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Display of solidarity at “Day Without Immigrants” protest in Raleigh

Cristian Flores, 12, holds up signs Thursday at Moore Square in Raleigh for “Day Without Immigrants,” a national protest. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Respect. Fear. Concern. Love. Solidarity.

Those were just some of the reasons hundreds of people gathered Thursday in Moore Square for the nationwide protest “Day Without Immigrants.”

The protest encouraged immigrants to skip work and school and to stop shopping for the day to show their value to the American economy.

José Terrazos, of Henderson, took the day off work and said he was proud of himself for showing up for his community at the Raleigh protest. He proudly held a small American flag into the air and chanted in Spanish with a large group of people.

“I’m not losing one day of work because I’m going to lose so much more if people are deported,” he said.

Terrazos said he’s been disheartened by the negative rhetoric since President Donald Trump was elected. He said he wants people to understand that the immigrant community is just like every other community — there are some bad people, but most are good and working hard to give their families a better future.

“I have been here for 15 years,” he said. “My family is all that I have. We want some respect. I’m here because I love my family and I love my friends.”

Ana Bustos, a La Costeña for Radio La Grande, spoke through a microphone in front of the crowd about the rhetoric.

“All I’ve seen is hate, hate, hate everywhere I go,” she said.

She also said that Trump’s administration has talked about deporting criminals, but has actually been taking away innocent immigrants.

“He’s been ripping [families] apart,” she said.

There was a strong sense of family at the protest. Many signs referenced the separation of immigrant families and several speakers discussed fear for their families.

Adamaris Mendez Cruz, 10, of Durham, said she took the day off school to protest for her family. She and her sister carried Mexican flags at the event.

Omar Branmontes speaks to a group of people Thursday at the “Day Without Immigrants” protest in Raleigh. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

“I came here so we can stay in America,” she said, adding that her parents are from Mexico. “I’m really scared because we really love this country.”

Cristian Flores, 12, stayed home from Benson Middle School and attended the protest with his dad and brother. He said he’s not afraid for his family but he worries about other kids at his school and their families.

“I wish every immigrant had my rights and abilities but sadly, they don’t,” he said. “We are not criminals. We are hard-working people who wake up early in the morning to work and make our family go to school.”

Several people stood on stage and shared their stories. They chanted and encouraged each other to come out from the shadows and live without fear.

“I wanted to say that immigrants make America great, that immigrants build America, that immigrants fight in the war for America and have died for America,” said Omar Branmontes, of Raleigh. “I want to say that, as an immigrant, I’m not an enemy of America; we’re not enemies of America and I’ve never hurt America. We’re part of America and we’re part of North Carolina; we’re part of our community of immigrants of America and we’re a part of the future of America.”

He said every person that works and fights for what they believe in and love deserves an opportunity.

To show support to immigrant workers and customers, many businesses across the Triangle closed for the day. Silvia Martinez closed her bakeries, El Pancito, in solidarity with immigrants.

“Immigrants are all being affected by what’s going on; we’re all being affected,” she said.

But, Martinez added, it was encouraging to see so many people gathered in one area for the immigrant community.

“Everybody’s united,” she said. “I think we’re making ourselves heard, hopefully.”

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Photos from “Day Without Immigrants” protest at Moore Square

Hundreds of people gathered Thursday at Moore Square for a “Day Without Immigrants” nationwide protest. Immigrants across the country were encouraged to skip work and school and to not shop to show how essential they are to the American economy. Many businesses across the Triangle also closed to show solidarity with workers and customers.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Message to Trump administration: Protect our care; don’t weaken the Marketplace

You don’t have to be low-income or uninsured to grasp how challenging and complex the modern world of health care and health insurance has become. Even in my role as a fully insured professional who works in the field every day as an advocate, I wrestle with the challenges the system presents — especially when I grapple with the health concerns of my teenage children and retired parents. The Affordable Care Act has certainly improved things, but we clearly have a long way to go.

In such an environment — one that challenges even informed and comparatively well-off people — it’s remarkable and outrageous that the Trump administration released a proposed health care rule yesterday that would make it harder to for people to remain covered. This proposal — which comes just one day after many North Carolinians celebrated the value of Affordable Care Act at various #HaveAHeart events throughout the state — shows that opponents of the ACA in Congress and the Trump administration value the short-term bottom lines of insurance companies over citizens that elected them into office.

The proposed rule would increase premiums and out-of-pocket costs for consumers while reducing financial help (i.e. tax credits) and plan offerings. It would also shrink the open enrollment period from three months to less than two — a change favored by some insurance companies which complain that people sometimes enroll toward the end of open enrollment period to pay for upcoming costly services only to drop coverage soon after. Instead of viewing the late sign-up as an economic issue for consumers, it seems insurers and the Trump administration believe there are people who actually plan in advance to develop a health condition, suffer a trauma or even receive news of a serious diagnosis after a preventive screening only to drop it and not continue future care.

