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NAKASEC Legislative Update, 3/06/2009

By March 6, 2009 2 Comments

If you should have any questions, feel free to contact NAKASEC at 323.937.3703 or 202.339.9318.

The Obama Administration – New Appointments & Nominations
Department of Homeland Security: John Morton has been nominated to be the Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). John Morton is a career official at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) with lengthy experience in immigration enforcement and criminal prosecution. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano named Esther Olavarria as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy. Esther Olavarria is no stranger to immigration policy, bringing nearly 20 years of experience, including serving as Counsel to Sen. Edward Kennedy for ten years.

Department of Health & Human Services: Kathleen Sebelius has been nominated to serve as the Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS). In role as Governor of Kansas, she has pushed for expanded access to healthcare for children and has experience as state insurance commissioner. President Obama has named Nancy De Parle as head of the White House Office of Healthcare Reform. She was the former Administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration (now renamed Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS) and daughter of Chinese immigrants, with ties to the health technology industry. Mary Wakefield has been nominated to be Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Administrator. HRSA oversees 7,000 community health centers and clinics for low-income people living in the U.S.

Department of Labor: Hilda Solis was confirmed by a vote of 80-17 to serve as the Secretary of Labor, the first Latina American to hold the Labor post. Secretary Solis leaves her position as Representative of California’s 32nd District. She is the daughter of immigrants and comes from a union family  with a union background, expectations are high that the Department of Labor will pursue policies to support working families and protect workers’ rights.

Department of Commerce: Gary Locke, former Governor of Washington and first Asian American governor on the mainland, has been named as the next Secretary. He is Obama’s third choice for Commerce after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg dropped out.

Economy
Following an address to a joint session of Congress that outlined an ambitious agenda, President Barack Obama unveiled his budget on February 26, 2009. Included was $634 billion that is seen by healthcare advocates and the Administration alike as a “down payment” on health care reform. A preliminary analysis of the Budget is available from the Coalition of Human Needs.

Earlier, President Obama signed into law the $787 billion “American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” (H.R. 1). It is expected that 3 – 3.5 million jobs will be created. An important anti-immigrant provision to mandate use of E-Verify by any organization receiving economic recovery funds was struck down.

For a more detailed analysis, visit:

Just & Humane Immigration Reform
Background: The broken immigration system affects the Korean American community: 1 in 5 Korean Americans are undocumented, thousands of bright youth cannot fulfill their dreams, countless others are separated because of the immigration backlogs, and there are those languishing and dying in detention centers. In recent years, attempts to pass legislative reform have been stymied by a vocal minority. Instead, families have been torn apart and communities have been devastated by the ramping up of raids and other enforcement activities by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). State and local governments also took matters into their own hands and passed anti-immigrant measures.

Solution: For more than a decade, Korean American communities have been engaged in national efforts to realize long-term systemic change. In doing so, we have reached a level of consensus that any legislative proposal must contain the following components:
1) Bring millions of hard working undocumented immigrants and their children out of the shadows and provide them a path to citizenship.
2) Keep families together by preserving the family immigration system, eliminating the immigration backlogs, stopping mandatory & indefinite detentions and cruel deportations for minor infractions.
3) Protect all workers regardless of their immigration status.
4) Allow students to reach their full potential through access to college.
5) Protect and restore basic rights and liberties, including allowing every person to have their day in court.
6) Promote the social, economic, and political integration of immigrants.

Composition of House & Senate Immigration Subcommittees: Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) will continue to chair the Immigration Subcommittee in the House. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will take over the leadership of the Immigration Subcommittee in the Senate from Ted Kennedy, who is chairing the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Summary of immigration-related legislation & actions: Since the start of the 111th Congress, a number of tailored legislation has been introduced as stand-alone bills or amendments related to immigration. While the likelihood of passage of any of these bills is unclear, it is politically important to support pro-immigrant legislation since they often serve as the base in crafting comprehensive immigration reform legislation and highlight the numerous problems resulting from a broken immigration system. Legislation and other action that NAKASEC is working in coalition to support include:

