This Summer marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And, to honor those that fought and the progress they made, a 3 day summit was held this week at his Presidential Library on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.
Johnson's legacy has been haunted by the specter of the Vietnam War, and that has in many ways overshadowed his top accomplishments like the Civil Rights Act, fair housing, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Voting Rights Act.
Johnson also had the courage to use the Presidency as a bully pulpit to pass Civil Rights legislation during an election year. It would be his only election to the Presidency as he decided not to run for reelection due to the division and death toll of Vietnam.
Every living former U.S. President, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush was in attendance at the Civil Rights Summit. Thursday's keynote reflection on Civil Rights was delivered by President Obama, who acknowledged that he is President today because of the Civil Rights movement.
As you may know, Wednesday marked the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Congressman Castro addressed the crowd celebrating the Anniversary Civil Rights March on Wednesday as the youngest lawmaker to speak at the ceremony that day. He was also the only Texas and Latino elected official to speak at the event as well. Check out the video below, along with the text of the Congressman's remarks below the jump.
(Thank you Senator for introducing this tremendously important bill and sharing it with the BOR community. It is a shame that this cannot currently muster votes to pass. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)
The bills Texas legislators introduce here at the Capitol often can be divided into three categories. The first two categories are: Those that we know will pass easily, because they are good ideas that everyone can embrace, and others that we know will require a fight.
The third category: Bills that we know most likely won't pass, but we introduce them anyway because we believe in our hearts that these policy changes are the right thing to do. We file these bills because we want to spark discussion, create momentum and make an important point.
Senate Bill 237 fits into this latter category. SB 237 would prohibit employment discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression. I authored it for a very simple reason: Because too many Texans live in fear of losing their jobs, not because they lack the skills for employment, but because of who they love. The time has come for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and people who are transgendered to stop living with this fear.
Texas already has protections against discrimination in employment based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or age. It only makes sense to extend these protections to the LGBT community.
Of course, in Texas, I knew this would be an uphill battle. The Texas Legislature is a conservative body, and hasn't necessarily caught up to Americans' changing opinions on sexual orientation. And I realize that some people just aren't ready to support a change on certain issues, such as gay marriage.
But I want to be clear: This is not a gay marriage bill. This is a bill about fair employment laws. I am hopeful that my colleagues will realize this bill is rooted in deeply held Texas values of hard work and opportunity. In a country founded on the notion that all people are created equal, and a state that strives so hard to protect our personal freedoms, the bottom line is that all Texas workers must be free from the threat of workplace discrimination.
Every Texan deserves the opportunity to earn a fair wage and succeed in the workplace, and I find it unacceptable that qualified, hardworking Texans can be denied job opportunities, fired or otherwise discriminated against just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Every day, they work hard to make an honest living to support themselves and their families, and help our economy grow along the way - but far too many go to work with the fear that they will lose their job based on factors that have nothing to do with their job performance or ability.
What's especially infuriating is that brave warriors who fought for our freedoms can then be denied those freedoms. Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva testified in support of the bill on April 3 before the Senate Economic Development Committee. Staff Sgt. Alva was the first American seriously injured in the Iraq War. He lost his right leg as a result of stepping on a land mine on March 21, 2003.
"I eventually retired from the United States Marine Corps after 13 years of honorable service to my country," Staff Sgt. Alva told the committee. "But the reality of today as I sit here is that as a veteran, I could be fired from a job or be denied from applying from employment in this great state, that I was born in, all because it doesn't matter that I am a decorated Veteran, disabled or Latino, I would be denied employment because I am also a gay individual."
The bill was left pending in committee, and probably does not have the votes to get to the Senate floor.
Discrimination has no place in our society or in our workplaces; Texas can and should do better for all our workers.
Today Former Congressman Jack Brooks is being buried but his legacy will live on. If you are unfamiliar with the Congressman, the New York Times did a good 101 on his bio, personality and style, but this post is more personal. My first "real job" in college was working for now retired Congressman Nick Lampson in the Jack Brooks Federal Building in downtown Beaumont, my hometown. This was the same Congressional seat Brooks had occupied some years before until 1994 when Republicans first began their domination over Texas. Brooks had served Southeast Texas in Congress for 42 years making him one of the longest serving members ever.
