Author of "The Political Brain" Reframes Immigration

Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding Political Affairs, has a piece in AlterNet explaining how - like President Johnson did for Civil Rights in 1965 - progressives could have reframed the  immigration debate:

Throughout the debate on immigration, polls have shown that most
Americans are not the raging xenophobes leaders on both sides of the
aisle feared and many on the right courted and ignited. Most Americans
just want an alternative story to "amnesty for dark-skinned lawbreakers
who steal our jobs and want to say the Pledge of Allegiance in
Spanish." They want a narrative that has the ring of truth -- but
comprehensive truth about comprehensive reform.

To be compelling,
and to defuse the morality tale on immigration of the right and
righteous, our story needs to begin with the most important truth, for
which we needed no reminder this week from London and Glasgow, that the
protection of our borders and safety is the first task of government.
It then needs to steal the thunder from the right that readily
reverberates through the middle by adding to the incantation, "If
they're going to live in our country, they need to learn to speak our
language," the simple, progressive, and quintessentially American
phrase, "because if they don't, their children will never know the
American Dream, and we will have done nothing for them but to relegate
them to second-class citizenship."

Immigrants have lower crime rates


Immigration Prof Blog reports on a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research disproving the myth that immigrants have higher crime rates.  The study found that immigrants have much lower incarceration rates than the native border: one-fifth the rate of natives.  Evidence also shows that deportation does not drive the results.  In investigating the reasons, the authors espouse that the process of migration selects individuals who are less likely to commit crimes and are more responsive to response to deterrent effects than the average native-born.

How will a new progressive blog fare in the big issues?


  • Huffington Post offers side-by-side assessments of the U.S.
    Presidential Candidates’ health plans in easy-to-read charts.
  • As a new progressive blog opens its doors, Jack and Jill
    ask some pertinent questions about race and religion in the
    blogosphere, and how blogggers who cover these topics can become more
    influential online and even make up for the shortcomings of "the Old
    Left.” Quoting eteraz’s Open Left Diary,
    Jack and Jill posts “The ultimate question is: race-conscious or race-blind;
    religion-conscious or religion-blind (referring only to those communities whose
    religion is already politicized); focus on under-represented people via
    minority-rights or economic-rights.”
  • To add to our previous posting on opinions following the Supreme Court schools decision, here are two more op-eds. NNPA Columnist George Curry reflects on the gains (or lack thereof) this country has made in desegregation since the 1954 Brown decision. Curry explains that this Supreme Court decision is just the latest in reversals of desegregation efforts.
  • Ron Walters takes Curry’s points one step farther in this Louisiana Weekly column, stating that the country has now returned to the
    “Separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.

Keep Central Brooklyn Health Clinics Open

Readers will remember that The Opportunity Agenda did a lot of work around hospital closures in New York City this past winter.  It's important to remember, though, that it's not only hospitals that are closing; it's also community clinics that many low income communities and communities of color rely on for medical care.  Recently, the Charles Drew Family Clinic in central Brooklyn closed down.  In this video, local residents explain how this closure will affect the community in their own words:

And remember to check out our Google Map Mashup showing how hospital closures in NYC over the last 30 years have disproportionately affected low income communities and communities of color:


Schools Decision Feedback

        In the aftermath of the Supreme
Court’s decision on school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville, it seems as though everyone has an opinion. After a slower 4th of July week, here are the articles you might have


    Arguing against the ruling, Irene
    Monroe of the Windy City Times reports on the devastating effects of this
    decision: limiting our rights. She warns
    that a decision that declares separate facilities constitutional – 53 years after Brown – limits the rights of not only
    students of color, but also female, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
    queer students. She cites a high school in New York City designed to offer a supportive environment for LGBTQ students that might be
    considered discriminatory under the latest ruling.

