Muslim Ban 3.0: More Countries, More Complications

picture of people marching down a city street carrying a banner that says, "Stop Trump's Muslim Ban."

Protest rally opposing Trumps Muslim Travel Bans. Picture courtesy of Microsoft’s Clip Art

Yesterday I attended an hour-long townhall presentation put on by the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. This town hall discussed Trump’s new travel ban that was issued on Sunday, September 24, 2017, and fully goes into effect on October 18, 2017.

The Proclamation is entitled, “Presidential Proclamation Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats.”  What is it and what are its effects?

What I learned there yesterday is what I would like to share with you today.  Here are some questions, as a non-lawyer, that I will attempt to answer in this blog:

  1. What is a proclamation and how does it differ from an executive order?
  2. What countries are affected by this expanded ban?
  3. What happened to Sudan?
  4. When does this ban go into effect?
  5. What are the bans “rules?”
  6. If you are an international, what kind of help might be helpful?

Note that most of this information came from the Center for Immigrants Rights Clinic and two advocacy groups: the Muslim Advocates and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.  Thanks to all three of these organizations for helping to disseminate this information on this new, expanded Muslim and People of Color Ban – Version 3.0.

Several federal district courts entirely blocked Ban 1.0 as a constitutional violation of Freedom of Religion. Ban 2.0 was a streamlined version of Ban 1.0 and was partially allowed to go into effect last June. Both were executive orders. Muslim Ban 3.0, issued last Sunday, focuses on the people being rather than the agencies than ordering what the federal agencies need to do.  It was a Presidential Proclamation, not an Executive Order.

Proclamation v. Executive Order

We rarely hear of Presidential Proclamations but often hear of Presidential Executive Orders.  Ban 3.0 was promulgated as a proclamation rather than an executive order.  I wondered what the difference was.

The effects, in my opinion, are relatively the same.  The difference seems to differ on only who (or what) they are ordering.  All US presidents have used both of these regulatory instruments that have the effect of law unless overturned by Congress or the US Supreme Court for superseding presidential authority. This power is loosely based on Section II of the US Constitution. The Constitution states, “executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States,” “the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” and “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

The differences between the two, according to the Yale University Library, is based on the focus of the targeted entity in the declarations.

  • Executive Orders are the formal means through which the President of the United States prescribes the conduct of business in the Executive Branch. They relate to how and what executive agencies do.

  • Proclamations, unlike executive orders, are aimed at those outside of the government. Proclamations can grant presidential pardons, commemorate or celebrate an occasion or group, call attention to events, or make statements of policy.

The first two immigration statements (aka Ban 1.0 and  Ban 2.0) were Executive Orders.  They ordered the State Department, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Homeland Security, and the Border Patrol, among the many federal agencies to prohibit the immigration and landing of Muslims from entering the United States. Ban 3.0 was a Presidential Proclamation.

Good Proclamations v Bad Ones

The most famous Presidential Proclamation was President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued on September 22, 1862; it went into effect on January 1, 1863. This Proclamation freed the slaves, ensuring the end of the bondage of Blacks when the Civil War ended.  This Proclamation, along with the 14th Amendment ratified soon after the Civil War ended, granted full citizenship to permanent residents regardless of race.

The Emancipation Proclamation says, “Welcome!” In contrast, Trump’s Banning Proclamation, essentially says, “Go Home. Don’t come here. We don’t want you. And here’s who we don’t want.”  As you can see, proclamations can do good as well a bad.

This most recent proclamation, just like the Emancipation Proclamation, has the force of law. The result, however, is not much different than an Executive Order.  Bans 1.0 and 2.0 tell the agencies what they need to do. Ban 3.0 tells targeted individuals to “stay away,” or “we will deport you.” Unlike the two previous executive order bans, these restrictions listed in this proclamation are indefinite. BAD (and “Sad”).

Who is affected by this Ban? The Expanded Ban

So, who is Trump saying to go away?

Bans 1.0 and 2.0 solely targeted citizens of Muslim/Islamic religious-dominated countries. The new Proclamation targets citizens of 8 countries – 6 Muslim/Islamic-dominated countries, an Asian country, and a Latino/a country. Trump says all eight countries are a security risk.

