Who Counts as a Refugee in US Immigration Policy-and Who Doesn't

borderemergency-diowesttxerd.jpgRochester has a significant refugee population. A quick search of "Rochester, NY refugees" brings up refugee services, cultural fact sheets from Rochester General for health practicioners, and news articles on education and the refugee population. Children's School of Rochester, also known as School 15 sets aside half of their new student openings for children of immigrant and refugee families. They also offer English lessons to parents as well. 

On a national level the news has focused on the influx of unaccompanied children from South and Central America crossing our borders to flee poverty and violence in their home countries. Political debate has ensued on how to handle these children. Do we take them in? Do we send them back? Strengthen border security? Remove due process in deportation? Here in Rochester there is talk of housing some of these children in the former Blossom South building. 

The real problem is, who do we consider a refugee? The children currently crossing our borders are primarily escaping gang violence in their home countries, as discussed in Pablo Lastra's article published by The Nation. Under current US immigration law gang violence is not seen as grounds for refugee status. Fear of discrimination based violence (race, ethnicity, religion) does constitute as grounds for refugee status. Regardless of the reason, violence is violence, and young lives are at risk every day whether its discrimination based on race or belief, or a leader forcing a child to run drugs. This also applies to women, as many of these countries have a higher than average rate for domestic violence.

How should we handle the current immigration issue? Should we encourage a reform in immigration law with a focus on protecting the lives of those escaping violent situations? What about redefining what factors classify an immigrant as a refugee. Violence doesn't have to be political to have its grip on a community. Should we offer help to willing leaders in some of these countries? It was our Cold War Era involvement in their politics that set the stage for today's violent social atmosphere. Just sending these children back won't solve the problem.

Giovani is 17, from El Salvador, and came to the United States alone in December, making him one of tens of thousands of Central American minors who have crossed the Rio Grande unaccompanied this year. He is lanky and tall, with a hard stare but a fast smile. Giovani left El Salvador twice, with the help of a coyote, traveling by bus through Mexico. The first time, he was detained by Mexican authorities in a hotel raid, and placed in a facility for two weeks until they were able to reunite him with family back home. The second time, he found himself alone in the Texas scrub, not knowing which way to go, and so he turned himself in to Border Patrol agents. After a brief detention in Texas, he took his first plane ride to Chicago. When the plane landed, he broke from the pack of children on the runway to touch the fresh snow on the ground, the first he had ever seen.

But Giovani’s journey had its origins in 1998, when his mother, Maria, left El Salvador to escape her boyfriend, a violent man who regularly hit her and stopped her from working. Maria is a tired-looking woman in her early 40s. A server at a restaurant, she has spent endless hours on her feet in low-paying jobs.

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Child Poverty and the Single-Mom Misdirect

FOODSTAMPS-articleLarge.jpgWhen we as a society discuss poverty, we need to discuss poverty's role in the lives of people who's lives are dependent on others. Children make up a large portion of that dependent population, and are a significant part of our impoverished. Our child poverty rate as a nation is actual number one out of wealthy countries, a dismal statistic. 

Consequentialists would like us to believe that unaspiring single mothers are to blame for child poverty. "If they just worked harder, and found better jobs they wouldn't be so poor." "If they waited until marriage and settled down with a nice husband their household would be stable" It's an easier fix to blame the victims than it is to address the true root of poverty, our glaring wealth disparity. Anyone who has worked a low-wage job can attest that those jobs are labor intensive. Lack of "hard work" is not the problem.

Rochester in particular is higher than the 22% national average. We rank seventh in the country for child poverty, with one in four children living below the poverty line. 18% of those children are food insecure, and our teen pregnancy and infant mortality rates are higher than the national average.(Statistics by the Children's Agenda) Single mothers are also the majority in the growing demographic of homeless families in our city. While it is great that we have numerous services to help out people in need, it would be best if we did not need those services as much as we currently do.

