of life before and after, it’s a different story altogether. Consider that most of these transitioned welfare recipients could not work full-time or year round, especially single moms. Many earned minimum wage or just a bit more. Either way, it was not enough to provide a decent standard of living for their families. Once you consider achieving a decent standard of living to be the measure for success, you can see the Clinton administration failed miserably. Although welfare enrollment declined, the numbers of the poverty class increased dramatically.

Consider that the poverty line as established by the government was $11,920 for a family of three. Consider the working single mom that may be making about $8 per hour and working only when her kids are in school because she can’t afford child care. Working eight hours daily, five days weekly, ten months annually (two months off for her kids school summer break), with no days off, she then brings home, on average, $12,000 annually. So, she makes too much to be considered in “poverty” in order to qualify for government benefits, but, you tell me, does she make anywhere near the $30,000 needed to afford the basic necessities for an adult and two children in 1996?

Out of 126 New York City “welfare to work” cases, the average person was earning $7.50 hourly and 58% were supporting their families with their work income. The gringa asks, “How in the hell did they manage?” Nationwide studies reported that most welfare recipients that entered the workplace earned well below poverty level. This was actually good news because they would qualify for means- based Federal and State benefit programs. However, there were plenty more that earned over the poverty level but nowhere near the $30,000 threshold that was the bare minimum for a small family’s basic necessities. Thus, this legislation created a large poverty class in America.

When you check the specific budget cuts, it is easy to see that most of the people affected were immigrants, elderly, disabled and single mothers. These are the nation’s most vulnerable classes of people. What this legislation meant is that poor people who were dependent on government programs to feed and house them and provide medical care actually became poorer, and possibly un-housed, underfed and without health care (unless they showed up at a hospital emergency room; which is exactly what happened, starting a new trend of packed ER’s, but that is fodder for another gringa story).

Social workers who are the ground zero, in the trenches workers and see the direct effect of these programs, criticized this reform. They claimed that by replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, even if a family met all eligibility requirements, there was no assurance that children or parents would receive assistance. This was because oversight of the block grants was performed by individual states. States had their own requirements for eligibility. This meant that some states could deny aid to families with teenage parents or to families where both parents were present in the home, even if they met every Federal qualifier and regardless of their income level, if they had any income at all. Also, once the grant money ran out, states would place applicants on a waiting list for the next Federal funding period.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had its own criticisms of the reform. They considered that within the welfare system was institutional racism and discrimination. They felt the legislation did not take into consideration the gender gap in wages. Rather than help women on welfare gain meaningful employment, the nation simply cracked down on eligibility requirements.  The government focus was on “work first” without doing anything to level the workforce playing field.

Many welfare recipients whose job and below poverty line wages qualified them for benefits would tolerate discriminatory practices in the workplace out of fear of dismissal and loss of benefits if they filed a complaint. Many immigrants were discriminated against with regard to case management and receiving benefits they qualified for because of language barriers.

To remedy these discriminatory practices, the USCCR recommended that Federal funds should be allocated for enforcement of civil rights among recipients, investigations of allegations of violations and to train caseworkers in how to better adhere to civil rights statutes. They further recommended better data collection on the people registering to qualify for benefits as well as the recipients and that all welfare agencies be subjected to audits with regard to civil rights grievances and compliance. The gringa understands this need but can’t help but think, “Dear God. It cost money to save money simply because some people can’t treat other people right.”

Specifically where immigrants were concerned, the USCCR was concerned with the law prohibiting immigrants from receiving any aid until they had been in the country for at least five years. The living conditions of many of these poor families continued to just get worse. Although, among some groups of people, the immigrant was a favorite target to accuse of entering the country just to live off the backs of taxpayers, this was actually a myth. Prior to 1996, statistics show that immigrant families were greatly outnumbered by citizen families in receiving benefits. This is because most immigrants come to the United States looking for jobs and opportunity, not handouts. As for immigrants that did qualify for aid, many would not accept it for fear of retribution.

The USCCR’s final recommendation regarding immigrants and the 1996 welfare reform was to immediately restore full benefits to immigrants regardless of when they entered the country and regardless of the financial resources of their sponsors. They further recommended that undocumented immigrants, for humanitarian reasons, should at least have access to health care, education and food stamps. To protect their civil rights, it was recommended that language assistance be provided for them throughout every step of the public assistance process.