  • Describing another deleterious effect, Eric
    Mayes of the Philadelphia Tribune investigates how this ruling may affect
    teacher placement, since the district’s procedures stipulate that the racial
    balance of the schools applies to teachers as well. Therefore, African American and white
    teachers can only work at certain schools.  Many officials, however, see for the ruling as opening the door to end integration policies in their own districts.
  • As the Boston Globe reports,
    a new case has been filed to stop the 20-year desegregation policy in the Lynn School district in Massachusetts.   The attorneys in Lynn are following the blueprint Parents Involved in
    Community Schools, the public policy group behind the Seattle case.  For more information on that group, check out this LA Times
  • In the Seattle PI, Sharon Browne, one of the
    lawyers for the Pacific Legal Foundation, explains the reasons why the Seattle decision is
    a net positive for the city.

In addition to the many opinions
against this ruling, another group of writers believe in the constitutionality
of the decision.

  • David Brooks argues in The New York Times that integration is counter to human nature. Brooks argues that racial disparities
    in poverty still exist, and that even when income is standardized,
    neighborhoods are still segregated. Brooks ends his analysis by stating that “maybe integration is not in
    the cards.” (Thanks, Prometheus 6, for
    the tip!)
  • In the Washington Post, George F. Will explains how the decision takes the country back to the Brown mentality, and how the decision is
    a positive step.

In light of Justice
Kennedy’s discussion of alternative ways to diversify schools, many writers
advocate balancing socioeconomic status rather than race.

  • This New York Times article discusses the achievement gap between income levels. Poor neighborhoods often lack the resources
    to provide their children with equal education to neighboring, more affluent
    communities. Ted Shaw, president of the
    NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., acknowledges that using income
    levels won’t entirely substitute for achieving racial integration, but it’s a
    good start. (Thanks, Racialicious, for
    the tip!)
  • The Des Moines Register
    reiterates this idea in this article
    discussing the school districts which already utilize an integration plan that
    uses the socioeconomic status. Writer
    Matthew Schwieger argues that this constitutional way of allocating the
    students to different schools could be the solution to unfair disparities.

However, not all writers agree with this

  • In the Milwaukee Journal
    , School Board member Brian Dey explains that socioeconomic status in
    his district is identical to race, so using family incomes to place students
    still violates the Supreme Court decision.
  • Another solution to balancing
    schools comes from the Louisville Courier-Journal: charter schools. Writer Liam Julian
    argues that racial balance in the classroom is not as important as racial
    balance in achievement, and that charter schools give principals the freedom to
    make a truly effective school.

For more commentary on the ruling,
try Joel Achenbach’s
(of the Washington Post) anecdotal
of his own district’s integration tactics, or Newsweek’s post-decision

with Justice Kennedy. Also check out our
past coverage here.

Repercussions in States' Immigration Bills/June Report Card for New Orleans

  • As the immigration debate moves from a Federal to a
    states-based forum, different outlets are investigating the impact of various state-level bills. ‘Just News’ blog
    reports on the effects of new legislature in Arizona and Georgia. An article from the Arizona Republic
    interviews undocumented immigrants after the governor signed a bill recognized
    as the “toughest of its kind in the country” which could put companies out of
    business for hiring them. Many
    immigrants are considering migrating to another state, leaving behind labor
    shortages and housing market problems. An article on describes the effects of Georgia’s new
    immigration law which force state and local government agencies to verify the
    legal residency of benefit employees.  It’s
    too soon to tell what such migration will do to these states enacting harsher
    laws. What is clear is that when the Federal government avoids creating a definite nation-wide policy, the differences in states' laws will likely cause many unforeseen problems in the economy.
  • The Center for Social Inclusion released their monthly “New
    Orleans Recovery Report Card” for June
    (pdf), an advocacy tool for monitoring
    rebuilding progress, assigns a grade for the 13 New Orleans planning districts
    based on performance in five categories: economy, utilities, health, housing,
    and public education. June’s report card continues the trend with not much improvement, especially in the categories of
    health and public education, both of which receiving grades of “F” overall.

