Commentary, News

Trump’s latest immigration proposal: Short on details and endorsements

President Trump revealed a new immigration proposal on Thursday afternoon. In a speech in the White House Rose Garden, Trump announced his plan to boost “merit-based” immigration, which he says would “transform America’s immigration system into the pride of our nation and the envy of the modern world.”

His plan focused mostly on legal immigration, with no provisions for undocumented migrants already in the country or Dreamers.

Currently, our immigration system favors migrants with family already in the U.S. and allots a minority of visas – around 12 percent – to immigrants with higher education or special workforce skills. Trump’s proposal would increase that 12 percent to 57 percent and decrease family visas from 66 to 33 percent. Applicants would be required to speak English and pass a civics test. Preference would be given to younger, financially stable applicants entering the country with an existing offer of employment.

Under Trump’s proposal, family-based migration would be limited to the nuclear family, so that spouses and minor children would still be given high priority. Extended family members, however, would not qualify.

Trump also addressed asylum, saying that “legitimate” asylum-seekers would “quickly be admitted,” but those with “frivolous” claims would “promptly be returned home.” The president did not expand on what might constitute a “frivolous” claim for asylum. The percentage of total visas provided for humanitarian purposes would decrease from 22 to 10 percent.

“Like Canada and so many other modern countries, we will create an easy-to-navigate points-based system,” said Trump. Unlike Canada, however, Trump made no commitment to resettle thousands of refugees.

The plan is unlikely to garner bipartisan support. Democrats probably will not support any immigration plan that does not discuss young people covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Trump’s plan does not include DACA for a reason. Read more

Courts & the Law, HB2, News

No conclusion in HB2 successor case despite plaintiffs, governor’s proposed agreement

ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio (right) and client Joaquin Carcaño (left) talk to reporters about House Bill 142 after Friday’s court hearing. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Lawmakers do not want Gov. Roy Cooper to agree to allow transgender individuals to use restrooms under executive branch control that match their gender identity.

Cooper and the plaintiffs who are challenging House Bill 142, which replaced House Bill 2, the anti-LGBTQ legislation that became known as “the bathroom bill,” have been trying to enter into a consent decree for almost a year. Judge Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, heard arguments about it Friday.

The agreement would specify that HB142 could not be used to ban people from using restrooms or facilities consistent with their gender identity that are under the executive branch’s control or supervision. It would also allow local governments to interpret their laws to protect individuals from sex or gender identity discrimination.

It essentially codifies an opinion that Schroeder already made in the case. Gene Schaerr, an attorney for the legislative defendants — who intervened in the HB2 and HB142 litigation — said they oppose the agreement, even though they’re not included in it. He cited concerns about ambiguity in the agreement language, issues with federalism and keeping the federal court involved in a state government power struggle and the negotiation process between Cooper and the plaintiffs.

“Our clients care a lot about federalism,” Schaerr said.

Schroeder entertained those concerns and expressed some of his own, particularly in some of the vague language in the agreement, although the plaintiffs and attorneys for Cooper made some of it more specific to try and appease him and the legislative defendants. Schaerr was unfazed by that attempt.

There was no conclusion in the case, something Schroeder strived to make happen given that it’s been going on for three years. He ordered all the parties to work together over the next two weeks and to submit a new consent decree by May 31. He said he hopes everyone can be on board with some type of agreement, but if lawmakers still can’t approve it or just have no position on it, he’ll take up their additional concerns at that time.

If an agreement was approved by the court, it would end the lawsuit, with the exception of some damage claims involving the University of North Carolina — but those can’t be resolved until after the U.S. Supreme Court takes up pending cases involving Title VII and IX issues.

Chase Strangio, ACLU staff attorney for the LGBT and HIV project, said after Friday’s hearing that it was clear lawmakers were not interested in protecting transgender individuals, who are most harmed by HB142.

“People really need protections right now in this state and across the country,” he said. “Obviously, we want people to pass through North Carolina, we want North Carolinians to feel safe and protected by the laws, and so that is really what this is trying to effectuate and resolve this incredibly long-running litigation.”

Strangio said they would keep fighting for transgender rights in the state.

Plaintiff Joaquin Carcaño said all he wants is for transgender people to be protected and to be able to navigate daily life without barriers.

“They continue to put up a fight,” he said of lawmakers.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Judicial nominee Farr joins GOP defense team in redistricting litigation

It appears that Thomas Farr is back in the game – the North Carolina redistricting game, that is.

The recent Trump nominee for a federal judgeship in North Carolina’s Eastern District filed paperwork last week to appear in court on behalf of the GOP legislative defendants in Common Cause v. Lewis, a challenge to the 2017 legislative map on grounds that it violates the state constitution as an extreme partisan gerrymander.

