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For Edwin Aly Ramirez of Greensboro, his first thought after being arrested on immigration charges was that he would never see his wife and three children again.  Mr. Ramirez was asked about his status and arrested after he had gone to court to help translate for a friend.  “I thought I would never get to meet my newborn,” he said.

That is the fear — and the daily reality — of 12 million people living in this country.  They work in your office, clean your house, go to your school, and tomorrow, they might be gone.

Undocumented immigrants do not have the same right to due process and a fair trial afforded U.S. citizens.  If immigrants cannot post bond immediately after entering Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, it can dramatically affect their case.  Detainees are often accelerated into deportation proceedings, which are difficult to contest because they  do not have the right to an attorney if they cannot afford one, face language barriers, and lack access to the documents they need to build their case while in custody.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice partnered with the National Immigrant Bond Fund to combat this injustice and pursue dignity and due process for immigrants.

Since September, SCSJ has used the Bond Fund to help seven families, including Edwin’s, by providing zero interest matching loans to immigrants who cannot afford to pay full bond.  The Fund may play only a small role in the overall fight for human rights, but it has a dramatic and tangible impact on immigrant families.

“When immigrants are detained without being able to pay their bond, they are denied the ability to fully defend their right to stay in this country, which often unjustly results in their being deported without being able to see their families or tie up outstanding obligations,” said SCSJ staff attorney Marty Rosenbluth.

Edwin chokes up when he recalls his relief at seeing his three children after being released on bond. “I just want them to have a good life; a good education.”

For more information check out SCSJ’swebsite.

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For North Carolinians who ever questioned the Racial Justice Act, Tom Keith is Exhibit A.

Keith, the district attorney for Forsyth County, is always quick to make a case against the new law that allows criminals on death row a chance to have their convictions overturned if they can prove race played a part in their conviction.

But in an Aug. 26 interview with Yes Weekly of Greensboro, Keith clearly displayed why the Racial Justice Act is so important. The top law enforcement official in Winston-Salem, it appears, believes African-Americans are naturally inclined to crime.

“If you’re African-American, you’re six, seven or eight times more likely to have a violent history,” Keith said in the article. “I didn’t go out there and put a gun in your hand and say, ‘You commit eight crimes and I’m a white man, I’ll commit one.’ That’s just instincts, that’s just how it is.”

Today, a group of pastors and other Forsyth County residents held a rally to demand Keith’s resignation. For them, it’s not acceptable that their district attorney holds views that echo Jim Crow.

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When employees of Moncure Plywood went on strike in July, the issues were typical for most labor disputes: benefits, wages and working conditions.

But as the strike enters its eighth month – four seasons, now – it’s becoming clear that it’s a really a human rights struggle.

This month, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers filed a class action complaint against the company, Connecticut-based Atlas Holdings, alleging human rights violations. The company intimidated the strikers by allowing a rubber tube fashioned as a noose to hang on company property within sight of the picket line for four days. An independent truck driver eventually removed it.

The company also has hired replacement workers, and refused to negotiate with those on strike, many of whom had worked in the plant for 30 years or more. Union bylaws require that the rank and file must approve any agreement, but who would vote for a contract that cost them their job?

The union, North Carolina A. Phillip Randolph Institute, and other supporters plan a full day of support on Monday, March 16, beginning with a lunch with the strikers, a 5 p.m. rally at the Chatham County Courthouse, and an appearance at the Chatham commissioners meeting where we’ll ask for a resolution opposing the company’s tactics.

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Last week the Department of Public Instruction-Exceptional Children Programs presented to the Education Oversight Committee a report detailing the current state of educational service models for students with disabilities.  During this presentation it was revealed that 4 LEA's in 2006-2007 did not graduate a single student with a disability.  The report also disclosed that fewer than 42% of students with disabilities did not attain a Level III score or better on the End-of-Course tests. 

Late today we received the full, eighteen page report from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Exceptional Children Programs.   How many students with disabilities dropped out last year? 4,050. How many students graduated with a diploma? 5,179. How many students received a certificate? 1,011.  How do these dropout numbers compare to previous reports? In 2003-2004 there were 3,876 dropouts, and in 2004-2005 there were 3,799.  These numbers are based on youth with IEP's.

Who were those four LEA's that did not graduate a single student with a disability, and how many students were affected?  Now we know.  The 4 LEAs had a total drop out number of 56 students.  Scotland County had all 38 of its students with disabilities drop out.  That is 100%.  Scotland County was joined by Chatham County (4), Graham County (6) and Franklin County (8).  What was not mentioned in the presentation, but was included in the report was that five Charter schools also had a 100% drop out rate for students with disabilities.  These Charter schools are Central Park (1), Chatham Charter (1), Crossroads Charter High (2), Sandhills Theatre Arts Renaissance (1), and Woods Charter (1).

Three LEA's and eight Charter schools did manage to have 100% of students with disabilities exit with either a diploma or a certificate in 2006-2007.  The LEAs are Thomasville City Schools (9), Tyrrell County Schools (8), and Camden Schools (3).  The Charter schools are CG Woodson School of Challenge (1), East Wake Academy (2), Gray Stone Day (1), Hawbridge School (6), Kennedy Charter (5), Pace Academy (12), Raleigh Charter High (12), and River Mill Academy (3).

These sixty two children attending these four LEA's and Charter schools are just tip of the iceberg.  There are over 4,000 students with disabilities who did not get a cap and gown last year, who did not hear pomp and circumstance, and who did not receive a diploma or a certificate from their high school.  Clearly, we need to continue to challenge our schools to do more for students with disabilities, who deserve and should demand equitable educational opportunity. 

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 In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that school districts can no longer use race as a basis for school assignments.

The decision in cases affecting schools in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle could imperil similar plans in hundreds of districts nationwide, and it further restricts how public school systems may attain racial diversity.  (Washington Post )

How will this decision affect schools in North Carolina? Well, the state’s 2 largest school districts, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County changed to ‘race neutral’ assignment schemes during 1999-2001.

Popular forms of race-neutral assignment plans include lotteries, socioeconomic status based, geographic proximity and pure choice. These methods have had mixed results.

Since 2002 when Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools implemented a neighborhood-based, limited-choice student assignment plan:

  • The number of hypersegregated schools (schools with more than 90% minority enrollment) more than doubled.
  • The number of segregated schools jumped from 47 to 87 in 2004-2005
  • African-American students effectively lost access to oversubscribed predominantly white schools.
  • There has been no overall progress in black student achievement between 2002 and 2004. 60% of African American high school students failed state accountability tests as compared to 23% of white students.

Wake County schools, which used a socioeconomic status based plan, have not resegregated at the same rate as some districts. However, racial diversity has declined since the adoption of the socioeconomic plan in 2000.

  • In 2003, 39% of African-American students attended a school that had 50% or more minority enrollment, compared to 21% of African-American students in 1999.

The unique demographics of Wake County account for the relative success of the race-neutral assignment plan:

  • Wake County is one of only six counties (out of 100) in North Carolina that have a family poverty rate less than 10%, coupled with a significant racial disparity between poor and non-poor families.
  • African American and Latino students are 10 times more likely to be eligible for free/reduced lunch than white students.

Counties that are not as socioeconomically polarized will have a difficult time replicating Wake County’s diversification success.

Today’s Supreme Court decision certainly throws an interesting twist into the state’s efforts to provide educational equality. School assignment decisions are no longer black and white, but rather rich and poor.