                    Other details include:

    • As of this Report Card, 33% of childcare facilities have reopened in New Orleans, with six new childcare facilities reopening in June. The Lower 9th Ward, Venetian Islands, and New Aurora/English Turn still have no child care.
    • A report by PolicyLink, a national research and action institute, shows
      the Gulf Opportunity Zone Rental Housing Restoration Program, a $2 billion
      piece of the failed Road Home Program, will only replace 40% of the 82,000
      rental units damaged or destroyed in the 2005 hurricane season.
    • In a long-awaited flood-risk assessment for New Orleans, the federal government said the
      City is better prepared than before Katrina, but would still face severe
      flooding in the case of a 100-year storm or a major hurricane. Katrina was a
      400-year storm.


                    Check out

Disproportionate access to people of color: Education, Trials, Immigration

  • Feminist blogs offers a great
    commentary on the Supreme Court ruling about desegregation in public
    schools. In using The New York Times
    , the blog notes that while the nation is getting more diverse, schools
    are getting even more segregated. For
    example, in 2002 and 2003, 73% of African-American children were in schools
    that enrolled over 50% children of color, and nearly two of every five
    African-American students attended schools that were over 90% minority. Justice Breyer’s dissent points out the
    increase in segregation since the 1970s, and explains the importance in
    counter-acting this trend. In
    interpreting school districts’ decisions, it is important to realize that one
    cannot simply make the argument that laws should be colorblind.  Schools are still segregated largely because of neighborhood segregation that began when certain groups were legally excluded from certain neighborhoods, and contained to others.  When such segregation wasn't written into the law, it was often enforced by banks, real estate agents and landlords.  Further, people of color are disproportionately
    affected by poverty, job discrimination, and health care access
    .  Education is a critical component to improving everyone's access to opportunity.
  • DMI Blog emphasizes the sheer
    growth and volume of the prison population, citing last week’s prison and jail
    population statistics from the U.S. government.
      The increasing trends only
    highlight the racial disparities: almost 5% of all African American men are imprisoned,
    compared to 1% of white men, and 11% of all African American men between the ages of 24 and 35
    are behind bars. Describing this issue
    as a “human rights problem”, DMI Blog explains that prison reform needs to
    focus not only on prison upkeep but on unfair sentencing practices. Huffington Post reiterates this sentiment
    with a blog about the racial discrepancies between those who use drugs and those who are
    punished for it. Earl Ofari Hutchinson
    states that while many survey results find that whites are much more likely to
    use drugs than African Americans (or use them at least at equal rates), more than 70 % of those
    prosecuted in federal courts for drug possession and sale and given mandatory
    sentences are African American. Due to these
    unfair proceedings, the media’s representation of the drug
    problem is skewed and not realistic. Describing one solution, Jack
    and Jill Politics
    highlights an editorial in The New York Times about the
    Second Chance Act, which would provide for community and state-based
    rehabilitation programs to prevent first-time offenders from committing more
    crimes after released from prison. Jack
    and Jill Politics note the disparities in drug usage and punishment, citing
    that more than 60% of people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities.

  • Huffington Post argues that most economic problems that opponents of immigrants' rights blame on an influx of cheap labor would actually still exist with or without immigrants. The widening gap between the rich and the
    poor is a structural shift, and well documented in the last few decades. For example, income in the U.S. grew
    nearly twelve times more rapidly among the top 1% than the bottom 90% between
    2003 and 2004—consistent with trends since the early 1980s
    . These trends should motivate workers to come together to demand a fairer shake, not turn on each other. Continuing a
    unity approach in immigrants’ rights discussion, Intelligentaidigena
    explains the similarities between the struggles of the Native
    Americans and immigrants, especially their alienation and oppression,
    citing remarks from the ongoing U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta.  Along the same vein, the Leadership Conference on Civil Right, the
    Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and The Opportunity Agenda
    worked to create an ad showcasing the common struggles
    between African Americans and immigrants. The piece recognizes the profound job and wage crisis in the
    African American community, but, similar to the Huffington Post’s argument,
    this struggle has less to do with immigrants and more to do with governments
    failing to ensure living wages, quality education, and adequate civil rights
    protection. By seeking shared solutions,
    African Americans, among all groups, have a lot to gain. Immigration reform seeks to improve working
    and living conditions for all people in the United States.

