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NAKASEC Legislative Update, 3/18/2009

By March 20, 2009 One Comment

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

Economy
On March 11, 2009, President Obama signed into law a spending bill (H.R. 1105 – Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009; Senate vote: 62 to 35), which allots $410 billion to fund most government agencies through September 2009.  For background and analysis, please see Current Year Spending Bill Finally Passes (3/11/09, Coalition for Human Needs).

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 who languish and die 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 raids and other enforcement activities of 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.

Recent news: On Wednesday, March 18th, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) met with President Barack Obama to discuss immigration reform. Widely considered an important step in the right direction, non-CHC members supported their colleagues prior to the meeting by sending letters to the President Obama urging enactment in 2009, including the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, under the leadership of Representative Mike Honda (D, CA-15). Click here to read the full CAPAC letter. NAKASEC and its affiliates are part of a national movement to institute immediate measures to keep families together & end the raids, as well as to enact legislation that will reform our immigration system.

Promoting Citizenship: NAKASEC and its affiliates worked with other community-based immigrant rights groups to call on Secretary Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to lower the naturalization application fee back to $400. In July 2007, DHS raised the fees drastically to $675, creating a barrier for many legal permanent residents to become citizens. NAKASEC gathered 41 organizational endorsements primarily from the Korean American and Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities nationally. In addition, 14 members of Congress joined Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) on a Dear Colleague letter that was sent on March 12, 2009. Thank you to all who responded to this national call.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Investigation on Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona will now be the subject of a DOJ investigation of “alleged patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures … and on allegations of national origin discrimination.” At a press conference held the next day after the DOJ announcement on the March 11th, Representative John Conyers (D-MI), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee stated, “Law-enforcement officers have a very important and valuable function. The problem is they can’t interpret the law their own way to harass or use racial strategies to determine who they arrest.” Rep. Conyers announced that they will hold a joint hearing to investigate Sheriff Arpaio’s methods. Sheriff Arpaio has been widely criticized for his cruel and dehumanizing practices, including making detainees walk around publicly in pink underwear and live in outdoor “tent cities” in the Arizona desert. The majority of the more than 2,700 lawsuits filed against Sheriff Arpaio since he was first elected sheriff in 1993 have been for alleged civil rights violations. To see the full letter from DOJ, click here. NAKASEC joins immigrant communities in denouncing Sheriff Arpaio. As a member of the Rights Working Group, we are working to reform DHS practices of detention standards and to protect due process for all.

Building Momentum for Immigration Reform in 2009: The “Family Unity Tour” continued across the country, including a stop in Los Angeles, CA on March 13, 2009 that brought together over 300 community members. Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) members Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) were joined by Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA). Organized by the CHC, this 17-city tour has mobilized thousands of community members and Members of Congress, including Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), to hear testimonies about how the broken immigration system is tearing families apart. The Tour will continue to Chicago on March 21 and several other cities. Click here for the full schedule.

Student Legalization
Background: 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 from college 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). 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. NAKASEC submitted letters to the Domestic Policy Council, Senator Durbin and Representative Berman to encourage the strengthening of the DREAM Act to increase the pool of eligible young students. NAKASEC youth groups are working on the 65,000 postcard campaign of the United We Dream coalition with the goal of collecting 12,000 postcards; they are also finalizing a national campaign to engage Korean American communities to win passage of the DREAM Act in 2009.

Health Care Reform
Background: Across the United States, roughly 1 in 2 adults, and 1 in 4 children (under the age of 18) in the Korean American community live without health insurance coverage. 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 in the Korean American community include high rates of self-employment, unaffordable costs of private health insurance, immigration status, and language barriers – all which make it difficult for people to access, understand and make fully informed decisions about their health.

Recent News: On Thursday, March 5, President Obama launched his healthcare reform campaign to expand access to health insurance, and address quality and costs in 2009.  The event came after a recent fiscal summit and the release of his proposed “downpayment” on healthcare reform via the federal budget. In response, Congress is preparing for a healthcare reform process. In the House, it will be led by a coordinated effort amongst Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Charles Rangel (D-NY, and George Miller (D-CA), chairs of the Committee on Energy & Commerce, Committee on Ways & Means, and Committee on Education & Labor.  In the Senate, it will be led by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).

