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Deportations for Minor Crimes: The Obama Administration's 'Shame'

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

“A crying shame and a painful truth”

Those words helped to sum up the reaction of immigration advocates, civil libertarians, elected officials, foreign consular representatives and immigrants to a mind-numbing appraisal of the Obama administration’s immigration policy which has resulted in almost two million people being deported in five years to the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Pacific and other regions of the world.

What a detailed analysis of government documents showed was that contrary to Obama Administration assertions that it was kicking out murderers, rapists, gang bangers, armed robbers, drug dealers and other serious criminals, two-thirds of those returned to their birthplaces had done nothing more than commit minor offences – such as traffic violence, jumping turnstiles and other acts that earned them no criminal records at all. Indeed, only 20 per cent or 394,000 immigrants were convicted of serious crimes, including drug-related offences, stated the New York Times, which conducted the study and published its results.

“This study only confirms the experiences of people in communities around the United States, who watched as their neighbors and members of their family were deported for minor infractions, such as violations of traffic rules,” charged U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat. “We could not reasonably describe a person who has incurred a parking ticket as a criminal. Yet, the federal government has applied a policy of deportation that absurdly defines such men and women as criminals.

“The continued deportation of hundreds of thousands of people every year imposes serious harms on the families from which men and women are removed, as well as the community as a whole, without any benefit to our society,” added Clarke, who along with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat of Brooklyn has repeatedly called on President Obama to suspend deportations until the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform, which would open the door to a pathway to citizenship for almost 12 million people who had overstayed their allotted time in the country. “Who could imagine that the removal of a father or mother from their children – for the ‘crime of violating traffic regulations – would not undermine the faith of these children in the due process of law or the good sense of their representatives in government? I remain committed to the suspension of deportation and to a policy of immigration reform that recognizes the value of families.”

The study, based on government data covering more than 3.2 million deportations over a 10 year period, beginning with President George Bush found:

Immigrants with no criminal history and whose most serious offence was listed as a traffic violation accounted for the largest increases in deportation in recent years. High on that list was driving under the influence.

During President Obama’s five years in the White House, such traffic violation deportation cases skyrocketed from 43,000 during President Bush’s last five years to more than 188,000.

Although President Obama attacked the pace of deportations when he first ran for the White House in 2008, his administration kept the high deportation rates he inherited from his immediate predecessor.

More immigrants are being deported to their birthplaces without a hearing than before.

The Administration has expanded the use of expedited immigration proceedings which gave undocumented immigrants limited opportunities to turn to an attorney seek asylum or show there were extenuating circumstances to their presence in the country.

The Department of Homeland Security went after more people who hadn’t complied with deportation orders than Bush. Most of them didn’t have a criminal record.

In 2012, deportations reached 409,224, a historic high.

“What these findings indicate is that the focus of the Administration was never on criminals as the White House had said,” complained Bertha Lewis, head of the Black Institute, a prominent immigration advocate. “They also underscore something we have been saying all along and that is the administration’s policy is wrong, discriminatory and shameful. I am glad that people in New York and elsewhere are finally finding out that we have a major problem on our hands when it comes to deportations. They are also discovering that the removal of people from their country isn’t simply about Mexicans but about immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America as well.”

Lewis saw an urgent need to shift the policy from deportation to comprehensive immigration reform that would fix the broken system. The Administration’s policy has been an abject failure. Washington has simply declined to give us accurate numbers on race, ethnicity and gender of persons being put out of the country.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, strongly criticized the White House’s deportation policy, calling for an “end to “mass deportations” of immigrants.

“The Obama administration should be ashamed of itself for deporting masses of people in the way it has been doing,” she told the Carib News. “We need immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship and we need a Dream Act in New York State, one that would provide financial assistance to undocumented youth attending colleges and universities.

Marsha Branch, Manhattan resident who has been living in the United States for more 20 years, said the situation had become “perilous” for immigrant families who were in danger of losing a major bread winner at any time, a “father or mother” to the deportation mill

“Deportations were never meant to be used in that way,” said the West Indian. “Yes, people who are dangerous and habitual criminals should be sent back to their homes. But they shouldn’t be removed for traffic violations.”

A Caribbean diplomat who requested anonymity said that the airing of the findings was important because it “took the lid off a cover-up.”

Prominent Caribbean Academic, Dr. Norman Girvan, 72, Dies in Cuba

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Professor Norman Girvan, one of the Caribbean’s premier intellectuals, has died in Cuba where he was taken for treatment after he had become paralyzed as a result of a fall in Dominica.

Dr. Girvan, 72, the former Secretary-General of the Association of Caribbean States, fell while hiking in the Eastern Caribbean island. He was flown to Cuba because of excruciating back pain and the paralysis and was due to undergo surgery to ease the pain on his spine. But he died before the surgery could be performed, according the University of the West Indies where he had taught for decades.

