FEMA's tactics in the post-Katrina climate

  • We continue to learn many lessons from Hurricane Katrina, nearly two years after the storm struck the Gulf Coast, chief among them the consequences of misplaced governmental priorities.  In a case where we most needed a strong and positive governmental role, instead we witnessed a monumental failure of will and dodging responsibility.  For example, Facing
    reports that federal agencies responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
    gave the startling amount of $2.4 billion in contracts guaranteeing profits for
    big companies, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. FEMA, which has seen its support consistently cut and its core mission altered over the past seven years, was responsible for nearly 94% of these
    contracts. The tragedies in Hurricane Katrina should have provided an opportunity
    for the government to act as a positive resource, but many reports show many
    poor decisions, increasing suffering for the victims. Check out the Center for Social Inclusion’s

From commercials to detention reform: Immigration from All Sides

  • DMI Blog reports on a new support
    campaign for immigration, Long Island WINS, seeking to elucidate the shared
    interests of immigrants and middle class Long Islanders. Last week, they launched a multitude of
    intriguing T.V. commercials explaining the economic and cultural contributions
    immigrants make to the island.  These ads
    highlight the important message that immigrants only want what everyone in the
    country wants: the opportunity to pursue the American Dream and participate
    fully in our society. Immigrants
    revitalize communities like these Long Island ones by reviving commerce and provided needed products, in addition to tax and
    net contributions. For example,
    immigrants in California gave an estimated $4.5 billion in state taxes and an additional $30 billion in federal taxes in 1999-2000.
  • Immigrants in the USA Blog
    emphasizes a main idea of the Long Island WINS campaign: everyone benefits from
    working together. This Democrat & Chronicle story highlights
    the triumphs of the Rochester City School District in graduating many seniors who struggled
    with language barriers and cultural disparities. The school helps the students in the
    63-language population by providing resources like teachers with specialized
    language skills and connecting parents with community agencies. These success stories demonstrate the
    importance of providing immigrants with an adequate integration strategy.  Funding for adult basic education and English
    classes has not kept pace with the growing demand
    , and such resources are vital
    to proper integration.
  • ‘Just News’
    reports on a New York Times article continuing this conversation about the high
    rate of immigrants dying in custody after being detained. Because no government body is charged with documenting deaths in immigrant detention, the details and extent of the
    sub par conditions are hard to find. Latina Lista references the same article in explaining how immigrant
    detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the United States.  For example, over 27,000 immigrants are
    detained on any given day in almost 200 prison-like facilities all over the
  • Happening-here blog explains some effective ways to counter anti-immigration ways to frame an argument. The blog proposed fighting for a human
    security state (where the government fights for our freedom rather than
    constricting our rights), working toward all forms of racial equity, and
    encouraging globalization in understanding the ways in which we can all provide
    important resources for each other. An
    important facet of the immigration struggle is highlighting the ways in which
    all groups can benefit from fair immigrant rights. For more information about this shared
    interest, check out this article.

Grading the Rebuilding Process – May 2007 Report Card

The Center for Social Inclusion 
released their monthly “New Orleans Recovery Report Card” for May 2007. The Report Card, 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

May’s report still
looks dismal with not much improvement over previous months, especially in
the categories of health, rental housing and public education, which each received
an “F” grade overall. In health and
public education, all but three of the planning districts received an “F”
grade; in rental housing all but four received an “F.”

Other details from May’s Report Card:

  • Only 25 of 447 registered "family child-care"
    homes have reopened since hurricane Katrina.  Together with child care
    centers, less than 30% of total pre-Katrina capacity is available.

  • The Road Home Program will stop accepting applications at
    the end of July, ending what was viewed by many as an example of "worst
    practice" in rebuilding housing and a complete failure as a recovery

  • With Charity Hospital still closed,
    area hospitals are feeling the financial burden of treating the
    uninsured.  Officials at Slidell Memorial say they treated almost 20% more
    uninsured patients from 2005 to 2006 and St. Tammany Parish Hospital in Covington spent a record
    $21 million on uninsured patients in 2006.

