Lawmakers Must Work Together to Make Progress

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In spite of historic gridlock on Capitol Hill and a seemingly growing partisan divide, over the past seven years, this nation has made significant progress—sometimes through legislative victories, sometimes through court decisions, and sometimes through necessary executive actions—improving the quality of life for struggling Latinos and opening opportunities for all Americans to build better futures for themselves and their families.

The Affordable Care Act has enabled four million uninsured Latinos to gain health insurance. The Latino unemployment rate currently sits at prerecession levels. Recently passed bipartisan legislation will, for the first time, hold all states accountable for how well students who are learning English perform in schools. And, in the absence of a permanent legislative fix, millions of American families and communities across the country have benefitted and could potentially benefit from deportation relief thanks to executive orders on immigration. Contrary to what some on the campaign trail may be saying, the United States remains a great country, strengthened by the diversity of our citizenry.

However, the pursuit of a future where all Americans have an equal chance to achieve greater than that of the generations who came before them persists, particularly for communities of color. From wage stagnation to housing discrimination to dangerously high levels of childhood obesity and hunger, many Latinos continue to face a number of daily obstacles that stand in their way of climbing the economic ladder and creating more safe and secure futures for their families. The Latino community must push for continued progress in all arenas and hold our lawmakers accountable for passing policy solutions that reflect the American values of equality and opportunity.

This week, NCLR published State of Hispanic America: Working Toward a More Secure Future, an analysis of key issues important to the U.S. Latino population, such as health care, education, housing, and civil rights. The publication includes potential policy solutions that will extend opportunity to more people to help ensure national prosperity and security for generations to come. As one of the largest-growing segments of the U.S. population and a community that is optimistic about this country’s bright future, Latinos throughout this country share in the vision of America as a great nation where all of our citizens should have fair and equal opportunity to achieve the American dream. However, we will need our lawmakers to work together in a bipartisan fashion to make progress on these issues.

In an election year, working together may be a tough pill to swallow and not necessarily the most politically expedient course of action. But it is the responsible course of action and it is what our lawmakers committed to do when they took office. As we head further into 2016, we hope elected officials can put aside petty partisan politics to deliver policy solutions that will improve the lives of all Americans. The job of members of Congress is not to campaign, but to serve the best interests of our country.

Weekly Washington Outlook — January 11, 2016

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What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

House:

On Monday, the House will vote on the following legislation under suspension of the rules:

  • 142 – Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • R. 757 – North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2016, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce / Foreign Affairs Committee)
  • R. 1777 – Presidential Allowance Modernization Act (Sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • R. 1069 – Presidential Library Donation Reform Act of 2016, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Duncan / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • 1629 – District of Columbia Courts, Public Defender Service, and Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • 1115 – Grants Oversight and New Efficiency (GONE) Act (Sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • R. 598 – Taxpayers Right-To-Know Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Tim Walberg / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • R. 653 – FOIA Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • R. 3231 – Federal Intern Protection Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Elijah Cummings / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

On Tuesday, the House will consider H.R. 1644 – STREAM Act (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Alex Mooney / Natural Resources Committee) before recessing in the evening for a Joint Session of Congress to receive the President’s State of the Union Address.

On Wednesday and Thursday the House will vote on the following:

  • R. 3662 – Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Steve Russell / Foreign Affairs Committee)
  • J. Res. 22 – Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst / Transportation and Infrastructure Committee)

Senate:

The Senate returns from its winter break on Monday and plans to consider the nomination of Luis Restrepo to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit. Later in the week, the Senate plans to take a procedural vote on S.2232, legislation to audit the Federal Reserve.

White House:

On Monday, the president will attend meetings at the White House.

On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his final State of the Union Address at 9:00 PM EST. The vice president, the first lady, and Dr. Biden will attend.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the president will travel to Omaha, Neb. and then to Baton Rouge, La. to highlight the progress made in each state since he took office and what more can be done in the next year to move the country forward.

On Friday, President Obama will attend meetings at the White House.

Supreme Court:

On Monday, the Court will hear oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case seeks to overturn a 1977 ruling that allows public-sector unions to charge “fair share fees” to non-members benefitting from collective bargaining. More information available.

On Friday, the Court could decide whether or not to hear arguments in the Fifth Circuit litigation on DAPA and expanded DACA.

Also this Week:

Criminal Justice – The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a mark-up on Tuesday of the first pieces of a criminal justice reform package. H.R. 3406 would reauthorize adult and juvenile offer re-entry programs and H.R. 1854 would authorize programs related to the intersection of mental health and the criminal justice system. Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) has indicated a willingness to address criminal justice and sentencing reform issues through a piecemeal approach, focusing on elements that have broad bipartisan support. In contrast, the Senate could vote in the coming weeks on bipartisan sentencing and prison reform legislation.

Puerto Rico – At the end of last year, Republican leadership in the House pledged to take action on Puerto Rico by the end of March. The House Judiciary Committee originally planned to hold a hearing in early January, but this has not yet been scheduled. However, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee will convene a hearing a Tuesday on energy and electricity issues on the island. House Speaker Paul Ryan has set a March 31st deadline for the House to act on Puerto Rico’s financial crisis.

