Here is the 5th in the series, "We're Rural, Not Stupid." The photo included in this post [below the fold] of the mudslides in Nelson was included in thisWashington Post article.The photo is part of a collection owned by Nelsonian, Dick Whitehead. Mr. Whitehead's father, Bill Whitehead, was the sheriff in Nelson County in 1969 when the flood occurred.
Tamra Marshall lives in Nellysford, Virginia. Her family has a long history in the hills of Nelson County. Her Grandpa Jack Marshall worked with the Citizen Conservation Corps building the [Blue Ridge] Parkway, as locals refer to it, and many of the local roads during lean times. Tamra has strong opinions about Dominion's proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline relating to the unmarked graves of those Nelsonian's who lost their lives and were never found in the aftermath of Hurricane Camille.
Yesterday I discussed the few members of our General Assembly who haven't been directly touched by Dominion. One such fellow is Delegate Bloxom (R-Eastern Shore/Norfolk). However he has received funds from a PAC that Dominion has generously supported for years: Dominion Leadership Trust. Dominion is this PAC's second largest contributor.
Over the years, Dominion Leadership Trust, just one of many PACs Dominion Resources supports, has "invested" $10,973,016 influencing Virginia government. Though Dominion Resources' portion of that amount accounts for only about 4.4% of the total, that places the corporation second among those with clout in a PAC of like-minded members. And looking at the top donors, it is quite a gallery of influence. Dominion Resources leverages its direct donor influence by having a hand setting the agenda across the political spectrum in any number of PACs.
There is another gent on yesterday's list who has received funds from Dominion Leadership Trust: that would be Delegate Farrell (R-56th). Comparing the amounts the two received is a lesson in influence. Bloxom received $66,874 and Farrell $2,500. While Dominion Resources can only be attributed 4.4% of those amounts ($2980 and $111 respectively) when they respond (even if they did the math) to Dominion Leadership Trust, Dominion Resources's objectives get the attention corresponding to the greater amount.
The single contribution to Farrell did not occur until after he was elected to the House of Delegates and after his first two full sessions. Of the contributions to Bloxom, on the other hand, about $60,000 was reported during his campaign for a seat formerly held by Democrat Lynnwood Lewis and the remainder in the month after Bloxom's election. Dominion Leadership Trust accounted for over 43% of the funds "raised" by Bloxom. To whom is Delegate Bloxom beholden? It isn't the grassroots.
Curious about who's benefited from Dominion's concern for Virginia's political process, I thought I'd survey the contributions to candidates reported on The Virginia Public Access Project. Intending to provide a roster of recipients, it became clear that it is easier to list General Assembly members who have missed the beneficence.
Members of the Virginia Senate who are not beholden to Dominion:
Members of the Virginia House of Delegates who are not beholden to Dominion:
Sullivan, Richard C. (Rip), Jr. (D-48th)
Rasoul, Sam (D-11th)
Lindsey, Joseph C. (D-90th)
Farrell, Peter F. (R-56th)
Bloxom, Robert S., Jr. (R-100th)
Berg, Mark J. (R-29th)
Adams, Leslie R. (R-16th)
The range of contribution amounts ranges wildly from a quarter thousand to a quarter million dollars and seems directly proportionate to some combination of seniority and influence. The fact that the highest percentage of contributions (but not by far: 54 to 43) goes to Republicans follows that logic but I have not looked at trends over time. The "honor rolls" for both chambers will be presented separately.
There's always a story behind the story and sometimes one belies the other. Remote Area Medical (RAM) is a godsend; make no mistake about it. But like any private sector organization, the transparency or accountability we demand from government is not always evident. Today's "conservatives" would never acknowledge that.
Watching and taking part in the transformation of a rural air terminal into expeditionary specialty clinics, dental and vision, is not an immersion in military precision. It almost can't be when much of the labor is borrowed. The effort resulting when organization is flattened results in stove-piping. The raw volunteers care about pitching in and recognize the limits of their ability to contribute to technical assembly of the equipment. There are enough seasoned volunteers that as long as the boxes and bags are lined up at their assigned places, they can readily and efficiently assemble and order materials; in their areas. The lack of organization and efficiency among the unguided volunteers is more than compensated for by their numbers and camaraderie. From pitching tents (probably the most organized effort), to setting up tables and chairs, to moving crates and boxes, the unbridled activity ends in mission accomplishment.