Coincidentally, on the day of his death while in Washington, DC, I was asked who my political inspiration was. It was a question I hadn't really mulled over before but its impossible not to give Jack Brooks top consideration. He not only grew up in my hometown but went to my alma mater (in fact he sponsored the bill that made Lamar University a 4 year institution), and he represented Jefferson County in the state legislature, a seat now held by my father. All these facts would be useless trivia if he hadn't also had an impressively progressive stint in Congress. He represented timeless values that made Texans proud to call themselves Democrats. He supported civil rights, voting rights, organized labor and gun rights - even though the latter subject is credited with his ultimate demise. He is also an indispensable character of US history representing a time when Texans with strong personalities dominated American politics (see also, House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson).
In his retirement he could be found at local political events, many thrown in his honor but he always seemed happy to oblige. I remember the very day I saw him as more than a mere former congressman but a national treasure. It was a typical fundraiser but he was giving his 1st person account of the Kennedy assassination and his experience on Air Force One as LBJ was being sworn in as President. I was young but I knew then that he contained an indispensable wealth of institutional knowledge. During my last personal visit with the Congressman many years later and maybe a year ago, he assured me that he was working on his memoirs. It was something that greatly relieved me, because as gracious as he was in accommodating questions there was no way short of a book one could appreciate the life he lived and the influence his character had on the progress of his Southeast Texas district and the nation as a whole. Brooks not only refused to sign the Southern Manifesto (10th Amendment argument against racial integration) but signed and helped craft Civil Rights legislation. He also helped LBJ with his Great Society Programs, the Americans with Disability Act, and was a strong supporter of NASA.
The name Jack Brooks will be remembered in many ways, a Federal Courthouse in Beaumont, the regional airport of Southeast Texas, a park in Galveston, a statue on the campus of Lamar University (complete with cigar), but we would be remiss to not honor him with our own renewed commitment to social progress, expanding opportunities for the less fortunate and manifesting our nation's true destiny - liberty and Justice for all.
A memorial service is being held today at Lamar University's Montagne Center in Beaumont.
(An important issue. - promoted by Karl-Thomas Musselman)
By Renato Ramírez
Chairman of the Board and CEO, IBC-Zapata
James C. Harrington
Director, Texas Civil Rights Project
The U.S. Senate will soon vote on a law that would gravely undermine Americans' privacy and give expanded, unbridled surveillance over people's e-mails to more than 22 government agencies.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee, has capitulated to law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Justice Department, and is sponsoring a bill, authorizing widespread warrantless access to Americans' e-mails, as well as Google Docs files, Twitter direct messages, and so on, without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.
Leahy's bill would only require the federal agencies to issue a subpoena, not obtain a search warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause. It also would permit state and local law enforcement to warrantlessly access Americans' correspondence stored on systems not offered "to the public," including university networks.
Even in situations which still would require a search warrant, the proposed law would excuse law enforcement officers from obtaining a warrant (and being challenged later in court) if they claim an "emergency" situation.
Not only that, but a provider would have to notify law enforcement in advance of any plans to tell its customers they've been the target of a warrant, order, or subpoena. The agency then could order the provider to delay notification of customers, whose accounts have been accessed, from three days to "ten business days" or even postpone notification up to 360 days.
Agencies that would receive civil subpoena authority for electronic communications include the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the NLRB, OSHA, SEC, and the Mine Enforcement Safety and Health Review Commission. There is no good legal reason why agencies like these need blanket access to people's personal information with a mere subpoena, rather than a warrant.
One might expect better of Leahy, given his liberal credentials; but he has been quite disappointing. In fact, he had a hand in making the Patriot Act bill less protective of civil liberties. Nor has the Administration been helpful in this regard, quite to the contrary. Expectations of "law and order" types might not be as high in terms of protecting civil liberties, but they should not be as unsatisfactory as they are with proponents of constitutional freedoms.