  • H.R. 1215, Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) which focuses on the adoption of humane and legally enforceable standards for immigration detention facilities.
  • H.R. 1024 & S. 424, Uniting American Families Act introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) & Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), respectively to eliminate discrimination and allow permanent same-gender partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as heterosexual partners of citizens and lawful permanent residents.
  • H.R. 182, Child Citizen Protection Act introduced Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) would repeal a provision set in 1996 and allow immigration judges to consider whether deportation is “clearly against the best interests of a US citizen child.”
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is rallying support from members of Congress to call on Secretary Napolitano and DHS to lower the naturalization application fee back to $400. In July 2007, DHS raised the fees to $675.00, creating a barrier for immigrants to become citizens. Go to “What you can do” to sign on-to an organizational letter to Secretary Napolitano to lower the fees.

E-Verify: Formerly known as the Basic Pilot program, E-Verify is an electronic employment verification system that has been widely criticized because of the high error rates, burdensome costs to business owners, and increased vulnerability of workers to discrimination and unjust termination, among other concerns. Thankfully, an attempt to include the mandated use of E-Verify by organizations that receive stimulus funds in the American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 failed. The E-Verify program currently stands as a stand-alone program and is set to expire on March 6, 2009. Most recently the House passed an omnibus package, which included an extension of E-Verify funding. Even if the provision does not go through in the Senate version this week, it is unlikely the system would immediately cease since funding has already been allocated to pay for the program through September 30. For communities and organizations, including NAKASEC, working to oppose the use of E-Verify, the next important date is May 21, when E-Verify is set to become mandatory for companies contracting with the federal government.

Workplace Raid in Washington State: On Tuesday, February 24th, the first raid during President Barack Obama’s administration was conducted in Bellingham, WA. 75 ICE agents in riot gear raided the plan at 9 a.m. and detained 126 workers, mostly U.S. citizens and held them for a number of hours. 28 workers were ultimately arrested. The next day, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) questioned DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about the raid during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing. Rep. Lofgren raised concerns that basic due process is violated, among other serious problems associated with worksite raids:

“The Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act, as you know, requires that the government have a reasonable ground to suspect that a person is not in the United States legally before that person is detained. And there has been concern that that requirement has not always been adhered to in the past number of years. Yesterday — and I think this is the first time this has happened since the Obama administration, I am advised by reports as well as the Seattle Times that ICE agents did raid a small company in Bellingham, Washington … I am concerned about — obviously we need to enforce our laws. No one disagrees with that — but there is concern that Americans have repeatedly, in the past years, been held in some cases for 10 and 11 hours against their will, and it does not seem to comport with the requirements of the law or the Constitution.”

Secretary Napolitano was surprised about the incident and called for an immediate investigation on the raid. This is a break from the previous Bush Administration’s ramping up of broad immigrant enforcement activities. Shortly afterwards, the White House stated to the Washington Times that, “The president believes we must respect due process and our best values as we enforce the law. The real answer to our broken immigration system is to fix it. The president has said that we will start the immigration reform debate this year, and this continues to be the plan.” There is great expectation of a diferent approach with a new Administration. NAKASEC is following closely DHS enforcement activities and seek continued dialogue to.

Building Momentum for Immigration Reform in 2009:  The Congressional Hispanic Caucus kicked off their 17-city “Family Unity Tour” tour in Providence, RI on February 27, 2009 where a massive crowd of 1,500 gathered. Similar events in Atlanta, GA and Albuquerque, NM also resulted in thousands. With the message of keeping families together and stop the raids, the tour will continue to several more cities, including Los Angeles on March 13 and Chicago on March 21. Click here for the full schedule.

Student Legalization
Each year, 65,000 undocumented immigrant students graduate from U.S. high schools unable to realize their full potential. These students are U.S.-raised children of immigrants who are denied the opportunity to build a future in America, the country that they call home. As undocumented students, they face difficulty pursuing higher education because they are denied financial aid, scholarships, loans, and in-state tuition rates in most states. Those that have the resources to graduate are unlikely to work in the field of their choice or study. And more tragically, they live daily with the fear of being deported to a country that they barely know.