Although these families may still struggle to feed, house and clothe their families, all is not doom and gloom. As mothers moved into the workforce, many children left in-home care and entered organized formal care. Studies resulted in surprising findings. Many of these children benefited from these environments with increased cognitive development, learning gains, and school readiness. These studies further suggested that the adolescents of these families were more likely to become employed later on when compared to adolescents in welfare dependent homes.

Now that the nuts and bolts of the legislation as well as its aftermath has been covered, the gringa asks, “Who REALLY benefited from this legislation?” The answer? Well, number one, the politician who was pandering to: a. voters with money and influence; and, b. corporations who contributed lots of money to campaigns. How so? Well, think about it. When the labor market is flooded with people looking for jobs, guess what, wages stay low! And that’s EXACTLY what happened, So, this piece of “social” reform was really a cheap labor package for the benefit of big corporations. Remember the economy boom during the Clinton years? Yeah, well, those growing businesses needed workers, and they wanted them as cheap as they could get ’em.

The reality is, if the government wants people to be self-sufficient, they must simply accept the fact that now, as in 1996, wages are too low for many families to escape poverty whether they work forty hours a week or even 60 hours a week. The gringa believes so much more could have been accomplished by simply raising minimum wage standards across the board to a living income level. Anyone who works forty hours weekly should make enough money to keep a roof over their head, feed and clothe themselves and afford healthcare.

For critics who argue that minimum wage jobs are simply entry level jobs for people to use temporarily and then move on to a better paying career level job, the gringa has got news for you. Welcome to the “New America” where 61% of young Americans have a college education, 44% of those college educated people are stuck in low income level jobs earning less than $25,000 annually and half of those have student debt of around $30,000 a year. Raising the minimum wage to a living standard level will not make these people rich, it will make them self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency was, after all, the true goal of this legislation. So, critics, the gringa says, “Quit pointing the finger and start lifting a hand to help these hard working Americans become self-sufficient. Join the cause to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.”

Sources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2015/05/11/the-5-4-unemployment-rate-means-nothing-for-millennials/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/millennials_report.pdf

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-104hr3734enr/pdf/BILLS-104hr3734enr.pdf

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Reconciliation_Act_of_1996.aspx

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/1996_Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Reconciliation_Act

http://www.epi.org/publication/webfeatures_viewpoints_tanf_testimony/

https://www.socialworkers.org/advocacy/welfare/legislation/summary.pdf

http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/prwora/welfare.htm

https://www.facebook.com/Fightfor15?fref=photo

Photo credit: www.slideshare.net

Sandra Bland, I’ve Been Thinking About You


At the 13:55 mark in the video, Sandra, you are off camera. You’ve been knocked to the ground by the State Trooper and a female officer. You tell them, among other things… “You knock my head in the ground and I got epilepsy.” The trooper says, “Good, good.” Sandra, the medical examiner said you died because of asphyxiation. Sandra, from one epileptic to another, I know that when an epileptic has a grand mal seizure, that person stops breathing. Many die from asphyxiation. I have had grand mal seizures. I have managed to survive them because I have never been alone when it has happened. I have always had loved ones who have acted quickly to get me the emergency care I need.

As of yet, there is no video of when they booked you into jail, Sandra. Right now, I don’t know what happened to you. And you were so close to me. Maybe just an hour from my doorstep. So far, the last time I saw you alive was when the female officer took you out of her car to pat you down. The only video about the jail, so far, is when they supposedly found you. When I watched that video, I started to cry. However, I didn’t let myself cry because of my epilepsy. If I get too emotionally wound up I could have a grand mal seizure. I was home alone when I watched that video. If I had a seizure alone, I could die. So, I didn’t let myself cry about the video of the jail where you lay dead. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to shed the tears for you I would have liked to.

As I watched that jail video, I noticed that the cell you were in was near a back exit door. They put you in a hallway with a door closing off the hallway from the other holding cells. The other holding cells could be seen by camera. Your cell could not. They left you all alone. Isolated. Unseen. Vulnerable. The most dangerous situation to be in for an epileptic. The only way they could have endangered you more was if they put you in a tub of water. It seemed the only way a passerby could see you was if they bent down to look in a little window at the bottom of your cell door.

This jail video made me think of many possibilities. At almost every jail, in any area where there is interaction between police officers and prisoners, there are video cameras recording all interactions. I’m sure, Sandra, the booking area at the jail you were taken to had video cameras. I would really like to see you alive and well at the booking desk. Until I do, I have to consider several possibilities.

