Commentary

Our nation’s “stupid, stupid, stupid” immigration policy

In case you missed it, there was a remarkable exchange in a U.S. Senate hearing yesterday between Senator Patrick Leahy and Attorney General Loretta Lynch about the unbelievably absurd statement of federal immigration judge Jack Weil that three and four year-old children can be made to understand immigration law and represent themselves competently in deportation hearings. As the New York Times reports:

“I’ve never heard such a stupid, stupid, stupid thing,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, on Wednesday. Mr. Leahy made it clear what he thought of that…

He hammered on the word “stupid” as if with a baseball bat.

Ms. Lynch was mild in reply. “I share with you your puzzlement over those statements,” she said. She added, “We do not take the view that children can represent themselves.”

She also noted that the Department of Justice isn’t required do anything about the problem. “The current law does not provide the right to counsel,” she said.

And here’s the Times editorial board in an excellent, if gentler, piece from Tuesday:

In this time of political absurdity, can it be any surprise that a federal immigration judge insists that toddlers can represent themselves in immigration court?

The judge, Jack Weil, did not appear to be joking when, in a deposition in a federal lawsuit, he told a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union: “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it….” Read more

Commentary

Happy Birthday, Social Security!

Social SecurityEighty years ago today, President Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, creating one of our nation’s most important social programs. Since 1935, Social Security has kept millions of working Americans out of poverty, allowing them to live with dignity through the difficulties of old age or the loss of spouses and parents. Today, the program lifts nearly 15 million seniors and 1.2 million children out of poverty.

For years, retirees have relied on a combination of Social Security, employer pensions, and other savings, to support their retirement. Over the past few decades, the number of employers who provide pensions have decreased. Additionally, stagnant wages and wealth inequality mean many working people are unable to save enough during their work-life to support them throughout retirement.

A recent report from the U.S. General Accounting Office shows that across the nation, 29% of people age 55 or older have neither an employer pension nor any type of retirement savings. North Carolina is no exception. Between 2001 and 2013, the percentage of employees without employer provided pensions rose continuously. Today, more than 60% of working North Carolinians over 18 have no employer pensions, and one in three retirees depends on Social Security benefits as their only source of retirement income.

More than ever before, Social Security benefits are a crucial staple in retirement security.

Social Security does much more than fund retirement. Read more

Commentary

Another skimpy budget: Children’s advocate explains why the House proposal comes up short

The reviews are coming in as more and more people wade through the details of the House budget proposal. Here’s another sobering take from the executive director of NC Child:

Tiny plates and the House budget
By Michelle Hughes, Executive Director of NC Child

One of the most simplistic reheated bits of diet advice ever sold in the grocery checkout line is to eat your regular food, but to use a small plate and a small fork.

You’ll think your plate is full!! If you go back for seconds you won’t overeat so much!

Really?

The latest state budget for children’s services seems to have a few similar beliefs baked in–the key one being that before long you’ll believe that the plate in front of you is a regular-sized plate. Even though plates on your right and left are normal, you will not notice the one in front of you is small. Substitute ”appropriation” for “plate” and you get the point.

Set the budget table with tiny plates for many children’s programs and there you have the post-recession and post-2013 tax cut reality. The legislature fundamentally re-set the state’s budget priorities with tax cuts in 2013 and funding has not reached pre-recession levels since, although the state has grown in population and investment needs.

For instance, North Carolina’s premiere early childhood education programs, Smart Start and NC Pre-K, saw their funding reduced by 20% during the recession and have never seen that funding restored. Now, despite a growing population of children, we’re able to provide fewer of them with the strong start they need. Read more

Commentary

Study shows high percentage of Hispanic children in NC are uninsured

childrenAs enrollment begins again, on Saturday, for Affordable Care Act health insurance, it is crucial to note that an important population—children—are still often uninsured. More than five million children in the United States lack any form of health insurance.

In North Carolina, this is particularly a problem within the Hispanic population. The state ranks among the top ten states with the highest number of uninsured Hispanic children, according to a joint report put out by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families and by the National Council of La Raza. The report found that 12.5% of Hispanic children in North Carolina are uninsured, which is higher than the national average of uninsured Hispanic children. Nationwide, Hispanic children tend to be twice as likely to be uninsured than their white non-Hispanic counterparts.

Contrary to popular belief, immigration status is not the main reason that these children don’t have health care coverage. The majority of Hispanic children in North Carolina are U.S. citizens and are eligible for a program such as ACA, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program which would provide them with health insurance at an affordable cost to their families.

The real barrier to enrollment in health insurance for Hispanic children, according to the report, can often be their parents’ limited English proficiency. A study found that more than one in eight Hispanic children, between the ages of 5 and 17, live in a household where English is spoken “less than well.” A parent with limited English proficiency may not be able to make it through a health care application in English which then results in an eligible child not getting health insurance.

Along with making Spanish language applications available for all health care programs in North Carolina, there needs to be an emphasis placed on educating Hispanic families about health care options for their children and assisting them with the enrollment process. The health care insurance options are available, we just need to do our part in getting these kids signed up.

Commentary

A challenge to North Carolina’s tobacco-loving governor

McCrory cartoonGov. Pat McCrory took a rather startling and troubling position the other day when he spoke at the behest of a tobacco lobbyist against efforts in France and Ireland to further restrict cigarette packaging to promote public health.

Apparently, kowtowing to the hometown industry is more important than protecting the lives and well-being of a bunch of anonymous furreners.

Having established the precedent, however, maybe the Guv could follow up by doing the industry’s bidding on another matter impacting the health and well-being of kids he’ll never meet — farmworker children.

As it turns out, the tobacco industry has — at least publicly — endorsed a policy change that would, once and for all, end the scandal of child labor in American tobacco fields. As Associated Press reported today:

Two years after the Obama administration backed off a rule that would have banned children from dangerous agriculture jobs, public health advocates and lawmakers are trying anew to get kids off tobacco farms.

The new efforts were jumpstarted by a Human Rights Watch report in May that said nearly three-quarters of the children interviewed by the group reported vomiting, nausea and headaches while working on tobacco farms. Those symptoms are consistent with nicotine poisoning, often called Green Tobacco Sickness, which occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants.

The article goes on to say that:
Philip Morris International, which limits the type of work children can do on tobacco farms, says it would like to see stronger U.S. regulations in this area.
Whatta’ ya’ say Guv? As long as you’re gonna’ be in the pocket of big tobacco, how about staying there when it would actually support a good cause?