The revelations about how the FBI perused former CIA director David Petraeus' e-mail without a warrant should alarm us all, who have less power and prestige than he did.
If the Fourth Amendment is to have any meaning, it is that police must obtain a search warrant, backed by probable cause, before reading Americans' e-mails or other communications. If we are to preserve our constitutional protection from warrantless searches, unreviewed by the courts, we need to let our U.S. Senators from Texas hear from us immediately and resoundingly.
We cannot allow the government to undermine our rights, bit by bit, even in the name of national security, which too often is the mantra it so casually uses. As Ben Franklin said, those who give up freedom in the name of security deserve neither.
This abridgement of our fundamental rights affects us all -- conservative, liberals, and libertarians alike. Our allegiance to the Constitution must be non-partisan. Write or call your Senators -- now.
Wednesday marks the latest - and possibly, final - chapter in affirmative action in American universities. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 11-345, a challenge to affirmative action generally, and the admissions policies at the University of Texas specifically.
Nor is this the first brush with courts for the University of Texas over affirmative action or race-conscious admissions policies. In 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Equal Protection Clause forbade denying admission to Heman Marion Sweatt, an African-American man, to the law school, on the basis of his race in Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950). Nearly 50 years after, in Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir.1996), the university saw another race-conscious admissions policy fall - this time for admitting applicants because of race - and later tailored its admissions policies to fit the construction recommended by the Grutter and Gratz opinions. Prudent at the time, the changing makeup of the court has called into question the viability of the university's policies - and other like policies around the country - and could signal the demise of affirmative action. See why below the jump.
Texas Immigrant Advocates: DREAM Act Back on Front Burner
AUSTIN, Texas -- With the Obama administration's decision Friday to defer the threat of deportation for hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented U.S. residents, immigration is fast emerging as the sleeper issue this election season.
Texas border-community advocates are predicting an increase in political activity by so-called "DREAMers" -- individuals brought to the U.S. by their parents when they were children -- as they feel more free to speak out without fear of revealing their legal status.
Esther Reyes, a member of the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, says risk-taking DREAMers who have been occupying Obama campaign offices around the country in recent weeks deserve much of the credit for the new policy.
"This is a result of the work of the students, more than anything. It was certainly a testament to their hard work and their boldness and courage to stand up for their rights and justice."
The Texas Civil Rights Project hailed the Obama Administration's decision to stop deporting and begin giving work permits to younger undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and have since led law-abiding lives.
TCRP Director Jim Harrington called the decision "fair and just."
"It's not been fair to penalize young people whom their parents have brought to the United States without proper documentation.
"Nor was it fair to deport them back to countries they've never known, many without the ability to speak the language or without family with whom they could live.
"It was also unfair to them and to our society that these young people could not get a higher education or become productive members of our community. The prior policy had created a sub-class of young people who had to live in fear in the shadows of society."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the decision was just the latest step in the administration's year-old commitment to focus deportation efforts on unsavory criminals. Eligible immigrants can request deportation relief in two-year increments, as well as apply for work permits.
While Reyes applauds the move, she says groups like the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition -- which she directs -- will be monitoring its implementation to be sure applicants and their families aren't exposed to unexpected legal risks. She adds that the effect of the policy shift will be limited, unless Congress bolsters it with legislation.
"We also need full, permanent relief for our undocumented students, because this does not provide a path to citizenship. That is what all undocumented immigrants in this country really are fighting for: to be recognized."
In 2010, "DREAM Act" legislation won majority support in both houses of Congress, but did not survive a filibuster. Reyes hopes the renewed political focus on immigration issues will eventually lead to comprehensive reform of the nation's entire immigration system.
Critics call the Obama policy a politically motivated overreach of authority and backdoor amnesty. Texas Congressman Lamar Smith says it will have "horrible consequences" for unemployed Americans. However Reyes counters that bringing immigrants out of the shadows will allow them to contribute more fully to the economy.