One possibility, Sandra, is that you had a seizure en route to the jail. If you did, you would have thrashed around and kicked in the back of the patrol car. The officer may have thought you were just causing trouble. Sandra, I believe it is possible you may have died in the back of that female officer’s police car. I believe it is possible that you never went to the booking desk because you arrived at the jail dead. I believe it is possible they brought you in that back, secluded exit, unseen, and hid you away, all alone, disgracefully and disrespectfully, in that isolated cell. Sandra, I believe it’s possible. I will continue to believe it’s possible until I see you in a booking video.

Another possibility, if the police release a booking video proving you arrived alive and well at the jail, is that you had a seizure in that cell all alone. Law enforcement must have heard the same words I heard about your epilepsy on your arrest video. They know if they did not get you proper medical attention for your epilepsy, after telling them you had the disease, and had a seizure in custody, they would be held liable for your death. Sandra, it’s possible that if you had a seizure and died in that cell it only took minutes. It would have happened suddenly. You may have had no warning. When they found you dead, it’s possible they made up this story of you hanging yourself. I don’t believe you killed yourself.

When the medical examiner looked at your body, if you had died from a seizure, he would have found that you asphyxiated. That’s exactly what the medical examiner said. He said you died of asphyxiation. The only thing he failed to say, is why you died of asphyxiation.

Sandra, I don’t personally know you. I don’t really know if you had epilepsy or not. But, I do know crying out you have epilepsy is not something most people would think to do in a situation like yours. Most people go about their lives blissfully unaware of epilepsy. I think, Sandra, that you had a seizure and died. I think, Sandra, the stress from how you were treated triggered it. I think, Sandra, law enforcement failed to take care of you. I think, Sandra, you shouldn’t have died.

1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a.k.a. the Simpson-Mazzoli Act


And what was going on in the United States in 1986 besides big hair, parachute pants, the Iran-Contra debacle of the Reagan administration, and Falco, the one hit wonder with “Rock Me Amadeus”? Well, Congress was getting together with President Reagan for his signature on the new immigration reform bill called the “Simpson-Mazzoli Act”. Considering this mammoth piece of legislative effort contains over 41,000 words, the gringa will stick to the facts that resulted in significant change for the immigrant and American society.

It is interesting to note that today’s “undocumented worker” was yesterday’s “illegal alien” and also was the “unauthorized alien” of the 80’s. These immigrants who were already present in the country in 1986 could apply and gain legal status according to certain guidelines:

  • Immigrants had to provide proof of residency and employment since January 1, 1982
  • Immigrants had to have a clean criminal record (a felony and/or 3+ misdemeanors got you the reject notice)
  • Immigrants had to provide proof of registering with Selective Service
  • Immigrants had to meet a minimal level of understanding of U.S. history, government and the English language or be enrolled in these courses of study (if you were 65 years old or older they let you slide on this requirement).
  • Immigrants must apply within 18 months of the passage of the bill

The bill also contained provisions of temporary resident travel so these new temporary resident aliens could legally return to their countries of origin and visit family and return to the United States. The gringa is proud of this particular provision and the humanitarian recognition by the United States of maintaining healthy family bonds and connections. The Attorney General also had the freedom to waive certain requirements if it was in the interest of family unity. The gringa is certain that the United States is on the right track here.

Once an immigrant became a lawful temporary U.S. resident, they were disqualified from federally funded public welfare for five years. The gringa is sure this provision was included to satisfy the xenophobes who just KNEW these folks only wanted to come to America in order to freeload! However, individual State programs that had National School Lunch programs, vocational education programs, Headstart programs, and their own health services, as well as Social Security benefits individuals may qualify for, were not prohibited.

Because this immigration reform legalized many workers, the bill outlawed the practice of any employer hiring an unauthorized alien. However, enforcement of this provision was to be deferred during agricultural seasonal services. Hey, when the country’s gotta eat, we should all just look away, right? The gringa then must ask, “What’s an immigrant hopeful to think?” I mean really, come on, think this one through with some common sense. If it was common knowledge within the immigrant community the U.S. law meant that you could enter undocumented and law enforcement would simply ignore you if you happened to arrive at the right time of the year, what would you do? If you are an opportunity deprived and economically oppressed individual, you choose the cheapest, shortest and quickest way to get into the land of opportunity. You enter during the agricultural harvest season when the nation puts out the welcome mat and simply stay. You keep your head down part of the year and walk around boldly the rest of the year. The United States is in no position to criticize immigrants for taking advantage of the law of the land! The nation can’t be willing to turn a blind eye when it’s convenient for their belly then turn around and point the finger and blame the immigrant and ask them, “What the hell are you doing here?!”