School Decisions' Online Responses

     In light of the recent Supreme Court rulings in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith V. Jefferson County Board of Ed et
, there has been some excellent dialogue in the online community. The most important conclusion to understand
from this decision is that it holds not only negative but also positive
implications for the nation and Constitution. As NAACP Legal Defense Fund reports, the decision does not reject the
use of race-conscious measures, and actual details ways in which school districts can
take steps to create racially and ethnically diverse schools. While voting against the school districts’
policies, Justice Kennedy responded in no uncertain terms that the ruling
should not imply that school districts should merely accept racial
isolation. He even gave examples of
affirmative measures schools can use. His response demonstrates that a majority of the court recognizes
educational diversity and overcoming our history of segregation to be
compelling government issues.

        However, it is disappointing that the Supreme Court ruled
against the policies Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky.  The Applied Research Center responds by looking at the underlying causes of such segregation, pointing to the
institutional discrimination against people of color in housing and
employment. As the DMI Blog and Black
reiterate, if we attempt to make policy on the assumption that the
government is or should be colorblind, we ignore the existing health, wealth and
society disparities, thus invoking a whole new form of racism.  As a country, we haven't fully recovered from decades of legal discrimination and segregation.  So letting things "run their course" now, and declaring that colorblind policies are best is premature, short-sighted and unlikely to protect our country's core value of ensuring opportunity for everyone.

        For more blog coverage, try the ACS blog, SCOTUS blog, firedoglake, and these previous entries (here and here). In addition, consider The
Opportunity Agenda’s talking points in interpreting the decision.

Moving Forward from the Supreme Court’s School Cases

Yesterday the Supreme Court issued decisions in two cases regarding whether communities can voluntarily use measures that consider race to avoid segregation and promote diversity in their public schools.  (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, 05-908 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, 05-915).

Much of the news reporting on the cases has gotten it wrong, describing the outcome as a 5-to-4 opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts against voluntary school integration.  In fact, the outcome of these cases was a 4-to-1-to-4 decision in which Justice Anthony Kennedy (the “1”) controlled the outcome and wrote a mixed opinion with both positive and negative implications for the future of diversity and our Constitution.

Justice Kennedy voted with Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas to strike down the specific policies used by the Louisville and Seattle school districts, but also agreed with Justices Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer that educational diversity and combating segregation are compelling governmental interests that governments may pursue through careful efforts that consider race.
Justice Kennedy ruled, for example:
•    “If school authorities are concerned that the student-body compositions of certain schools interfere with the objective of offering an equal educational opportunity to all of their students, they are free to devise race-conscious measures to address the problem in a general way and without treating each student in different fashion solely on the basis of a systematic, individual typing by race.” (p.8).
•    “In the administration of public schools by the state and local authorities it is permissible to consider the racial makeup of schools and to adopt general policies to encourage a diverse student body, one aspect of which is its racial composition.” (p.8)

Justice Kennedy (and therefore a majority of the Court) firmly rejected Chief Justice Roberts’ position that considering race in a careful way to promote inclusion inflicts the same constitutional harm as the hateful segregation laws that Brown v. Board of Education began to overturn.  Kennedy’s opinion says, “[t]he enduring hope is that race should not matter; the reality is that it too often does,” and notes that “as an aspiration, Justice Harlan’s axiom [that our Constitution is “colorblind”] must command our assent.  In the real world, it is regrettable to say, it cannot be a universal constitutional principle.”