"These undocumented youths have demonstrated their commitment to this country. We have to recognize what they're actually doing."
The government has set up a hotline, 1-800-375-5283, for questions about eligibility and how to request "deferred action status."
Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX
Attorneys, Immigrants Laud Obama Decision
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- An Obama administration policy announced Friday will stop the deportation of illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and allow them to obtain work permits. Although there are some stipulations, El Paso, Texas, attorney Daniel Caudillo says the atmosphere at the annual immigration lawyers' conference in Nashville, Tenn., over the weekend was one of celebration.
"We're excited to see cases like these come to a halt. I can very quickly think of several cases where there was nothing else that we could do. We ran out of options and that person had to ultimately leave the only country that they've known as home."
Opponents complain the deferred-action order is political and merely a stopgap. Caudillo points out that, at this time, there is limited information about how the order will be implemented.
Marcela Diaz is the executive director of a statewide immigrant advocacy organization known as Somos un Pueblo Unido. She says that while this order will not affect a large population of New Mexicans, it will have a more immediate, positive effect because of state education policies.
"Back in 2005, in a statewide effort that Somos activists and -- ultimately -- legislators moved forward, undocumented immigrant students have access to in-state tuition and financial aid."
A recent graduate of the University of New Mexico, Mayté Garcia, has been working for passage of the Dream Act since before Barack Obama was President. During the Iowa caucuses in 2008, she appeared on C-SPAN, posing a question to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"I asked her if the Dream Act was a priority of hers in her first 100 days. She didn't respond to the question, but she said she would look into it."
Garcia says this declaration by President Obama means everything to her. She describes the first thing she plans to do to celebrate his decision.
"I am going to hold my daughter in my arms and cry and pray and say thank you for this opportunity."
Garcia says Obama's administrative order is at least a temporary end to living in limbo. It means she can return to school and will be able to teach in this country.
Beginning today, individuals can call the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) hotline, 1-800-375-5283, or the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hotline at 1-888-351-4024, with questions or to request more information on the forthcoming application process.
Renee Blake/Beth Blakeman, Public News Service - NM
(In honor of Memorial Day, Texas Civil Rights Project presents a powerful reminder of the challenges our veterans can face once they come home. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)
The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) Justice for Veterans Campaign is a program to help those military veterans who:
-- are struggling with physical and mental health-conditions related to their service
-- all too often find themselves struggling with the criminal justice system as well.
There is a significant correlation between incarceration and the mental health conditions faced by veterans: 40% of veterans with PTSD symptoms commit a crime after discharge from wartime service. As a result, veterans are severely over-represented in the criminal justice system: nationwide, 10% of prison and jail inmates once served in the military, the majority in wartime.
In 2011, the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) received a grant from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to help address the needs veterans in the criminal justice system. TCRP is working with existing stakeholders and a network of pro bono attorneys to reach out to those veterans before, during, and after their incarceration.
Standing on a Precarious Edge
Transitioning from military life to the civilian world can be a daunting and stressful change under the best of circumstances. And we are not in the best of circumstances. Significant numbers of men and women are leaving military service today carrying burdens that are too great for them to bear.
On October 7, 2001, the United States launched Operating Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Less than eighteen months later, on March 20, 2003, the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. A 2008 RAND study estimated 1.64 million troops, up to that point, had been deployed to support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today’s estimate exceeds 2 million.
Estimates vary regarding the number of returning vets who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), but none of them are good. The same RAND study estimated about 31% of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from either a mental health condition (e.g. PTSD or major depression), TBI, or both.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that can occur after exposure to traumatic events such as combat, natural disasters, assaults or motor vehicle accidents. Symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive memories, feeling numb and detached from people, insomnia, irritability and hypervigilance.
Traumatic Brain Injury is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Symptoms of mild TBI can include headaches, poor concentration, memory loss, sleep disturbances, and irritability-emotional disturbances.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), from 2002 to 2009, 1 million troops left active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan and became eligible for VA care. Of those troops, 46% came in for VA services. Of those Veterans who used VA care, 48% were diagnosed with a mental health problem.