“We were still hopeful that perhaps at some point he would have been strong enough to get the operation done and that would release the pressure on his spine,” said Professor Andy Knight, Director of the UWI’s Institute of International Relations. “From his neck down he was paralyzed and today we heard he passed away. We are very heavy hearted and felt Norman still had a lot to give to the region.”

A Jamaican, Prof. Girvan, served as professor of development studies and director of the UWI’s Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies. At one stage he headed Jamaica’s National Planning Agency. Four years ago he was appointed by the United Nations to be its representative on the Guyana-Venezuela border dispute panel.

Just last December, he co-signed a letter to the Caribbean Community warning of the negative impact of a decision by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court which virtually declared tens of thousands of Haitians who were born in the DR non-citizens simply because their roots were in Haiti.

Girvan is survived by his wife and two children. Funeral arrangements would be announced later.

Water Shut-Offs Threaten Third-World Conditions in Michigan

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By Phreddy Wischusen
Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department officials recently announced water accounts over 60 days past due or owing $150 or more would be turned off. The shut-off program, which affects businesses and residences, is expected to have a far-reaching impact – almost half of the city’s accounts are currently delinquent, according to reports.

Lack of access to clean running water for bathing, cooking, cleaning clothes and dishes is both a private and public health concern, allowing the spread of infection and disease

DWSD Deputy Director Darryl Latimer said the shut-offs are “nothing new.”

“We do this every year. We’ve always shut people off for being delinquent in their water service,” Latimer said. “We’ve always in the winter suspended that because when the temperature gets below 32 degrees you have the propensity for lines to freeze up because of the weather, so we curtail our shutoffs for delinquencies because if someone comes and pays and then we turn the water back on you’ll sometimes find that the line has frozen.”

Keith Williams is currently unemployed and raising two teenaged sons as a single father. After hearing about the shut-offs he was able to pay his overdue bill, but is struggling financially. With skills in various trades, Williams was recently looking to buy a vacant home to fix up for his family. Every home he looked at, he says, had water leaking into the basement.

“They leave the water in these vacant homes running continuously,” he told the Michigan Citizen, “but they’ll turn yours off for $150.”

According to Latimer, DWSD can shut off leaks in vacant properties within 2-3 days, but asks citizens to call DWSD and report leaks in vacant properties. “A lot of times people assume someone has called, but nobody has,” he said.

Additionally, Latimer says the DWSD will sometimes work with people on reducing their rates if there has been a leak. DWSD now has technology available to monitor water usage that can alert homeowners if there is a spike in water usage indicating a leak.

He says the monitoring technology can help residents avoid exorbitant bills for wasted water they cannot afford. Customers can call 313.267.8000 to have DWSD install the monitoring device if they don’t already have it.

Marian Kramer, of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, has been fighting for decades to ensure equal and universal access to water — and residents’ basic human rights. She sees the shut-offs as part of the system of emergency management, of which she says all of their goals are the goals of corporations that profit at the people’s expense.

“I’m outraged,” Kramer told the Michigan Citizen about the shut-offs. “Our standard of living is under attack.” Both the mass shut-offs and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s plan to lease the DWSD to a private company constitute all out war.”

Kramer says water is the only necessity to “sustain and live on this planet.”

She calls the city’s water source “Detroit’s gold,” and says using the water and the water system — an inalienable right for humans — as an asset to be traded to settle bank debt is tantamount to “robbing us without a gun.”

Kramer says the 2013 transfer of Highland Park’s water services (at that time not under emergency management) to DWSD, “done without the proper procedures,” paves the way for the privatization of all community held assets by Governor Rick Snyder’s appointed emergency managers.

She calls on communities to fight the shut-offs and the privatization, organize their communities, protest and refuse to pay their bills.

Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM) has called for a citywide shutdown on May 1 in response to the shut-offs, EM Orr’s proposed cuts to city workers’ pensions and statewide emergency management. The shutdown will commence with a prayer breakfast and rally at UAW 600 (10550 Dix Ave., Dearborn).

Kramer says the best way to stand up for water rights is to participate in the May 1 shutdown.

For now, if people have had their water turned off, she recommends calling the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization for advice and assistance at 313.964.0618.

Kramer believes preserving water rights for the future is just as important as keeping the water flowing today. “We’re not going to leave (our children) on a desert island,” she says.

In 2002, Klaus Töpfer, former chief of the U.N. Environment Program, said, “Without adequate clean water, there can be no escape from poverty.”

At an official 17.7 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Detroit leads Michigan in unemployment. Some put the number closer to 50 percent, which includes individuals who are no longer in the labor database.

