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June 30, 2014 1

Children Suffering On Southern Border Fodder For Anti-Immigrant Voices

The plight of Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren flee­ing vio­lence is being used as yet another excuse for inac­tion on humane and sen­si­ble immi­gra­tion reform that Amer­i­cans crave. border-detention-center-humanitarian

While Pres­i­dent Obama responded strongly to the sit­u­a­tion by send­ing a mes­sage to fam­i­lies in Cen­tral Amer­ica not to risk send­ing their chil­dren to the United States,  anti-immigrant groups and the politi­cians that fol­low their cues are using this human­i­tar­ian cri­sis to argue that the bor­der is out of con­trol and that sen­si­ble reform should be delayed.  

The anti-immigrant move­ment and some right wing media dis­miss the high mur­der rates, gang vio­lence, and poverty that drive these migrants to the United States and attempt to use this dire human­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion to cre­ate a cli­mate of fear around immigration.

The uptick in extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric around the issue has focused on por­tray­ing immi­grants as a pub­lic health haz­ard. On June 20, William Gheen of the extreme anti-immigrant group Amer­i­cans for Legal Immi­gra­tion PAC (ALI-PAC) claimed that the chil­dren are com­ing to the U.S. “in dis­ease and gang infested hoards.”  D.A. King of the Georgia-based anti-immigrant group Dustin Inman Soci­ety (DIS) asserted on June 9 that refugees are “swarm­ing the bor­der and bring­ing dis­ease.” On June 12, James Kirk­patrick, an author for the extreme anti-immigrant web­site VDARE, recently voiced his con­cerns about chil­dren car­ry­ing what he called a “diverse mix of excit­ing mul­ti­cul­tural diseases.”

Many right-wing and far-right media out­lets are also echo­ing the rhetoric of anti-immigrant groups. A June 22 arti­cle pub­lished on the far-right web­site News With Views bemoaned the “hordes of une­d­u­cated, unskilled and too many dis­ease rid­den com­ing from El Sal­vador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.” Using the metaphors “flood” and “tidal wave” to talk about the chil­dren, Dr. Eliz­a­beth Lee Vliet penned an arti­cle in the conspiracy-orientated right-wing online news­pa­per World Net Daily  on June 17 warn­ing that the chil­dren are car­ry­ing “dis­eases the U.S. had con­trolled or vir­tu­ally erad­i­cated: tuber­cu­lo­sis (TB), Cha­gas dis­ease, dengue fever, hepati­tis, malaria, measles, plus more.”

Aside from the dis­ease rhetoric, anti-immigrant and right-wing media out­lets are also espous­ing other extreme themes. Mack­u­bin Thomas Owens, an author for National Review Online (NRO), penned an arti­cle for the pub­li­ca­tion on June 13 titled, “Camp of the Saints, 2014 Style?” In the arti­cle, Owens called for his audi­ence to read the bla­tantly racist French novel Camp of the Saints in the wake of the human­i­tar­ian issue. Camp of the Saints tells the story of Indian immi­grants com­ing to France by boat and tak­ing over the coun­try by vio­lent means.

This mes­sage is not only big­oted and dehu­man­iz­ing to these chil­dren; it dis­tracts from the crit­i­cal fact that the real solu­tion to this human­i­tar­ian cri­sis is to reform our bro­ken sys­tem.  Only a func­tion­ing immi­gra­tion sys­tem can truly fos­ter orderly migra­tion and allow author­i­ties to deter­mine which chil­dren are eli­gi­ble to come to or remain in the U.S. and which are not.

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June 25, 2014 0

One Year After Shelby, Voters Are Getting Wet

Today marks the one year anniver­sary of Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the land­mark Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), essen­tially gut­ting the heart of the legislation.voting-rights-amendment-act-2014

Sec­tion 5 of the VRA requires fed­eral gov­ern­ment approval for any elec­tion law changes—issues rang­ing from polling site loca­tions to redraw­ing con­gres­sional dis­trict lines—in juris­dic­tions with a his­tory of dis­crim­i­na­tory vot­ing prac­tices. But one year ago, the Supreme Court held uncon­sti­tu­tional the for­mula used to deter­mine which states and local­i­ties would have to sub­mit their vot­ing changes to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, find­ing its ori­gins in vot­ing sta­tis­tics and statutes from decades past too atten­u­ated to jus­tify present day fed­eral intervention.

In Shelby, Chief Jus­tice Roberts cited advances in minor­ity vot­ing and reg­is­tra­tion in the cov­ered juris­dic­tions, not­ing that African Amer­i­can turnout sur­passes white turnout in some of the pre­vi­ously cov­ered states.

But Jus­tice Gins­burg, in her pow­er­ful dis­sent, analo­gized strik­ing down key parts of the VRA to “throw­ing away your umbrella in a rain­storm because you are not get­ting wet.” In essence Jus­tice Gins­burg pre­dicted that, with­out the pro­tec­tions of the VRA, voter sup­pres­sion prob­lems would rain down on those for­merly cov­ered juris­dic­tions once more.