Farr is no stranger to litigating North Carolina laws and maps enacted by Republican legislators – he has defended several of the state’s maps that were struck down as racial gerrymanders. And in 2013, he defended the state’s sweeping “monster” voter ID law, which was also declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it was racially discriminatory. [Read more…]

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2. PW exclusive: Toxic chemical contamination detected in Charlotte; NC lawmakers decline to act

For decades Charlotte firefighters would periodically suit up and step into one of 12 gravel-lined pits at the city’s training center on Shopton Road. Industry would donate their flammable solvents, which would be poured into the pits or injected by underground piping. Materials, such as junk cars, would be set on fire, and the firefighters would then attack the blaze.

Sometimes, firefighters would use water. Other times, though, they would use foam — a special type of aqueous foam we now know contains toxic PFAS. Also referred to as perfluorinated compounds, this is a class of 4,000 to 5,000 chemicals, some of which are found in the body of nearly every person on Earth.

Even though PFAS have been linked to dozens of disorders, including cancer, none is regulated by the state or the EPA. This week, several members of a US House subcommittee balked at proposals in several bills to regulate PFAS as a class. And in the state legislature, bills introduced in both the House and Senate to ban PFAS in firefighting foam were exiled to committee, where they never received a hearing.[Read more…]

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3. Five quick takes as the legislative session passes its symbolic midpoint


North Carolina lawmakers sped past their self-imposed crossover deadline last week – the date by which many bills must pass at least one house to remain alive for the session. Here are five quick takes on where things stand:

#1 – GOP bulldozer downsized to a Bobcat – Traditionally, and especially during the last several years of conservative rule, the crossover deadline has served as an excuse/opportunity for legislative leaders to push through scores of controversial proposals during a series of marathon sessions that have often stretched into the wee hours of the night. This year, things were different.

Owing in part to the desire of some Republican leaders to attend a national conservative gathering in Asheville and, in part, to the demise of GOP supermajorities (a fact that has served to place a modest check on the Right’s ambitions), crossover passed in much quieter fashion this year. Instead of pulling “all-nighters” and bulldozing through a mountain of bills, lawmakers called it quits early, having advanced a somewhat less imposing pile. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Fifteen great ideas that were lost in the legislature’s crossover deadline shuffle

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4. Republicans, education advocates square off again over expanding private school voucher program

You can hear the anger rising in Yevonne Brannon’s voice as she talks about the state’s controversial school voucher program.

Brannon, a spokeswoman for Public Schools First N.C., a K-12 advocacy organization, thinks it’s outrageous that a family with an annual income of more than $71,000 could receive state tax dollars to help pay for private school tuition.

But that’s exactly what would happen under state Senate-proposed changes to North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“It undermines and contributes to the demise of public education in North Carolina,” Brannon said. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Colleges will soon be able to factor SAT ‘adversity score’ into admissions decisions

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5. Delay in ‘Silent Sam’ decision reflects divided UNC leadership while spurring suspicion, concern in community


At its meeting next week, the UNC Board of Governors was scheduled to unveil a new plan for the future of the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam.”

But late Tuesday afternoon, board Chairman Harry Smith released a statement saying the board has decided to again postpone it.

“In early March, we set the May meeting of the UNC Board of Governors as a tentative reporting date to consider possible solutions for the confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill, commonly known as Silent Sam,” Smith said in the statement. [Read more…]

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6. A gun in my classroom? No thanks.

I am a public school teacher in Forsyth County. As a special education teacher, I work with students at the middle school level and help them manage learning disabilities, ADHD, and other factors keeping them from performing on grade level. I love my job, but would leave it in a heartbeat if given the opportunity to carry a gun in my classroom.

Friends and family members tell me this could never happen in North Carolina, but why not? The Florida legislature just voted to allow this. At least one school district in Texas has been doing it for years. And our elected officials in Raleigh have introduced a bill this session (SB 192) to allow this very thing – the badly mislabeled “School Security Act of 2019.”

Let’s set aside the horrifying possibility of a student or intruder gaining control of my weapon. In addition, let’s not consider the morass of lawsuits that are likely to crop up surrounding real, or even potential, situations a gun in the classroom would introduce. The main reason I would object to carrying a gun is the way the relationship with my students would change. [Read more…]

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7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

News

U.S. House passes LGBTQ rights bill despite GOP opposition

WASHINGTON — U.S. House lawmakers on Friday voted to approve sweeping legislation aimed at barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in spite of broad opposition from House Republicans.

In a major victory for LGBTQ rights advocates, the House approved the bill, dubbed the Equality Act, by a vote of 236-173, including eight Republican votes. The North Carolina delegation split along partisan lines with all three Democrats voting for the measure and seven of eight republicans voting “no.” Rep. Mark Walker did not vote.

The measure would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act by explicitly banning discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit and the jury system.

House Democrats celebrated the bill’s passage as a landmark achievement by Congress.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, noted that Friday marked the 65th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which found that racially segregated schools were inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional.

