Civil Rights

Arizona's dangerous precedent and the path forward on immigration reform (Rep. Raúl Grijalva)

Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a statewide law forcing local police officers to question and potentially detain anyone they "reasonably suspect" to be an undocumented immigrant. If you believe our local law enforcement agencies, who will be required to implement the mandates of this law, it will lead to mistrust between police and the people they have sworn to protect. The law violates due process, civil rights, and federal sovereignty over immigration policy. While I believe the courts will quickly overturn it, I am concerned that the damage to my home state's credibility has already been done.

Arizona has long been the epicenter of our national immigration debate. Unfortunately, that debate has been driven by extremists like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is under a federal investigation for civil rights abuses. Arpaio, like Gov. Brewer, seems to believe that every immigrant is equally capable of being a violent drug dealer to be dealt with harshly. Although this belief has no basis in fact, it has been the foundation of a fear-based campaign against immigrants and people of Hispanic descent for years.


Arizona Law Normalizes Racial and Ethnic Profiling (Rep. Mike Honda)

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's SB 1070, which allows law enforcement officials to stop, question, detain and report individuals based on suspicion of undocumented status, establishes a dangerous precedent in normalizing racial and ethnic profiling and does little to fix our broken immigration system.

As a Japanese American who spent part of my childhood in an internment camp, I know all too well the effects of scapegoating and racial profiling. I suffered through what happens when governments pass policies based on fear and misguided attempts at law and order.

This law is un-American as it unjustly targets communities of color, in particular immigrant communities, which have been critical to the economic growth of our country throughout our nation's history.

The law's enactment also demonstrates the urgent political and moral imperative for the federal government to act now on comprehensive immigration reform.

Comprehensive immigration reform is particularly important for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. There are currently 1.5 million undocumented Asian immigrants who contribute to our communities and economy everyday and who could contribute more if they were legalized. Millions of families are separated for years, sometimes decades, waiting in the backlogs of our broken family visa system.

Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform, and we must do it now to avoid a patchwork of state measures that do not fundamentally fix our country's broken immigration system, and that will lead to profiling and discrimination in our communities.

As legislators, we have the responsibility to nurture a united America, one that is based on respect for the richness of our diversity, not one that is divided based on our worst fears.

Congressman Michael Honda is chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.



Latest polls find majority of West Coast voters, Californians, back marijuana legalization

A majority of west coast voters, and Californians specifically, believe that the adult use of marijuana should be legal, according to the results of a pair of polls conducted on behalf of CBS News.

Fifty-six percent of Californians believe that “the state of California (should) legalize the use of marijuana,” according to a Survey USA poll of 500 adults conducted for CBS. The survey results come less than a month after state election officials certified the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 for the November ballot.

The measure would allow adults 21 years or older to possess, share or transport up to one ounce of cannabis for personal consumption, and/or cultivate the plant in an area of not more than twenty-five square feet per private residence. It would also permit local governments the option to authorize the retail sale of marijuana and/or commercial cultivation of cannabis to adults and to impose taxes on such sales. Personal marijuana cultivation or not-for-profit sales of marijuana would not be taxed under the measure, nor would it amend any aspect of the California Health and Safety code pertaining to the use of marijuana for medical purposes.


Equal pay for equal work (Sen. Chris Dodd)

Today is Equal Pay Day, the day until which women have to work to make up the earnings they were shorted in 2009 compared to their male colleagues.

Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing that the fight for equal pay continues in the year 2010. It’s hard to find anyone who will say, on the record, that women don’t deserve to earn the same as men.

{mosads}And yet, the wage gap persists. Women still earn just 77 cents for each dollar a man earns. The average woman in my state of Connecticut needs a bachelor’s degree just to earn what a man with a high school diploma earns. The gap is larger in the African-American and Hispanic communities, it persists across the income spectrum, and, astonishingly, in some occupations it’s actually getting worse with time.

