Immigration attorney: Amazon tops a list of companies to ditch in support of immigrants’ human rights

Amazon employees hold a protest and walkout over conditions at the company’s Staten Island distribution facility on March 30, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Throughout the last year, the Amazon corporation has given American consumers plenty of reasons to question whether we should be using its products and services. The news is filled with horrible stories about Amazon’s treatment of their workers. The company has an astronomical carbon footprint. The billionaire CEO has so much superfluous income he was able to launch himself into the atmosphere in the midst of a global pandemic.

One aspect of Amazon’s business that rarely makes the news is how richly it profits off of our government’s terrorization of immigrants. The Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee recently published a divestment list that listed 60 publicly traded companies that profit significantly off of the surveillance and criminalization of immigrant communities and the militarization of the border.

Amazon is at the top of that list.

Amazon Web Service controls one-third of the global cloud-storage market, sales from which accounted for $46 billion of the corporation’s $386 billion dollars of revenue in 2020, according to the committee. Amazon Web Service also provides the Department of Homeland Security with sophisticated platforms to store, share and process data for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track down immigrants in the U.S. and detain and deport them, the organization reports.

Amazon also has part ownership in Air Transport Services Group, a charter airline that runs deportation flights for individuals deemed as “high-risk,” according to the committee’s research. It is on these flights that ICE uses the WRAP — a torturous restraint method akin to a straight jacket, people who experienced it told the San Diego Union-Tribune in October.

The debate around immigration policy in the U.S. is framed as an ideological clash between liberals who favor open borders and conservatives who want to restrict migrant flow into the US, but we rarely see a discussion of who is profiting off of the policies we fight over.

Migration to the United States’ southern border is often seen as a crisis by the media and politicians, and then the crisis generates profitable opportunities for companies who can sell our government the tools to solve it. Border militarization is big business, and there is significant money in Washington to make sure that it stays big.

If Americans disapprove of companies profiting off of criminalizing and terrorizing immigrants, one option is divestment. Divestment is the act of untangling a person’s or even an institution’s finances from companies that profit from harmful social policies. It has been used as a tool around the world to support campaigns to end apartheid, for nuclear disarmament, to fight oil pipelines and to change fossil fuel consumption.

As it becomes more apparent that some decision-makers in Washington put their corporate partners ahead of their constituents, one way we can strike back is by threatening corporations financially through divestment.

In the last few years pressure the country’s biggest banks to end ties with the private prison industry was successful. Many of the wealthiest university systems in the U.S. followed suit. Locally, the New Mexico Educators Retirement Board voted to eliminate private prisons from its investment portfolio.

But personal divestment from these companies can be tricky. Not many of us have investments with private prison corporations or border contractors directly. Sometimes the financial institutions we bank and invest with do have ties to deadly companies, but those connections can be somewhat tricky to figure out.

When it comes to Amazon, out of all the companies on the American Friends Service Committee’s divestment list, that’s the one that almost every American household gives money to, whether people have an account with Amazon Prime, shop at Whole Foods, or occasionally order the things they need immediately and can’t find locally.

During the pandemic, when stores can be nerve-wracking in terms of viral spread, Amazon seems like an easy solution sometimes.

But as we continue to decide whether the products and conveniences Amazon offers merit the labor violations, the contributions to climate change, or the concentration of wealth in the hands of the billionaires, we must also weigh if it is worth supporting the criminalization of migrant communities as well.

Allegra Love is an immigration attorney from Santa Fe, New Mexico. This essay was originally published by Source New Mexico, which like NC Policy Watch, is a part of the States Newsroom network.

Jan. 27 Crucial Conversation: Donald Cohen on his new book, “The Privatization of Everything”

Join us Thursday, January 27 at 3:00 p.m. for a very special (and virtual) Crucial Conversation:

Donald Cohen, executive director of the founder and executive director of In the Public Interest, an Oakland, California–based national research and policy center, discusses the new book he has co-written with New York Times best-selling author Allen Mikaelian. It’s called “The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back.”

Click here to register.

One of the most powerful trends in America over the last half century has been relentless and systematic privatization of a raft of societal functions and institutions that were once the province of government – from schools to water and sewer systems to trash hauling to prisons and jails.

Among the most eloquent and effective critics of this trend is Donald Cohen – the long-time executive director of the national research and advocacy nonprofit, In the Public Interest.

And in his new book, “The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back,” Cohen chronicles this trend under which so many of our public institutions have been converted into private profit centers – almost always to the detriment of the common good.

Join us for a special Q&A with Mr. Cohen.

Click here to register.

Donald Cohen is the founder and executive director of In the Public Interest, a national resource and policy center on privatization and responsible contracting. Donald is a founding board member of the Partnership for Working Families. He is the former Political Director of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and founder and executive director of the Center on Policy Initiatives, a San Diego-based think tank and policy organization.

Don’t miss this very special event.

When: Thursday January 27 at 3:00 p.m. E.S.T.

Where: Online; pre-register from the comfort of your home or office.

