Civil Rights

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.


The Second Amendment should be protected

Over the past two weeks, gun control re-appeared on the national stage for the first time since the tragic events of Tucson, Ariz. This time, the debate is taking shape in the form of a privacy fight in Illinois and a larger call from President Obama to find agreement on gun reforms. 

Being from Illinois and a proud representative of twenty of Illinois’ counties, I have a keen interest in the debate that is currently taking place in my home state. Recently, a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) was denied by the Illinois State Police to release publicly the private information of the 1.3 million Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card holders in the state. In response, the Illinois Attorney General issued a directive mandating that the State Police make this information public.

A court in my hometown of Peoria has already issued a temporary restraining order (TPO) on releasing FOID information as this issue continues to navigate the courts system. This TPO is a wise decision to ensure privacy is ensured while this directive goes through the appropriate judicial channels. The worst thing that could happen would be a hastily executed effort to release private information thus endangering the lives of 1.3 million FOID card holders.


Buffalo soldiers in our national parks

This week I introduced legislation commemorating the Army’s first all-African- American units—we know them as the Buffalo Soldiers. I believe we must recognize the very important role these individuals played in our history, and especially their often-overlooked service in the early years of our National Parks.

The brave Buffalo Soldiers were, in essence, our nation’s first park rangers, and they left a rich historical legacy in California.

The Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act is a key step in memorializing the role the Buffalo Soldiers played in shaping the National Parks that we all care for so deeply today.


U.S. standing on immigrant integration in the hands of senate

Funding for the Office of Citizenship, particularly its programs to support and encourage immigrant integration, was one of the many casualties of the drastic spending cuts passed by the House before leaving for President's Day recess.  As the Senate prepares to take up the Continuing Resolution, restoring the relatively tiny 11 million dollar budget of the Office of Citizenship should be something that both parties can agree on, as this is the office that works with legal permanent residents to help them prepare for the naturalization exam and overcome other obstacles to becoming U.S. citizens.

The importance of immigrant integration cannot be overstated, as a new study released this week, ranking U.S. performance in this area against European countries and Canada, makes clear.  The Migration Integration Policy Index III (MIPEX), a rigorous analysis of laws and policies that further immigrant integration in Europe and North America, finds that the United States is ninth among 31 countries in promoting full integration of legal residents.  As the MIPEX authors note, "Our ever changing societies are also becoming ever more diverse.  Whatever our individual backgrounds, we all have a stake in the shared future of the communities and countries we live in, where each, in his or her own way, contributes to its economic, social, and civic life."


EU supports democracy in Lybia

European Commission President Barroso addresses the situation in North Africa.

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

We just had a very useful and important debate on the situation in the Southern Mediterranean in the meeting of the Commission College.

The events unfolding in our southern neighborhood are a rendezvous with history. Europe will rise to this challenge and support the current transformation processes. The Commission has a crucial set of political and economic tools that we are already deploying and that we will strengthen further in the run-up to next week's extraordinary European Council.