In a recent Inequality.org article, Sheila Suess Kennedy tackles the topic of child poverty through pointing out our shameful national statistics. Kennedy slams Congressional Conservatives who blame single mothers for their misfortune in a society of low, stagnant wages, illustrating how those who are placing blame are individuals who have never had to worry about their children going hungry. The question for us is what can we do to lower our poverty statistics? The Fight for 15 is one initiative, and an increased minimum wage would go after the primary cause of poverty. How are you helping?

(photo credit: Erik S. Lesser, originally published in New York Times)

Over the past couple of decades, a number of conservative politicians have championed a distorted American Exceptionalism characterized by the jingoistic boast, “We’re number one!”

By one yardstick, unfortunately, that boast certainly does ring true. The U.S. child poverty rate now stands at 22 percent, the highest rate of any of the world’s rich countries. Currently, notes a recent report highlighted by The Hill, more than 46 million Americans live in poverty, a third of them children.


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States with Higher Minimum Wage Boast Faster Job Growth

10389417_880917091923322_5429557091976113236_n.jpgWhile this doesn't come as a surprise, there is actual research behind the title. States with a higher minimum wage are also showing improved employment rates over states with lower minimum wage. One argument could be that with fewer people needing second (or third) jobs there are more jobs to go around. Another could be that with greater consumer power there is greater demand for products and services outside of the bare essentials. 

Lauren McCauley's article for Common Dreams gives us some statistics and background on a recent Labor Department study that tracked several states, their minimum wage, and job growth. This is great information, especially as we stand with fast food workers in the Fight for 15.  You're invited to join us in this effort to help bring about a $15 an hour minimum wage that will allow our city's most vulnerable workers a living wage, and a economically just community. Please sign up! If you have any ideas that can help our efforts, please share them in the comments.

Adding fuel to the growing populist call for a higher minimum wage and throwing water on the conservative argument that fair pay will threaten employment, new data released Friday shows that states with higher wages are gaining more jobs.

According to an Associated Press analysis of the Labor Department's latest hiring statistics, in the 13 states that raised their minimum wage at the beginning of 2014, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January through June—compared with just 0.61 percent in the remaining states.

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Conservative Federal Appeals Court Strikes Huge Blow to Obamacare

4952166117_a1683a1242_z.jpgHealthcare is a human right, and the pursuit of that is one of our main missions here at Metro Justice. While there are some issues with current healthcare reform, it has made health coverage accessible to millions, and has saved lives. This latest blow on reform will prohibit subsidies for those in states where there is only a federal health exchange. States like New York have their own exchange and won't be affected. 

While low income New Yorkers won't have to worry about a loss of healthcare subsidy, we're in the minority. Thirty six states either have refused to set up a state exchange, or state-run programs refuse to offer subsidy-oriented services. Steven Rosenfeld's article, published on Alternet goes deeper into why this ruling is damaging to low-income Americans. While there is chance that this ruling could be appealed, any interruption to service can mean disaster to those who are in immediate need of health services.

In the meantime, how can we stand up for those in need of affordable care? How do we let our judicial system know that health care is a right, and not a privilege?

(Image credit: Jasleen_Kaur under Creative Commons 2.0 lisence)

A conservative-dominated federal appeals court has issued a major ruling Tuesday banning Obamacare’s federally run health insurance exchanges from providing billions in premium subsidies to residents of the 36 states it serves.

The 2-1 ruling by the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington held that the subsidies—which are paid  by the government to insurers and make the policies more affordable—can be granted only to those people who bought insurance in state-run exchanges or in the District of Columbia — not on the federally run exchange HealthCare.gov.

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Without Economic and Educational Justice, There is no Racial Justice

Selma_to_Montgomery_Marches.jpgRochester is a city with high racial diversity, as well as high racial disparity. Many of the impoverished neighborhoods are populated by African Americans. Our equally poverty-stricken public school system also tends to the education of students who are African American or of other racial minorities. If you've been reading the news, you may have heard the term "school to prison pipeline" to describe the education of African American children, boys in particular. 