Voting Rights
Georgia Senate Passes Bill to Require Proof of Citizenship for Voter Registration
Background: On March 3, the Georgia Senate voted 34 to 20 to pass a bill requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote and the House followed suit, passing the bill on March 4 (102-63). House Bill 45, sponsored by Rep. James Mills (R-Gainesville), would require those registering to vote after January 1, 2010 to submit a copy of one of several forms of proof of U.S. citizenship with their application. These include a driver’s license, birth certificate, U.S. passport, U.S. naturalization documents or Bureau of Indian Affairs card. On the Senate side, Bill 86 was sponsored by Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon). Only one other state requires proof of citizenship – Arizona – which is currently being challenged in court.

Problem: Requiring proof of citizenship will disenfranchise voters, specifically seniors, the poor, and minority Americans. Studies show that 7% of Americans (13 million) do not have ready access to citizenship documents. Opponents of the bill say it would needlessly inconvenience U.S. citizens and discourage people from registering to vote. Supporters say that this bill would combat voter fraud and prevent undocumented immigrants from voting. Voter fraud is extremely rare; there have been only a handful of voter fraud cases. Rather, mistakes on voter registration forms may occur but are also caused by clerical errors.

Supreme Court Limits Redistricting Provision of Voting Rights Act
Background: On March 9, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) did not protect the voting power of minority groups if they did not reach 50% of that district’s voter population. The defendants in the case were the elections officials of North Carolina whose redistricting plan sought to preserve minority voting power in a state legislative district that is 39% black.

Problem: There has been dispute over how to read VRA’s jurisdiction into redistricting ever since Congress revised Section 2 in 1982 – when they stated that states may not deprive minority voters of the opportunity to “elect representatives of their choice.” That is, until the Supreme Court ruling on March 9, establishing that protection for minority electing power is only valid if the minority group reaches a numerical threshold of 50%. The court’s decision will affect redistricting lines after the 2010 Census, and may make it harder for minority candidates to win elections. It may also deter the success that racial minorities have had so far in achieving political representation.

Court to Consider Constitutionality of Voting Rights Act
Background: In 2006, the VRA was renewed by Congress. Immediately, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (MUD) in Texas filed suit in federal court arguing that it was entitled to “bail out” from coverage under Section 5 of the VRA, or that Section 5 was unconstitutional. Section 5, which had been extended for an additional twenty-five years, requires jurisdictions with egregious histories of discrimination in voting to get federal approval, or preclearance, of their new voting practices or procedures before they can be implemented. Respondent U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder argued in an appeal, that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia did not err in holding that Section 5 was constitutional as applied. The initial issue of whether Municipal Utility District was entitled to bail out coverage was summarily dismissed by the courts and it is not on appeal.

Solution: NAKASEC has worked to protect the voting rights of immigrant communities like Korean Americans on the national and local level. In 2006, we advocated for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act and in Glendale, CA, worked with local allies to organize against a provision that would prohibit third parties from absentee ballot application assistance.

Violations of voting rights, particularly of minority communities, still occur to this day, making Section 5 as relevant and necessary as it was when the VRA was created in 1965. Examples such as Black voters in Florida suffering inadequately-maintained registration lists and inferior technology during the 2000 elections to minority voters in Ohio enduring long lines for faulty and insufficient voting machines in 2004 , remind us that voter intimidation and discrimination continue to be a problem. That is why NAKASEC joined others in signing an amicus brief in support of Respondent Holder to uphold the relevance of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The brief will be filed with the Supreme Court on March 25, 2009.

What you can do
1. Get involved with NAKASEC to pass the DREAM Act! Contact HyunJoo Lee at hlee@nakasec.org or 323.937.3703, ext. 205 to sign up.

2. 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

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