Fyi, Muslim refers to people who follow the religion of Islam.  These two terms can be used interchangeably. I’m using the religious term below for each country based on how they are commonly described.

These countries are:

  • Chad – a central-African Muslim country;
  • Iran — a Middle-Eastern Islamic country;
  • Libya – a North-African Muslim country;
  • Somalia – a Muslim East-African country;
  • Syria – a western-Asian Muslim country; and
  • Yemen – a Middle-Eastern Muslim;

The two non-Muslim countries that have been targeted are:

This expanded list adds Chad as well as these two non-Muslim countries.  Some speculate that this was purposefully done to skirt the religious freedom protections of the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. Either way, it still targets people of color and is discriminatory.

Trump Removed One Country from Ban 3.

Ban 2.0 listed seven countries where their citizens are banned from entering the United States.  His original ban included the six Muslim/Islamic countries listed above as well as Sudan. Sudan is a North-African Islamic country. Ban 3.0 no longer targets citizens of this country.

Why did Trump’s proclamation delete citizens of this country from the ban?  We don’t know. Much of the rationale is, at least partially, a state secret.  Trump won’t say why.

Gentlemen’s Quarterly, a magazine I rarely read, commented this way (and I agree with them):

“Obviously, it goes without saying that a travel ban is a gross and un-American way of handling immigration, but the removal of Sudan from the list is interesting and raises a lot of questions.

And here’s the transcript of what Trump said when asked about the removal of Sudan – a muddling of what’s going on here.

 

 

The Details

When does this ban go into effect?

This unending travel ban has two different start dates.  According to Penn State Unversity’s Law Center for Immigrants Rights Clinic, the effective dates differ based on whether or not the banned country is listed in Executive Order EO 13780 (aka Muslim Ban 2.0).

For the five countries still listed from that Executive Order (Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen), any national who lacks a “bona fide relationship” with someone or entity in the US was immediately banned from entry into the United States on September 24, 2017.

For the remaining three countries (Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela) that were added to this Proclamation’s travel ban, all restrictions and limitations on travel to the United States, regardless of a “bona fide relationship” take effect at 12:01 am on October 18, 2017. This additional level of restrictions also becomes active for the five original countries on this date.

Who is being denied entry?

That depends on which banned country you are coming from, The Proclamation does  the following by country of origin:

  • North Korea and Syria: entrance to the United States as an immigrant or non-immigrant is denied;
  • Chad, Libya, and Yemen: entrance to the United States as either an immigrant or visiting the US on business or as a tourist is denied (visiting US-based family members appears to be ok);
  • Iran: entrance to the United States as either an immigrant or as a visitor is denied UNLESS you are entering under an F (full-time educational programs), M (technical or vocational programs), or J (research scholars, professors and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange) visa. Extra scrutiny will be done with people seeking this exception;
  • Somalia: entrance to the United States as an immigrant is denied. Visitors (i.e., “non-immigrants”) will be subject to additional scrutiny (which as far as I can tell, is not described in the proclamation); and
  • Venezuela: entrance to the United States as a visitor either for business or pleasure is denied IF you are on the list of certain Venezuelan government officials; this ban is also extended to their family member. Visitation and/or immigration by others from this country is still allowed.

What is a Bona Fide Relationship?

According to Muslim Advocates and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Muslim Ban 3.0 Fact Sheet:

Foreign nationals who can claim a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S. include:

  • Individuals who have a close familial relationship in the U.S. This includes parents (including in-laws and stepparents), spouses, fiancées, children (including in-laws), siblings (including in-laws), half-siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

  • Individuals who have a “formal, documented” relationship with a U.S. entity that was “formed in the ordinary course.” Examples of such a relationship include: students who have been admitted to a U.S. university; workers who have accepted an offer of employment from a U.S. company; and lecturers who have been invited to address a U.S. audience.

 

Who from these targeted countries are exempt from this travel ban?

Again, according to According to Muslim Advocates and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Muslim Ban 3.0 Fact Sheet:

  • Lawful permanent residents (green card holders);

  • Those admitted or paroled after the effective dates in Section 7 of the Proclamation;

  • Those with an otherwise valid document – rg. a transportation letter, appropriate boarding foil, or advance parole document – on the Proclamation’s effective date;

  • Dual nationals when the individual has a passport issued by an unaffected country;

  • Those traveling on diplomatic visas such as a G visa;

  • Those granted asylum, admitted as a refugee, or granted related relief.

