• January 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    President Obama lauded bipartisan Senate work on immigration reform, but went further by calling for a clearer path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, without tying it to rigid border security measures.

    From Las Vegas, the president warned of a pitched battle as reform proposals advance, saying, “We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We’ve been debating this a very long time.”

    The New York Times reported that the White House “is also proposing that the United States treat same-sex couples the same as other families, meaning that people would be able to use their relationship as a basis to obtain a visa.”

    During his speech, Obama said, “Think about it – we define ourselves as a nation of immigrants. That’s who we are – in our bones. The promise we see in those who come here from every corner of the globe, that’s always been one of our greatest strengths. It keeps our workforce young. It keeps our country on the cutting edge. And it’s helped the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.” (Video of speech available by clickng picture.)

    Longtime advocates of immigration reform like MALDEF sounded a cautiously optimistic note, and offered praise of the president’s speech.

    MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz said, the president “directly challenged all of us to put aside exclusionary xenophobia and to recognize our common immigrant heritage and our common mission of serving family and country."

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who will conduct a hearing on immigration reform following the State of the Union Address, said in a press statement that he was “particularly pleased to see that the president’s proposal includes better access to visas for victims of domestic and sexual violence, improved laws for refugees and asylum seekers, an enhanced investor visa program, and the assurance that every family, including binational gay and lesbian spouses, receives equal treatment under the law.”

    Right-wing groups have long fought immigration reform and many aren’t likely to halt their efforts to scuttle reform. Rush Limbaugh, right-wing radio host, said he and Fox News must step up to destroy reform.

  • December 19, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The 2010 elections highlighted the strident efforts of some state lawmakers to make it much more difficult for people to vote, especially for minorities, low-income people, the elderly and college students. Texas, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among the states that created and tried to implement voting laws requiring strict voter IDs, limiting early voting times and hampering voter registration drives.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee today conducted a hearing on the state of voting rights after the elections and against the backdrop of another challenge to an integral enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Beyond bringing stories of what the new restrictive measures wrought, several witnesses provided passionate defenses of the importance of the landmark civil rights law.

    Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires nine states, many in the South, and counties and other localities across the country to obtain “preclearance” of changes to their voting laws from a federal court in Washington, D.C. or the Department of Justice. The states and localities required to win preclearance are those with long histories of suppressing the vote of minorities. (Shelby County, Ala., officials in a case the Supreme Court will hear this term argue that racial discrimination in voting is a thing of the past and should be invalidated. Like several of the Judiciary Committee witnesses, many argue that Sec. 5 is the heart of the Voting Rights Act and works to block discrimination before it occurs.)

    Five counties in Florida are covered by the Voting Rights Act. Charles Crist, former governor or Florida, testifying today before the Judiciary Committee, said the last few years in the state have not “been so forward thinking.”

  • August 29, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In its ruling yesterday rejecting several new Texas voting districts, a federal court in Washington, D.C. blasted the efforts of Texas lawmakers as seeking to suppress the vote of Latinos.

    Janell Ross for The Huffington Post noted that the federal court’s opinion provided a “sharply worded” and exhaustive account of “Texas officials’ plans to draw districts for four new congressional seats created by the state’s booming Latino population that were almost certain to elect Congress members preferred by white Republican voters. And it’s a ruling that should serve as a cautionary tale, according to voting rights advocates.”

    Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), told Ross, “For other states thinking of doing anything to dilute the [power] of their minority voters or their fast-growing minority populations, this not just a warning. This is a warning in the strongest terms.”

    Indeed as noted on this blog yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that Texas lawmakers failed badly in proving that their redistricting plans did not violate Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act applies to states and localities with a history of discriminating against classes of voters, and requires those jurisdictions to get preclearance for redistricting from the Department of Justice or a federal court.

    In State of Texas v. U.S. the federal court said Texas failed to show that its new voting maps would not discriminate against voters on “account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”

    MALDEF, which intervened on behalf of Latino voters to challenge the state’s new voting schemes, said the federal court had found the state’s congressional plan was created with “discriminatory racial intent,” and its State House redistricting plan undercut “voting strength,” while the state Senate redistricting plan “was enacted with discriminatory racial intent.”

  • October 18, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Brooke Lierman, an attorney at the civil rights firm, Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP in Baltimore, Md. Ms. Lierman is on the Executive Committee of the Maryland Lawyer Chapter of ACS.

    The White House recently added to its growing list of Champions of Change, a group of 16 individuals working, in the words of Attorney General Eric Holder, “to address and to overcome our most pressing legal challenges and to live up to our nation’s highest ideals.” 

    The event, last week, was the latest in a series sponsored by the White House Office of Public Engagement (OPE), which seeks (in the words of the Office’s director Jon Carson) to shine a spotlight on the good work that Americans are doing every day in their communities.

    This event was organized jointly by OPE and the Department of Justice Access to Justice Initiative, an office created by Attorney General Holder (pictured) to ensure that basic legal services are available and accessible to everyone in the country.  

    Attorney General Holder offered some prepared remarks discussing the important work that the honorees perform in their communities.  The 16 individuals, listed below, represented all spheres of the legal community – from professors to directors of legal services programs to general counsel of a major corporation. The White House and Department of Justice honored them and invited them to participate in roundtable discussions about the challenges facing today’s legal system. 

  • July 22, 2010
    The immigration system is broken and the situation urgently calls out for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to come together and find a way to fix the system, said Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis in a recent discussion with Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. The discussion, led by Jaime Zapata, senior managing director of the Labor Department's Office of Public Affairs (OPA), touched upon why the immigration system currently undercuts the nation's economy and ways to reach reform.

    Secretary Solis said the immigration system "isn't helping those legitimate businesses and those employees right now that are getting shortchanged because there's an employer who doesn't want to play by the rules, is not paying back taxes or is not paying into the system," which ultimately "robs our economy of those revenues." Solis added, "Yes, we have to crack down on the border and make sure the criminals are taken out of this country, but at the same time we have to protect all workers." The Secretary said a pathway must be created for those immigrants willing to follow the rules to become documented. She said that it is simply impossible to deport 11 million people, destroying families and depriving the economy of many people who provide it great innovations.

    Trumka urged immigration reform, maintaining that the current system negatively affects all workers. "If we're going to create an economy that really does work for all workers, immigration has to be fixed because it is a terribly broken system that is being exploited and creating a permanent underclass of citizens that is being used to drive down wages, so we have to eliminate that," he said.

    Trumka added, "This nation was built on the notion that we embrace immigration."

    Watch video of the entire discussion here or by clicking on the picture. For additional discussion of immigration reform, watch video of a plenary panel from the 2010 ACS National Convention called "Immigration Reform: Congress and the States." In addition, following that panel discussion, Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, talked with ACSblog about the need for greater public education surrounding immigration reform. Video of the interview, which can be downloaded as a podcast, is available here.