This is at the tactical delivery end. Strategically there is always another view that is masked by the appearance if not the reality of good intentions. My father had no time for the American Red Cross. After raging battles on isolated Pacific islands during World War II, the Red Cross sold donuts to the Marines and sailors ashore; the Salvation Army was there handing out goods gratis. Guess which organization he favored. My wife cannot turn down a request for a donation from Saint Jude's in Memphis despite having no clue who Danny Thomas was; it's those children. On the other hand, when I see anyone collecting donations to benefit our military service members or veterans, I challenge their credentials on the spot. I wasn't as discerning with RAM until I saw the DC-47 (a WWII DC-3 configuration) touch down in Lee County. After all, RAM had been endorsed via association by both of Virginia's United States Senators, our current Governor, and General Assembly members from both sides of the aisle.
Spending just moments with Dr. Joseph Smiddy is a cascade of chilling water for those claiming faith in the American health care system. What a lot of people proclaim as the best medical system in the world isn't delivering for many with the greatest need right here in Virginia.
"It's not just that they can't afford any sort of insurance that might be available to them under the Affordable Care Act. It's that this is a horribly underserved region in terms of medical resources." - Henry Schuster, 60 Minutes producer (at 3:17)
Organizers of an expeditionary Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic just outside of Jonesville, Virginia expect something on the order of 600 patients today and tomorrow. This is the first of this kind of event in Lee County, set up in and around the airport that sits further west than Columbus, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan, far removed from Richmond. Sadly, this constitutes primary care for many residents. When I arrived yesterday as a volunteer, 22 hours before the first patient would be seen, there were already three carloads of people lined up to ensure they could get one of the specialty services. They know the routine.
Somehow Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City) avoids discerning scrutiny from his constituency. Even with all that tobacco money he is bringing home, many of those living in Virginia's poorest county rely upon the generosity of others for any health care at all. The county's only hospital closed about a year ago.
On September 30, 2013, the Lee Regional Medical Center closed its doors after serving the community for 70 years. With the loss of jobs and decreased access to medical care, the residents of Lee County have been deeply impacted by the hospital's closure. - Lee County Hospital Authority
Tonight Senator Tim Kaine will join Stan Brock, the founder of Remote Area Medical, in the United States Capitol Visitor Center Orientation Center - North for a documentary film presentation. The event begins with a "light reception" at 6:00 PM; concludes with a Q & A session with both men.
Click the photograph to embiggen for details. This is an outstanding opportunity to learn about this amazing effort that began with an Appalachia focus but has expanded country-wide and will include a clinic in New York City this fall. This weekend there will be a clinic in Jonesville, Virginia. Note that there is a request for RSVP (Kate.M.Patterson@gmail.com). This is an outstanding opportunity to learn more about Brock's organization and hear our Senator's views about providing healthcare in America.
Stan Brock, co-star of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, drew over 30 million viewers every week as he invited them on adventures around the world. Now Stan, as the founder and president of Remote Area Medical, invites you on a new adventure. Share in the mission to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free quality healthcare to those in need.
"Critics of such legislation" may reveal more than they intend when they question lawmakers' "real-world wisdom." It is that conventional "wisdom" that poisoned the well of justice in Sarah Butters' case. It comes down to this: rape is not about midnight wrestling matches between hormonal lovers. It's about violence.
Those quoted phrases are from a dismissive opinion piece in The Free Lance-Star that diminishes the importance of the work undertaken by Governor McAuliffe's task force to combat sexual violence at Virginia's colleges and universities. It is symptomatic of a prevailing cultural attitude toward the value of women and ignores a significantly greater social disease for which there is currently no innoculation.
In "civil" conversation involving sexual relations we usually pussyfoot and that plays into avoiding a substantive discussion about the violence. The violence has a sexual manifestation but it is actually a complete disregard for the victim; usually female (but sometimes male, by the way). It is about dominance and misogyny.
There are a number of "realities" that we want to pretend away. That one in five women on campus are the victims of sexual violence is easier to accept if, as that opinion piece does, we frame these as "misunderstandings." While there are cases of remorse after acquiescence in a relationship, we shouldn't count them in that 20%. Nor should the task force pretend that is an explanation for the alarmingly high, and likely under-reported percentage. Next, accepting that 20% figure does not indict 20% of the males on campus as perpetrators. Research shows that sexually violent perpetrators commit serially. While that may help some feel better about our culture and men in general, what it should also do is emphasize the imperative to get anybody who commits any single act of this sort off campus immediately and permanently. Plus, the number of violent acts against women that involve more than one perpetrator, often referred to as gang rape, is uncomfortably greater than we want to know...so we pretend; and women, shamed by the experience, shutter it, setting up the next target of group "affection." Not finally, but I will pause here, the abuse of authority (i.e. professors) to impose one's will on another (aka seduction) is no less a betrayal, act of violence, and rape than a forceful, physical subjugation (and serial).
