By Water & Fire


In February the gringa posted “Rub A Dub, Dub, Nelson Needs A Tub” about how climate change is raising sea levels. I mentioned how great works of art along coastlines will disappear. A couple of weeks prior to that I posted “The U.S., Migrants & Climate Change” focusing again on the effects of climate change on sea levels. I reported that experts predicted Earthlings had at least two or three decades before we actually saw any islands swallowed up by the sea. Well, guess what? It is already happening.

The Washington Post recently reported that five, count that: ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE islands of the Solomon Islands have disappeared underneath the waters of rising sea levels thanks to climate change. The remaining six are still high and dry but a bit shrunken and reduced in size. With a population of 500,000, many families have witnessed their homes washed away into the sea as the unforgiving ocean claims more and more territory.

To see for yourself what is happening on these beautiful islands and the people who live there, you can view the video posted by the Washington Post.

The effects of climate change seem to be steamrolling their way across the globe at record pace. Scientists can talk about the proverbial tipping point all they want. The gringa believes that boat sailed long ago, that horse has long since left the gate. The snowball is roaring down the mountain, growing more monstrous and picking up speed.

Take a look at the wildfire at Canada’s Ft. McMurray. This disaster is of epic proportions. The gringa believes there is probably already bigwigs in Hollywood mulling over who they will hire to write the scripts and cast for characters. This horrific disaster most certainly came about because of climate change conditions affecting wilderness areas. 602 square miles are burning. 80,000 people have lost it all and are in limbo like refugees, and over 1,600 structures are heaps of ashes.

And the gringa has absolutely no suggestions. I can’t change the world. I can only clang my gong and sound the alarm.

Sources:  www.washingtonpost.com and www.cnn.com

Image credit: http://www.edugeography.com

 

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Rub A Dub, Dub, Nelson Needs A Tub


It’s pretty common for researchers and common man to first think about the coastal dwellers who will be displaced by rising ocean levels due to climate change. Thoughts also quickly turn to coastal species of plants and animals that may fare even worse, having nowhere to turn, and thus possibly becoming extinct.

One thing that is rarely considered are national treasures that sit seaside or within a harbor. What will happen to the likes of the Statue of Liberty or Nelson’s Column? What of the Doe and Stag columns that welcome sailors into safe harbor at the island of Rhodes? How many wonderful works of art will possibly be swallowed up by the seas and lost to landlubbers because of climate change?

the-statue-of-liberty-stands-high-and-mighty-in-new-york-harbors-liberty-island-the-305-foot-statue-from-ground-level-to-flame-tip-was-created-in-france-with-giant-steel-supports-before-being-assembled-in-america

Statue of Liberty, USA, image source:  www.pamojasisi.blogspot.com

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The Doe and Stag, Rhodes, image source: http://www.superstock.co.uk

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Unconditional Surrender, San Diego, CA, USA, image source:  www.yelp.com

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Annie Moore (first registered Ellis Island immigrant), Cobh, County Cork, Ireland, image source:  www.friendlysonsofpatrick.org

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The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen, Denmark, image source: http://www.thousandwonders.net

And these are only a few that the gringa was able to search for and find. There are very few land-locked nations. Every country with a coastline has something to lose. We all have some artistic skin in the game. Beautiful, historic works of art are destined for watery graves, sooner or later, because of climate change. There may be a few heads bobbing above the waves but most of them will be forgotten by future generations except for adventurous scuba divers on photo safari.

Experts indicate that fossil fuel pollution accelerated climate change will continue to affect our planet even if we switched tomorrow to alternatives. We have passed the tipping point. It’s possible we have caused enough damage to affect significant change for the next 100,000 years. Over that period of time, as global temperatures continue to rise, sea levels will, too. Possibly as much as fifty meters (150 feet).

That means that timeless works of art that look out upon the seas and oceans of this world will definitely be inundated to oblivion. But to understand the true scope of the course our lifestyles have plotted for our planet, consider Nelson’s Column which is located well inland, at Trafalgar Square in London. Models of climate change predict that by the time this cycle has run its course, only half of the column will be visible above the water line.

nelsons-column

Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square, London, UK, image source: http://www.scottish-country-dancing-dictionary.com

Before these dramatic events reach their fulfillment, mankind will have undergone dramatic migrational upheavals. As much as one fifth of the world’s population is expected to be affected. Rough estimates put current world population at about seven billion. That means that about one billion and four hundred million (1,400,000,000) people are going to have to move.

