A National Homeowner Bill of Rights Would Defend the American Dream

Family in front of houseWith mortgage servicers paying out settlements for discriminatory foreclosure practices and unnecessary foreclosures still occurring nationwide, Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) of New Mexico has introduced a bill (H.R. 4963) to establish a comprehensive National Homeowner Bill of Rights designed to curb dishonest practices in the housing sector.

Homeowner bills of rights have been successfully implemented in states such as California, but Lujan Grisham’s proposal would be the first time such measures were enacted on a national scale. A national law in place means homeowners would gain essential protections against arbitrary abuses and discriminatory conduct from mortgage servicers, which occur in every state.

For homeowners in default, the bill would add a number of critical protections for those facing the threat of foreclosure. It sets limits on when the foreclosure process can be initiated and spells out when it is required to stop.

Under the new bill, mortgage servicers would be required to halt the foreclosure process upon receiving a loan modification request from a homeowner. Once the request is received, the servicer would have to immediately evaluate whether the homeowner is eligible for a loan modification. If the borrower is found to be ineligible, the servicer would be required to first present alternatives to foreclosure, such as short sales and forbearances.

Photo: Jeffrey Turner

Photo: Jeffrey Turner

If the borrower is found to be eligible for a modification and in default, underwater homeowners—those who owe more than their home is worth—would be allowed to readjust the value of their mortgages to a level closer to what their home is actually worth today. This principal reduction would represent a major victory for struggling homeowners who received mortgages during the housing bubble. Under the proposed bill, they would no longer be required to make payments tied to highly inflated home values.

If the borrower were not underwater but still in default, the servicer would be required to offer affordable monthly payments to avert needless foreclosures.

In a major win for language access in the housing industry, the proposed bill would require mortgage servicers to translate all documents and provide language interpretation services. Currently, too many Latinos are locked out of adequate customer service due to a lack of language access in the housing sector. By requiring translation services, mortgage servicers could help close the gap between English- and Spanish-speaking homeowners.

Additionally, the bill would add a number of other protections designed to improve the lives of homeowners who have long been forced to deal with the often-opaque mortgage servicing industry. When mortgages are bought and sold from one servicer to another, the homeowner would gain added protections. The dangerous practice of “robo-signing” would be subject to legal penalties, and homeowners would gain tools to learn their rights.

Lastly, the bill would create a new office for a Mortgage Service Ombudsman tasked with assisting low-income homeowners.

While much of Congress remains stalled in partisan gridlock, a National Homeowner Bill of Rights is a commonsense proposal bringing together a set of protections from unscrupulous behavior by dishonest mortgage servicers. Far too many Latino families have already lost their homes—it’s time for practical solutions to protect our nation’s struggling homeowners. The National Homeowner Bill of Rights is the kind of legislation we need to defend the American Dream.

Weekly Washington Outlook – June 30, 2014

U.S. Capitol

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

The House:

The House is in recess, returning Tuesday, July 8.

The Senate:

The Senate is in recess, returning Monday, July 7.

White House:

On Monday, the president will welcome back to the White House, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The two leaders will discuss ways to advance peace and global security, social inclusion, and free trade. Other agenda items include UN Security Council matters, other multilateral and regional issues, and ongoing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as expanding educational exchanges and deepening collaborations in the areas of energy, science, and technology. The vice president will also participate. In the afternoon, President Obama will host a reception at the White House in recognition of LGBT Pride Month; the first lady will also attend.  On Tuesday, the President will hold a Cabinet meeting; Vice President Biden will also attend. In the afternoon President Obama will deliver remarks on the economy at the Georgetown Waterfront Park in Washington. On Wednesday, the president will host top economists for lunch to discuss ways to accelerate economic growth, expand opportunity, and improve the competitiveness of the American economy. The vice president will also attend. On Thursday, President Obama will attend unspecified meetings at the White House. On Friday, the president and the first lady will celebrate the Fourth of July by hosting military heroes and their families for an Independence Day celebration with a barbecue, concert and a view of fireworks on the South Lawn. Staff and their families from throughout the Administration will also attend this event for the concert and fireworks viewing.

Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court ends its session for the year with the announcement of a 5-4 decision to narrow the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. In the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Court decided that closely-held private companies are exempted on religious grounds from a requirement that employer-provided health plans include a range of contraception options at no additional cost to the individual.  Additional details available.