Suggested contribution: $10 (click here to support NC Policy Watch)

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or [email protected]

Pope-funded “libertarian” group continues slide toward Trumpism

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

For decades, groups funded by conservative mega-donor and one-time Republican politician Art Pope have proudly brandished the “libertarian” label when describing the philosophy they bring to public policy debates. This has been particularly true of the biggest such organization — the John Locke Foundation — a 30+ year-old nonprofit “think tank” that has principally championed “free markets,” tax cuts, and “small government” while largely steering clear of issues like racial justice, LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights.

To the group’s credit, Locke Foundation staffers once loudly endorsed the establishment of an independent redistricting commission in North Carolina (a position they’ve since abandoned) and have long spoken out against efforts to bestow economic development incentives on private businesses, even when it’s been Republican politicians doing the bestowing.

In 2016, longtime Locke President John Hood publicly described Donald Trump as “a contemptible human being.”

Since the advent of Trumpism as the dominant force in modern American conservative politics, however, there’s been an obvious and worrisome shift at Locke. Maybe it was Hood’s departure from day-to-day leadership or the addition of the Civitas Institute — a Pope-funded nonprofit that it absorbed in recent years and that had long taken a more aggressively right-wing stance on a variety of issues (like immigration and “election integrity”) that Locke largely ignored — but whatever the explanation, it’s clear that things have changed.

The new and disturbingly Trumpist Locke Foundation has been increasingly on display of late in several arenas — including the pandemic, where its staffers have repeatedly published absurd screeds attacking basic public health policies and, more recently, in its willingness to advance Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

For a classic example of how this latter bit of nonsense has been seeping into Locke content, check out the group’s recent release surrounding a poll it conducted on the Republican U.S. Senate primary. While the poll itself has some interesting findings and, by all indications, some validity, check out this excerpt from the release itself:

Republicans will make their Senate choice at a time when nine out of 10 believe the country is on the wrong track, and eight out of 10 disapprove of the job Congress is doing. The poll shows they also have grave concerns about the integrity of elections. Nearly half – 49% – do not believe the 2022 general election will be free and fair. Thirty-one percent are unsure.

[Locke President and organizational #2 Donald] Bryson continued, “It’s not an understatement to say that the underpinnings of the American republic are at a flashpoint. When a near-majority of one of the major parties doesn’t believe in the integrity of our elections, then the public will question the legitimacy of any outcome. The Left will say this is a result of the Big Lie, but remember that the first ‘big lie’ was a 2016 Clinton campaign fabrication about Russian collusion that led to impeachment hearings designed to overthrow a duly elected president. The blame lies at the feet of the Left, and specifically attorney Marc Elias.” (Emphasis supplied).

You got that? The group that has long held itself out as one of our state’s leading conservative voices and defenders of “freedom” is now suggesting that the blame for the widespread skepticism about U.S. elections that has spread like a deadly virus amongst American conservatives is not the fault of the contemptible liar who sullied the office of the presidency from 2017 to 2021, but that of a Democratic lawyer of whom most people have never heard.

You really can’t make this stuff up.

As yesterday’s “Monday numbers” column reiterated for the umpteenth time, the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election has been confirmed and reconfirmed scores of times. To imply, as the Locke statement does, that there is any validity to Donald Trump’s unhinged claims about that election is either a) a knowing and remarkably cynical exercise in feeding the paranoia of its readers, or b) an indication that the Locke Foundation has abandoned all past pretenses and as become a mere mouthpiece for the Trumpist authoritarianism that now threatens our democracy.

Either way, it’s a very sad state of affairs.

New report: Virginia-North Carolina comparison shows value of raising the minimum wage

Be sure to check out a new report that the good folks at Carolina Forward have published this morning about the minimum wage. As it notes, the fact that Virginia raised its wage substantially and that North Carolina has not, provides a handy experiment to see which of two very similar neighboring states is making the best policy choice.

Not surprisingly, it’s Virginia.

Here are some excerpts from “The Great Wage Experiment”:

In 2019, Democrats won control of the Virginia state legislature, sealing unified Democratic control of the Commonwealth for the first time in 26 years. Among their very first priorities upon assuming office in 2020 was raising Virginia’s state minimum wage. Democrats promptly passed a phased-in minimum wage hike, which will bring the state minimum to $15 an hour by 2026. As currently structured, the phase-in looks like this:

  • $9.50 effective May 1, 2021
  • $11.00 effective January 1, 2022
  • $12.00 effective January 1, 2023
  • $13.50 effective January 1, 2025
  • $15.00 effective January 1, 2026

(Republicans, who won control of the Virginia State House and governorship in 2021, have vowed to repeal the minimum wage hike. But because Democrats still control the Virginia State Senate, it is unclear whether they’ll actually be able to do so.)

Virginia’s conservative big business community, led by its state Chamber of Commerce and most Republicans, loudly opposed the 2020 minimum wage hike by predicting dire consequences for job growth, calling higher wages a “job killer.” They warned of massive layoffs, a cratering of small businesses, and a dimmer “business climate” that would send jobs to lower-wage states – like North Carolina, Tennessee, or Georgia. “The Chamber,” as it is known in most states, spent heavily on advertisements opposing the increase, only to see Democrats pass it anyway.