Indeed, a new report by the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Human Rights sug­gests that the skies remain omi­nously over­cast. Moments after the Supreme Court announced its deci­sion, Texas imple­mented voter ID and redis­trict­ing laws pre­vi­ously held invalid under Sec­tion 5. Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi sim­i­larly moved for­ward with voter ID laws pre­vi­ously held at bay. Weeks after the deci­sion, North Car­olina acted to elim­i­nate same-day voter reg­is­tra­tion, restrict early vot­ing, and enact one of the tough­est voter ID laws in the country.

Vir­ginia fur­ther tight­ened a voter ID law pre­vi­ously approved by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice in a more lenient form. Around the coun­try, leg­is­la­tors con­tinue to intro­duce new bills that threaten to restrict the right to vote.

The impact of these laws on minor­ity vot­ers remains to be seen, and some face legal obsta­cles before going into effect. Recent fed­eral court deci­sions in Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia inval­i­dat­ing voter ID laws demon­strate that avenues may remain for fed­eral enforce­ment of vot­ing rights. And efforts are ongo­ing to revive Sec­tion 5 through lit­i­ga­tion and through new leg­is­la­tion. But the devel­op­ments in the one year since Shelby County serve as an impor­tant reminder that the right to vote remains ten­u­ous and must be vig­i­lantly pro­tected, par­tic­u­larly with­out the safe­guards of Sec­tion 5.

On this one-year anniver­sary of Shelby, take action and urge Con­gress to restore Sec­tion 5 by pass­ing the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014.

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June 20, 2014 2

Public H.S. Graduation In Church? Good News, Bad News From High Court

The good news is that the U.S. Supreme Court recently denied hear­ing an appeal of a lower court case — Doe v. Elm­brook School Dis­trict - which effec­tively affirms sep­a­ra­tion of church and state prin­ci­ples in the pub­lic schools.   The bad news is that Jus­tice Scalia issued an alarm­ing dis­sent which uses the Court’s already dis­turb­ing May 5th leg­isla­tive prayer deci­sion —  Greece v. Gal­loway  — to advance his long­stand­ing con­sti­tu­tional world view against church-state separation.religion-public-schools-supreme-court

The Sev­enth Circuit’s Elm­brook deci­sion involved a school district’s use of a church for high school grad­u­a­tions cer­e­monies over nine years.  Alter­na­tive sec­u­lar loca­tions were avail­able, but the dis­trict super­in­ten­dent, who is a mem­ber of the church, approved its use.  Dur­ing grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies, the church refused to cover a 15–20 foot Latin Cross at the front of the sanc­tu­ary.  Bibles and hym­nal books remained in the pews.  And the church lobby, which is the only route for vis­i­tors to the sanc­tu­ary and a nat­ural con­gre­gat­ing point, con­tained reli­gious lit­er­a­ture, much of which addressed chil­dren and teens, sym­bols, ban­ners, and posters. The Sev­enth Cir­cuit ruled that these cir­cum­stances con­sti­tuted uncon­sti­tu­tional reli­gious endorse­ment and coercion.

Jus­tice Scalia’s appli­ca­tion of the Greece deci­sion in the pub­lic school con­text is akin to putting a square peg in a round hole.  Greece involved a nar­row, historically-based excep­tion to the Estab­lish­ment Clause for leg­isla­tive prayer, which has no rel­e­vance beyond that con­text.  But that fact did not get in the way of Scalia using the deci­sion to issue a dis­sent pro­mot­ing his view of the First Amendment’s Estab­lish­ment Clause merely pro­hibit­ing an offi­cial state reli­gion and gov­ern­ment com­pelled worship.  

Accord­ing to Scalia, the Elm­brook deci­sion required Supreme Court review for two main rea­sons.   First, the Greece deci­sion elim­i­nated the impor­tant, decades-old endorse­ment test, which means that the Seventh’s Circuit’s con­clu­sion about the school dis­trict endors­ing reli­gion is void.  Sec­ond, the Sev­enth Circuit’s rul­ing on reli­gious coer­cion is invalid because in his view Greece stands for the across-the-board prin­ci­ple that there can­not be reli­gious coer­cion with­out state com­pelled reli­gious wor­ship, which did not occur in the Elm­brook case.

Advo­cates for sep­a­ra­tion of church and state greeted the Greece deci­sion with deep trep­i­da­tion.  Its dis­crete rul­ing allows overtly sec­tar­ian prayers in one-faith tra­di­tion before local leg­isla­tive bod­ies.  As a result, com­mu­nity mem­bers seek­ing redress from such pub­lic bod­ies – par­tic­u­larly those in the reli­gious minor­ity — will likely feel pres­sure to par­tic­i­pate in reli­gious obser­vances not of their own faith.  Fur­ther­more, the decision’s rea­son­ing could be taken out of con­text and used beyond the nar­row con­text of leg­isla­tive prayer.  Jus­tice Scalia’s dis­sent jus­ti­fies that fear.   Although his dis­sent is not bind­ing on any court, oppo­nents of the sep­a­ra­tion prin­ci­ple will undoubt­edly attempt to use it to for­ward their agenda in the pub­lic schools and beyond.

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