A public meeting will be held by the Detroit Socialists on April 23 at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Detroit (4605 Cass Ave.) to protest the shut soffs. Learn more about D-REM and how to participate in the May 1 shutdown at www.d-rem.org or call 313.782.3736.

Obama Says Civil Rights Movement Opened Door for his Election

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

AUSTIN, Texas (NNPA) –With civil rights legends Andrew Young, John Lewis and Julian Bond and Jesse Jackson looking on, President Barack Obama on Thursday credited the Civil Rights Movement and landmark legislation signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s for paving the way for his becoming the nation’s first Black president.

Keynoting the three-day celebration at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in observance of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Obama said: “Today, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we honor the men and women who made it possible. Some of them are here today. We celebrate giants like John Lewis and Andrew Young and Julian Bond. We recall the countless unheralded Americans, Black and White, students and scholars, preachers and housekeepers – whose names are etched not on monuments, but in the hearts of their loved ones, and in the fabric of the country they helped to change.”

There is no better evidence of that change than his election, the president said.

“Because of the Civil Rights Movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody – not all at once, but they swung open. Not just for Blacks and Whites, but also women and Latinos; and Asians and Native Americans; and gay Americans and Americans with a disability. They swung open for you, and they swung open for me. And that’s why I’m standing here today – because of those efforts, because of that legacy,” he said to loud applause.

“And that means we’ve – got a debt to pay. That means we can’t afford to be cynical. Half a century later, the laws LBJ passed are now as fundamental to our conception of ourselves and our democracy as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They are foundational; an essential piece of the American character.”

In addition to Obama, three former presidents – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – addressed the summit. Also participating were U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), former chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Former NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond, who served as SNCC’s communications director under Lewis, and Andrew Young, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under Jimmy Carter and executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lewis, Bond and Young were present at least two of the three days of the summit. Another civil rights activist of that time, Jesse L. Jackson, who headed SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket in Chicago, arrived on the last day of the conference and had no formal role in the celebration.

It was not clear if President Obama knew Jackson was in the audience or that it would have mattered if he had known. Relations between the two Chicago-based leaders have been icy since July 2008 when Jackson was overheard saying in an off-camera TV interview, “See, Barack’s been talking down to Black people…I want to cut his nuts off.”

Obama made no mention of Jackson in his speech. And Jackson was not included in the meetings the president has held at the White House with civil rights leaders, including Al Sharpton, a former Jackson protégée; National Urban League President Marc H. Morial and former NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous.

In his 30-minute address, Obama talked about how President Johnson, who grew up in segregation in rural Texas, overcame his upbringing to nudge the Democratic Party to embrace civil rights, knowing that it would ultimately be politically costly.

“He wanted to call on senators and representatives to pass a civil rights bill – the most sweeping since Reconstruction. And most of his staff counseled him against it,” Obama recounted. “They said it was hopeless; that it would anger powerful Southern Democrats and committee chairmen; that it risked derailing the rest of his domestic agenda. And one particularly bold aide said he did not believe a president should spend his time and power on lost causes, however worthy they might be. To which, it is said, President Johnson replied, ‘Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?’”

Johnson, who was noted for his salty language, was not always for civil rights.

“During his first 20 years in Congress, he opposed every civil rights bill that came up for a vote, once calling the push for federal legislation ‘a farce and a sham,’” Obama said. “He was chosen as a vice presidential nominee in part because of his affinity with, and ability to deliver, that Southern White vote. And at the beginning of the Kennedy administration, he shared with President Kennedy a caution towards racial controversy.”

Ironically, President Obama has also been accused of being too cautious on racial issues, especially during his first term.

But Johnson, like former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who had once been a member of the Ku Klux Klan before turning into one of the most liberal members of the Supreme Court (1937-1971), showed an astounding ability to change.

He lobbied for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, legislation that changed the face of the South, which practiced its own form of apartheid. The law banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Watching John Lewis and others being brutally beaten in 1965 as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the Selma-to-Montgomery March made a lasting impression on Johnson.

“What happened in Selma is part of a larger movement which reached into every section and state of America,” Johnson said at the time. “It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really, it’s all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.” Borrowing the theme song of the Civil Rights Movement, Johnson said. “And we shall overcome.”

Three years after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Johnson signed into law the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Though the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion or national origin, it did not included any federal enforcement provisions. The housing law fixed that defect in the sale, rental or financing of housing.

In addition to his triumvirate of laws – the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 1968 Fair Housing Act – President Johnson launched a War on Poverty to help poor people and signed other bills to help create what he called a Great Society. His efforts led to the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the Jobs Corps, food stamps, and passage of the Older Americans Act, the Manpower Act, the Public Works and Redevelopment Act, the Higher Education Act, the Child Protection Act, the National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act.

