News Law and Policy

Report: Obama Can Act to Reduce Inequality for Women, Minorities

Emily Crockett

A new report says that the federal government is the largest funder of low-wage jobs for working women and people of color, and that President Obama should take executive action to help lift them into the middle class.

A new report says that the federal government is the largest funder of low-wage jobs for working women and people of color, and that President Obama should take executive action to help lift them into the middle class.

The report, Underwriting Good Jobs, details how 8 million workers and their families, or more than 20 million Americans overall, depend on low-wage jobs that are significantly funded by taxpayer dollars. A disproportionate number of those low-wage employees are women (71 percent) and minorities (44 percent).

“Today, addressing the needs of women in the workplace means addressing the needs of low-wage workers,” Liz Watson, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, said during a press call accompanying the report’s release. Poverty-level wages and difficult working conditions such as pregnancy discrimination, lack of paid sick leave to care for family members, and unpredictable schedules, Watson said, “not only hurt women, they also hurt the families who are dependent on them.”

Monica Martinez, a working mother of two who makes $12 an hour serving food at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and also holds a second job, said she is grateful to the president for raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, but that it’s “not enough for working moms like me.” She struggles to afford college tuition for one child, and said that benefits like paid sick days and the right to form a union could empower her to leave her second job and spend more time with her kids.

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The middle class is shrinking, most income gains are going to the top 1 percent, and tens of millions of Americans face stagnating wages and a “crisis of living standards,” according to the report. President Obama’s recent executive orders that addressed the gender wage gap and raised the minimum wage in new federal contracts to $10.10 an hour starting in 2015 were important first steps, the authors said. But a “bolder course of action” is needed to lift more Americans, especially women and minorities and their families, out of poverty and into the middle class.

Because the $1.3 trillion “federal footprint” of spending in the private sector is so big, the report says, and because so many private companies depend on the federal government for at least 10 percent of their revenues, a federal “Good Jobs Policy” would incentivize private companies to do better by their workers if they want to effectively compete for federal contracts. If the president ordered such a policy through executive action, agencies would incorporate the policy in their decisions to award and evaluate federal contracts and other spending.

Such a policy, the report says, should favor companies that respect employees’ right to collectively bargain; offer living wages, health care, paid sick leave, and predictable work schedules; comply with workplace protection laws; and limit executive compensation to 50 times the median worker’s salary.

Implementing these policies, the report said, would be hugely beneficial both to workers and to the U.S. economy. Those 20 million people dependent on low-wage, taxpayer-supported jobs could see their standard of living increase by 20 percent. Moreover, GDP would grow by $31 billion annually, and because more people would be lifted out of poverty, the federal government would save billions on programs like Medicaid, SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps), and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Most of the industries that the report deems “federally dependent,” or that make at least 10 percent of their revenue from the government, employ people like nurses, home health-care workers, janitors, landscapers, security guards, cashiers, and sales associates.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.