In other New Orleans news, the Sun Herald reported on
June 15
, that New Orleans city leaders are
turning to foreign countries, such as Saudi Arabia, for help to rebuild as
federal hurricane-recovery dollars from FEMA are slow to flow.

"As of June 8, the city said it had received just over half
of the $320 million FEMA has obligated for rebuilding city infrastructure and
emergency response-related costs. The city has estimated its damage at far more
than that – at least $1 billion."

Katrina Recovery Report Card.May 2007

How do video games perpetuate racial stereotypes?

  • Racialicious questions the effects racial stereotypes have
    when perpetuated in pop culture, like popular video games like Grand Theft Auto. Responding to Deadline Games CEO Chris
    Motte’s post on GameDaily Biz, a site and blog dedicated to the video game
    industry, Racialicious discusses the flood of games that use both sexist and
    racist messages as part of the plot. Few
    video games include African American, Asian American, or Latino main characters
    without employing numerous stereotypes as part of their image. Not just demeaning, but such portrayals
    reinforce the idea that stereotypes are valid and appropriate. When popular culture reflects an inaccurate
    lens, advocates for social change will have to cross that many more obstacles
    for equality. If people start believing
    stereotypes about certain race or gender groups, there will be fewer public
    movements to help truly disadvantaged parties.
  • Ezra Klein points to an interactive game by The New York Times called Points of Entry, in which players learn
    about the proposed point system in the Immigration Bill firsthand.  The game allows players to change key education and employment history
    details in an effort to boost one immigrant’s point total higher than another. The game is one of many in a growing trend
    to use interactive online games to educate audiences and motivate them to advance social change. In Darfur is Dying, players choose a
    Darfurian to try to either forage for water, trying to avoid getting captured,
    or support a camp for seven days with the imminent threat of an attack. Games for Change is an organization which
    provides “support, visibility and shared resources to organizations and
    individuals using digital games for social change.
  • As a social worker coordinating anti-hate crime programs,
    Marshall Wong uses his family’s immigration struggles to drive his work. In this Dreams Across America video, Marshall explains the
    xenophobia his parents and grandparents received, and the ways in which they
    fought back.

Daily Blog Round-Up 6/22/07

  • Facing
    reports on the People’s Freedom Caravan, a regional group leaving New Mexico on June 25 with plans to travel to New Orleans to build solidarity with grassroots groups and
    highlight the government’s unfair treatment of survivors of
    Hurricane Katrina. This event is a
    precursor to the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta next week. The organizers explain that
    “Post-Katrina life in New Orleans has shown that
    there is no real recovery of the Gulf Coast, but only a massive
    privatization scheme that takes away our homes, communities, and human
    rights.” Bringing public attention to
    this devastated region is the only way to promote action in an area where after
    a year, only 18% of the public schools had reopened and 60% of the homes had
    electricity service
    . For more
    information, check out previous postings, Katrina "report cards", and fact sheets.
  • Prometheus
    is also blogging New Orleans, focusing on the Army Corps of Engineers recent report on many neighborhoods in New Orleans' extreme
    vulnerability to future storms. Large
    areas of the city would still be flooded in the event of a major storm, and the progress is
    slower than expected. Residents can
    study the city on a new website on a block-by-block basis for different kinds
    of storms.

  • Immigration Equality Blog reports on
    a recent Migration Policy Institute report (pdf) about the results of a Senate bill
    proposal and how it affects family members trying to immigrate. The
    report highlights the change from a system that “allocates about two-thirds of
    permanent visas to family members and less than one-fifth to employment-based
    immigrants, to a system that eventually allocates perhaps less that half of all
    visas to family members and about two-fifths to points-based immigrants.” The report also shows the current age and
    education demographics of the immigrants in 2005, and extrapolates how the new
    policy would effect immigration.

  • Yolanda Ochoa tells another touching immigration story as part of the Dreams Across America videos. After immigrating, Yolanda went back to school to learn English and study to start her career as a nursing assistant.  Her dream is to eliminate all children witnessing their parents being deported, and is committed to immigration reform.