DREAM Act: Originally introduced in 2001, the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act” or DREAM Act is slated to be introduced in late March before the April recess by Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL). NAKASEC youth groups are gearing up with the United We Dream coalition to win passage in 2009. If passed, this legislation would create a pathway to legalization for certain eligible immigrant students upon completing 2 years of college or serving 2 years in the military. In a meeting with Rep. Berman’s district staff, high school and college students articulated the need to strengthen DREAM Act to increase access to eligibility.

Health Care Reform
Background: Across the United States, roughly 1 in 2 adults and 1 in 4 children under 18 years within the Korean American community are uninsured. Nationwide, healthcare is an unaffordable human need for many Korean Americans who are more than twice as likely as whites to go without health insurance. One result is that children of color – which include Asian Americans – are less likely than white children to have a usual source of care, or have health insurance. The reasons for such high rates of non-insurance include high rates of self-employment, unaffordable costs of private health insurance, immigration status, and language barriers to understand and make fully informed decisions.

Recent News: Last week, NAKASEC joined a call with the White House Office of the Public Liaison, the Domestic Policy Council and the Office of Management and Budget, to learn about President Obama’s healthcare priorities and major components in his proposed budget. His proposal for a $634 billion reserve fund over ten years will finance fundamental reform of our health care system that will bring down costs and expand coverage.

What you can do
1. Join thousands to sign the petition to Hold the Department of Homeland Security Accountable. The Rights Working Group is circulating a petition that individuals can sign to urge President Obama to defend due process, place a moratorium on immigration enforcement practices, and set clear, enforceable legal standards for DHS operations – standards that uphold the dignity and Constitutional rights of all people. With the new administration, it is important that we affirm and President Obama’s commitment to human rights and civil liberties.

2. NAKASEC and its affiliates are working with groups across the country to collect organizational endorsements for two efforts addressing DHS and Secretary Napolitano. To endorse either or both letters, please send Organization Name, Contact & Title, Address (with zip code), phone number, and email address to soh@nakasec.org or 323.937.3753 (fax) by March 9, 2009.

a. Lower Naturalization Application Fees: Many of us know firsthand how the drastic fee increase has become a barrier for our community members to become citizens. The cost to become a U.S. citizen – filing the naturalization application and fingerprinting – jumped 68% from $400 to $675 after July 31, 2007. This letter urges DHS to lower the fee back to $400.00. To see the text of the letter, click here.
b. Rescind SSA-No Match Rule: After a filing for an extension, DHS now has until April 10 to decide whether to support the previous administration’s rule. Under the Bush Administration, DHS proposed to use SSA-no match letters as evidence that employers knowingly hired undocumented workers and that if workers are unable to correct their Social Security records within a 90-day period, the employer must fire them or risk being prosecuted for violating immigration laws. Workers are more vulnerable to discrimination, profiling and unjust termination because of its reliance on federal databases with high error rates. This letter asks that Secretary Napolitano rescind the SSA No-Match Rule.

3. Become a member in 2009. Your membership dollars support NAKASEC’s mission to project a national progressive voice on major civil rights and immigrant rights issues and promote the full participation of Korean Americans.

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About National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
NAKASEC was founded in 1994 by local community centers to build a national movement for social justice within the Korean American community. They include the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center in Chicago and the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles. In September 2008, NAKASEC opened its first D.C. office. NAKASEC and its affiliates represent a strong and unique organizing network forwarding a new empowerment model that is relevant to today’s immigrant communities. Our affiliates also play a key role in determining the policy direction and programs of NAKASEC.

Headquarters
900 Crenshaw Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Tel: 323-937-3703
Fax: 323-937-3753
www.nakasec.org

D. C. Office
1536 U Street NW, Washington, DC 20009
Tel: 202-339-9318
Fax: 202-387-4893

Korean Resource Center (founded in 1983)
900 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019
Tel: 323.937.3718
Fax: 323.937.3526
www.krcla.org

Korean American Resource & Cultural Center (founded in 1995)
6146 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60659
Tel: 773.588.9158
Fax: 773.588.9159
www.chicagokrcc.org