Migrant agricultural workers who entered the nation seasonally were considered separate from the unauthorized aliens who met the above conditions. The migrant workers had a different visa with different qualifying guidelines. For the xenophobes who complain that immigrants come to this country and steal American jobs, consider this requirement of migrant worker guidelines: “Requires an employer H-2A visa petition to certify that: (1) there are not enough local U.S. workers for the job; and (2) similarly employed U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions will not be adversely affected.” It seems that plenty of jobs are available in the agricultural industry but Americans refuse the opportunity. So, don’t be pointing the “Stealing American Jobs” finger at the immigrant. This provision put the American first only allowing immigrants to fill the position when Americans refused. Also, fearful xenophobes, consider President Reagan’s 1977 radio broadcast statement, ““It makes one wonder about the illegal alien fuss. Are great numbers of our unemployed really victims of the illegal alien invasion or are those illegal tourists actually doing work our own people won’t do?” Way back then even the Gipper got it! Anti-immigration folks are recycling the same old arguments and, time after time, they are proven wrong.

One interesting stipulation regarding discrimination has the gringa scratching her head and tsk-tsking. The bill says it would be considered “unfair” for an employer to discriminate against an individual in hiring practices based on origin or citizenship. However, it would be considered NOT “unfair” if an employer preferred to hire a U.S. citizen or national rather than an equally qualified resident alien. The gringa asks, “Does not one of these statements negate the other?” Geniuses and Washington, the two do not go hand in hand. The gringa says, “Just one more law in favor of American laborers and protecting their right to work over the immigrant to use in an argument to shut up and shut down the anti-immigrant xenophobe crowd.” Mmph, take that!

For migrant workers, though, there was still an option to obtain residency status. During the 18 month registration period established by this bill, if they worked 90 days within one year in the agricultural industry they qualified for temporary residency and could travel between the U.S. and their country of origin. During the first five years of their new status, migrant workers are considered “eligible legalized aliens” and do have access to Federal assistance as well as state assistance for the first five years of their new status. Migrant workers were also entitled to legal assistance.

Cuban and Haitian entrants were granted permanent resident status if they arrived before January 1, 1982. This was because many of these immigrants were political refugees.

Considering the disaster of American children whose native mother was not married to an American G.I. and was left behind in Indochina in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Cambodia conflict, the gringa is pleased to find that the U.S. was more socially evolved in 1986. Children qualified for status, benefits and privileges if even one parent obtains resident status, regardless of the marital position of the child’s parents.

All in all, close to 3 million immigrants were legalized. This is a significant chapter in American immigration history. However, according to the numbers, about 2 million unauthorized aliens were left running around America without proper “authorization”. Some of these didn’t qualify, so, everyone just assumed they would eventually get deported. Others would have qualified but didn’t know a thing about the program. No one really had a back up plan for this eventuality. The gringa is not surprised. I’m sure Reagan and Congress thought, “We’ve done enough. That headache can be for the next administration.” Yes, U.S. government, how the wheels turn.

Critics of this legislation called it “amnesty”.  The real definition of amnesty is “an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses”. The gringa’s not sure that the term “amnesty” applies. Perhaps a better term for a path to citizenship would be “the right thing” or, maybe, “the smart thing” or, “humanity at its best”. Regardless of what you call it, there were plenty of critics then and now who considered it a big, fat failure because illegal immigrants poured into the country after its passage. The fantasy was, the gringa supposes, that politicians thought after the passage of this bill, somehow, by some miracle, there would never be another unauthorized alien that would enter the country. The gringa can only guess that perhaps they thought the immigrants that were here were the only ones that would ever want to be here and no other immigrants would arrive in the future. What a bunch of dummies.

The gringa thinks they should have expected immigrant hopefuls around the world to jump up and take notice and point their finger toward America, wide-eyed as they exclaimed, “DID YOU SEE THAT! THAT COULD BE ME!” And off they go, running as fast as their little foreign feet can carry them to the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave. With a path to citizenship laid out and easy to qualify for, of course hopefuls would hotfoot it across the border if given the chance.