Daily Blog Round-Up 6/20/07: Part 2

  • Firedoglake reports on Dreams Across America train which we've posted about before here and
    . The Dreams Across America train
    represents the melting pot of cultures America holds. Over the next week or so, we're going to feature some of our favorite "Dreamers" and exhibit their videos here on our site.  Our first featured dreamer is Yun Sook Kim Navarre,
    born in South Korea but
    adopted by a Detroit family. Yun Sook recognizes the strength of America's diversity and discusses her desire for better rights and less discrimination for her young daughter.
  • Pro Inmigrant reports on the controversial usage of the word
    “amnesty” for the immigration legislation, claiming that opponents of the bill
    use the word like a weapon. Pro
    Inmigrant points out the fallacy of calling this program “amnesty,” and urges
    all politicians to focus on a better compromise – and better wording.  We suggest "Pathway to Citizenship".
  • Racialicious reports on the Center for Migrant Rights, a
    small non-profit based in Mexico, and its efforts to educate Mexican workers about US labor laws, government agencies and
    previous civil rights struggles. Providing free legal aid to guest workers seeking compensation for
    injuries or missed pay, the Center started these workshops as a preventive
    effort in Mexico, as many workers in America are hard to reach because of fear of authorities. Many guest workers do not know the extent of
    their rights in the workforce, and much legislation aims at taking away rights
    they deserve. Among others, the 1996
    Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act
    barred many
    documented and undocumented immigrants from basic federal programs that provide
    economic security.
  • The Connecticut newspaper,
    The Advocate, reports on the lack of progress in racially integrating Hartford and suburban
    schools. A review conducted by
    researchers at Trinity College shows that magnet schools have not attracted as
    many white suburban children into the city, resulting in only 9 percent of
    Hartford’s students (primarily black and Hispanic) attend schools that have
    enough white students to qualify as “racially integrated.” Following approval by the court and General
    Assembly, the state plans to spend millions of dollars over the next five years
    to subsidize programs that would foster immigration, like magnet and charter
    schools. This review is timely in light
    of the Supreme Court decision on school integration cases in Louisville and Seattle expected
    any day. Nationwide, the NAACP (pdf) found that nearly
    three-quarters of black and Latino students attend predominantly minority
    schools, and most white students attend schools where only one out of five
    students are from different racial groups. Without proper community programs, the already increasing levels of
    segregation will continue to rise, creating more barriers between us and failing to prepare our children to work in an increasingly diverse workforce and world.

Daily Blog Round-Up 6/20/07:Immigration

  • The White House Council of Economic Advisors issued a report
    (pdf) today explaining why immigrants (referring to both documented and
    undocumented workers) “not only help fuel the Nation’s economic growth, but
    also have an overall positive effect on the income of native-born workers." The report, which attempts to distinguish the influence of immigration from
    that of other economic forces at work at the same time, found that immigrants complement, not substitute for, natives, and raise
    natives’ productivity and income. Overall, this report demonstrates that all people
    fare better when every individual has a fair chance to fulfill his or her
    dreams. Immigrants provide important
    contributions to communities all over the country.  Studies like these should be spread far and wide to help prevent further
    discrimination against immigrants trying to receive basic services like health care access
    and fair housing. Between 1992 and 2003 nearly 8,500
    complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
    on the basis of national-origin discrimination
  • Latina Lista reports on the grass roots actions of the
    Latino community to push for immigration reform. These activities include sending (an astounding) one million
    letters to Congress
    in support of immigration reform, participating in the
    Dreams Across America train, and praying at the National Hispanic Prayer
    . After witnessing the organizing success of groups like grassfire.org in persuading senators to vote against
    the previous immigration bill, it's good to see pro-immigrant rights groups, like these
    Latino groups, taking action.

  • In case you haven't had your daily rueful chuckle, Immigration Equality Blog posts an ironic political cartoon
    about the struggles immigrants will have to go through even with the new
    immigration bill.