Dear readers, consider the strain Europe is undergoing right now with a Syrian refugee migration.  The United Nations reports that over nine million Syrians have fled their homes since the civil war began years ago. Estimates put the numbers spilling into Europe at about one million, but those numbers are questionable. Imagine if the refugee numbers Europe had absorbed had been one thousand fold. That’s the kind of numbers scientists are talking about where climate change migration is concerned.

There is no technology available to build any seawall adequate to protect the populations of coastal cities. They will have to relocate. Eventually. Period. There is no going back. The best we can hope for is that if we start tomorrow with zero carbon emissions we might be able to spare future generations from a worst case scenario (as if).

And, since that’s not going to happen, the gringa says invest in some scuba gear, sturdy suitcases, and quality maps of inland locales if you are a coastal dweller. If you live on secure high ground, perhaps you should build a guest house or two, or three, or maybe even forty. It may be the humble beginnings of a future hotel and housing empire for your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren.

 

Source:  www.uk.news.yahoo.com

 

Image Source: www.news.yahoo.com

The U.S., Migrants & Climate Change


 

It’s easy to be academic and read reports on climate change and nod your head in agreement. It’s easy to be concerned and realize that if we don’t get our crap together, world, and make some meaningful changes fast, our grandkids are going to inherit a planet and lifestyle we will not even recognize. But, truthfully, despite our academic acceptance and realization of the future, has anything actually happened close enough to home to truly motivate us to make significant change in our own personal lives?

I am not a faithful recycler. I live a minimalist consumer lifestyle but that’s probably because I’m poor. I don’t drive that much but that’s probably more to do with my work-at-home lifestyle and epilepsy. I keep the house warm in the summer and chilly in the winter mainly because I want to save money on my utility bill. So, really, despite all of my opinionated bloviating on climate change, I feel like I’m not actually walking the walk. I don’t think I’m alone in this. What would really have to happen to inspire drastic action for the average person?

What about a mass migration occurring right in your neighborhood? What if you lived in a small, rural town that had a very small conclave of immigrants from a tiny island in the Pacific ocean? What if this island is facing a very real threat of being inundated with devastating storms and floods because of climate change? What if the 50,000+ population’s primary connection to salvation lay in their friends and family living in this small, rural, U.S. town? What if they expect to be “run aground” within ten years at the current rate of rising sea levels? What if many decide to get the heck out of Dodge starting now?

Guess what? All of those “what ifs” are the real deal for Springdale, Arkansas and the Marshall Islands. And the Marshallese consul general in Arkansas is already preparing for this very real and very near possibility. We could very well be entering the era of climate refugee migrations. And it could all begin in the Pacific Ocean and Heartland of America.

The 7,000+ Marshallese community of Springdale, Arkansas is the largest community of Marshallese within the U.S. mainland. About 12,000 more live in the northwestern region of Arkansas. Honolulu is the only place on Earth, other than the Marshall Islands, with a larger Marshallese population. And, if the Marshallese are fleeing from climate change destruction on their islands, it is unlikely they will migrate to other Pacific islands (Hawaii) for refuge. So, it looks like the open arms of friends and family in Arkansas will soon receive an influx of the first climate change refugees.

The Springdale population is around 75,000. Could they handle taking on another 10 or 20 or 30 thousand over the period of ten years? What if the entire 50,000 show up? The town already has the nation’s only Marshallese newspaper written in their own language. They also have a radio station. Is that enough? What else would such a vast cultural community need to adjust to new migrants?

Over the years, the Marshallese that have immigrated and settled in Springdale have proven to be good citizens, getting educated, finding work and behaving themselves as good citizens. The history of the Marshall Islands connection with the U.S. reflects a close relationship. That was where the country tested out nukes in the 1940s and 1950s.

Perhaps the name “Bikini Atoll” sounds more familiar to most mainland Americans than Marshall Islands. That little atoll was inhabited and those poor people had to abandon their homes because of the nuclear tests. Even today that little atoll is uninhabitable because of the nuclear contamination. It is then no wonder that in the 1980s the U.S. attempted to right this wrong by creating the Compact of Free Association which allowed indefinite, visa-free immigration to the U.S. by Marshallese citizens. Many of these “Bikinians” made their way to Springdale.