Budget – The Congressional Budget Office will release next Tuesday, January 19th its annual budget and economic outlook. The release will come in two parts: a broad overview and the report itself.

Republican Retreat – House and Senate Republican members will hold a joint retreat in Baltimore this week to map out a 2016 agenda. While Speaker Ryan has recently spoken on the need to provide a positive vision for the party, it is widely expected members will push for additional votes to repeal the ACA and other conservative priorities headed into the election.

State of the Union – The President is expected to use his last State of the Union to draw a contrast with some Presidential campaign rhetoric to make the case that America is on the right track. He is likely to have an aspirational message and it has been reported he will spend little time focusing on legislative priorities or accomplishments. More details. Guests of the first lady will include a Dreamer, a Syrian refugee, and activists and law enforcement officials working on criminal justice reform, among others.

Congress Must Uphold the Right to Vote

Voting_OVRDay_2014In his State of the Union address, President Obama voiced a deep hope held among Latino and many other American voters: the need for a better politics “where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears…where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles.” That was the preface to a list of issues our country needs to address, and chief among them is protecting the right to vote.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which has been reauthorized four times, including under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and with support from both parties. That spirit of collaboration is now needed once again. The Voting Rights Act requires preclearance of changes to voting laws or practices in certain jurisdictions that have a record of discrimination. In 2006, it was reauthorized for 25 more years. However, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder struck down the formula that determines which jurisdictions are subject to pre-clearance, leaving Congress to design an updated formula. To date a new formula remains absent.

But while Congress has not acted, the same cannot be said of a number of jurisdictions. No longer required to prove that voting practices do not engender racial discrimination, several jurisdictions rushed to change their laws. On the same day the Shelby decision was announced, for example, Texas implemented a voter ID law that had been previously blocked by preclearance requirements.

While only two incidents of voter fraud have been documented in the last 14 years, the state passed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation, in spite of evidence that it could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters. Interestingly, while Texas accepts a concealed handgun license for voting purposes, it rejects student identifications.

Voter integrity has been a hot topic of debate in recent electoral cycles, and it reaches a boil particularly around election time. Here’s the thing: state and local actions for the most part have been about imposing additional restrictions to the franchise, such as requiring certain forms of ID, but not about ensuring that all eligible Americans have easier access to the voting booth. All this even though, as in the case of Texas, voter fraud has been rare or unproven by many of the jurisdictions that enacted these laws. We believe that voter fraud is wrong and should be addressed; it is also rare and does not warrant laws that are likely to deny thousands of legitimate voters their sacred right to vote.

Voter ID laws are but one of many ways that some jurisdictions have belittled the voice of voters. Many voters are being subjected to restrictions on nonpartisan group voter registration, cuts in early voting periods or polling locations, changes from single-member to at-large districts, allowances for larger amounts of undisclosed money to pour into elections, and other measures. We are getting dangerously close to a system in which politicians can choose their voters—not the other way around. That not only devalues voters, it devalues our system of government.

We think it’s time for a serious discussion about voter integrity, and for Congress to continue the bipartisan tradition of upholding the franchise. May the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches serve as the inspiration we need, to remind us that the best way to honor the work and sacrifice of so many is to ensure that equal access to the voting booth remains unhindered.

This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending Jan. 23

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Week Ending January 23

This week in immigration reform: President Obama defends executive action in annual speech to the country; House to vote on border security bill; states propose legislation affecting DREAMers; and Elle Magazine profiles the story of Anabel Barron, an immigrant mother and staff member at a NCLR Affiliate.

NCLR kept the community informed on immigration with staff quoted in Las Américas, El País, andMSNBC.

President Promises to Protect Administrative Relief in the State of the Union Address: In his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined a plan to promote the economic vitality of the middle class, to improve access to education and workforce training, and to ensure the progress made over the past six years isn’t reversed by partisan policies. Additionally, the president promised to block any legislation seeking to end administrative relief for millions of families. NCLR issued a press statement responding to the speech, including a statement by President and CEO Janet Murguía: “We are pleased to hear the president reiterate his plans to defend administrative relief regardless of any attempts by Congress to backtrack on this issue. His executive action will make our economy stronger, our country safer, and millions of American families more stable. The new Congress now has a choice to make on immigration—improve the situation, or make it worse. We hope they’ll choose to be agents of progress by finally delivering sensible and effective immigration legislation.”

House Republican Leadership to Bring Enforcement-only bill up for a vote: A border security bill, the “Secure Our Borders First Act,” will come to the floor for a vote next week in the House. The bill, sponsored by Congressman McCaul (R-Texas), would impose penalties for federal agencies that fail to meet certain requirements, like achieving “operational control” of the border in five years. “Operation control” would mean preventing every single illegal border crossing. NCLR opposes this enforcement-only approach which sets up unrealistic measures and wastes taxpayers’ dollars by throwing more money at flawed programs.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard chosen to manage Homeland Security budget bill:  House Democrats tapped Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) to oversee the annual Department of Homeland Security budget bill, the first Latino to serve in that role. APolitico article highlights how critical it is to have a Latino voice in the DHS funding debate, especially one that understands the human aspect of immigration with a dedication to protect the children of immigrants. “I have young Dreamers who because of the president’s policy have been able to go to college and get education and they come back to the community as teachers and attorneys. There’s tremendous value,” Roybal-Allard said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t protect our borders, but I think everything depends on the premise, where we start.”