Waivers to the Travel Ban

Section 3 of the Proclamation does allow for waivers on a case-by-case basis. Since waivers are vague and based on interpretation and how the individuals present themselves, access to these waivers might be limited, in my opinion. Once again, I’m not a lawyer, but I would recommend that people from these targeted countries seek legal advice from a qualified immigration attorney or clinic before attempting entry to this country to improve their odds of obtaining such a waiver.

The Fact Sheet states that waivers can occur under the following circumstances.

  • When denying entry would cause the foreign national undue hardship and their entry would not pose a threat to national security or public safety, and would be in the national interest; and

  • On a case-by-case basis. Case-by-case waivers may not be granted categorically, but may be granted in individual circumstances such as:

    • Those previously admitted and outside the U.S.;

    • Those with established significant contacts with the U.S. but currently outside the U.S. on the effective date;

    • Those seeking to enter the U.S. for significant business or professional obligations;

    • Those seeking to visit or reside with a close family member and whose denial would cause undue hardship;

    • Those who are an infant, a young child, an adoptee, or in need of urgent medical care or with those with special circumstances;

    • Those employed by the U.S. government; and

    • Those traveling with purposes related to business with the U.S. government or on behalf of certain international organizations.

The Center for Immigrant Rights Clinic gives further details on these waivers.

Section 3(c) of Presidential Proclamation on Enhancing Vetting Capabilities & Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats includes a waiver scheme for certain nationals who would otherwise be suspended from entering the United States. The burden is on the foreign national to show that his or her entry (A) denying entry would cause the foreign national undue hardship; (B) entry would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States; and (C) entry would be in the national interest.

The Proclamation states that case-by-case waivers will not be issued categorically, and goes on to list the following ten situations in which a waiver would be appropriate:

  1. the foreign national has previously been admitted to the United States for a continuous period of work, study, or other long-term activity, is outside the United States on the applicable effective date under section 7 of this proclamation, seeks to reenter the United States to resume that activity, and the denial of reentry would impair that activity;

  2. the foreign national has previously established significant contacts with the United States but is outside the United States on the applicable effective date under section 7 of this proclamation for work, study, or other lawful activity;

  3. the foreign national seeks to enter the United States for significant business or professional obligations and the denial of entry would impair those obligations;

  4. the foreign national seeks to enter the United States to visit or reside with a close family member (e.g., a spouse, child, or parent) who is a United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, or alien lawfullyadmitted on a valid nonimmigrant visa, and the denial of entry would cause the foreign national undue hardship;

  5. the foreign national is an infant, a young child or adoptee, an individual needing urgent medical care, or someone whose entry is otherwise justified by the special circumstances of the case;

  6. the foreign national has been employed by, or on behalf of, the United States Government (or is an eligible dependent of such an employee), and the foreign national can document that he or she has provided faithful and valuable service to the United States Government;

  7. the foreign national is traveling for purposes related to an international organization designated under the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA), 22 U.S.C. 288 et seq., traveling for purposes of conducting meetings or business with the United States Government, or traveling to conduct business on behalf of an international organization not designated under the IOIA;

  8. the foreign national is a Canadian permanent resident who applies for a visa at a location within Canada;

  9. the foreign national is traveling as a United States Government-sponsored exchange visitor; or

  10. the foreign national is traveling to the United States, at the request of a United States Government department or agency, for legitimate law enforcement, foreign policy, or national security purposes

In reading the additional information on these waivers, several items popped out to both the lawyers and me at the Clinic.

First, “undue hardship” is not defined in either the immigration statute or in the regulations.  This term only appears in the Muslim Bans 2.0 and 3.0.  The term that does show up in the rules is “extreme hardship.”  And that term doesn’t define family separation or relocation as an “extreme hardship.” So I could see someone, on a case by case basis, being denied a waiver under section 3(c), reason A, even when she can show that they are not a threat to national security (reason B) and their entry is in the national interest (reason C).

Second, who defines what “the national interest” is?  I could easily see a consulate employee denying entry simply because their definition is limited to say, for example, a need for a high-level employee but not for that person’s family to accompany her.