The Tyson Foods plant was one of the first employers of the immigrants. It did not take long for word to get back home about job opportunities at the chicken plant. Very soon many more Marshallese were arriving in Springdale looking for work.

Despite the opportunities for work and education on the mainland, most of the Marshallese want to return to their homeland. Unfortunately, it may now disappear. Because of this history of displacement and longing for home, the Marshallese have become strong advocates regarding climate change. And the gringa is listening.

Arkansas is practically right next door! I know I live in Texas, but, still, Arkansas is my neighbor! I have an aunt and uncle that live there. My family and I have vacationed there. And it could be the first state in my country to receive the first climate change diaspora. And it could happen within my lifetime.

If the Marshallese Islands become uninhabitable within a decade, how many other island nations are facing the same stark reality and looking at the possibility of the extinction of their homeland? Where are they planning to escape to? Could it be in your own backyard? How could this affect you and your own?

These are things the gringa wants to know. And, the gringa has to really change.

Source: http://www.unfccc.int

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com

 

 

From a Jewish Mother to Her Muslim Daughter


My Beautiful, Dear, Muslim Daughter,

We both knew after what happened in Paris what would come. We knew that, although you and I don’t need to have this conversation, many other people do.  As I hear the opinions, almost all based in ignorance and fear, I realize that I may very well become hated by people who once loved me because I will stand up in defense of Muslims simply because I happen to love a few Muslims and know that what happened in Paris was not caused by Islam.

You and I know this is true. Unfortunately there are many who are ignorant and don’t know this is true. Most Westerners who are Christian don’t have any close friends or loved ones that are Muslim. Often, their only knowledge of what Islam is about is what they hear in media reports, pounded from their preacher’s pulpits or discussed around the water cooler at work in hushed tones so the Muslim co-workers won’t hear.

As for this Jew, I happen to love a couple of Muslims and soon, any day now, there will be one more little Muslim for me to love. That is why I don’t listen to what others say about Muslims. I ask you and your husband when I have a question. I am incredibly curious and you are so eager to share.

As people are screaming, “No more refugees!” I can’t help but think about this little granddaughter that will soon be welcomed into this world. I think about your plans to travel to Saudi Arabia so your wonderful husband’s family can meet her and bless her. I think of your lovely mother-in-law who has been so good and kind and generous to you. I think about the possibility of you never being able to return here because you and your husband are Muslim and he is Saudi. I can imagine the interview in a holding cell at the airport and how your beautiful mother-in-law would wait, so fearful, and then be the one to embrace and comfort you when they deny you entry into your own homeland because you are Muslim and married to a Saudi. Perhaps they might let you come home, just not with your husband. And I know that because of the deep love the two of you have for one another, you would choose to stay.

When people look at me with shocked and judgmental eyes as this Jewish mother mentions that her daughter has converted to Islam, they automatically react as if I need to be comforted. It makes me mad. I return the shocked look wondering why they would assume you would be such an idiot as to make a choice of free will that would somehow make you miserable. I then tell them that you met a wonderful man, a Saudi, and he loved you with such a sweet love inspired by his faith that one way you returned his love was with the act of religious conversion.

I then get the eye-rolls as if they think I am a deluded mother grasping at straws because I just don’t want to believe an uncomfortable truth about a daughter I love. Then I get madder. Still, I try to have patience with such ignorance and use it as an opportunity to gently explain the facts. I explain to them how your faith has transformed your life for the better. How all the sweetness that was always within you is now cultivated and channeled through generosity and service to the poor. I tell them that your life that before was so unstable and without direction has coalesced into a loving marriage, stable home, and baby on the way.

When they see that it is pointless to try to get me to see the big mistake that my daughter has made, they home in on criticizing my son-in-law. I mean, really, what mother-in-law really likes her son-in-law, right? They think this is an argument they can win. As they recap all the stereotypes western media and religion has brainwashed them into believing about Muslim men, I sit quietly with a polite smile plastered on my face because by now I have a very strong urge to clap them upside the head. But I don’t.

When they finally are satisfied and smug that they have had their say about what a religious Neanderthal my son-in-law must be, with extreme self-control I then set them straight, dear daughter. I explain to them that, no, he doesn’t beat you. In fact, he doesn’t even raise his voice as far as I can tell. That he’s just about the gentlest creature that passes for a man that I’ve ever met.

