Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Your Voice Counts for Kids: Support SCHIP Now!

Call your Congressional leaders now: Dial 1-202-225-3121 and ask to speak to your Representative and Senators' offices. Urge them to take action in support of the State's Children's Health Insurance Program Act (SCHIP): no exclusions


- Children could be the beneficiaries of one of the first 2009 legislative actions in Congress. Since 1997 Congressional bipartisan cooperation and leadership has been critical for over 7 million uninsured children who have benefited from the passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program Act (SCHIP). The new action stands to benefit an additional 4 million children.

- SCHIP has been a successful federal-state program that offers health insurance to children whose parents’ income may exclude them from Medicaid but not enough to have health coverage. Poor and working class families have benefited from SCHIP. A positive and new provision to the Act is the availability of critically needed dental and mental health services.

- One provision that has not changed is the exclusion of “legal” immigrant children and pregnant women. Under the current SCHIP law, they must wait five years before they become eligible for federally funded Medicaid and SCHIP. This action continues to be a roadblock that undermines the possibility of vulnerable immigrant children and pregnant women from participation in the program.

- Several senators continue to support this position while a growing number of senators have called for the removal of the waiting period; this would occur with the inclusion of the Legal Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA) to the bill. The House has already passed SCHIP. Now their Senate colleagues must take action and support SCHIP’s reauthorization through 2013.

Your Voice Counts for Every Child: Please contact your Senator to urge support for the State’s Children’s Health Insurance Program and to include the Legal Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act. Let’s not allow children to be part of partisan policies.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dreaming the Beloved Community

"... Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered outsider anywhere within its bounds."
Rev. Dr. M.L. King, Jr.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail" - 4/16/63

January has been a memorable month of celebration. From the nation's seat of power to small towns, the life, work and struggle of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been honored with numerous activities of remembrance. His message of justice and equality has taken on renewed meaning as the country is witness to the inauguration of President Barack H. Obama, and his administration's message of hope and change.

The American Friends Service Committee's work in partnership with leaders of the civil rights movement included actions in support of voting rights, desegregation and nonviolence education and training. While incarcerated for a nonviolent demonstration against segregation Dr. King wrote a letter in response to the criticism of some religious leaders. The "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," was his spiritual reflection on the nation’s freedoms and principles, and the clarity he felt about the actions taken to support Birmingham's schoolchildren and their families.

Central to this message was a deeply held belief that everyone must be treated with dignity and embraced as an equal member of society. His Beloved Community was one of inclusion, equality and justice. This vision and dream of the future acknowledged the totality and the “solidarity of the human family.’

It is difficult to predict what Dr. King might say or write in 2009.

Surely his prophetic voice would speak to the global and national conditions we face. His remarks would call for an end to war, an economic bailout for the poor, working families, the unemployed, those without health coverage, and a compassionate solution to the plight of undocumented immigrant workers. Nearly fifty years later, his words still beckon our nation to realize a common unity that stretches beyond imposed or fictional barriers: "..injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Our nation now enters a period of new leadership and hopeful policy shifts. This is an extraordinary opportunity for national and local leaders to affirm Dr. King’s message of hope and promise. This driving spirit undergirds AFSC’s national human rights network as it works for humane immigration policy and the equal treatment of all.

When historians revisit this period they will declare that the Beloved Community of the 21st century emerged from Dr. King's groundwork and the nobility of his message. Moreover, they will acknowledge that children, teen-agers and young adults formed this community's cornerstone. Having rejected injustice and exclusion, they will embue the future with their spirit of dignity, honor and justice.

To request a copy of Dr. King’s letter visit

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Driving Solution

The Garden State may lead the way. That is, New Jersey might consider a pragmatic solution to the issue of undocumented persons taking to the state's roads and highways.

Opinion on the issue has ebbed and flowed not just in New Jersey but in other states as well. Some have suggested that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to drive. Others believe that mixing the issue of public safety with a person's immigration status in the U.S. is poor public policy and ignores the daily reality of the undocumented population. What is certain is that undocumented immigrants are like everyone else. They use their cars to drive to work, to go to church, to shop for food, to run daily errands, to get to family activities.

Amy Gottlieb, program director of AFSC's Newark-based Immigrant Rights Program and Deborah Jacobs, executive director of New Jersey's American Civil Liberties Union recently shared their opinion on this issue in New Jersey's The Record newspaper. To read their comments visit

Agricultural Workers Face January (In) Justice

In less than two weeks the White House will have new residents, and Congressional hallways will buzz with increased action. Public hearings will be held, appointments will be made and it is likely that policies -- on a number of issues -- will be reviewed.

This is an ideal moment for the incoming administration to consider a forward-looking shift in immigration policy and repair an obsolete system that no longer responds to global economic, demographic or social shifts.

One basic starting point for the new administration should be the announcement of an executive order that immediately stops worksite and community raids. From coast to coast, and with a clear disregard for basic human rights, raids have destroyed entire immigrant communities and torn apart families. The towns of Postville, Iowa and New Bedford, Massachusetts, and other cities and towns have provided a disturbing sense of how communities have unraveled and the humanitarian crisis that has always followed.

Another immediate action for Washington's new leadership is for a revision of last-minute regulations that target temporary agricultural workers. On January 18th farm and agricultural workers (hired through the Department of Labor’s H2-A temporary agricultural worker program) will face new regulations that raise concerns about wages and labor protections. The H2-A program has historically allowed agricultural sector employers to hire immigrant workers for temporary employment.

AFSC has consistently pressed for a substantive alternative to temporary employment programs so that seasonal farmworkers have the opportunity to adjust their immigration status and be full participants in the nation's social fabric and labor force. Seasonal agricultural workers have limited labor rights, and often live a transitional and marginal existence. The enactment of the regulations will continue this abysmal reality and diminish the few labor protections agricultural guest workers can sometimes rely on while, also, scaling down their wages. More troubling is that these last minute policies continue to set the tone for chipping away at the hard-earned rights of workers in general.

In commenting on the regulations, U.S. Representative Howard L. Berman (D-CA) observed, "Given today's economic crisis, it is stunning that on their way out the door, the Bush Administration would take this eleventh-hour swipe at farm workers who are already paid some of the lowest wages in the United States."

Take Action Now:
  • Visit and urge that the nation's work standards and labor regulations protect any worker in an equal and sensible manner.