Third, what does national security” actually mean? Since many of the decisions on the travel ban seem arbitrary (for example, each country has differing levels of scrutiny and types of bans based on the proclamation’s reasoning for the travel ban), how would a consulate employee make a fair decision on security?  The question is what type of levels of evidence would be required to pass this test.

And finally how long would each applicant have to wait before a waiver decision is made? Keeping people in limbo, particularly when family members are separated, is stressful, intimidating, and hateful.

Bottom Line

All three travel bans are incongruent with our country’s history of welcoming open arms. Our Presidential Executive Orders and Proclamations should all be following the sentiment proclaimed at the base of Lady Liberty, aka the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Instead, our government is telling the world and people of color, especially people from Muslim and Islamic countries to “stay away, ” or “we will deport you.”

If you are interested in seeing a video of the town hall, click here.  The PSU Law Immigration Clinic’s Powerpoint presentation on Trump’s Travel Ban can be also reviewed by clicking on this link.

If you are a foreign national, be aware of what this proclamation does.  Search for and contact an immigration lawyer to help you circumnavigate these torturous waters. Here’s an immigration attorney search link I found that might help . And don’t leave the US if you are already here without first determining if you are likely to be able to return.

Comparison of Political Parties through Congressional Interns

Pictures say it all… Intersectionality is the face of the Democratic Party. With the Republicans? It’s almost always white men. Women and people of color are essentially invisible.

Nel's New Day

Watching the GOP convention this week was painful on a large number of levels, one of them being the struggle to show minorities in both the speakers and the audience. Out of 2,472 delegates, only 18 are black–less than one percent. That’s down from the peak of seven percent in 2004. Only 20 percent of the 71 prime-time speakers are white. This is the party of Donald Trump.

The look of whiteness at the RNC is patterned in this photograph of GOP congressional interns, proudly taken by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

PaulRyan interns

Below is the photograph of Democratic congressional interns, thanks to Audra Jackson, an intern working for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). What an amazing difference!

democratic interns

According to Valcy Etienne, Johnson said that Jackson’s selfie was an “excellent idea” because the interns “represent the future of our party and where we’re going.” She added:

“I wonder if the Republicans…

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Protests Might Make a Difference – Stop the Brutality

Racial Brutality. Injustice. This all must stop.
I think it’s way past time for every police department in this country to look at the racial, gender, and sexual orientation make-up of their law enforcement team. Unless the team truly look like, experience and understand the people they serve, this type of brutality will continue.

Nel's New Day

Ferguson, Missouri, is a suburb of St. Louis. Two-thirds of its population of 21,203 is black, but four out of five city council members are white. The black superintendent of schools was forced out for unknown reasons last November and replaced by a white man. Of the 53 police officers, 50 are white, yet blacks account for 93 percent of the arrests.  Of the 54 police officers, 52 of them are white. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in this video, the police officers’ prejudice against people of color in this town has been rampantly open for many years. The situation came to a tipping point four days ago when a town police officer killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, possibly by shooting him in the back ten times.

When people gathered in protest after the teenager’s killing, police fired tear gas at them, sometimes when people were standing in their…

View original post 791 more words

Let’s Strengthen, Not Weaken Social Security

Social Security.  It’s been around for 78 years.  It’s a benefit that everyone (and their family members) who has worked in the United States is eligible to receive. You pay into the system when you are working and then when you retire or become disabled, you, your spouse, and your dependent children receive monthly benefits based on you earned income history.  Currently almost 58 million Americans receive $816 billion annually in Social Security benefits.  Most (70%) are retirees and their family members.  The rest are either disabled (19%) or are survivors (11%) of a deceased spouse or parent who would have otherwise qualified for Social Security.  We all like, expect, and will, if not already, depend upon Social Security to sustain our financial well-being and independence.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Supported Social Security

Yet it is under attack.  And has been for almost a decade.  Until 2005, both political parties fully supported Social Security.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a letter to his brother Edgar on November 8, 1954 said:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

This was right after he responded to a letter to a constituent shortly after signing a bill into law expanding Social Security.  In that letter dated September 30, 1954, President Eisenhower said:

The actual fact is that by and large the productivity of a national economy must [emphasis added], at any given time, support the people then living in the nation. This means that, roughly, the people from twenty to sixty bear the burden of supporting themselves, and in addition, support those from birth to twenty years of age, and those from sixty to eighty.