Obama used Johnson’s words to summarize the Texan’s goals. “’We want to open the gates to opportunity,’ President Johnson said. ‘But we are also going to give all our people, Black and White, the help they need to walk through those gates.’”

“Now, if some of this sounds familiar, it’s because today we remain locked in this same great debate about equality and opportunity, and the role of government in ensuring each,” he said. “As was true 50 years ago, there are those who dismiss the Great Society as a failed experiment and an encroachment on liberty; who argue that government has become the true source of all that ails us, and that poverty is due to the moral failings of those who suffer from it. There are also those who argue, John, that nothing has changed; that racism is so embedded in our DNA that there is no use trying politics – the game is rigged.”

But Obama is not among those who subscribe to that argument.

“But such theories ignore history,” the president stated. “Yes, it’s true that, despite laws like the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, our society is still racked with division and poverty. Yes, race still colors our political debates, and there have been government programs that have fallen short. In a time when cynicism is too often passed off as wisdom, it’s perhaps easy to conclude that there are limits to change; that we are trapped by our own history; and politics is a fool’s errand, and we’d be better off if we roll back big chunks of LBJ’s legacy, or at least if we don’t put too much of our hope, invest too much of our hope in our government.”

President Obama explained, “I reject such thinking. Not just because Medicare and Medicaid have lifted millions from suffering; not just because the poverty rate in this nation would be far worse without food stamps and Head Start and all the Great Society programs that survive to this day. I reject such cynicism because I have lived out the promise of LBJ’s efforts. Because Michelle has lived out the legacy of those efforts. Because my daughters have lived out the legacy of those efforts. Because I and millions of my generation were in a position to take the baton that he handed to us.”

Bill Clinton says Voter ID Laws Undermine Civil Rights Progress

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

AUSTIN, TEXAS (NNPA) – Former President Bill Clinton praised President Lyndon B. Johnson for signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law, but said the progress that stemmed from those landmark measures are being undermined by Republican-led efforts to suppress the vote.

“We’re here because the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act made it possible for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to be president of the United States,” Clinton said to loud applause during a speech Wednesday that was part of a 3-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Clinton said 10 states require some form of state-issued ID before allowing voters to cast a ballot. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department sued Texas and North Carolina over their voter ID laws, charging that undercut voter participation by Blacks and Latinos.

Other states, practically all led by GOP governors or Republican-controlled state legislatures, have erected barriers, including reducing the hours polls are open and cutting back on early voting.

Supporters of the ID laws say they are needed to curb voter fraud. But the Justice Department and civil rights groups said voter fraud is minimal.

President Obama and former presidents Carter and Clinton traveling to Texas to honor Johnson sends a strong measure from a Democratic Party that has been at times conflicted about his legacy. The architect of the Great Society programs that expanded opportunity for oppressed groups and the poor lost his re-election largely over the popularity of the Viet Nam War, which Johnson continued to defend.

In his speech, Clinton praised the legends of activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, former Mississippi State NAACP President Medgar Evers and others who lost their lives while fighting to hold America true to its founding principles.

Texas-born Johnson was vice president at the time John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. He defeated arch-conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964 but after getting bogged down in the divisive Vietnam War, decided not to seek re-election in 1968.

Vietnam notwithstanding, Johnson was widely viewed as a master politician, even publicly stating that signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act would send White voters in the South into the arms of the Republican Party, which was virtually non-existent at the time in the states that formed the old Confederacy. History proved him correct. But history also showed that he lobbied for and signed into law three of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in the last 50 years – the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or gender; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, legislation passed after the Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala. March that finally allowed Blacks to vote freely in the Deep South and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, designed to remove discrimination in housing.

Calling Johnson a “son of the South,” Clinton described him as “a Texan bred with the state’s outsized ambitions (who) saw limitless possibilities in the lives of other people like him, who just happened to have a different color skin.”

He said, “Just as Abraham Lincoln stewarded the 13th Amendment through Congress, Johnson’s leadership embodies the power of the presidency to redeem the promise of America,” Clinton said in his speech here.

But that promise took a beating last year when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the provision that requires states with a history of discrimination to pre-clear any voting-related changes with the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C. before implementing them.

Clinton criticized the ruling that was decided by the court’s conservative majority.

“Any time you erect a barrier to political participation [by people] … based on their race or their physical capacity or their income … it undermines the spirit of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act,” he said.

Clinton explained, “It sent a signal throughout the country. We all know what this is about. This is a way of restricting a franchise after 50 years of expanding it … Is this was Martin Luther King gave his life for? These divisions and the lack of a spirit of coming together put us back in the dustbin of old history,” he said. “We have too many current challenges to waste a day trying to recreate a yesterday that we’re better off done with.”

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