Also this week and beyond:

Unaccompanied Children – The working group appointed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to address the situation with unaccompanied children held its first meeting last week. By all accounts, this was productive and positive and members framed the issue as a humanitarian crisis. In the coming weeks, they are likely to make at least one trip to the Southern border in order to make appropriate recommendations on possible Congressional action. Elsewhere, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will visit Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and CBP facilities this week as part of the Administration’s ongoing response to influx of unaccompanied children. The White House this week also sent a letter to Congressional Leadership, providing additional details of the actions being taken. These include additional enforcement resources, an increase in immigration judges, and a request for emergency supplemental appropriations.

Appropriations – The Senate Appropriations Committee will continue its work on individual spending bills next week, but Senate Leadership is struggling to find a path forward for a stalled “minibus” that includes Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD spending bills. The measure was pulled from the floor earlier in the month over yet another disagreement about the process for considering amendments. Elsewhere, after the Agriculture-FDA bill was pulled from the House floor earlier this month, it appears the process will begin again with the Energy-Water bill in early July. It is likely that Financial Services would follow, in an effort to return again to regular order. At the Committee level in the House, Chairman Rogers indicated that Labor-HHS-Education will be marked-up this month, but Congressional staff has said it is unlikely this would be brought to the floor.

Workforce Investment Act – Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a re-authorization to the Workforce Investment Act.  The House is expected to take up the measure in the next work period.

Highway Trust Fund – Lawmakers are expected to devote the beginning of the July work period to finding a short-term “patch” for the Highway Trust Fund, expected to be insolvent by the end of the month. Without an injection of revenue immediately, an estimated 700,000 construction jobs are in jeopardy and 100,000 projects are potentially on-hold. To address the shortfall, the Senate Finance Committee began marking-up an $8 billion bill that would keep the fund afloat for six months to allow time to negotiate a more permanent solution. In the House, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has said that he prefers a fix through at least 2015. House and Senate negotiations are expected to take place this week, with the hope that a compromise could be on the floor of each chamber as soon as possible.     

Nominations – On Monday, the President will nominate former CEO of Procter & Gamble, Bob McDonald to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. Later in the month, the Senate is expected to vote to confirm both Julian Castro as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Shaun Donovan to head the Office of Management and Budget.

José Antonio Vargas film “Documented”: A Riveting Personal Journey

By Patricia Foxen, Ph.D., Deputy Director of Research, NCLR

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Jose Antonio Vargas attends a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa Photo: DocumentedTheFilm.com

Last month I was invited to attend the New York City premiere of José Antonio Vargas’s documentary “Documented,” which will be airing this Sunday, June 29, on CNN at 9 PM ET. Along with the rest of the audience, I was moved to tears by this beautifully crafted and extraordinarily honest film. In Vargas’s own words, his primary goals in making the film were “to expand the conversation around immigration and citizenship in a demographically changing America.” It is difficult to imagine that anyone — no matter where they stand on the immigration question — would not be transformed by this profoundly human story.

Vargas’s name catapulted onto the national scene back in 2011 when he “outed” himself as an undocumented immigrant in a widely-read New York Times Magazine article. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who had previously worked for the Washington Post, he became a leading voice shaping discussions around Comprehensive Immigration Reform, in particular by working closely with the Dreamers and his own campaign, Define American, always aware that his undocumented status could lead to deportation at any moment, as it has for tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants over the past few years.

In “Documented,” Vargas is both the storyteller and the primary subject of his own film– a balancing act that might have been difficult with a less charismatic and energetic narrator, but which Vargas pulls off well. He takes us through his personal story, in which he migrated from the Philippines to the U.S. at age 12 to live with his grandparents, only to find out as a teenager that he did not have legal status. Vargas brings us into the lives of his family members scattered across borders, including his mother in the Philippines, whom he has not seen for 20 years, and his Lola (grandmother) and other relatives in the States. The different themes of his life — his decision to come out as both gay and as undocumented, his launch into the world of advocacy, and his very personal and complex relationship with his mother — are all revealed and connected seamlessly through Vargas’s admirable storytelling skills.

Jose and his mother. Photo: DocumentedTheFilm.com

Jose and his mother. Photo: DocumentedTheFilm.com

In recounting this personal story, Vargas skillfully sheds light on the broader story of undocumented migrants, and on the pain and vulnerability of the millions whose status is perpetually in limbo and who are physically and emotionally separated from their loved ones.  He makes sure to explore some of the root causes of migration, which compel people to leave home, as well as the elements of our own broken immigration system that simply exclude broad swathes of immigrants from obtaining legal status.

The release of this film this weekend on mainstream television is timely: in the midst of current pessimism over the plight of immigration reform– reinforced by misinformation being spread around the recent increase in unaccompanied minors — this film will re-center audiences on the core human issues behind our broken immigration system, and the increasingly urgent need to fix it, soon.