The gringa thinks the problem was not with the legislation. The gringa thinks the problem was with the lack of preparedness. It should have been, sign the bill then yell, “Katie, bar the door!” They should have seen it coming! Big sillies! They needed to have a stronger presence on the border. Why didn’t they? Money, of course. Even though there was a provision to beef up border security by 50%, it seems they still didn’t spend enough money! Or, quite possibly, as often happens in bureaucracies, the money was mismanaged. All you xenophobes who are crying about border security, well, its gonna cost you. Are you willing to pay? That means taxes to fund it. Take a look at your paycheck stub. Are you still willing to pay?

Another reason illegals continued to flood into the country is because the framers just weren’t good planners. The bill was not a failure as critics claim when they point to the fact that illegal immigration was never eradicated, but actually increased. It’s because the bill didn’t go far enough. It never occurred to the framers of the legislation that the country might just continue to grow and need more laborers. Just like any good capitalist free market system ruled by supply and demand, the U.S. labor market demanded laborers and the nation’s southern neighbors were only too happy to supply them. And that is the very reason we need immigration reform now. Most of these people are here to work and raise their families and educate themselves and their children. They need to be able to come out of the shadows and live with security as proud American citizens.

For today’s critics of amnesty who treat it like it’s a dirty word, listen to the words of a wise humanitarian: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Ronald Reagan, in a 1984 televised debate with Walter Mondale. Former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson’s opinion on amnesty? “Anybody who’s here illegally is going to be abused in some way, either financially [or] physically. They have no rights.” How do today’s Republicans feel about Obama’s efforts to bring about meaningful immigration reform? Well, just listen to what Mitch McConnell had to say: “…take amnesty off the table…”

So, then, what really happens with the issue of immigration reform? Politicians stick to their tried-and-true methods of old. When their voter base is raising hell, but the politician is too afraid to tackle the realities of legislation that affects the lives of millions of people, they worry more about getting re-elected. They don’t really care about the plight of an oppressed, unrepresented class of people who are not registered to vote. It is safer for the politician to stir up constituents with anger toward the immigrant so the voters won’t ask for immigration reform, but, rather, just scream for mass deportation. But, the politician doesn’t want to do that either. I mean, think about it. If cowardly politicians actually started deporting people, deportees may have loved ones in the community that DO vote. Politicians don’t want to risk losing that potential vote. If the politician treads the murky waters of immigration reform with legalization in mind, he alienates xenophobes, racists and labor unions from his voter base. If he goes hard line on immigration reform, he risks alienating the voters of ethnic groups who see members of their own national origin being rounded up and oppressed. What’s a vote-hungry, cowardly politician to do? He continues to stir up fear, because fear mongering directs everyone to the subject of border control. It’s much safer for the politician to support funding of border security than deal with millions of human beings. So, basically, the United States never sees meaningful immigration reform because the politicians are cowards.

The gringa remains hopeful that in Obama’s lame duck years he will deliver on immigration reform because he doesn’t give a hoot about pandering for a vote. He is in the strongest position to do the right thing. He has managed to deliver on some other controversial, hot button issues. The gringa still has faith and sits on the edge of her seat to see what happens. In closing, the gringa defers to the wise words of President Reagan who remained a friend to the immigrant to the very day he left office in 1989 when he said this: “I’ve spoken of a shining city all my political life but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.”

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1986_immigration_reform_and_control_act.html

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d099:SN01200:@@@L&summ2=m&% 7CTOM:/bss/d099query.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/30/in-1986-congress-tried-to-solve-immigration-why-didnt-it-work/

http://asu.news21.com/archive/2009/the_first_immigration_amnesty/

http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/1986-amnesty/story?id=18971179

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/35th/thelaw/irca.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128303672

Photo credit:  www.fusion.net

Operation New Life – Humanitarian Based Immigration Reform In 1975


With the Vietnam War officially ending April 30, 1975, one way the United States responded to the cessation of hostilities was to enact humanitarian based immigration reform. The 1975 Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act was signed into law less than a month later on May 23. This bill allowed refugees from Southeast Asia to resettle in the country. As the U.S. prepared to return its military personnel home, consideration had to be made for the many natives that had aided the U.S. war effort. With the Americans gone, these allies would be vulnerable to retaliation from the North Vietnamese government. Provision for financial assistance was included in the bill for these new arrivals who often had only the clothes on their backs and, if they were lucky, a suitcase.  $455 million was allocated to facilitate the resettlement of these refugees.  Considered political refugees, many were granted permanent residence status.