For these and other reasons, I have little confidence that the Governor's task force will accomplish much, if anything. Maybe the discussion about Combatting Campus Sexual Violence today on HearSay with Cathy Lewis will provide a glimmer of hope.
This morning the Governor will visit a farm just south of the James Madison University (JMU) campus. While farming best practices are admirable, the safety of students on campus, neglected by the JMU administration in Sarah Butters' sexual assault case, screams for immediate attention. President Alger deserves a wakeup call.
On Alger's campus a student may participate in a gang sexual assault of a fellow student, videotape it, publish it on the internet, be accused by the victim then escape any substantive punishment. Following the revelations about JMU's bumbling enforcement of its own sexual assault policies, the University President, Jonathan R. Alger, withdrew to his comfort zone: acting as his own lawyer rather than campus leader. What was his reaction to McAuliffe's formation of a task force to combat sexual violence at Virginia colleges?
"For all of us, this is a time to come together, to share best practices, to make clear that we all take this issue very seriously," said Jonathan R. Alger, president of James Madison University. He said the freshmen now gathering at the school in Harrisonburg are getting the message that they must not be bystanders to sexual assault. - Washington Post
There is a refreshing candidate in Southwest Virginia ready to take on Ralph Smith for the 19th District state Senate seat. Mike Hamlar is a Roanoke native who excelled at athletics in high school, earning a football scholarship to Wake Forest. Returning home he's become an established high energy local entrepreneur.
Mike has three businesses. He is a third generation co-owner of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home which has been serving the community for 62 years. In 2009, Michael started Hamlar Enterprises, which is a business brokerage firm. The firm has engaged in multi-million dollar deals across the region, handling mergers, business acquisitions, business evaluations etc. In 2012, Michael and his wife, Katina, established Hamlar Properties, which is a property real estate firm that manages and oversees real estate transactions. Mike is also an adjunct professor at American National University in Salem, VA. He has been recognized by The Blue Ridge Journal as one of the "Top 20 leaders under 40."
At Wake Forest University Mike played football under Jim Caldwell and was on the Seattle Bowl championship team that defeated the University of Oregon. He is accustomed to winning and wants to take this race to the Republican incumbent, Ralph Smith.
A family man with three young children, Mike is faith-driven and confident that he can win this race. That will be a task. Mike likes to say that if you look at the 19th district, it is as though his one-year-old drew it. It encompasses part of Roanoke County, all of Floyd County, all of Salem, part of Montgomery County, all of Wythe and Carroll Counties, and part of Bedford. From end to end it stretches about 120 miles from end to end, not the way the crow flies, but the way the SUV drives, and it takes at least three sweeps to hit every location in it. That is why he has started early. He plans kickoffs in every locality.
Recently appointed by Governor McAuliffe to the Secure Commonwealth Panel, Mike is involved in the community both in business and local civic organizations like the Kiwanis Club, so he is hardly starting from a standstill or without connections. And quite frankly it seems he is always in motion, with clear aims. Right now his goal is to become as well known throughout the district as he is in Roanoke. He is certainly well liked among local Democrats.
His priorities are education, Medicaid expansion (which he hopes is accomplished before he makes it to the Senate), and economic development. He points out that a program like Marketplace Virginia would create 30,000 jobs while providing necessary preventive healthcare. Not yet the official Democratic nominee, he is eager to gain that distinction so that he can focus solely on Republican Smith.
It isn't a formal proposal just yet, but it could move that direction at the September Legislative Advocacy Conference of the Virginia School Board Association (VBSA). Under the radar, school board members are questioning whether the Virginia Constitution allows the legislature to grant tax authority to school districts.
In a number of conversations that began during the McDonnell administration's efforts to strangle the budget in order to boast fiscal austerity and have intensified as the effects have manifest, school board members across the Virginia have floated concepts of revenue generation to meet shortfalls that are starving maintenance and operational funding. Because there is no standard for engineering studies and no requirement to maintain a maintenance reserve, there is no practical measure of unfunded liabilities. In the short run, that masks the accumulating real deficit.
It is been called a field hospital, but really isn't. There is some minor surgery, mostly dental, but most care falls into more clinical than surgical. An impressive endeavor in any case and outclasses any medical or dental activity the U.S. military routinely provides overseas. That was striking.
Odd what catches one's attention. The nice tents and orderly processes were expected. What caught my eye was the condition of the Wise County Fairgrounds as the Remote Area Medical (RAM) effort came to an end. The clients left the grounds far tidier than I would have ever expected. In fact, quite clean. A sign of respect? Or just the nature of people in this part of Virginia. Everywhere you go people are friendlier and more open to strangers than in more urban areas.