The Three-Legged Stool

At that point in our history, both sides of the aisle fully supported the idea of Social Security as the third leg of the financial stool (the other two legs being pensions and savings).

Over the years fewer and fewer people have had employment that contained a defined benefit pension.  And fewer people have retirement savings. People need all three legs.  With the other two legs being cut or chipped away at, Social Security remains potentially their only source of income should they retire or become disabled.

The Bush Administration Starts the Attacks on Social Security

The attacks on Social Security really started hard and heavy in 2005 when then President George W. Bush called for the privatization of Social Security and a redesign of Medicare that created the so-called “doughnut hole.”  I first started working on this issue that year, organizing a protest rally on the Penn State University-University Park Campus when Bush came to town to try to tell the Future Farmers of America that Social Security was a lost cause.

Over 500 people were at that protest.  Holding up signs like:

 

 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

Bush is Wrong! Ike was Right! Hands Off My Social Security: 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  • Hands Off My Social Security
  • Bush is WRONG!
  • Ike was RIGHT!
Sign at Protest that says: "No! No! No Social Security Privatization Fiddle"

2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  •  No! No! No Social Security Privatization Fiddle and

 

Banner at 2005 PSU Protest saying: "Social Security: Don't Gamble with Our Future"

Don’t Gamble with Our Future: 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  • Social Security: Don’t Gamble with OUR Future (referring to privatizing and placing Social Security payments in the volatile stock market).

Organizations and individuals fought back and Social Security was not privatized but Medicare was compromised when the prescription drug benefits (Part D) were written into law in 2006. This hole forces individuals on Medicare in 2013 to pay 100% of their drug costs once  you reach their Medicare Part D plan’s initial coverage limit of $2,970 and ends when you spend a total of $4,750.

This was the opening gambit to destroy Social Security. These attacks are continuing to this day.  Now it is the Tea Party Republicans who are doing the attacking.  And if they succeed, women and people of color in particular will pay the penalty.

The Seven Principals to Strengthen Social Security

Rather than decimate our safety net that we all paid for and for which we are due, we should be strengthening rather than weakening Social Security. According to StrengthenSocialSecurity.org – a coalition of over 300 national and state organizations representing over 50 million Americans, there are seven principles to fully support and strengthen our Social Security system:

  1. Social Security did not cause the federal deficit; its benefits should not be cut to reduce the deficit.  And anyone who tells you Social Security is going broke is either misinformed or deliberately trying to mislead. The Social Security Trust Fund is viable through 2033.
  2. Social Security should not be privatized in whole or in part.  Unlike Wall St. and the stock market, Social Security is a reliable, risk free source of income. These benefits are guaranteed every month and are adjusted to the rise in the cost of living.
  3. Social Security should not be means-tested.
  4. Congress should act in the coming few years to close Social Security’s funding gap by requiring those who are most able to afford it to pay somewhat more. This means that the cap on payment into Social Security should be lifted for higher income individuals.
  5. Social Security’s retirement age, already scheduled to increase from 65 to 67, should not be raised further. Increasing the retirement age disproportionately affects low-income women. The life expectancy for low-income women has decreased over the last 25 years and they are more likely to have jobs that compromise their health. Increasing the retirement age would amount to a 15% benefit cut for low-income women workers.
  6. Social Security’s benefits should not be reduced, including [benefit-reducing] changes to the COLA or the benefit formula. Republican leaders want to impose a less accurate COLA formula – the chained-CPI. The current COLA (Cost of Living Alliance) formula is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which estimates the price of stuff we need (like food) changes over time.  The chained-CPI assumes that when the prices of something goes up, people will automatically replace it for something cheaper (e.g., beef would be substituted with chicken and maybe even eventually with dog food); therefore the COLA can be calculated at a lower rising level.  That con only work for the short-term since in some cases (e.g., health care) there are no substitutes and for others (e.g., the food example), people either can’t or won’t go that far without compromising their lives. Over a 30-year retirement, that means that a person would be losing a full month’s worth of Social Security every year. For senior women who often don’t have extra savings or a pension, the gap between their regular expenses and what would be covered over time under a chained-CPI would be disastrous.
  7. Social Security’s benefits should be increased for those who are most disadvantaged. This would include low-income workers, LGBTQ families in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages, college students whose working parent has died, and people who have to drop out of the workforce to provide caregiving to their family members.