What Justice Kennedy (and, therefore, the Court) says is unconstitutional is considering the race of individual students in determining their school assignment.  That element, and the inexact details of the particular Seattle and Louisville plans, Kennedy said, made those programs insufficiently narrow in their tailoring to meet constitutional muster.

According to most educators and advocates concerned about promoting diversity and inclusion, Justice Kennedy “gets it”; he just doesn’t get how hard it is.  In other words, he understands and articulates well why integration is so important to equal educational opportunity, and to the future of our nation.  But he fails to see why achieving it sometimes requires attention to the details of student assignment.  Research and practical experience show that considering broad demographic trends in school attendance policy is necessary, but not always sufficient, to fostering diverse and inclusive schools.

So the Court’s ruling will no doubt make it harder to bring our kids together across lines of difference.  Yet it’s very important to acknowledge the remarkable victory for the principles of integration, inclusion and diversity, which a majority of the Court strongly embraced yesterday.

So now that consideration of individual student characteristics in school assignment is off the table in the K-12 voluntary integration context, what can schools, policymakers, parents and their children do to promote the vision of inclusion that a majority of the Court endorsed?

Justice Kennedy’s opinion makes clear that numerous options do remain, many of which include explicit consideration of race.  His opinion says: “School boards may pursue the goal of bringing together students of diverse backgrounds and races through other means, including strategic site selection of new schools; drawing attendance zones with general recognition of the demographics of neighborhoods; allocating resources for special programs; recruiting students and faculty in a targeted fashion; and tracking enrollments, performance, and other statistics by race.”

Educators and civil advocates are already hard at work to craft innovative approaches within the Court’s parameters that work on the ground.

In addition, a number of civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, still require schools to avoid segregation or exclusion of students by race.   The Bush Administration has an atrocious record of enforcing those laws, and yesterday’s decision should be an impetus to push for change.   Certainly the next president should make it a priority.

Congress, too, has an important role to play in promoting inclusion and combating segregation in the wake of yesterday’s decision.  For example, Congress should allocate significant resources for communities that want to pursue diversity efforts in line with the Court’s ruling.  Federal support for school construction and expansion should depend, in part, on whether school locations and attendance zones will foster or stymie integration.

And, of course, the U.S. Senate must give far greater scrutiny of judicial nominees than it has done to date.  It’s deeply disturbing that four members of the Court—including the two newest members (Roberts and Alito) nominated by President Bush—would have outlawed almost all effective efforts to promote inclusion in our nation's schools.  And their view that the modest voluntary integration efforts at issue in these cases are constitutionally tantamount to Jim Crow-era segregation is nothing short of outrageous.

While a majority of the Court correctly rejected that extreme position, the Chief Justice's opinion—joined by Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas—fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of our Constitution and highlights the importance of exacting questioning of the President's judicial nominations by the U.S. Senate.  Flawed as Justice Kennedy’s opinion is on this subject, it’s worth noting that, if not for the rigorous questioning and consideration of President Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee 20 years ago, Robert Bork would have been the fifth conservative vote in this and many other decisions, instead of Justice Kennedy.

Additional details regarding the decisions may be found at and

Door to Diversity Remains Open

      The decision today should not prevent school districts from continuing the important work of bringing together students of different racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds
Justice Anthony Kennedy

The good news is that five members of the U.S. Supreme Court have affirmed that there is a compelling government interest in creating diverse public schools.  It’s now up to parents, community leaders, members of Congress and supporters of diversity to figure out how to redesign, rethink and tweak programs aimed at creating diverse classes and schools.

Today’s Supreme Court decision striking down integration plans in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky was surely disappointing.  But the ruling does not close the door to diversity or considerations of race.

That’s in large part because Justice Anthony Kennedy, though critical of the Seattle and Louisville systems, affirmed a compelling government interest in achieving public school diversity. In this way, Justice Kennedy joined the dissenters to the ruling, Justices Breyer, Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg.