At the close of this RAM I was told that the last count at mid-morning had been 2,700 and that the total was likely near last year's 3,000 treated. The numbers are misleading. At every RAM, people are turned away and there is no accurate count of those. If the capacity supported more, the numbers would have some meaning. What is clear is that demand is growing either from awareness or economic conditions.
What I didn't know is that Wise is just one of three clinics that RAM has organized in far Southwest Virginia this year. Next: Jonesville, Virginia; 13 - 14 September. Then: Grundy, Virginia; 4 - 5 October. What I didn't expect was the efficiency of the breakdown of the camp. I now want to take part in and watch the arrival and assembly. For those who want to volunteer, information is available at the RAM website. Note that you should register early as registration can close; it closed a month before the clinic in Wise.
Another thing I didn't realize: the State Fairgrounds at the center of Oklahoma City, The Seattle Center in, of course, Seattle, and the Manhattan Convention Center in New York City now qualify as "remote." New York City! Clinics will be held at those locations in August, October, and November respectively. What does this say about health care in the United States? I am not really sure other than something is amiss.
If today's demonstration in Verona is any indication, the movement to ban migrant children from communities across the nation does not enjoy broad support. A report that such children were being administered at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Detention Center brought an immediate effort to organize a local protest for today.
But one story in Verona was that the counter-demonstration brought out just as many people who support following the laws regarding the processing of migrant children. Another story is that both groups got along without incident mostly by ignoring each other. They marched to the protest site, the highway 612 I-81 overpass, on opposite sides of the west bound lane. At the bridge, they kept their integrity, left and right of center.
Local tea party leader Dr. Edward Long claimed no role in organizing today's protest when contacted by the local newspaper. However, if t-shirt slogans and bumper stickers are any indication, the protesters share most of the tea party attitudes and political perceptions. Virginia Organizing member Barbara Lee indicated that group was involved in the counter-demonstration.
The press was there. The interviews were the normal shallow questions about the questions of the day. One interview with a woman who said she legally immigrated from Canada demonstrated a typical personal anecdotal depth of knowledge that is so lazily generalized. Her chief complaint seemed to stem from the requirement for her to have gone through a laborious and costly process to immigrate that migrants were managing to avoid. How quickly she has adapted the conservative attitude Lowell mentioned at the end of his piece about Senator Warren just yesterday. But the fact is that migrants who enter without application stand to face a much more laborious and costly experience with far less chance of success.
The other subject in which the protesters seem completely steeped is the human trafficking aspect of the issue. However, it seemed they were mixing and matching trafficking and transportation together so that it made more sense to them. Scratching the surface of any aspect of the current migrant situation does neither side of the debate any favors.
What should be apparent to all sides of this issue is that our current immigration system is antiquated and ineffective. They should be at their Congressional Representative's office demanding immigration reform, not grandstanding on a bridge shouting into the wind. And there won't be any progress at all if both sides continue to ignore each other.
Unfortunately for the preservation of Virginia's African American history, Richmond's Mayor, a man of color and the book, is either morally corrupt or benignly ignorant. Doesn't matter which, the result may be the same. It is not surprising that a typical American does not value the history of a place.
But failure to grasp his own heritage is a mortal flaw. There are a few stories here. The ground under Shockoe Bottom is one. The legacy of what went on there and in Jackson Ward and throughout Richmond is another. That legacy screams for every effort to remedy the high unemployment among blacks in Richmond and the accompanying fratricide. A properly funded and directed school system and full-time employment opportunities should be job one. Instead, places for games that feather already well-healed nests and half million dollar studies of half-cocked ideas consume Richmond City revenues. Great photo ops, though.
"...we are totally opposed to a stadium in Shockoe Bottom. Agreeing to this demand by Mayor Jones and the developers he represents would clearly state the following position: Yes, the history is important, but not so much that we can't play games on top of it. And that would be a continuation of the same disrespect that formed the basis for the acceptance of slavery and the slave trade in the first place." - statement by Phil Wilayto and Anna Edwards of the Sacred Ground Project
Compound this with the arrogant, aloof stance that Richmond is immune from federal Section 106 regulations which is even more insulting than any tea party nullification rant. If Jones were Mayor of Jerusalem, he'd solve that whole Temple Mount thing by razing both al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock then build condos and concessions surrounding a miniaturized, motorized laser show of popular myths: Abraham and alternating sons; Moses (I know, I know, but authenticity is not important) delivering an Ark of the Covenant emanating lightning bolts; Jesus in a fit turning over tables; Mohammad gliding in on his horse; you get it, something for everyone.