Increasing the Benefits for the Most Disadvantaged

I’d like to look at this last principle in more depth by focusing on women and Social Security because women make up the combined majority of people in these four groups.  So, why should benefits for these four groups be increased?

Low Income Workers

Low Income workers are disproportionately made up of women and people of color. Living hand to mouth, this group of working-age people have little ability to build up any retirement savings.  So one leg of the stool is cut very short.  And unlike high-income workers who worked at a company with full benefits, they are less likely to have any retirement pension at all.  The second leg is also cut very short. As a result, nearly 80% of a low-income worker’s retirement income is made up entirely of Social Security benefits.  And because of the cutbacks in Medicare with the aforementioned doughnut hole, this group of retired people – mostly women who live longer – are further squeezed.  This group of retirees, rather than having their livelihood threatened by a chained-CPI reduction should, instead have and enhanced benefit by creating a Special Minimum amount of Social Security benefits for lifetime low-income earners.

In 2012, the National Organization for Women Foundation, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a report called “Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling: A Proposal on How to Modernize Women’s Benefits.”  This report presents a proposal to enhance this baseline level of Social Security benefits for low-income workers. They suggest improving the Special Minimum Benefit by:

  • Increasing the benefit to equal 150 percent of the aged poverty level for workers with 30 years of credit;
  • Reducing the wages required to receive a year of credit toward the minimum benefit to the amount required for four Social Security credits;
  • Indexing future increases in the minimum benefit to growth in wages rather than the CPI;
  • Providing up to ten family service years of credit toward the computation of the benefit; and
  • Increasing the Supplemental Security Income (aka SSI) general income exclusion to $100 and adjust it in future years for inflation.

LGBTQ Families

In June, the US Supreme Court, in a case known as United States v. Windsor, overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. They declared that committed same-sex couples who have had their relationships legally recognized as marriage must receive all of the federal benefits, including Social Security, associated with legally-recognized marriages.

Same-sex couples, who live in states that don’t recognize their marriages, however are currently out of luck.  In the 37 states without marriage equality, same-sex couples and their families are considered legal strangers. A same-sex household with one wage earner forfeits $675 monthly, the equivalent of two months’ worth of groceries for two people.

The Glass Ceiling report makes the following proposal to address continuing discrimination in these 37 states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages:

  • Amend the Social Security Act to define “wife,” and “husband” so that they no longer rely on gender-specific pronouns;
  • Provide eligibility to spousal benefits to individuals who are members of same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, civil unions, or any other such relationship as the states, by law, may prescribe;
  • Extend to the children of these relationships, benefits under the same terms and conditions as children of heterosexual couples; and
  • Directly address the issue of disparate state-based DOMA laws by declaring that all federal family eligibility determinations under Social Security be exempted from the provisions of state-based Defense of Marriage Acts.

College Students and their Parents

Up until 1981, students attending college whose working parent had died, become disabled, or retired were eligible for Social Security benefits under their parent’s Social Security until they reached the age of 22.  That year, all post-secondary benefits were eliminated.  Most of the recipients of this benefit were disproportionately children of parents in blue-collar jobs, African-Americans, and those with lower incomes than other college students.  As a result of this change in the law, single parents—again most often women—would often defer saving funds for their own retirement in order to assist their kids through college. This decision results either in a a lower level of retirement funds for his/her parent(s) and/or a reduced likelihood of the student attending college if the parent and child are unable to fund the student’s post-secondary education.

The Glass Ceiling report makes the following proposal to address this issue:

  • Reinstate benefits for children of disabled or deceased workers until age 22 when the child is attending a college or vocational school on a full-time basis.

Caregivers

In addition to the disparity in pay between men and women, one of the main reasons women’s Social Security benefits are lower on average than that of men is that they are more likely to take time off from work to care for children or elderly and sick adult family members (spouses, parents, in-laws, and other family members).  The Social Security Administration uses a calculation known as the “average Indexed Monthly earnings primary insurance amount” (aIMe PIa) to calculate the benefit levels of all beneficiaries. Because of the way that the Social Security Administration calculates the benefit level, any temporary interruption in one’s income can significantly reduce how much Social Security a person can receive.