I also have to reassure them that he doesn’t “force” you to wear a veil. I tell the truth that, yes, there are times when you do wear a veil but that it is one hundred percent your choice and often for the purpose of respecting the feelings of others who are more conservative in their beliefs than you and your husband. That, in fact, you have as much freedom as any other wife, are a college graduate partly in fact because of his loving support and encouragement, and are continuing your education even further. You work when you please and you leisure when you please. Good grief. Such ignorance drives me crazy!

When the well-meaning ignoramus finally accepts that you and your husband do not line up with their imaginary Muslim guidelines, rather than admit they are wrong about Islam, the well-meaning ignoramus chooses to believe that you two are the exception to the rule and the proof is that these “other” Muslims pressure you to wear a veil against your will and personal convictions. I then ask them if they have not done the same thing, such as, “Well, you don’t wear a bikini to church do you? A strapless gown? A tube top? Hooker heels?” I mean, why is it so hard to understand an action motivated by a charitable spirit and desire to respect another’s feelings simply because it is performed by a Muslim?

We cannot use a broad brush to sweep across great swathes of humanity and say they cannot be trusted and are to be feared and suspected and rejected because they are Muslim. Do people not understand that these terrorists are not really Muslim? Do they not understand that they use a label but do not practice a faith? Do they not understand that the strategy behind using this label is to continue to divide two distinct groups of people? Do they not understand that if these two distinct groups of people actually come to realize this truth and become true allies in spirit, not just politically correct words, these murderers would then have no hiding place or pool of young people to recruit from? Do they not realize that by rejecting refugees who are running for their lives, have lost everything and are crying out for the charity of others to offer them a safe haven where they can rebuild a life for their families they are condemning generations of children to a non-future, no hope, and nothingness? Do they not realize that such an injustice will eventually, within the hearts of many, coalesce into anger and resentment creating the perfect condition to be recruited by murderers and thus perpetuate the cycle?

Wake up world! True Muslims are also the victims of the slaughter perpetrated by murderers who falsely use the label Islam. Many face not so much a physical slaughter but a slaughter of their hopes, dreams and futures. To truly help is to embrace these terrorized people with no homeland, love them, accept them, support them, encourage them and live beside them proudly and protectively.

Dear daughter, you and I have nothing to fear from one another. The only people we have to fear are the murderers who use the label of Islam in order to stir up trouble between folks like you and I and the ignoramuses who fall for it. This Jewish mother loves you, her Muslim daughter, and your husband, my Muslim son-in-law and our little Muslim princess granddaughter that is expected to arrive any day now. I love you with all my heart, the rest of the ignorant world be damned.

Forever, your loving Jewish Mother

POWs, MIAs, “We Will Never Forget”


November 9, 2000, the United States Congress enacted a new immigration policy known as the “Bring Them Home Alive Act”. This legislation was aimed at individuals who were  Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea and Chinese nationals, as well as anyone from a former independent Soviet state. The bill granted asylum and refugee status for any of these people who returned to the United States any U.S. prisoner of war or serviceman who was missing in action. Refugee and asylum status would also be given to their spouse and any children.

This bill also authorized an international radio and television broadcast designed to inform people in foreign countries of this program. Worldwide coverage would transmit the message to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China, North Korea and Russia. This program would receive twenty hours of airtime over a thirty day period. A website was designed with international access with information readily available.

Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee was so moved by the sentiment of this bill, she said this when she placed her “yea” vote: “This bill creates an extraordinary opportunity for nationals of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China and the independent states of the former Soviet Union to do a wonderful thing and be richly rewarded for it… I am deeply moved when I think of the grief that is being endured by so many Americans, the Americans who are living with the uncertainty of having family members who were missing in action or prisoners… I feel very strongly that the bill is worthwhile even if it only brings one solder home to his family after all of these years.”

Although there is still debate over just how many are still unaccounted for, as far as the gringa’s concerned, a human being is a human being, not a number. The gringa stands with Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, if even one, single, solitary soldier is still unaccounted for, he matters. Whether alive or dead, he belongs in his homeland.

The folks at the POW Network, www.pownetwork.org, will never forget. They maintain a database regarding all American POW’s and MIA’s during the Vietnam and Korean War eras. The ones who returned alive or whose remains were returned to the United States are updated. Disputed identity claims are noted. But still, considering the ones who have returned or been identified, the list of the ones who remain lost to us is daunting.

