immigration, NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Trump administration sets a historically low ceiling for refugee admissions

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the maximum number of refugee admissions for the next fiscal year has been set at 30,000. Breaking even last year’s historic low, this ceiling cap sets a new low and further restricts humanitarian aid to a growing number of displaced people seeking safety from violence and persecution. This announcement is part of a series of efforts from the current Administration that seek to undermine the Refugee Resettlement Program and to create new roadblocks to many of the world’s most vulnerable who are attempting to flee serious persecution to start a new life in the United States.

Historically, the United States had demonstrated a strong commitment to refugee resettlement by successfully integrating refugees into communities across the country. This commitment resulted in strong contributions to the national economy and labor market. In 2015, refugees across the United States contributed $20.9 billion in state and federal taxes. This same year, refugees in North Carolina contributed almost $274 million in federal and state taxes while holding $831 million in spending power. These numbers demonstrate a glimpse of the positive impact immigrants have in local communities across the country.

Still, the current administration continues its devastating battle against immigrants. From incorporating a ban on refugee admissions and threatening programs such as DACA to gutting long-standing principles of asylum law and expanding family detention, this administration has weakened refugee and humanitarian policies, pulling the United States back from its historical commitment to strengthen human rights. In a time where 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by conflict and the number of refugees has reached 25.4 million, it is inexcusable to disregard the current humanitarian crisis and turn our back on vulnerable people living in danger.

Unfortunately, the real decline in refugee resettlement may be even more dramatic than the lower cap would indicate. The annual ceiling sets the maximum number of refugees allowed to legally enter the United States, but it does not require the country to accept a specific number of refugees. In the 2018 fiscal year, the United States had a historically low admittance cap set at 45,000, but it actually accepted less than 22,000 refugees. These figures demonstrate a strong likelihood of refugee admittance falling below the 30,000 cap during the coming 2019 fiscal year.

In a country whose moral and economic strength is rooted in welcoming people searching for a better life, these policy reversals should be seen for what they are: a violation of our history and a threat to our future.

Lissette Guerrero is an intern with the Budget & Tax Center and with Immigrant Refugee Rights, projects of the NC Justice Center.

Environment, News, Trump Administration

Report: With North Carolina reeling from Hurricane Florence, Trump to visit Wednesday

Donald Trump speaking

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump will visit North Carolina Wednesday in the wake of Hurricane Florence’s devastating impact last week, multiple media outlets are reporting.

It wasn’t clear what areas Trump will tour, but the president’s arrival comes with swollen rivers across the state expected to crest in the coming days, forcing thousands out of their homes after the storm dumped double-digit rain amounts.

The president has had a tortured history with disaster relief, given his ongoing bickering with critics over the federal government’s failures in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria last year.

From CNBC:

Trump will visit areas affected by the hurricane, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday, though it wasn’t immediately clear which specific spots are on the president’s list. Sanders told CNBC that more details would be forthcoming.

Some North Carolina residents have begun to return to the towns they fled in advance of the storm. Florence had strengthened to a Category 4 storm with wind speeds as high as 140 miles per hour before slowing down by the time it made landfall late last week.

But days after the wind and rain had subsided, water levels continued to rise in some areas of the state, putting more homes and lives at risk.

The hurricane has claimed at least 32 lives, officials said, including 25 in North Carolina. Some measures of the storm’s damage are estimated at $2.5 billion in total insured losses alone.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that “catastrophic flooding and tornadoes are still claiming lives and property.”

Trump has used his Twitter account to focus mainly on the hurricane in recent days, largely avoiding other issues such as special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and the upcoming midterm elections.

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Just before Florence, Trump administration transfers $10M from FEMA to ICE

You really can’t make this stuff up. It was just a couple of months ago that the Trump administration’s Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) admitted in a report on the tragically botched Puerto Rico hurricane response that it was “ill-prepared to handle the crisis” and that it “urges communities in harm’s way not to count so heavily on FEMA in a future crisis.”

Now, these people are retreating even further from their duties and responsibilities.

As Roll Call reports:

“On the eve of Hurricane Florence hitting the U.S. coast, Democratic lawmakers expressed outrage that the Homeland Security Department transferred nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a reprogramming move this summer.

Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office on Wednesday released documents confirming that $9.8 million from FEMA’s operations and support budget was diverted to fund ICE’s detention facilities and deportation operations.

The Oregon Democrat first discussed the DHS report on MSNBC’s ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ on Tuesday evening. DHS was allocating money from FEMA to ICE to fund ‘additional detention camps,’ he said.

The DHS documents released by Merkley give this justification for the money reprogramming: ‘Without the transfers and reprogramming identified in this notification, ICE will not be able to fulfill its adult detention requirements in FY 2018. Insufficient funding could require ICE to release any new book-ins and illegal border violators. ICE will not be able to deport those who have violated immigration laws. ICE could also be forced to reduce its current interior enforcement operations, curtailing criminal alien and fugitive arrests — which would pose a significant risk to public safety and national security by permitting known offenders to remain at large.’”

Trump officials deny that the transfer will impact the hurricane relief budget, but given FEMA’s already depleted state and admissions of past failure, the transfer — at a minimum — sends a terrible message about priorities.

As Mississippi congressman Bennie Thompson pointed out:“This is yet another example of the Trump administration’s outrageously misplaced homeland security priorities. We have a president who cares more about locking up families seeking asylum and putting kids in cages than ensuring FEMA has every resource necessary to prepare for and respond to disasters.”

Commentary, Trump Administration

Trump administration threatens overtime protections for low-wage workers; 290,000 in NC would lose out

OT Listening Sessions

Image: US Department of Labor

Raise your hand if you are paid on a salary basis and that salary is more than $23,660 per year but less than $47,476 per year. If your hand is up, then you might* be one of the unlucky people who should be getting paid overtime pursuant to a rule revised by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) under the Obama Administration, but because that rule was blocked by a federal court in Texas before it ever took effect, you aren’t entitled to overtime. Now USDOL under Trump and Secretary Alexander Acosta is poised to adopt its own overtime rule with a much lower salary threshold.

The rule, which was set to take effect December 1, 2016, before the court blocked it, would have raised the salary threshold for overtime eligibility from $23,660 per year (less than the poverty rate for a family of four) to $47,476 per year, effectively raising the amount you must be paid in order for your employer not to have to pay you overtime. This means that most* workers making less than $47,476 per year (or $913 per week) would have to be paid overtime for each hour over 40 in one workweek in addition to their salary.

What has happened to the overtime rules since December 2016? Nothing – yet. But USDOL has repeatedly expressed an intention to lower the salary level based on complaints from business groups.  Today USDOL started a series of “listening sessions” to ostensibly get the views and ideas of the public for how the overtime regulations should be revised. (Hint: “lower the salary level” is the only answer they are listening for.)

What does all this mean? Well, if your hand is still up but you make more than $31,000 per year, it’s time to put it down. Based on comments from Secretary Acosta and a USDOL “Request for Information” in July 2017, it is expected that the new salary threshold will be just $31,000, which is the 2004 overtime salary threshold adjusted for inflation. Two-thousand and four was the last time USDOL updated the salary threshold, but even then it was not an adequate adjustment.  As the Economic Policy Institute explains, using that number will leave out three-quarters of the people who would have benefited under the Obama overtime rule, including an estimated 290,000 in North Carolina. If they lower the salary threshold as expected, those 290,000 North Carolina workers will still be required to work more than forty hours per week without being adequately compensated for that extra time. Unfortunately, this is just another example of the Trump Administration’s ongoing attack on low-wage workers.

*…The overtime regulation in question only changes one of the exemptions from overtime and does not apply in all workplaces and to all types of jobs. It has to do with what are often referred to as white-collar jobs, or the Executive, Administrative, Professional exemption. See the 2016 rule for more information.

Education, News, Trump Administration, What's Race Got To Do With It?

WRAL: Records show racial tension, post-Trump feuds in North Carolina schools

Here’s a must-read: WRAL News has published a fascinating deep dive into campus racial tension and post-election feuds in a North Carolina school system.

The report, which draws on accounts collected by an Orange County Schools administrator, details ugly incidents in which students of color were harassed or threatened by their peers.

It captures student clashes over President Trump’s election, boasts by Trump supporters, threats of deportation leveled at Hispanic students, and it reports, in at least one instance, backlash against students perceived to be Trump supporters.