This affects single women as well as married women since both can and do have children and do have other family members that may need some care. Currently the only way to compensate for this care-giving duty is to provide the caregiver a spousal add-on benefit. This unfair treatment of caregivers in the Social Security formula needs to be changed so that we can continue to care for our family members without jeopardizing the financial security of the caregiver.  The Glass Ceiling report also addresses this issue by recommending a change in the way the aIMe PIa is calculated:

  • Compute the AIME PIA by imputing an annual wage for each family service year so that total earnings for the year would equal 50 percent of that year’s average annual wage index. Family service years would be those in which an individual provides care to children under the age of six or to elderly or disabled family members. Up to five family service years could be granted to any worker.

These Improvements are Affordable: With Some Changes

We can pay for these improvements, and simultaneously ensure the solvency of our Social Security system for 75 years or more. Changes to how Social Security could be funded are well-known. We just need to do it!  The funds for these changes are available IF we:

  • Remove the cap on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax.  Rather than capping employee, employers, and the self-employed person’s payroll taxes on the first  $113,700 of income, the law should be changed to entirely remove this cap and require millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rate as the rest of us.  This one change would provide most of the needed resources.  According to Virginia Reno and Joni Lavery of the National Academy of Social Insurance, this option [by itself] would eliminate much of Social Security’s current actuarial deficit by producing revenue equal to about 2.17 percent of taxable payroll.”
  • Slowly increase the Social Security contribution rate by 1/20 of one percent over the next 20 years.  This option, according to Reno and Lavery “would provide revenue equal to 1.34 percent of taxable payroll.”
  • Treat all salary deductions like 401(K) plans.  Currently we pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on any retirement plan, such as a 401(K), a 403(b), or a 527 plan.  We do not pay these taxes on that portion of our salary we put aside to pay for any flexible spending account, such as a medical savings account.  If we were to  treat and tax flexible spending accounts just like our retirement plans, Reno and Lavery report that we would provide an about  an additional 0.48 percent of taxable payroll.

These three changes amount to 3.99% of payroll taxes and would fully close the current actuarial deficit (2.67 percent of payroll) according to Reno and Lavery.  The additional 1.32% would fund the proposals to strengthen Social Security as recommended in the Glass Ceiling report without hurting women, people of color, LGBTQ people, caregivers, college student, and low-income families.

The funds are there.  Let’s make it happen. Let’s strengthen, not weaken Social Security for everyone.

 

Voting Rights for Felons and Ex-Cons

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Voting Rights for Felons and Ex-Cons

Yesterday, a friend of mine called me.  She said that she had been talking to a woman whose partner had a felony record who had served his time for the crime.  Among the several issues they discussed was his frustration that he was no longer able to vote.  Like many people, my friend and the couple she was talking to me about all believe that once someone has been found guilty of a felony, they face a lifetime ban on their constitutional right to vote.

Since primary season is coming up in many places around the country and since most states have voter registration deadlines before their primary election day, I thought I’d provide some background information on this issue.

What is the myth?

Simply stated, the myth is that ex-cons cannot vote – once convicted and forever afterwards. There are at least two errors in this myth:

  • Except for a narrow category of crimes in Mississippi, disenfranchisement does not occur in any state if you are found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.  Even if you spend time in jail for that misdemeanor.
  • Voter disenfranchisement for people with a felony conviction differs by state.  Eleven states permanently disenfranchise some or all current and former felons from voting, but most don’t.

So it all depends on where you live. Here’s what I found out about state laws on this issue from the Brennan Center for Justice

Permanent Disenfranchisement for All Felons

Only four states – Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – permanently disenfranchise current and former felons from voting.  The only way for a person to have their voting rights reinstated is through an “individual rights restoration” process set up by each state.

Permanent Disenfranchisement for Some but Not All Felons

Seven states permanently disenfranchise some, but not all current and former felons from voting.

In Arizona, if someone is convicted of two or more felonies, the right to vote is permanently denied.

In the other six states in this category, you need to check your state law to determine which felony convictions permanently deny you the right to vote. Here’s a quick summary of these laws.