If these refugees did not succeed in reaching evacuation points where airlifts were designated, many eventually fled by boat or even attempted to walk across the country to safety. These were the people newspaper headlines called the “boat people”. As their situation became more desperate, they were willing to risk dehydration, starvation, attack by pirates and drowning if their boat capsized or sunk. Hope of reaching safety was greater than their fear of the dangers they would face on overcrowded, small vessels attempting to cross the vast ocean. Those that were captured were imprisoned in concentration camps for “re-education”.

President Gerald Ford took a strong leadership stance in support of this legislation. He faced direct opposition in congress by naysayers who, in their conditioned state of xenophobia, naturally reacted with fear of a future wave of immigrants. Once again, the emotionally stirring, but non-factual, political propaganda of how immigrants would lower wages and become a burden on society was shot down by the forward-thinking humanitarians who understood the truth. Immigrants, throughout American history, have proven to be hard working, law-abiding people that make a positive contribution to society.

The gringa says, “Way to go, President Ford! You may have often tripped and fell in your soup bowl, but you stayed strong and true on the path of leadership.” The gringa is thankful that President Ford was not an irrational xenophobe. The gringa is proud of a president that did not use a false representation of a group of people to pander to his electorate. Certain people in the nation’s current political spotlight could learn a lesson from Ford’s socially evolved decision to support this immigration reform.

About 200,000 Vietnamese and Cambodians eventually made their way to America’s shores as a result of this bill. They arrived at one of four entry points: Camp Pendleton, California; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania; and Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. The Arkansas base aptly referred to their duty as “Operation New Life”.  Although the gringa is certain all military stations performed their duty as honorably as Arkansas, I will use Fort Chaffee as a snapshot of U.S. history with regards to this legislation.

Within seven months of the May 2 commencement of “Operation New Life”, over fifty thousand refugees had been received at Fort Chaffee. May 4, 1975, just two days after the first new arrival, the Vietnamese newspaper Tan Dan began publication. As autumn approached, the refugees began to enjoy the benefit of a bilingual radio station. The local community college created English classes specifically with the new immigrants in mind. It seems that, as a whole, Arkansas did America proud in its welcoming spirit. The gracious people of Arkansas even went that proverbial extra mile and organized an Independence Day celebration with a rodeo as a way of introducing these war weary people to what it means to be American.

 As the immigrants learned what it was to be American, they seemed to relish in a freedom that had previously been denied them. This resulted in some interesting occurrences in the practice of their liberty.  June 20, 1975, eighty Vietnamese had a demonstration about all the things that were frustrating them in their new homeland. Two days later there was a counter protest by 600 refugees expressing their gratitude for all America had done for them. The gringa is amused by this. However, not all was bon-bons and roses at the fort. There were tensions among some of the refugees toward a group of refugees that were government officials. As a result of these hostilities, Provost Marshal reports indicate the possibility of related violent crimes. However, despite any difficulty, the 325 babies that were conceived by these new immigrants at Fort Chaffee indicates they moved on from the horrors of war and embraced their new life with gusto.

As the immigrants began to mingle in their new communities, media accounts reflected the reaction of a polarized community. There were the xenophobic racists who continued in their belief that the immigrants would rob locals of opportunity and jobs. But, the gringa is thankful that there was an enlightened populace who reacted with hospitality and charity, assisting the newcomers with education and cultural assimilation. The fact that many of the Indochinese who arrived in Arkansas even married some of the locals is a testimony to the spirit of tolerance and acceptance that prevailed in Arkansas.

In Arkansas, alone, researchers estimate that the local economy experienced a boon of several million dollars as a result of this immigration policy. So much for the naysayers arguments of how immigrants are an economic burden on society. They may need a little help in the beginning, but, once successfully maneuvering a traumatic cultural adjustment, society benefits greatly from the contributions made by immigrants.

As our nation considers immigration reform in the future, I hope many will recall the success that was realized in Arkansas. The gringa looks forward to the day when all the xenophobes in the U.S. outgrow their irrational fears and ignorant belief in political propaganda. The gringa is ready for these fear-mongering xenophobes to put on their big girl panties and their big boy briefs and quit being scaredy-cats in their little-people pants and little-people minds.