Even when studies control for factors such as education, job tenure, and choice of industry, the gap remains. Labor economists have conducted study after study and controlled for every measurable variable—job characteristics, union membership, ethnic and racial background, educational experience, and on and on—and still cannot explain nearly half of the wage gap.

Women, in America, in 2010, are still being paid less than men simply because they are women.

This is, of course, wildly offensive to our sense of fairness. But it’s also an issue of economic security for millions of American families. Two out of every five mothers are their families’ primary breadwinners, either as a single parent or as the spouse with the higher income. And the recession is only squeezing these families tighter.

The first law President Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But despite the heroic fight it took to get that bill passed, it simply reversed a truly horrendous Supreme Court decision that barred women from fighting pay discrimination in court. We still need to take legislative action to eliminate that discrimination in the first place.

That’s why we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA). This bill toughens penalties for pay discrimination and puts gender-based discrimination on an equal footing with discrimination based on race or ethnicity. It makes it easier for victims of pay discrimination to participate in class action suits. It prohibits employers from punishing whistleblowers and makes it more difficult for employers to justify discrimination under the law. And it strengthens regulatory programs designed to monitor compliance with fair pay rules.

I’ve co-sponsored the PFA for the last seven Congresses, and although I’m retiring this year, there are plenty of Senators ready to keep the fight going. But we shouldn’t have to. It’s 2010 already, for pete’s sake. We should get this done.


Repeal 'Don't ask, don't tell'

This month, America enters our eighth year of fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our troops have carried an enormous burden with honor and professionalism.  We owe each and every one of them our gratitude.

Many have spent multiple tours of duty in combat.  Despite the need for trained and dedicated individuals willing to serve, since 9-11, at least 5,800 service members have been discharged simply because of their sexual orientation.  Doing so has damaged our military readiness and placed our troops under unnecessary strain.


Obama on immigration: then and now (Rep. Luis Gutierrez)

Three years ago, when I met with Senator Barack Obama in his Chicago office and we contemplated his possible run for the presidency, I was enthusiastic.

On that day, it was hard for me to imagine a time I would have to say no to Barack Obama when he asked me for support. But last week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sat down with the president, and he asked us to vote for the health care reform bill -- a bill that denies immigrants the opportunity to purchase health care with their own money. It was one more in a string of disappointments for the Hispanic community, and today, I no longer find myself able to confidently say "yes" when President Obama asks me for his support.

I remember clearly the afternoon I sat down with Obama. In December 2006, he was preparing for a family trip, and the decision to run weighed heavily on his mind. As a progressive member of Congress from Illinois, I was excited and energized by the prospect of my Senator, and my friend, running for President. At the depths of the Bush presidency, the idea of a like-minded, forward-looking leader for our nation seemed almost too good to be true. 


Amend the Fair Housing Act to ban housing discrimination against LGBT people

It is critical that federal lawmakers amend the Fair Housing Act to ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

That’s what I urged lawmakers to do at the March 11 House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing titled "Protecting the American Dream: A Look at the Fair Housing Act." The Task Force was the only LGBT rights group presenting oral testimony at this historic hearing.

Right now, the Fair Housing Act protects against housing discrimination based on race or color, religion, sex, national origin, family status or disability. But the truth of the matter is, every day in America, people are discriminated in housing simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.


The Big Question: Is this the end of 'Don't ask, don't tell' ban?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

Is it time for Congress to end “Don’t ask, don’t tell”?

(Read today's responses after the jump.)


Recovery won't work without jobs, stable housing market for Blacks and Latinos

Headlines may broadcast the beginning of economic recovery, but for hardest-hit communities, the financial storm is far from over.  NCLR is seriously concerned about the lack of progress in stabilizing Latino communities hit hard by foreclosures and unemployment.  Middle- and working-class families will not recover until jobs return to their neighborhoods and the housing market is stable.

On this last point, there is much FHA can do.   Much has been done for the lending industry.  Not nearly as much has been to help average families get back on their feet.

The silver lining of the housing bubble is that many are finding homes in their price range for the first time.  However, credit has dried up and many qualified families can’t get a loan.