Reilly Morse's article for The American Prospect describes why we need to improve both our economic and educational system to achieve racial justice. In particular, we need to give more attention to African American students, as well as put protections in place for individuals and families who could fall prey to predatory lending practices.

Steps are being made in Rochester to help. Every year Friends of Educational Excellence works with churches throughout Rochester to bring volunteers into the classroom to lend a helping hand to students and teachers. Yours truly was a volunteer for the 2013-14 year. Our local YWCA also has racial justice programs including "Stand Against Racism." Metro Justice does its own part in helping people regardless of race, whether it's fighting foreclosures and keeping families in their homes, or fighting for fair and equitable employment for everyone. A lot of work still needs to be done though; how else can we work to make Rochester a more racially just city?

(photo: Selma to Montgomery March, 1965)

On a hot, dusty June day fifty years ago, during what became known as Freedom Summer, college students began to arrive in Mississippi—then the most closed society in America—to help register black residents to vote. Three civil rights workers were brutally murdered, a trauma that pierced the heart of our nation and thrust into the open the racist oppression of black political rights by Mississippi’s leaders.

Since that momentous summer, our country has made great strides to extend civil and political rights to all Americans regardless of race. Still, African Americans today face obstacles just as real as poll taxes and segregated restrooms; the difference is that these obstacles are now embedded in our institutions and social structures instead of being posted on public walls.


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In the Struggle for Health Care Justice

543571_454990367849332_398077351_n.jpgAt Metro Justice we believe that "Healthcare is a Human Right", and that despite Healthcare Reform there is more we can do to assure that everybody can access the care they need. One of these ways is advocating a single payer system which would take corporate power out of the health care picture. 

Marianne Hoynes has been a major supporter of the single payer system, and recently she was interviewed by Mickey Z for CounterPunch on her work to educate and encourage Americans to support the Single Payer Bill HR-676. Single payer has misconceptions that rival current "Obamacare" health measures.

Do you think single payer will help Americans achieve health justice? Why or why not? If not, what do you think would help? 


I met Marianne Hoynes, a second-generation social activist, thanks to one of the many enduring networks spawned by Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Let me tell you a bit about her.

As a small child, Marianne followed a Quaker pacifist tradition, marching in various actions like protests to end the Vietnam War, to free Daniel Berrigan, and the Continental Walk to End Nuclear Disarmament. She grew up feeding the poor in the FISH nonprofit organization in central New Jersey, started by her parents and several other concerned citizens.

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Alito's 'Hobby Lobby' Opinion is Dangerous and Discriminatory

10372039_847528485262183_8604675742787663009_n.jpgReproductive health is one of the biggest issues in the fight for women's rights. The reproductive health point in the ten point Women's Equality Act was the one that as most debated during this year's legislative session, as well as the measure that the Senate struck the bill down for. On the national level, we're seeing rulings that are gradually eroding away the rights that are in place to protect women's decisions regarding their own health.

Monday's Supreme Court Ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby is another blow against equal rights for women. The ruling states that "closely held" companies can deny contraceptive coverage based on "sincere religious belief". Mind you Viagra is still covered under Hobby Lobby health plans. 

Why would this be discrimination? The ruling does not cover other religious objections (although many question if one day it will) to what is and isn't covered under health plans. Michelle Goldberg's article from The Nation delves deeper into why the Supreme Court's ruling could help to further erode women's rights. Now the question is what can we do to prevent this ruling from leading to further contraceptive discrimination? Also, how can we reverse decisions like Citizens United, which give corporations like Hobby Lobby the power to enact legalized discrimination under grounds of "religious freedom"?

(photo credit: Annette Dragon)


As soon as the word spread that justice Sam Alito had written the decision in today’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, it was clear that it was going to be bad. And, sure enough, the ruling, opposed by all three of the court’s women, chips away at the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate and, for the first time ever, it endows at least some for-profit corporations with religious rights. It is both a blow for women’s rights and the latest example of the way this court has inexorably expanded corporate power.