Immigrants are just people looking for a better life. The way things are going in the United States, who knows, one day the shoe could be on the other foot. America could begin to fall down in shambles, it seems it’s already begun. Terrorized Americans could start to flee in droves. If Americans want compassionate welcomes as immigrants looking for a better life, they should take a good hard look in the mirror and see if they really deserve such treatment.

As for the propaganda spewed forth from politicians pandering to a voter base they are hoping to mobilize? Fact check everything they say. When you fact check, go to unbiased sources, such as Census records, rather than statistics put together by organizations with political ties. As the scales of propaganda begin to fall from xenophobic eyes, the truth will be revealed that the majority of immigrants eventually adjust and become productive contributors to their community. And they manage to do this without becoming murderers and drug slingers. Chances are those are the very horrors they were trying to escape. Many are trying to escape a life of instability and vulnerability most Americans cannot even conceive of in the isolated, privileged country we call home. Of course such people will arrive with needs that need to be met with compassion and charity. But that doesn’t mean they will be  permanently dependent. History and facts prove that the majority of immigrants emerge from a period of transition as people who have succeeded in gaining employment and education. The potential of what they can contribute in the future far outweighs what it costs society to receive them and help them through a brief period of adjustment. The gringa says, “Just give them a chance. Quit being so scared.”

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1970s_indochina.html

http://immigrationinamerica.org/607-indochina-migration-and-refugee-assistance-act-of-1975.html

http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=5562

Photo credit:  www.kpbs.org

1940 Nationality Act – Hypocrisy and Double Standards


In the late 1930’s the United States was once again scratching away at the parchment writing out the legal parameters of the Nationality Act of 1940. The problematic parts of the legislation are certiain conditions that, if not met, a person’s citizenship “automatically expires”, with no due process.

What was going on in the country that had lawmakers going to such efforts as to write new laws? With the country in the throes of the Great Depression, its economic effects rippled throughout the world. People from other countries did not have the means to emigrate. Also, because of the restrictive immigrant laws of 1924, many immigrants had been deported. As the threat of a second World War intensified throughout Europe, refugees began to challenge America’s restrictive immigration policies, although rarely successful. The gringa wants to know the facts. Digging a little deeper is required.

By the 1930’s, the religious landscape of the nation had changed. America has been historically viewed as a nation founded by, created by and governed by Christians. By the year 1930, however, the population of Jews outnumbered the ranks of the Episcopalians and Presbyterians combined. Eastern European Judaism was the predominant Jewish culture in the U.S. They assimilated into American culture but designed community programs in order to maintain their distinctly Jewish heritage. Despite their “Americanism”, many schools and colleges blatantly discriminated against Jews. With public figures like Henry Ford openly criticizing the patriotism and character of America’s Jewish population, it’s no surprise that violence was commonly visited upon Jews during this period of U.S. history.

America was becoming infatuated with it’s own national identity. Folk culture became popularized with the Library of Congress even beginning to collect American folk songs. American intellectuals churned out thoughtful manifestos such as “I’ll Take My Stand”, by the Southern Agrarians who desired a return to the simple way of life of agriculture. In direct contrast was Lewis Mumford’s “Technics and Civilization” which was more forward focused on developing technology to advance U.S. capitalism through a new age of modernism.

Such modernist ideas were reflected in the architecture and art of the 1930’s. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York made it clear to the world that America wanted to leave behind the anorexic economy of the Great Depression and this would happen through the development of “the world of tomorrow”. This “world of tomorrow” was pictorialized in America cinema and television shows of the era. This was the birth of the superhero, like Superman and the Lone Ranger. Hollywood also played a critical role in producing forms of entertainment that also served as propaganda to lift American spirits out of the defeatist spirit of the Great Depression. This was when the world was introduced to an American original comedy genre, slapstick and screwball. The financial disaster of the Great Depression gave way to fantasy and longings for a modern, futuristic world.

The nation’s economic solution for the people’s relief from the suffering of the Great Depression was the New Deal. This was not specifically a cure, but more of a stabilizing plan. This would enable people to get their feet back under them so they could focus on what Americans do best, make money. Because social and economic salvation came through the government, American perspective toward the government began to change. Americans who previously were suspicious of too much government control and power were now more inclined to believe that the intentions of Big Brother had the citizens’ best interest at heart.

