Civil Rights

Proposed immigration detention bill must never become law

The Rev. Raymond Soeoth and his wife fled Indonesia in 1999 fearing persecution practicing their Christian faith. They arrived in America seeking asylum and were granted the right to live and work here while their applications were processed. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rejected Soeoth's application in 2004 and insisted on detaining him. Yet, he was not a flight risk and had never been convicted of a crime. After two and a half years in immigration detention, Soeoth was finally granted a hearing in front of an immigration judge who immediately ordered his release. Having returned to his wife, his community and his congregation, Soeoth won the right to reopen his case and will likely now be granted asylum.


Texas Gov. Rick Perry's anti-Hispanic Agenda Goes Down

The Texas Senate adjourned this week without a final vote on the “Sanctuary Cities” legislation that was one of Gov. Rick Perry’s “emergency” items at the start of the year. The bill, which became an umbrella for a package of harsh immigration measures, crumbled during a 30-day special session of the legislature as top business leaders urged Texas not to become another Arizona. The following is a joint statement by SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina and SEIU Texas State Council President Al Martinez:

Now that the GOP-led Texas Legislature has failed for the second time in two months to pass anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant legislation, the leaders should ask themselves whether anything is ever accomplished by the politics of division.

The answer should be ‘No.’ Left in the wake of the horrible Texas debate is a failed political exercise that divided the state and did nothing to fix the immigration system.

The immigration package would have turned Texas into another Arizona by instituting racial profiling against Hispanics, imposing unfunded mandates on local governments, and draining the economy of a reliable workforce and tourism dollars.


It's past time to support the Equal Rights Amendment

It is with great pride that I stand with this bipartisan group in support of the long-overdue Equal Rights Amendment. I can’t help but think of the words of our former colleague and feminist pioneer Pat Schroeder, when she was asked if being a mother would get in the way of her duties as a member of Congress. She said: “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.” 


Loving in black and white

This month, a civil rights milestone - the 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the ACLU case, Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state bans on interracial marriage - will be heralded in a new documentary that will have an exclusive congressional screening. The Loving Story superbly chronicles the story of Mildred and Richard Lovings’ courageous fight and the Supreme Court decision that bears their name.

While for most Americans, Loving v. Virginia is just another distant civil rights event in America’s long civil and human rights journey, for me, the opposite is true. This case was one that not only changed the landscape of American culture; it has also touched me personally. As a black woman married to a white man and in my work at the ACLU, I am an advocate for the imperfect institution of marriage for everyone, including gay and lesbian couples.

To put this all in context, imagine that you are sitting next to me on the floor of the Murphy family living room in 1963, watching “Leave it to Beaver” on a black and white television set in a middle-class black home in a segregated neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. I had a school-girl crush on Wally, the oldest son in the TV series. Unlike my three older brothers, Wally was patient, reasonable and rational. He was also white.


Why they go: Freedom riders then and now

Fifty years ago next month, my father, then a 35-year-old refugee from Hitler’s Germany with a young wife and two small children at home, boarded a Trailways bus headed for Jackson, Mississippi.

Like the 427 other freedom riders who rode voluntarily into the terror that was the segregated South in May and June of 1961, my father set out to violate the illegal state laws that barred white-skinned people from sitting together with black-skinned people on public transit  – laws that were vigorously enforced not only by police but also by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens’ Council. Only weeks before, a mob of angry segregationists in Anniston, Alabama had attacked and set fire to a bus with dozens of black and white freedom riders trapped inside.

My father’s purpose in joining that Freedom Ride was twofold: to pressure the federal government into enforcing the Supreme Court’s decision that racial segregation in interstate travel violated the U.S. Constitution; and, just as importantly, to focus public attention on the injustice, brutality and defiance of the Jim Crow South. 


Rally behind the idea of comprehensive immigration reform

Yesterday, President Obama called for the public to rally behind the idea of comprehensive immigration reform. I am very supportive, and I know many of my colleagues are as well. We have been waiting for this moment and stand ready to work with the President on this legislation. The President should help guide members by laying out a legislative model of what he envisions in the reform process.

Until we achieve comprehensive immigration reform, we will continue to have two Americas. One that has realized the American Dream and one where millions of our friends, neighbors and coworkers live in the shadows, separated from their families by a broken immigration system. Every day we wait, our economy loses hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue and consumer spending. Immigration reform would yield $1.5 trillion to the U.S. GDP over a ten year period. This is what I call economic recovery. Immigrants are a critical part of our economy, culture, and our national identity. We need to be one nation, indivisible. That is why we need comprehensive immigration reform now. 


A pass forward for ENDA

Today, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) will re-introduce the bipartisan and fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). But it will not pass this session.

That said, what can we reasonably hope to accomplish in Congress on ENDA in the short run?


Now is not the time to cut critical programs to fight hunger and disease

I believe that the church should be the conscience of our culture. The call to care for “the least of these,” to feed the hungry and to care for the sick, is at the very core of our tradition. As Congress continues to wrangle over the federal budget, it is morally unacceptable that the deepest cuts under consideration target programs that fight disease, hunger and extreme poverty around the world.

The federal deficit is of genuine concern to us all. We understand that tough choices and sacrifices are necessary. But given that international humanitarian assistance programs represent less than half of 1 percent of the total federal budget, the suggested cuts will do little to rectify our budget crisis. 


Bringing order out of chaos – a modest proposal

In New York State, I am legally female for most purposes for which a driver’s license is useful, but male for those purposes for which a birth certificate is used.  I’m a woman, in a legal marriage entered into under New York law with another woman, though it took three hours to get a marriage license from the New York City Clerk. We file jointly for income taxes, since federal DOMA shouldn’t apply to us. Some states might apply their super-DOMAs to us.

In Texas (a wrongful death action), Florida (a child custody matter) and Kansas (an estate proceeding), legally female transgender women and a legally male transgender man who had valid marriage licenses saw their marriages invalidated by courts.  In three states (Ohio, Tennessee, and Idaho), transgender people can’t ever get their birth certificates corrected – and in those states, it’s likely that same-sex marriage is already legal for some couples, much as it has been legal in parts of Texas since 1999.

Federally, I can get a passport as female today, but if I had to change my sex designation for social security after October 2002, I couldn’t.


Sensible reform no threat to gun ownership

Whether it is the horrific violence in Tucson, Ariz. the fatal shootings of 30,000 Americans every year, or a constituent's son who was murdered by a total stranger with a violent record and an illegal gun, what is often most painful and frustrating about America's gun violence epidemic is how many of these tragedies could have been prevented. There is no shortage of evidence indicating our nation's gun laws are failing the American people.

Unfortunately, in Washington, evidence is rarely enough to spawn action. There are few issues as overtly politicized as how we go about protecting our citizens' rights while reducing gun violence.

Overcoming this epidemic will require law-abiding gun owners, responsible gun dealers, families of victims, and every American to make the need for reform and compromise loud and clear to my colleagues in Congress.