  • Over at Huffington
    , Jeffrey Felman of FrameShop writes a thoughtful and educational response to the right-wing frame of immigration that
    has "polluted" the national conversation. Jeffrey explains that in order to have a balanced conversation about immigration, we must encourage people to avoid right-wing keywords that “convince us all to be afraid
    of foreigners", particularly the term "illegal."  To
    avoid falling prey to this racist conversation, one should focus on the ways
    in which we all can learn from immigrants and work for social programs that
    “bring together working people who share the common bond of trying to support
    their families.”

Daily Blog Round-Up 6/18/07

  • Firedoglake blogs about the Employee
    Free Choice
    , a bill which aims to restore workers’ freedom in choosing a union,
    especially establishing stronger penalties for violation of employee rights
    when workers seek to form a union. FDL
    explains that while 60 million workers say they would join a union if they
    could, but many people are intimidated by corporate giants. By stating that this act is a “workplace
    rights issue,” a “human rights issue,” and a “civil rights issue,” FDL frames
    the issue in universal terms that appeals to the broad advantages for
    everyone. The benefits in unionizing
    workers appear in many forms. With union
    workers receiving an average wage 30% higher than the nonunion worker, creating
    greater access to membership will help lessen the growing wage
    inequalities.  Here's hoping this rights-based frame can help push the issue forward.
  • Feminist blogs comments on a piece on Salon.com which compares the rate of obesity in black women to that of white women
    (78% of black women are considered overweight), and essentially opts to blame
    black women for preferring to keep the extra pounds and purposely
    eschew advice to lose weight. Feminist blogs skewers the Salon piece, nothing the complex causes of obesity rates among black women. In 2000, low-income African-American families were 7.3 times
    more likely than poor white families to live in high poverty neighborhoods with
    limited resources
    . In addition, black
    women are more likely to lack adequate health care access. While 11.2% of white Americans were uninsured
    at any point in 2005, 19.5% of African Americans were uninsured and more likely
    to be dependent on public sources of health insurance.
    It's disappointing to see Salon reduce this alarming trend to individual behaviors.  This is not a question of individual responsibility.  It is one aspect of a larger social issue - which requires increased public awareness and collective action to reach a solution.
  • Racial_composition_2Prometheus 6 reports on the alarming disparities in the
    racial composition of the 30% of students who fail to graduate high school. In a recent Education Week report, only half of
    American Indians and black students graduated, compared with more than
    three-quarters of non-Hispanic whites and Asians. The reports uses information from the 2003-04
    school year to estimates the number of graduates in 2007.  Their analysis shows
    that while minority students make up less than half of the total public school
    population, they make up more than half of the nongraduates. In addition, Hispanic youth are four times
    more likely to drop out than are white youth
    (pdf), creating an education gap that limits opportunities for young people of color and widens other disparities - in income and health coverage, for example - later in life.
  • PrisonsSentencing Law and Policy reports on a new article from
    stateline.org about how increasing prices to maintain the overcrowded prisons
    are leading lawmakers to provide different alternatives to prisons. Some of these ideas include an expanded
    program to help prevent offenders from being incarcerated again (like diverting funds from prisons to rehabilitation centers), earlier release
    dates for low-risk inmates and sentencing revisions. State spending on prisons continues to
    increase at an alarming rate to account for the high number of incarcerated
    persons. Between 2004 and 2005, not only
    did the number of incarcerated persons increase, but so did the rate (491 per
    100,000 people in 2005 versus 486 per 100,000 in 2004