Define American has teamed up with NCLR and 36 other Watch Partners including GLAAD, MTV, Moms Rising, Anti-Defamation League and others to encourage viewing parties around the broadcast premiere of the film “Documented.” Watch party hosts are registering online and watch parties are also being monitored and mapped at.

Supporting Immigrant Integration is Investing in America’s Future

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR
(Originally posted on
The Hill Congress Blog.)

AllInRally3While the ongoing fight to reform this country’s broken immigration system has been long and arduous, one thing has been made clear over the past year: Americans understand the value that immigrants bring to this country.

The path our lawmakers will choose to modernize our immigration system remains unclear, as is the question of addressing the tragic outflow of unaccompanied refugee children from Central America. But for the benefit of our economy and our communities, we hope that a solution comes quickly. In the meantime, we have an opportunity to bolster our economy by harnessing the potential of the millions of lawfully present immigrants already living in the United States.

Earlier this week, Reps. Tony Cardenas (D–Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–Fla.) introduced the “New American Success Act,” a bill designed to help these new arrivals through the naturalization process and to better integrate them into American society. This long-overdue legislation brings to light a pressing need that has gone unaddressed. For decades, this country has lacked a coherent federal strategy to maximize the speed and depth of immigrant integration. The various agencies that run programs for new arrivals too often work in silos. To better coordinate all of these agencies’ efforts, the “New American Success Act” would establish a National Office of New Americans within the White House, charged with creating a comprehensive federal strategy to better assist new arrivals through the naturalization process. The office would help to determine which programs are operating effectively, which need to be improved upon, and how agencies can align their work in order to maximize their efforts.

(Read the whole post at The Hill.)

This Week in Immigration Reform – Week Ending June 27

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Week Ending June 27, 2014

This week in immigration reform: Friday, June 27 marks one year since the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, yet the promise of reform remains unrealized because House Republicans have done absolutely nothing constructive on immigration over the course of a year; Reps. Tony Cardenas and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduce a bipartisan immigrant-integration bill; NCLR calls for action on the humanitarian crisis of children fleeing violence; and ICE reports that over 72,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported in 2013.

Bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill turns one year old; in the meantime House GOP has done nothing.  One year ago today the U.S. Senate responded to the will of American voters by passing the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744).”  This bipartisan bill offered a comprehensive overhaul of our nation’s outdated immigration system and included a much-needed path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

Yet despite the promise of the bipartisan Senate bill and America’s ongoing need for immigration reform, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has obstructed any and all movement forward on immigration reform by refusing to bring similar legislation up for a vote and failing to introduce a solution of their own.  Instead, the only actions that the House GOP has taken on immigration are shameful votes to undo the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as well as fruitless, politically-motivated attempts to limit the president’s legitimate discretion on immigration enforcement priorities.

Reps. Cardenas and Ros-Lehtinen introduce immigrant-integration bill.   On Tuesday, June 24 Representatives Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced the “New American Success Act,” a bill that would establish a national immigrant integration strategy. The proposed act would create a National Office of New Americans which would coordinate strategies and programs between federal agencies so as to ensure that new arrivals can effectively become contributing members of American society. The bill would also establish grant programs to help immigrants with the legal aspects of the naturalization process and for programs that facilitate the linguistic, civic, and economic integration of immigrants.

NCLR applauded the bill’s introduction and urges members of Congress to support the proposed legislation. ImmReform_update_6_27_2014Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA-29) and staff of NCLR, NALEO, and other organizations after Tuesday’s introduction of the New Americans Success Act (photo: @RepCardenas).

NCLR calls for action on the humanitarian crisis of children fleeing violence.  As the humanitarian crisis of children fleeing violence and ending up in U.S. government custody continues to affect thousands of young refugees, NCLR endorsed Senator Robert Menendez’s (D-N.J.) plan to address the crisis and also called for greater financial support of the many humanitarian, legal, and children’s organizations that have been leading efforts to assist these children.

While Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others traveled to the border to investigate the crisis and meet with detained children, House Republicans held three hearings this week – in the House Committee on Homeland Security, the House Judiciary Committee, and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere – in which they used the crisis as an opportunity for political grandstanding.  Much of the conversation on the subject, particularly among House Republicans, has regrettably focused on blaming the Administration for the situation by attacking DACA and immigration policies as the cause of the crisis.

ICE reports that over 72,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported in 2013.  Reports submitted to the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee in April reveal that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 72,410 parents of US born children in 2013, the Huffington Post reports this week.

These numbers reaffirm not only the urgent need for Congress to give America a vote on reform but also speak to the need for the Obama administration to revise its immigration enforcement priorities, given the House’s sustained failure so far to act on immigration reform.