According to the report, school system leaders collected the stories as school board members considered a ban on clothing that displays the Confederate flag, as well as Nazi or KKK symbols.

From the WRAL report:

In May 2017, an assistant principal entered a boys’ bathroom at Cedar Ridge High School in Orange County. There, scrawled on the wall, was a threat: “Kill all (racial slur).” He soon found similar graffiti in other bathrooms. Swastikas and slurs littered the walls.

A few months earlier, a Cedar Ridge High teacher heard a student yell “white power!” as they walked to the bus, but she couldn’t make out who it was. Back in her classroom, she found a swastika scratched into a desk in her classroom.

“You going to get deported,” a student told a classmate. The conversations were so upsetting to one student, they went home early.

During the 2016-17 school year, Orange County school leaders recorded 70 incidents at their middle and high schools involving racist threats, political feuds about Trump, clashes over the Confederate flag and other similar fights. They documented the incidents in a report known internally as the “confidential student-specific incidents data,” which noted the date, what happened and the consequences.

Orange County Board of Education members reviewed the document in closed session in May 2017 but didn’t release it publicly.

WRAL News requested a copy of the document this past spring after discovering it existed. Several months later, the school district released the five-page document with numerous redactions, citing student privacy. Of the 70 incidents, 16 are completely redacted and 24 are partially concealed.

The document has never been shared publicly until now. Its existence has prompted several questions: Why did Orange County Schools collect this data when other local school systems did not? Why did they not share it publicly? What did they learn from it? And why have they stopped collecting it?

Orange County Schools Superintendent Todd Wirt said he and his staff collected the information during the 2016-17 school year at the request of the school board, and they discussed it privately in closed session later that school year.

“This wasn’t about the district hiding this information,” Wirt said. “It was about protecting the students that were on the particular document and providing our board with accurate information to help them make a really difficult decision.”

That difficult decision, Wirt said, was whether to ban the Confederate flag on school grounds.

Last August, the school board decided to ban all clothing depicting the Confederate flag, swastikas or any KKK related symbols or language. The decision came after months of pressure from parents and students who urged the school system to change its dress code.

Before making a decision, the board wanted an accurate count of issues stemming from the Confederate flag and racial and election-related incidents in schools, not just anecdotes from a handful of people, according to Wirt. The superintendent assigned the task of collecting the incidents to Jason Johnson, his executive director of schools.

“Basically, each [school] administrative team, they just kind of kept the incidents in a spreadsheet and then I just ran around and got it from them so I could collect it and put it all in one location,” Johnson said.

While the middle and high schools reported dozens of incidents, the elementary schools reported none, according to the superintendent.

“We reached out to our elementary principals and, at the time, honestly, we just weren’t seeing those same types of behaviors at the elementary level,” Wirt said.

After collecting the reports from middle and high schools, Johnson scanned the pages. The stories of students’ hateful language and actions saddened him but didn’t surprise him, he said. He was already aware of some of the stories through his work with the schools’ principals. But others were new.

“You know, I’m an African-American male, so I’m probably a little bit more hurt than anything,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just very painful that we have a few kids – and I do mean a few – that will say some of the things they said or do some of the things they’ve done. But I also know that’s an opportunity to teach.”

The stories didn’t surprise the superintendent, either.

“This is year 20 for me in public education. I was a high school principal for quite some time. I don’t know that surprise would be the right word,” Wirt said. “I honestly was probably most surprised by some of the responses and animation around the election, more than anything from the document.”

The records captured multiple feuds between students over the election of Trump and some displays of support for his victory.

One day after the election, four students walked the halls of Gravelly Hill Middle School chanting “build a wall” within earshot of Hispanic students. That same day at Orange High School, a white student pulled into the parking lot with a Trump flag flying on the back of his truck. He got out and ran around the parking lot with the flag and a Trump mask on his face.

A few days after the election, a parent emailed Orange High School leaders regarding “a negative comment that a teacher had made about the type of people who voted for Trump.” And on a bus ride from C.W. Stanford Middle, a student called others “white crackers and Trump voters.”

In Johnson’s time leading schools, it has “never been this way around election time.”

“I don’t remember anything that compares to it,” he said. “I was a principal when we had the first black president, and we didn’t have anything like this.”

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