This is the important starting point as school officials and community leaders begin thinking about how to design diversity programs to comply with Justice Kennedy’s controlling opinion. Indeed Justice Kennedy went out of his way to separate his views from those of his four conservative colleagues. He writes,

The plurality opinion is at least open to the interpretation that the Constitution requires school districts to ignore the problem of de facto resegregation in schooling. I cannot endorse that conclusion. To the extent the plurality opinion suggests the Constitution mandates that state and local school authorities must accept the status quo of racial isolation in schools, it is, in my view, profoundly mistaken.

Kennedy identified a number of tools and methods that school systems could use to achieve diversity, among them magnet school plans, race-sensitive site selection for new schools and race sensitive drawing of attendance lines. Tracking of faculty members by race and test scores by race is also acceptable, Kennedy made clear in his opinion.

Indeed Kennedy presents something of an exhortation near the end of his opinion when he writes,

Those entrusted with directing our public schools can bring to bear the creativity of experts, parents, administrators, and other concerned citizens to find a way to achieve the compelling interests they face…

In the weeks to come, school officials, legal experts and others must take Kennedy up on this challenge.  They must begin that process of redesigning and tweaking diversity plans to comply with the standards laid out in Justice Kennedy’s opinion.

One issue school systems will likely have to address is the need to broaden the terms of diversity. Justice Kennedy seemed to take particular offense at the way the Seattle and the Louisville schools seemed to place students in either of two categories: white or black (or other).

The other good news in today’s ruling—in addition to the endorsement of diversity by five members--is that the court affirmed the Grutter decision endorsing diversity in higher education.  Some had feared that in invalidating the Seattle and Louisville plans the high court would have mounted a full-scale attack on diversity.  Supporters of diversity can put aside that fear for now.

Of course, today’s ruling was disappointing in many ways. The four-member conservative bloc on the court, including the two justices appointed by President Bush--Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito--came close to ending the embrace of diversity that has emerged as part of the country’s longstanding struggle over racial equality.

Neither Louisville nor Seattle was under court order to create diverse schools.  Rather school officials and community leaders in each locale decided that diversity was a key education objective that would well serve students of all backgrounds.  The fact that local school systems would decide on their own to embrace diversity is one of the great success stories of race relations in recent decades. And it was these sensible voluntary efforts that the conservative bloc wanted to thwart.

The court’s rejection of the Louisville plan is particularly disheartening for how it fails to acknowledge the long and hard path traveled by that community in the past 30 years. In 1975, a court-ordered busing plan led to all manner of racial unrest and turmoil.  To get a sense of the tensions and turmoil of that time, you can view the following photos from the Louisville Courier-Journal.

But Louisville, like communities across the country, began to change and over time tensions eased and support for integrated schools grew.  So much so that when the school system was released from court supervision in 2000, community leaders were determined to maintain integrated classes.  Thus the school board came up with its flexible plan to create schools with a racial balance roughly mirroring that of the school district as a whole.

Louisville officials said today in a statement that any changes to their assignment plan will reflect the district’s continuing support for diversity.

The four-member conservative bloc of Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Thomas, Scalia and Alito engaged in a major misreading of our national history.  These members came perilously close to equating the Seattle and Louisville diversity efforts with the nasty regime of Jim Crow segregation.

The majority opinion drew a lengthy and persuasive rebuttal from Justice Stephen Breyer in his dissent.  Towards the end of his dissent, Breyer eloquently describes the long journey the nation has been on towards racial equality and the stunning changes that have come about in race relations.

Indeed, the very school districts that once spurned integration now strive for it. The long history of their efforts reveals the complexities    and difficulties they have faced. And in light of those challenges, they have asked us not to take from their hands the instruments they have used to rid their schools of racial segregation, instruments that they believe are needed to overcome the problems of cities divided by race and poverty. The plurality would decline their modest request.

Well said. Community leaders, school officials and parents who embrace diversity have a lot of public support on their side. Despite this ruling, we can still ensure that the opportunity to bring Americans together to create a tolerant pluralist society remains more than a dream.


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