As late as January, 2015, remains were still being identified. Some claims of servicemen who are considered killed in action are disputed because their remains were never actually found. The determination was found because the remains of the rest of the crew were discovered and identified. There are also those that were lost at sea. Some POWs and MIAs are even civilians. Some POWs that are considered deceased have only been identified by photographs which has also caused some disagreement over whether family members actually believe it to be their loved one.

As the gringa explored the website, clicked on random names and discovered the information connected with that name, these names came alive for me. I cannot write about “never forgetting” and yet not mention their names. The names are too numerous to list in one blog post. Even by selecting only the ones who are still unaccounted for, the gringa is still left with an enormous task too big for one post. I don’t know at this time how many posts it will take, but consecutive posts will continue the list of names until I reach the very last name on the list. To the gringa, this seems the only respectful thing to do.

As the dear reader explores the list, if you click on an item, whether name, date, military branch or side notes, it is a link that will take you directly to a data page for that particular POW. The gringa thanks you in advance for your patience as I continue to list these names for the next week or so, maybe longer, however long it takes.

Incident          Name                                             Branch        Notes

07-Mar-73     ACKLEY JAMES W.                          CIV

22-Aug-68     ACOSTA-ROSARIO HUMBERTO   ARMY

08-Nov-67     ADAMS JOHN R.                               ARMY

17-Jun-66      ADAMS OLEY N.                              USAF

31-Oct-65      ADAMS SAMUEL                             USAF    On PRG Died in Capitivy 

18-Oct-66      ADAMS STEVEN H.                         USAF

02-Feb-68     ADKINS CHARLES L.                      ARMY

12-Mar-67    ADRIAN JOSEPH D.                         USAF

01-Nov-69    ADVENTIO RUDOLPHO A.              USN

12-May-67   AGOSTO SANTOS JOSE                 USMC

31-May-66   ALBERTSON BOBBY J.                  USAF

13-Dec-68    ALBRIGHT JOHN S. II                    USAF    (Photo)

29-Jun-70     ALDERN DONALD D.                    USN

04-Nov-69   ALFORD TERRY L.                        ARMY   Remains of crew recovered

11-Dec-66   ALFRED GERALD O. JR.               USAF     (Photo)

04-Mar-71   ALGAARD HAROLD L.                  ARMY

24-Aug-67   ALLARD RICHARD M.                   ARMY

26-Mar-70   ALLEN HENRY L.                           USAF

26-Mar-68   ALLGOOD FRANKIE E.                  USMC

12-Aug-66   ALLINSON DAVID J.                      USAF

07-Jun-70   ALLOWAY CLYDE DOUGLAS       USAF

01-Feb-66   ALM RICHARD A.                           USMC

12-Jul-67    ALMENDARIZ SAMUEL                ARMY

08-Oct-69   ALTIZER ALBERT H.                      ARMY

23-Nov-71   ALTUS ROBERT W.                       USAF

27-Feb-67    ALWAN HAROLD J.                      USMC

28-Jan-70    ANDERSON GREGORY L.             USAF

06-Oct-62   ANDERSON THOMAS EDWARD    USMC

26-Apr-66  ANDERSON WARREN L.                 USAF

04-Mar-66  ANDREWS STUART M                    USAF   Buried without remains in 1978. Military ID found 2006.

12-Dec-63 ANGELL MARSHALL J.                   ARMY

18-Oct-66  ANGSTADT RALPH HAROLD         USAF

11-Sep-67  ANSPACH ROBERT A.                    ARMY

24-Jul-71   ANTUNANO GREGORY A.               ARMY

08-Jun-67  APODACA VICTOR J.                      USAF  (Photo) I.D. DISPUTED 06/2001

16-Oct-67   APPELHANS RICHARD D.               USAF

17-Mar-69   ARMISTEAD STEVEN R.                  USMC

18-Jun-65   ARMOND ROBERT L.                      USAF

06-Oct-67   ARMSTRONG FRANK A. III            USAF

09-Nov-67   ARMSTRONG JOHN W.                   USAF

18-Nov-66   ARNOLD WILLIAM T.                       USN

06-APR-70   ARPIN CLAUDE                                CIV     Not on Official DIA Lists