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Inequality and the Case for Unions

5500961229_e4dacf39c8_z.jpgUnions have been a major part of the American labor movement ever since America became industrialized. Through Industrial progress, manufacturing jobs led to long hours away from home, low pay, and a high risk to one's health. Many of the labor laws and rules of thumb of today (8 hour shifts, breaks, pay rate, benefits, safety laws, etc.) came about in thanks to labor unions. 

Today's labor movement isn't all that much different from the labor movements of the past. People are still fighting for a living wage, health coverage, and proper working conditions. Tim Koechlin's article for Common Dreams illustrates why we need unions if we're to achieve economic justice. He also illustrates how partisan politics has treated the modern labor movement, from the side working to bust unions, to the side who claims to support the American worker while doing little to ensure their well being. What are some ways we can support Rochester's hard-at-work labor unions? 


Across the country, Republican legislatures – encouraged and financed, as usual, by corporate money and right wing think tanks-- have undertaken a stunning array of initiatives designed to weaken unions and otherwise undermine American workers.   Scott Walker of Wisconsin, along with several other Republican governors, has moved aggressively and conspicuously to disempower public sector unions.  Nikki Haley, the Republican Governor of South Carolina, recently declared that unionized businesses are not welcome in South Carolina.  

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It's Time to Pass the Women's Equality Act, Tenth Point Included

10353038_863611480320550_8438570476837659343_n.jpgEarlier this week Metro Justice helped present a rally on the lawn of the American Association of University Women's Rochester building on East Ave. to drive home that we want a vote on the Women's Equality Act before this year's legislative session ends. New York State Assembly has passed the bill, but the Senate is taking their sweet time.  

Nine of the ten points have been approved with little question, but the tenth point that protects reproductive health rights has been the point of controversy, and to some legislators, a point to be compromised. Madeline Ruoff's article in the Huffington Post explains how this tenth point ties in with the other nine points, and how that point is needed for full equality. Having a child is life-changing in more ways than one. Look at the point to end workplace discrimination against pregnant women, or how mothers are treated when they prioritize family before their careers. Low income women face greater economic struggle when a child enters the picture, just look at how many children in Rochester are in poverty. The issue is just as much an economic one as it is a health one.

We urge you to take action on this issue. You can contact your senator and demand a vote. You're always welcome to volunteer with us as well! If you can think of anything else that would help nudge the Senate into voting please share in the comments. And remember, if it doesn't pass this year we'll be fighting for passage next year.

 In his 2013 State of the State address, Governor Cuomo announced long overdue plans to bring the Women's Equality Agenda, now the Women's Equality Act, into law. It garnered a mention in this year's State of the State, but this act is absolutely critical and must be made a focus in 2014. The predominately Democratic NYS Assembly passed the act in January, as it had done in 2013. The real battle comes in the Senate.

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Minimum Wage Support Grows

July_29__2013_Protestor.jpgThis is wonderful news for low wage workers and their supporters. Even corporate giants like McDonald's and Wal Mart are beginning to have a change of heart on the minimum wage issue after months of clumsy "money saving" tips from said companies. Ralph Nader goes in depth for Counterpunch on how those still unswayed should change their minds. As Nader reminds us, raising the wage won't make the sky fall for corporatists.

Did you know you can do your part right here in Rochester? We've been involved in the Fight for $15, as well as a breadth of other campaigns. If you're not already on our mailing list, sign up and get notified when we're in need of a helping hand!

(photo credit: Annette Bernhardt from NYC Fast Food Strikes July 29, 2013)

 During a recent talk at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson indicated his support for legislation in Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. “I will tell you we will support legislation that moves forward,” he said. Later in the talk, Mr. Thompson continued, “McDonald’s will be fine. We’ll manage through whatever the additional cost implications are.” It turns out that, contrary to the stale Republican talking points, one of the largest low-wage employers in the country does not have a problem with a higher minimum wage.

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