  • In Alabama, you can be permanently barred from voting if your crime is listed in their disenfranchisement list. If the conviction is a “moral turpitude” type of conviction, you can have your voting rights restored upon completion of your sentence and payment of fines and fees.
  • In Delaware, voting after incarceration can be reinstated five years post-incarceration unless the crime you committed is one among a list of crimes that permanently disenfranchises your right to vote.
  • In Mississippi, you permanently lose your right to vote if you are convicted of any of ten categories of crime, whether that crime is a felony or misdemeanor.  If your crime isn’t on this list, you can vote even while incarcerated.  Note, this is the only state that has a law that permanently bans voting for someone who has created a misdemeanor.
  • In Nevada, if someone is convicted of two or more felonies, the right to vote is permanently denied.  People convicted of violent crimes at any time are permanently barred from voting. Nevada will restore those rights if a pardon is granted or if the court where the conviction originally occurred restores those rights.
  • In Tennessee, if your crime is on the list of crimes that permanently bar you from voting, then you can only have these rights reinstated if you are pardoned.  For all other crimes, you can have your voting rights restored upon completion of your sentence, payment of fines and fees, and show that you are up to date on all child support payments.
  • In Wyoming, you can have your voting rights restored five years post-incarceration for first-time non-violent crimes.  All others are permanently disenfranchised unless pardoned by the Governor.

Voting Rights Restored Upon Completion of Incarceration, Probation, and Parole

Nineteen states – Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin – restore your rights to vote upon completion of your sentence, which includes incarceration, probation, and parole.

In Nebraska, one additionally has to wait two years after completing the sentence before being allowed to vote.

In Washington state, you can lose your right to vote again if you haven’t paid your financial obligations after completing your sentence.

Voting Rights Restored After Incarceration and/or Probation

Five states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York, and South Dakota – allow you to vote once you have completed your sentence and/or probation.

In New York, those on probation can have their voting rights restored if they receive either a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.”

Voting Rights Immediately Restored After Incarceration

Fifteen states – the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah – immediately restore voting rights upon one’s release from jail or prison. There are no voting restrictions for people on parole or serving probation time.

No Restrictions on Voting for People with a Criminal Record

And just two states – Maine and Vermont – allow anyone otherwise eligible to vote regardless of criminal conviction to vote. Even while incarcerated, on probation, or parole.

Who is most likely to be impacted by this disenfranchisement?

According to the ACLU, people and communities of color are most often disparately impacted by felony disenfranchisement laws. There are over 5.3 million people in the United States that are barred from voting due to a criminal conviction.  The majority of these crimes are non-violent.

Of the 5.3 million disenfranchised, 1.4 million or 26 percent of people with a criminal conviction are African-American citizens.  Considering that black persons make up just 13 percent of the national population, one can immediately see that if you are Black, you are twice as likely to have your voting rights denied.  This means that one in 13 African-Americans across the country are being denied their right to vote.

The myth of an ex-con never being allowed to vote compounds this issue. As previously stated, many believe that once convicted, they can never vote again.

With a widespread belief in this myth as well as a lack of public education to refute it, more and more ex-cons are at risk of not regaining their right to vote. Since actual disenfranchisement disparately impacts people of color, this assumption exacerbates this form of discrimination.

In my opinion, little is done by the government, courts, and communities to educate people and communities about their voting rights when one has been sentenced for a crime.  Exceptions to this come from only a few, non-profit advocacy sources, including the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Prison Policy Initiative, and the Sentencing Project.   There are others, but I believe that these four contain the best resources.

What do you need to do to get registered?

If your state is one of the states that do not permanently disenfranchise people who have completed their sentence (or if you live in Maine or Vermont which has no felony restrictions on voting), you should check out what your state law is regarding registering to vote.  The federal government has a website that has basic information on how to register and what the registration deadlines are by state.  It also has links to every state’s election office website where you can get details about state-specific requirements for voter eligibility.

If you know or believe that you have the right to vote in your state despite having a criminal history and receive a denial to vote when you attempt to register, you should check with an organization that provides legal services to people who have been incarcerated.  You can find a listing of these organizations by state here.  If your state isn’t listed, then the Prison Policy Initiative suggests that you contact one of the national groups that provide voter disenfranchisement assistance.

Once you get registered, GO VOTE!  It’s your right.