As people in the United States are looking forward, the Japanese are looking back. After years of chafing at the political insults America meted out to Japan through immigration policies, on December 29, 1934, Japan renounced the Washington Naval Treaty it had entered into with America in 1922.

Five years later, 1939, Germany invades Poland. After a year of appeasement fails, aggression by Nazi Germany begins the Second World War. September 5th of that same year, the United States declares its neutrality. The U.S. had complete confidence in its isolationist position because by that time we already had the A-bomb thanks to refugee Albert Einstein that America welcomed to its shores in 1933 as he fled from the Nazis. And thus begins a flood of European immigrants seeking to escape the horrors of war which inspired the nation, known as the great hope of the hopeless, to once again reveal its true capitalist colors and reform the nation’s immigration and citizenship policies with the 1940 Nationality Act.

Section 201 of this act declares citizenship at birth for any child born outside the U.S. of at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen. This parent must have lived within the U.S. or any of its territories for a minimum of ten years, with at least five of those years being after the age of sixteen years. In order for the child to maintain U.S. citizenship status the child must live within the U.S. or any of its territories for five years between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one years. These, of course, being the formative years of primary education and higher education. The nation wanted assurance that during those critical years the child was in the U.S. being indoctrinated with educational propaganda in the public schools in order to shape the mind of the child into a good patriot. If these residential conditions are not met, the child’s U.S. citizenship automatically expires without due process.

Section 401 contains wording that provides for the revocation of U.S. citizenship if a person votes in a political election of another country. This particular requirement created legal challenges that resulted in inconsistent action by the U.S.

In 1958, U.S. district courts ruled in Perez v. Brownell. Clement Martinez Perez was a U.S. citizen born in El Paso, Texas who traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico, residing in either country for extended periods of time. At some point he voted in a Mexican election. Perez lost his U.S. citizenship based on the court’s finding that Congress can revoke citizenship regardless if the action qualifying for the loss of citizenship is intentional or unintentional. The Supreme Court upheld the decision based on the Necessary and Proper Clause of Art. 1, 8, clause 18 of the Federal Constitution which states that voting in a foreign political election means a withdrawal of U.S. citizenship. The purpose of this clause is so that the U.S. can avoid international embarrassment by Americans getting involved in foreign affairs.

Nine years later the United States reverses its position. Beys Afroyim, who arrived in the U.S. in 1912, a Polish immigrant, and was naturalized in 1926, also became an Israeli citizen in 1950. He voted in six separate Israeli elections. He applied with the U.S. Consulate in Israel for an American passport. At first he was refused based on the same legal position attached to Perez in 1958. Taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court, the judge determined that Afroyim had not shown intent to lose his citizenship when he participated in Israeli elections. However, this was a direct contradiction to the published court opinion of the Perez case.

Due to the country’s special relationship with the nation of Israel, Americans can hold dual citizenship here and in Israel. That is not the case with Mexico. The gringa suspects the reasoning behind the special relationship with Israel is founded in religion and guilt.

Proof of the nation’s guilty conscience resonates in the words of President Truman after the war, “I urge the Congress to turn its attention to this world problem in an effort to find ways whereby we can fulfill our responsibilities to these thousands of homeless and suffering refugees of all faiths.” Now, if guilt is the reason for the special relationship between Israel and America, the gringa is okay with that. After all the United States should have a guilty conscience for not opening the immigration gates for the lambs who were trying to escape the slaughter.

However, if religion is the basis for this international special relationship, the gringa says, “We gots us a problem.” According to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” If religion is the basis for a special relationship between the United States and Israel, resulting in laws being applied in a prejudicial fashion between Americans of different ethnicities, I believe that is some pretty clear evidence of racism as well as a violation of the spirit of the Constitution.

The gringa thinks the District Court of 1958 and the Supreme Court of 1967 has got some splainin’ to do because it seems America’s “world of tomorrow” was one of racial double standards.

Sources:

https://americansabroad.org/files/3013/3478/0295/18-04-2012_1318_971.pdf

http://www.prothink.org/2008/03/27/the-1940-nationality-act/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perez_v._Brownell

http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/immigration-timeline#1930

http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/twenty/tkeyinfo/jewishexp.htm

http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3452

http://americasbesthistory.com/abhtimeline1930.html

Photo credit: www.designarchives.aiga.org