Daily Blog Round-Up 6/13/07: Part 2

  • The Washington Post discusses the sub par health care that
    many undocumented workers receive while serving jail time with the U.S.
    Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Lawyers
    are currently investigating numerous claims on behalf of undocumented workers who
    were taken into custody with minor illnesses and released with life-threatening
    infections. The ACLU stated that
    detainees often have poor English skills, don’t know their rights and have no
    access to counsel; another example of how our current system fails to treat both immigrants or those enmeshed in the criminal justice system fairly and humanely.
  • In an update to previous coverage of the 5-4 Supreme
    Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, ACS Blog reports on the House Committee on Education
    and Labor held a hearing today to consider restoring anti-discriminatory
    protections for workers. Leadership
    Conference on Civil Rights’ Wade Henderson stated before the committee that this
    outcome is “fundamentally unfair to victims of pay discrimination” and that the
    outcome “ignores the realities of the workplace.”
  • Huffington Post reports with more information on the Dreams
    Across America
    project (refer to our previous posting): an immigrants’ rights
    group using Web 2.0 to put a human face on immigration and advocated for comprehensive positive reform that expands opportunity for all in America. As
    ImmigrationProf adds, the opposition to legalization is strong, with
    grassfire.org sending 700,000 faxes and emails and making 1 million personal
    contacts with Senators. Groups like
    Dreams Across America, with innovative, online strategies, are necessary to combat these
    opposition organizations that are rallying online.

Where is the Online Organizing for Immigrants Rights?

As we move further from the day to day details of the immigration debate, it's becoming increasingly clear that a savvy campaign among the conservative grassroots organized hundreds of thousands of supporters online to bring down comprehensive reform. 

As an article in the New York Times documented this weekend:

“We had way more response than we could handle,” said Stephen Elliott, president of Grassfire.org,
a conservative Internet group that called for volunteers for a petition
drive and instructed people how to barrage lawmakers with telephone
calls and e-mail.

The group gathered more than 700,000 signatures on petitions
opposing the bill, delivering them this week to senators in Washington
and in their home states.

Organizers described a new Internet-linked national constituency
that emerged among Republicans, much like the one that Democrats
pioneered during the presidential candidacy in 2004 of Howard Dean. But many of these Republicans are enraged at their party leaders, including Mr. Kyl and Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, who supported the bill, and they feel betrayed by Mr. Bush.

Matt Stoller at MyDD notes that the nativist elements of the Republican Party did a good job organizing online to kill this bill, and sees the potential emergence of another element of a conservative blogosphere in their organizing savvy.  I think that he's right, and thus far the immigrant rights community has not exhibited an coherent online strategy to counter the rise of such a blogosphere.

GrassFire.org's ability to attain hundreds of thousands of signatories to its petition echoes the early days of MoveOn, which itself started as a petition drive, and their online savvy extends beyond gathering signatures.  The organization has also created humorous TV ads in support of a border fence.  They are currently trying to raise $100k to air their spot on TV, and the ad has already been uploaded and viewed almost 50,000 times on YouTube.  This organizing savvy goes far beyond GrassFire.org.  On FaceBook, anti-immigration groups far outnumber those that are in favor of comprehensive reofrm, and the largest group - by far with over 14,000 members - is called "No Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants."  This is just as true in the blogosphere, with anti-immigrant blogs dominating the discourse.

We face an uphill battle, but it's not by any means insurmountable.  There is a nascent progressive blogosphere forming in favor of humane immigration policies, lead thus far by blogs like Immigrants in USA, Immigration Prof, Border Line, Migra Matters, Immigration Equality, DMI Blog, Pro Inmigrant, Immigrants and Politics, Latina Lista, Justice and Journalism, Migration Debate, and Blue Latinos.   As far as I can tell, these groups are still disconnected from the Beltway immigration advocates, and even from the many grassroots immigration groups scattered across the country.  There is little in the way of a coordinated strategy to harness online the many hundreds of thousands of immigrant rights supporters that groups like La Raza command offline.  That needs to change.

A new organization - Dreams Across America - seems to be looking to form a coherent online strategy (including blogs, social networking, and online video) for advocating for humane, comprehensive reform that lives up to our national values, but so far they are a lone voice just getting started. 

Last week, the conservative grassroots successfully organized online to pressure their representatives and kill reform.  It's time for the immigrant rights community to become similarly organized.  The next time an immigration bill comes before Congress, let's be ready with our own online strategy to counteract the conservative narrative and build support across the country and in Congress to achieve comprehensive reform.


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