“Today is also a historic day for the LGBTQ community,” Scott said. “Over the last decade, we’ve made progress in securing rights for the LGBTQ community … however, many legal barriers still remain. … The inconsistent patchwork of state laws leaves millions of people vulnerable to discrimination.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said,“We need to … ensure that all people in this country, no matter where they live are protected against hate and bigotry, exclusion and discrimination. The opportunities this country offers must be open to everyone in our country.”

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) called it ironic that her “LGBTQ constituents can get married to each other, but still in 29 states can be discriminated against in their jobs and public education and even in their jury service. This is wrong. This is un-American.”

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) said that “in Florida and many other states, LGBTQ Americans are still at risk of being fired, evicted, denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” She called the passage of the Equality Act a fitting way to commemorate the anniversary of the uprising at Stonewall, which took place in June 1969 and is considered the birth of the the modern LGBT rights movement.

Currently, less than half of the U.S. states have enacted their own laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank.

“In most states, same sex couples can be denied service in restaurants, fired from jobs, evicted from homes with no legal recourse. They can be mistreated and discriminated against and their government won’t stand up for them,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.). “This legislation takes us the next step in a long American tradition of expanding civil rights and protections. It affirms that in this country there is no us and them, it’s just us.”

Despite the fanfare in the House, the effort is unlikely to be enacted into law this Congress. Read more

Environment

A conundrum: rehabbing homes that have been damaged by a hurricane — and contaminated by GenX

Drinking water wells, which rely on groundwater, have tested positive for GenX nearly seven miles from the Chemours plant. Four homeowners who live within five miles have applied for federal housing disaster relief, which has presented a quandary for state officials. (Map: DEQ)

While Congress debates whether the EPA should regulate perfluorinated compounds, including GenX, the cost of inaction is playing out in North Carolina in an overlooked, yet significant way: hurricane relief.

In rebuilding or rehabbing homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew, state officials are encountering, for the first time, some houses whose water supplies have also been contaminated by GenX from the Chemours plant.

And the cost of cleaning up water contaminated with unregulated pollutants isn’t covered under housing disaster relief community development block grants.

“It’s not a storm-related damage so the cost isn’t reimbursable by HUD” — US Housing and Urban Development, said John Ebbighausen, chief of programs for the state Office of Recovery and Resilience. “But we have to bring the house up to code, and nothing hazardous can be there.”

The Office of Recovery and Resilience is a division of the Department of Public Safety; the housing disaster relief program is coordinated with the federal government and the state commerce department.

According to a letter from the state Office of Recovery and Resiliency to the NC Department of Environmental Quality, four homeowners who live within five miles of the Chemours plant have applied for housing disaster relief. The plant is near the Bladen-Cumberland county line.

Dozens of wells between three and five miles of the plant have tested positive for GenX, and roughly 20 had detections above the state health advisory goal of 140 parts per trillion. A few wells beyond the five-mile radius also had detections of GenX, but none above the state’s benchmark.

Federal law requires an environmental review for homes built or rehabbed under HUD’s disaster recovery program, as well as the land beneath. If a property is contaminated with chemicals that appear on the EPA’s list of hazardous substances list, then it must be cleaned up or mitigated; otherwise, it isn’t eligible for federal funds.

But the EPA hasn’t classified PFAS, including GenX, as hazardous. “There is no EPA guidance,” Ebbighausen said.

The Office of Recovery and Resilience has asked DEQ to determine the level of GenX contamination that would trigger a requirement for Chemours to pay for an alternate water supply.

“We need a piece of paper that we can take to Chemours and say, ‘You can install this, or our contractor will, and we’ll bill them,” Ebbighausen said.

Earlier this month, DEQ’s Director of Waste Management Michael Scott responded to Ebbighausen, noting that a recent consent order with Chemours includes provisions for alternate water supplies, based on thresholds of detectable PFAS in private well water.

Those alternatives include a connection to a public water supply, whole-house filtration and under-sink reverse osmosis systems. In some cases, it could be more protective for homes to receive a new, deeper drinking water well. However, only affected schools and public buildings are eligible for new well construction.

Scott said DEQ continues to sample private wells beyond a five-mile radius from the plant. Homes that are eligible for disaster relief and are within seven miles could have their well tested and if necessary, be provided with alternate water. Scott added that it would review groundwater and well sampling results for damaged properties between seven and 10 miles of Chemours.

Those boundaries could shift, Scott said, depending on ongoing well sampling. DEQ would notify disaster recovery officials of any changes.

Homes that sustained damage whose costs are equivalent to 50 percent of their prestorm tax value could be eligible for federal funding. Mobile homes with more than $5,000 in damage might also be eligible.

The deadline for homeowners to apply for disaster relief funds is May 31. This round of funding is applicable only for Hurricane Matthew damage.

The state is owed another $168 million in federal housing money for Hurricane Matthew recovery, Ebbighausen said. Earlier this week HUD awarded the state $336 million for housing damage caused by Hurricane Florence, far less than the $2 billion in damage caused by the historic storm.