This is BOR's Video of the Day, or VOTD, our nightly video clip segment that hopefully provides you with a laugh or a chance to think at the end of the day.
Today marks the 47th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a turning point in America's fight in the 1960's for voting rights and civil rights as a whole. On this day, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. When the marchers reached the Edmund Pettus bridge, state and local law enforcement attacked them with tear gas and nightsticks. It was a terrible day in our nation's history.
Sadly, too many Americans think the fight for civil rights is a relic of the past. Today, many Americans still struggle for basic equality, and are still discriminated against for their race, sex, age, sexual orientation or identity, and/or immigration status.
Here in Texas, this fight also continues at the ballot box, as Attorney General Greg Abbott tries to enforce the Republican legislature's photo ID law, which will have the effect of suppressing the voting rights of minority voters, rural voters, young voters, disabled voters, and just about any population group that tends to vote for Democrats.
Make no mistake -- this law is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, and is intended to discriminate against voters who tend to be Democratic -- especially minority voters.
Tonight's video is from PBS's American Voices and features Bernard Lafayette, who marched in Selma on that fateful day, discussing how the laws passed these past few years by Republicans will making voting as difficult for African-Americans as it was in the Old South.
Republicans are forcing Americans to fight the same battles that we did a generation -- two generations -- ago: voting rights, civil rights, reproductive rights. The GOP has been on the wrong side of history in all of these battles. I wish they'd recognize that the arc of history would bend a little faster if they'd just get out of the way.
(Please welcome this guest post from Jim Harrington and the Texas Civil Rights Project. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)
By James C. Harrington
Director, Texas Civil Rights Project
It's always difficult to write about Martin Luther King, Jr., around the time of the holiday dedicated to him, because the expectation is that it should be something laudatory -- and, of course, invoking his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Americans have a way of "flattening" holidays, that is, turning them into something celebratory or vacation-like, rather that looking at them for the challenge they present to us to be better Americans.
Labor Day, for example, has become an end-of-the-summer vacation fling, rather than commemorating the many people before us and the labor movement that struggled to bring us justice in the workplace (health benefits, the 40-hour week, overtime pay, minimum wage, safety and protection, for example). Nor do we use the day to take stock of where we are in terms of working people's rights and how we might strive to protect and enhance them.
The same is true of the Fourth of July. It's become a grand party day, with music and fireworks, but hardly a time to stop and evaluate where we are as a country in terms of the great principles of democracy and civil liberty to which we claim to subscribe.
Presidents Day has become a day to honor all the presidents, no matter how bad their leadership (such as dragging us into Civil War or various Depressions), rather than paying respect to the remarkable leadership of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
So, too, with the MLK holiday. We honor the name of Dr. King, but were forget all the "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" that went into the Civil Rights movement. And, of course, his ultimate sacrifice.
We pay scant attention to the fact that Dr. King was passionately non-violent and vehemently opposed war. He would have led the opposition in the streets and pulpit to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, the silence of America's pulpits was deafening.
At the end of his life, Dr. King had shifted focus to economic justice, which naturally flowed out of the Civil Rights movement, and was preparing to lead a Poor People's March on Washington. In fact, he gave his life while helping Memphis sanitary street workers organize for better wages.
If Dr. King were alive today, his "I Have a Dream" speech might include something like:
"I have the dream of Ronald Reagan, who said 'Cannot swords be turned to plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity.'
"I have a dream of the day when we value and support service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps as much as we have valued and supported our military prowess."
"I have the dream of Micah that we will learn to do to justice through education, dialogue, and advocacy for the poor among us."
"I have the dream of the Apostle James that employers will pay a fair and living wage for all their workers and extend to them health security.
"And I have the dream of Isaiah that 'the wolf and the lamb will live together and the leopard will lie down with the baby goat' and that Christians, Muslims, Jews, and all peoples, regardless of race, religion, and geography will be safe with each other and respect one another as brothers and sisters."