29-Aug-68    ASHALL ALAN F.                            USN

19-Jan-67     ASHBY DONALD R. SR.                  USN

12-May-67    ASHLOCK CARLOS                         USMC

05-Feb-66    ASMUSSEN GLENN EDWARD         USN

18-Jul-71     ASTON JAY S.                                   ARMY

02-Dec-65    AUSTIN CARL BENJAMIN                USN

26-Apr-67    AUSTIN CHARLES D.                        USAF

21-Apr-66    AUSTIN ELLIS E.                               USN

19-Mar-67    AUSTIN JOSEPH C.                          USAF

29-Jul-68     AUXIER JERRY E.                             ARMY

03-May-68   AVERY ROBERT DOUGLAS           USMC

07-Jul-67     AVOLESE PAUL A.                           USAF

18-Jul-65     AVORE MALCOLM A.                      USN

19-Mar-70    AYERS DARRELL EUGENE           USMC

16-Apr-70    AYERS RICHARD L.                         USAF

Photo credit:  http://blog.daum.net/

2000 Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act


The 2000 Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act was passed in order to expedite the naturalization process of persons who were part of guerilla forces or irregular units in Laos during February 28, 1961 and September 18, 1978. Specifically, the naturalization requirement to speak English was waived, along with some other requirements. Spouses were also included in this legislation. The war veteran and family would be granted refugee status. Even if the war veteran had passed away, his family was still eligible for refugee status and expedited naturalization as long as they applied with the time window prescribed. Numbers accepted were limited to 45,000 Hmong Laotians.

Although most Americans are familiar with the Vietnam War, they may be less familiar with what Laos had to do with it. From 1953 until 1975 Laos was embroiled in a civil war between the Pathet Lao and Royal Lao who controlled the government. This was during the time of the Cold War between Russia and the United States. This conflict, like many others around the globe during the Cold Wars, was actually a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. The Pathet Lao were backed by Russia and the United States threw in with the Royal Lao. For the people in the know during that era this conflict was called the “Secret War” as both sides fought viciously for control over the Laotian Panhandle.

This was a dense jungle region. Ethnic groups in the area felt threatened by the Pathet rebels. They simply wanted to be left alone within their own territory. The tribal territory of the Hmong was a little piece of real estate that was strategic because, if controlled, the U.S. could cut off supply routes to the North Vietnamese. That is why the U.S. decided to support the Hmong with money and war materials.

The legislation describes the Hmong as mountain people from the southern part of China and northern Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. The bill describes their assistance to U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. When this war ended, the opposing force of Pathet Lao had gained control and many Hmong who had allied themselves with the U.S. were imprisoned and suffered persecution. It is estimated that up to 150,000 Hmong immigrated to the U.S. as refugees as a result of the Vietnam War’s outcome.

The United States recognized that the Hmong’s choice to support the Americans was at great personal risk of danger and possible loss of life. They participated in critical and dangerous missions. They were an important source of military intelligence that was used in combat operations as well as rescue operations for downed pilots.

Once the refugees arrived in the U.S. they found the naturalization process difficult because of the difficulty of learning the English language. The Hmong society did not have a written language until recently so many of the guerillas had never attended a school in the sense of what American society considers education. Because of this difficulty, the nation decided to ease the language requirement in order for these families to become U.S. citizens.

When President Clinton signed this bill into law, this is what he had to say, “This legislation is a tribute to the service, courage, and sacrifice of the Hmong people who were our allies in Laos during the Vietnam War. After the Vietnam War, many Hmong soldiers and their families came to the United States and have become part of the social fabric of American society. They work, pay taxes, and have raised families and made America their home… This law is a small step but an important one in honoring the immense sacrifices that the Hmong people made in supporting our efforts in Southeast Asia.”  It  may have taken America twenty years, but, the gringa is proud to say that finally, the country made things right.

Sources:

https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol47no1/article01.html

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/2000_hmong_veterans_naturalization_act.html

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/106/hr371

https://www.socialsecurity.gov/legislation/legis_bulletin_061300.html

http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb5x0nb468;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=ss1.01&toc.depth=1&toc.id=&brand=oac4

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-106hrpt563/html/CRPT-106hrpt563.htm

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=58559

http://www.ilw.com/immigrationdaily/news/2000,0927-Hmong.shtm

http://www.aila.org/infonet/dhs-hmong-veterans-naturalization-act-2000

Photo credit:  2001-2009.state.gov

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