Civil Rights

Making the dream a reality

When it was only a proposal, the notion of a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall was exhilarating as to me as the campaign to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday had been for me in the 1970s when I was a student at Howard Law School.  Along with many of my classmates, I collected signatures and attended the annual marches led by Stevie Wonder and Rep. John Conyers, Jr., the legislation’s chief sponsor.  In 1983, it became so.  And in Jan. of 1986, the annual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day began.

On Aug. 28, the anniversary date of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. King delivered his historic “I Have A Dream” speech – America will dedicate the King Memorial.  The permanence of this monument on the National Mall symbolizes the permanence of the monumental “stride toward freedom” our nation made under his leadership and continues, even today, to be inspired by his ideas and insights.

In my view, the King Memorial – more so than the other great Americans Dr. King will forever share the great expanse from the Capitol down past the White House all the way to the Tidal Basin and the edge of the Potomac River − has everything to do with America’s past, present, and future.  

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Reflections on the national memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As final preparations get underway for the dedication of the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall, it is important that we all reflect upon and applaud the many outstanding achievements of this great American patriot and iconic humanitarian. With his life he proved that non-violence is an effective way of perfecting social change. His leadership helped propel our nation from the dark and regressive grips of the Jim Crow era to a more enlightened period where the goals of achieving equal opportunity and respect for universal human rights are now becoming more intricately woven into our society. 

The August 28, 2011 unveiling ceremony of the memorial will mark the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the historic March on Washington in 1963. This speech and Dr. King’s unyielding commitment to service have been sources of inspirational motivation for me from the time I met him during my freshman year at Morehouse College, through law school, my years in the Georgia state legislature and throughout my tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Congress must address employment-based Green Card backlog

As a legal immigrant trapped in a Green Card backlog that may affect more than 500,000 immigrants and American businesses, I have seen firsthand the need for Congress to clear this backlog to maintain our nation’s economic competitiveness.

Every year, only 140,000 Green Cards are available for highly-skilled immigrant employees sponsored by a U.S. employer. Despite the critical role these legal immigrants play with respect to innovation, entrepreneurship and domestic job creation, the employment-based Green Card system represents only 16 percent of all Green Cards issued every fiscal year. Within this annual cap exists a seven percent country limit, which provides the same number of Green Cards to immigrants from India, one of the world’s most populous countries, as Iceland, one of the world’s smallest nations.

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"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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