Civil Rights

"Keep our communities safe act" takes the wrong approach

Two weeks ago, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill entitled the “Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011” (H.R. 1932). The bill is supposedly aimed at reducing crimes allegedly committed by immigrants who have been ordered removed from the United States but who cannot be deported because no country will accept them. 

While there is little to suggest that the bill would actually accomplish this goal, there is a great deal to suggest that the bill would result in a system of indefinite detention for individuals who pose no danger to society. Moreover, the bill empowers government officials to unilaterally determine who should be subject to this prolonged detention, all the while making it more difficult for persons covered by it to challenge their detention before a neutral decision-maker.

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Tipping point for LGBT equality

We have reached a tipping point in our fight for equality in America. Forty-two years after the Stonewall riots - a defining moment in the beginning of America’s gay rights movement -  New York’s legalization of same-sex marriage and California’s mandate to teach lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) history in grade schools, bring this country closer to a more equal society.

In my decade in Congress, the gay community and its allies have fought numerous battles and this double victory shows we have not fought in vain. Both California and New York, with their own rich history of LGBTQ activism, have taken courageous steps towards equality. I commend Governors Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo for answering the calls of their constituents.  I am also proud of the progress made in Congress including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and movement towards the Defense of Marriage Act repeal. The fact that the Pentagon announced this week that the U.S. military is prepared to accept openly gay and lesbian service members, and doing so will not harm military readiness, is great news. Yet, I know this is not enough.

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A debt of gratitude to Betty Ford

First lady Betty Ford was both a controversial pioneer, a crusader for women’s rights and one of the most respected and beloved women in America. 

Like the suffragists, she empowered generations and changed the lives of thousands. It is women like her who have shaped our nation, and as the president and CEO of the National Women’s History Museum, I feel a special obligation to pay tribute to her. 

Soon after her husband was inaugurated, the first lady held her first press conference, immediately addressing the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1975, Ford spoke at the International Women’s Year meeting, where she made what was called “the most progressive [speech] made by any president’s wife since Eleanor Roosevelt” encouraging all women to work for passage of the ERA. To quote Mrs. Ford: “The search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women.”

Before Ford’s admission, the subject of breast cancer and substance abuse was taboo. She freed women from their emotional solitary confinement. Ford’s brave disclosure gave men and women suffering from addiction a sense they were not alone.

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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.

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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.

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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.” 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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?

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