Another provision on the table provides that regardless of health status, insurers can decide to refuse coverage to individuals or employers who have unpaid premiums. Such a policy would be sure to produce devastating effects in the form of delayed care and worse health outcomes (even death) for families dealing with significant economic and medical needs. It would also increase long-run costs as earlier, lower-cost interventions give way to later, higher-cost treatments. Sadly, the Trump administration seems determined to address the concerns of the insurance industry by shifting all of the burden onto the backs of millions of average Americans.

It shouldn’t (and doesn’t have) to be this way. Instead of higher costs and greater uncertainty, Americans should instead be assured they can have health coverage to access the care they need, when they need it, free from discrimination. Insurers should have a place in a stable, strong Market free from provisions that encourage collapse. What’s more, insurance companies should do what they usually do best — look at the long term — and join with consumers to push for such a win-win outcome.

Right now, individuals, providers, public officials and other leaders across the country are pushing back against the Trump proposals. Let’s hope insurance companies — many of which are among the leading corporate citizens in North Carolina and elsewhere — begin to look beyond their own narrow, short-term interests and join in this effort.

News

Success stories in affordable housing, minimum housing standards

Worth your time today: This column by Susan Ladd of the News & Record in Greensboro that looks at too-seldom celebrated success in the movement for affordable housing and strengthening minimum housing standards.

The story centers on efforts by the Center for Community Progress, Greensboro Housing Coalition and the city’s Minimum Housing Standards Coalition to recognize properties that have gone from condemned to assets to the community. The home highlighted in the column, owned by Scott Garner, went from being blighted and unlivable to an affordable family home in an area that needs more of that type of housing stock.

From Ladd’s column:

The story of this particular home also spotlights how recent changes to Greensboro’s code enforcement can bring properties back into the city’s much-needed affordable housing stock, said Beth McKee-Huger, a longtime advocate for affordable housing. “It wasn’t the worst property ever, but it is right across from a school,” McKee-Huger said. “We thought it could be a danger to schoolchildren.”

Vacant properties attract vandals and squatters who may be using or selling drugs. City inspectors found the house open and ordered that it be boarded-up. The property was condemned and under review by the Minimum Housing Standards Commission, which can order that a property be repaired or demolished. If the owner refuses to act, the city can repair or demolish and put a lien on the property for the cost. This more often motivates property owners to repair the properties or sell them to someone else.

Since the city shortened the timeline for compliance in 2013 and added the option of city-paid repairs in 2015, this demolition list has gone from stagnant to revolving, said Beth Benton, division manager for Code Compliance.

The City of Greensboro and Guilford County have had a lot of success with their respective minimum housing standard ordinances, despite attempts by the General Assembly to limit what municipalities can do in this area.

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Fix to school funding crunch advances through N.C. House

North Carolina House lawmakers unanimously backed draft legislation intended to allay an imminent K-3 class size dilemma for public schools Thursday, despite criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

House Bill 13 will offer local school districts flexibility over their average and maximum classroom sizes in the early grades, weeks before public school leaders say a GOP-led state budget provision could have forced districts to choose between axing arts and physical education classes or asking for major funding increases from local governments.

State officials say the the implications could be modest in smaller districts, but significant in some of North Carolina’s largest school districts.

Republicans say the bill will resolve the unintended consequences of a legislative mandate last year that schools trim class sizes in the lower grades. But Democrats and public school critics have chided GOP lawmakers for what they describe as an “unfunded mandate” that would have drastic impacts for local school districts.

“If we truly believe that class size can make a difference as I do, then just fund it,” said Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat. “Put the money where our rhetoric is and just fund it.”

Starting with next school year, school districts are set to lose the ability to exceed the state’s funded average classroom sizes in grades K-3. Without easing that directive or providing additional financing, local school officials complained of broad impacts on staffing, infrastructure, teaching assistants and class sizes in grades 4-12.

House lawmakers unanimously approved the bill Thursday and it’s now bound for the state Senate, where its prospects for approval without modification are murky.

Senate leaders have been significantly more critical of public schools in recent years, and a spokeswoman for Senate President Phil Berger has not responded to multiple Policy Watch inquiries about the matter.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, the Henderson County Republican who co-sponsored House Bill 13, said Thursday that the controversial budget mandate in question arose at least in part because Senate leadership was “upset” that public schools were using classroom funding for other purposes.

Republicans suggested multiple times in committee and on the House floor in recent days that public school districts are misusing state funding, although they have not offered proof and school district lobbyists have indicated they know of no such circumstances.

McGrady said he hopes his bill, which has the support of local district lobbyists at the N.C. School Boards Association, will offer a “smoother path” for North Carolina schools. Local districts warned of “draconian” cuts without action from the legislature to mediate last year’s mandate, he said.

“They didn’t have a lot of warning,” said McGrady. “This is a bill to give a glide path here.”

Meanwhile, McGrady rebuffed calls from Democrats Thursday to debate overall school funding. Critics of GOP leaders have long maintained that the state legislature is not properly funding North Carolina public schools.

“I’m sure we’re going to have that debate when we debate the budget,” added McGrady. “This bill is not that bill. These positions for lower class sizes have already been paid for by us. This is about flexibility.”