Nebraska and Virginia take action on policies regarding DREAMers: This week, a bill was introduced in Nebraska to allow DREAMers to obtain driver’s licenses in the only state with a policy barring DACA-recipients from getting a license. According to an Associated Press article, the bill has support from not only immigrant advocates, but business interests as well. The Nebraska Cattlemen Associate and the Nebraska Restaurant Association have both voiced support for the measure, emphasizing the economic benefits of immigrant workers in a state facing a labor shortage. “This is about growing Nebraska and being pro-business,” said Kristen Hassebrook, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Cattlemen Association. “We’re looking for people who want to live in rural Nebraska, who have the requisite skills to work with us, and who want to do the work that we do. And often, the folks at the top end up being from an immigrant background.”

In Virginia, a bill barring DREAMers from receiving in-state tuition failed to pass the Senate, partially as a result of immigrant advocates and protestations by undocumented immigrant students. A Washington Post article notes that, even if the bill passed the Virginia Legislature, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) said he would veto the “counterproductive and mean-spirited” legislation.

NCLR Affiliate staff member and advocate profiled in Elle magazine: Anabel Barron was born in Mexico, but grew up in a large family in San Antonio. She eventually came to live in Lorain, Ohio with her four U.S. citizen children. One day on her way to work, she was stopped for speeding and, unable to provide a driver’s license, was picked up by Border Patrol and placed in deportation proceedings. With help from community based organization, HOLA, support from her local church community and pro bono assistance from a local attorney, Anabel was granted a stay of removal, providing her with work authorization and a temporary Social Security number, enabling her to get a U.S. driver’s license. Anabel now works at NCLR Affiliate, El Centro and is hoping to go back to school for a degree in social work. Her story has a happy ending, but millions of families are still under the threat of deportation. President Obama’s executive action attempts to ease those fears. However, a comprehensive solution to a broken and harmful immigration system is needed to protect families, to grow the economy, and to ensure America stays true to its ideals. Read the entire profile.

Congress Should Not Impede the Nation’s Progress

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(This was originally posted to Huffington Post’s Latino Voices)

The president’s sixth State of the Union address to Congress last night was heavy on the actions our country should take to build on the progress that American families have made over the past two years, thanks to a recovering economy. In a statement today, NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía called on policymakers to continue expanding opportunities for hardworking families and protect programs that have improved the lives of millions of Latinos.

“We implore lawmakers to pursue a legislative agenda that will continue to secure the economic futures of all Americans, including Latinos, by promoting policies that help create quality jobs, ensure our workforce has the necessary training and education available to compete in the 21st-century job market, protect vital tax credits for working families, and open up credit access to qualified home-buyers,” said Murguía.

A number of policy proposals aimed at improving conditions for working families were announced in the days leading up to the State of the Union address. Among them is a plan to extend tax credits to middle- and low-income families. We strongly support this much-needed change in policy that will surely help many more Americans reach their full potential.

Murguía also expressed support for President Obama’s proposal to cut fees on Federal Housing Administration loans, which would enable more first-time homebuyers to purchase a house. On the education front, the president further outlined his plan to make higher education more affordable for millions of hardworking students. This is especially crucial for Latinos. Our community has seen significant increases in high school graduation and college enrollment rates, but more must be done to guarantee that quality higher education remains affordable and accessible for everyone.

“Pursuing policies that open opportunities and provide Americans with the tools to achieve their dreams is not a Republican or Democratic ideal—it is an American ideal,” said Murguía. “We echo the president’s call for both parties to work together so they can find common ground to continue moving this country forward.”

Smiling DoctorPresident Obama also addressed the Affordable Care Act, emphasizing his administration’s success in enrolling more Americans. At NCLR, we have been actively working with our Affiliate Network and other national organizations in mobilizing and enrolling as many Latinos as possible in health insurance. In fact, over the past year, nearly seven million people have signed up for coverage, resulting in a significant drop in uninsured Hispanics.

On administrative relief, one of the most significant policy changes for nearly five million immigrants, the president defended his action and vowed to veto any bill that would undo it.

“We are pleased to hear the president reiterate his plans to defend administrative relief regardless of any attempts by Congress to backtrack on this issue. His executive action will make our economy stronger, our country safer, and millions of American families more stable,” said Murguía. “The new Congress now has a choice to make on immigration—improve the situation, or make it worse. We hope they’ll choose to be agents of progress by finally delivering sensible and effective immigration legislation.”

Find out more about our 2015 legislative agenda in our report, “State of Hispanic America: Striving for Equitable Opportunity.”