This set up a large-scale natural experiment between Virginia and North Carolina, two states with comparable demographics and economic conditions, and which share deep and obvious historical similarities. North Carolina’s minimum wage has not budged, while Virginia’s has and will continue to do so. One may therefore examine each state’s economic track record for signs of impact.

On May 1, 20201, Virginia’s minimum wage rose 30%, from $7.25 to $9.50. Employment data is now in from the second half of 2021, which allows us to evaluate the minimum wage opponents’ claims that raising the wage would cost the Commonwealth jobs.

The result? Higher wages actually led to more job growth – not less.

The report goes on to explore several data points and show that unemployment fell lower, and that growth in industries that employ low wage workers rose faster, in Virginia than North Carolina.

The obvious early conclusion here is that Virginia’s minimum wage hike did not lead to job losses. It’s difficult to conclude that Virginia’s wage hike caused faster job growth all on its own (though we also cannot rule it out) – but we can, at least, conclude that it clearly did not hurt growth. On January 1st of this year, the Commonwealth’s minimum wage rose again to $11 per hour, from $9.50. We should continue to watch employment data to see if this trend continues.

In conclusion, the report points out that several states have raised their minimum wage of late and none are seeing the job losses forecast by the doom and gloomers in the GOP and its business community allies. As the report concludes:

The debate over minimum wage hikes has never been primarily about real-world evidence, but rather over philosophical beliefs. Empirical economic evidence can do little to sway beliefs like these. Folks with a more pragmatic viewpoint, however, may find the real-world evidence for wage hikes compelling.

Higher minimum wages grow the economy and jobs, lead to more broadly shared prosperity, and a better society for everyone. And best of all, raising the wage is extremely popular. Why not learn from Virginia’s example?

Why not indeed. Click here to explore the full report.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Fans of “Sex and the City” reboot need not apologize

A while back, a male friend upbraided me for appearing to joke about the time, years ago, a handsy man many years my senior …grabbed my bottom. As my friend mansplained, “That’s NOT a laughing matter.”

HE was offended.

As the owner of the grabbed bottom in question, I was irritated by a man telling me how to discuss my experience. I chose to share it with humor as I often do because I believe humor is a powerful tool in reclaiming the power over whatever awfulness is currently doing us in.

I told him there’s not a woman alive who hasn’t had to remove somebody’s hand from where it hadn’t oughta be. We get to talk about it however works for us.

I was offended.

He probably meant well but all I could think about was a man who had zero experience in this particular area thought he knew better than I how I should deal with it. Curious.

Last week, I experienced the same irritation reading the acidic reviews of HBO’s long awaited “Sex and the City” reboot, “And Just Like That.”

The reviewers are the nation’s elite critics. They were all younger than me, in some cases way younger; many were male. From the looks of it, most if not all were in elementary/middle school when SATC became a cultural phenomenon in the late ‘90s/early 00’s. The critics were repelled by the downer grief vibe and the (oh, if I had a dollar every time I read THIS phrase…) “cringe-inducing” behavior of Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda. This last seemed to be focused mostly on Miranda’s excruciating demonstrations of (my apologies for this overused word) “wokeness.”

I’m not saying writers should only review shows in their own demo. That’s nuts. Besides, where would you even find critics who spend their spare time stealing fancy cars for street racing, a la “The Fast & the Furious”? And don’t get me started on all things M. Night Shyamalan.

I think it was the patronizing tone that got me. Review after review cited all sorts of high-minded atrocities, flinging about words like “zeitgeist” and phrases like “panicked legacy salvage.” It called to mind an art show catalogue: lots of fancy words leaving you more confused than ever.

Could I have been so completely wrongheaded when I texted a couple of girlfriends: “Run, do not walk, to your remote and find this show!” How was it possible they considered the show “bloated and laugh-free”? Was that how they saw women in their mid-50s?

Mercifully, I found hundreds of reader comments that agreed with me. Viewers who recognized themselves heaped praise on a script showing women in their mid-50s grappling with the landslide of poo their demographic faces every day: raising angsty teenagers while care-taking aging parents and wondering who’s that amiable enough guy sharing a bathroom with me? This is the age where you realize the only person who has asked you if you have plans that day is the grocery store cashier and he’s paid to do that. Pretty sure they never ask a man that. Just the middle-aged woman getting the half-case discount on her Josh Cabernet with the store loyalty card which lives on a key ring beside the keys to her parents’ assisted living apartment.

Because I had my only child at 40, many of my closest women friends are the happy result of bonds formed on the playground. They are 55 now and I’m, weirdly, 10 years older. Math can be so cruel.

Watching Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte navigate their mid-50s reminded me most of us emerge from those challenging years a little bruised but a lot wiser and with the gumption to speak our truth. With humor if we like.

And just like that, I felt much better.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].