Maybe the race to succeed Virginia state Senator Henry Marsh (D-16th) whose former district includes much of Richmond's East End will provide a vehicle for Delegates McQuinn (D-70th), whose current district encompasses less and Dance (D-63rd) whose current district covers none to help crystalize the debate. McQuinn seems to be able to straddle both sides of the issue, which hasn't been helpful and could make it quite a tango for Dance. Both probably believe Jones' endorsement would be to their advantage in the contest. In reality, electoral influence is likely the only reason any politician patronizes Jones. Developers seem to believe there are other purposes.
Chesapeake is concerned. The City Manager indicates that this issue rises from the Dan River spill last February and the city's action to protect the Elizabeth River is not directed at Dominion. But there's history there and Dominion has provided no reason to trust its motives.
This isn't just Chesapeake's concern. The Elizabeth is really only a tidal estuary that runs to the mouth of the James River on the way to the Chesapeake Bay through Portsmouth and Norfolk. It is about six miles long. The Dan River spill created a 70 mile coating of toxic sludge. So this should have the attention of Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore too. But Chesapeake is center stage because it already knows how difficult it is to force Dominion Power to take responsibility for its mess.
Battlefield Golf Club was built using fly ash. Something the coal power industry has been advertising as a "good thing" in an attempt to rid itself of this pesky poisonous residue of energy production. Maybe if they can just spread all of it thin enough over hill and dale, insert it into concrete, and sweep it into wastewater systems no one will notice the damage. The proper cost of disposal has never been calculated into the cost of energy produced from coal. War on coal? How about coal's war on the planet?
Now almost five years into litigation over the damage caused during the Battlefield Golf Club construction, only one thing is clear: once any area is contaminated, you have to wait for a proper class to fall victim to the damage before anything can be recovered. That is essentially what is going on with the lawsuits over the golf course. For now the damage has been "limited" to the ground water under the golf course. And since the local residents have been connected to city water on Dominion's dime, the judge has basically said that they have not been damaged. The Environmental Protection Agency's findings of that limited damage have actually helped the defendants' case(s). Residents will have to wait for cancer, birth defects, or however this eventually manifests to demonstrate they have been harmed.
Though intended to serve at least two purposes, the $450 million spent on anti-Affordable Care Act (ACA) ads have failed their purpose(s) and may have unintentionally informed the uninsured that they have a path to healthcare coverage. The other intent, to support Republican candidates by inference, may also backfire.
The correlation of negative ad spending to enrollment is not direct and is affected by demographics, but research prepared by Brookings Institution fellow Niam Yaraghi provides some very interesting data. The chart for the television markets that encompass Virginia shows raw spending data from 2013 (national TV market map and data). This is not per capita data, so cannot be used for an accurate correlation, but it is informative. And Yaraghi does point out that the market where the highest per capita spending occurred, Washington, D.C., had the highest Obamacare enrollment rate, 11%.
In the states where more anti-ACA ads are aired, residents were on average more likely to believe that Congress will repeal the ACA in the near future. People who believe that subsidized health insurance may soon disappear could have a greater willingness to take advantage of this one time opportunity.
What is also clear from the spending data is that this advertising is aimed at assisting Republicans in states with the most competitive mid-term Senate races: Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. The aim is probably as much voter suppression as it is support for the Republican candidates. In Virginia, these ads may influence the outcome of two Congressional races (7th and 10th) more than the U.S. Senate race not only because Senator Warner has a nuanced position on the ACA but also because his opponent is a cold fish.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) is twiddling its thumbs and whistling Dixie as it walks down a treacherous path to voter suppression. That is NOT the way to deal with this. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is certain at the Virginia Department of Elections (VADE), nee State Board of Elections. There will be an opportunity through a comment period on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall for the voter ID regulations beginning on or about the 14th of July. I don't see anything posted yet.
"The Code of Virginia requires that a voter shows a valid Virginia identification card. The state board, by regulation, now defines expired IDs - regardless of how much time has transpired since their expiration - as being expressly 'valid,' which, to my thinking, violates the plain meaning of the statute." - state Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg)
This is the tip of the iceberg. The Registrars, as best I can tell, all have the equipment and software required to issue the new, otherwise useless, photo IDs. No voter, as far as I can tell, has obtained a new voter ID. The DPVA plan to facilitate obtaining IDs is completely dependent upon the rules remaining in stasis. That is pure folly. There are so many assumptions about implementation and no branch plans to compensate for failures of those assumptions. I have the solution, but first a bit of discussion.
So now that Bob Goodlatte has visited the border and determined that all blame for the immigration crisis du jour rests squarely on President Obama's shoulders, maybe we can get to some substantive discussion. Dismissing Goodlatte's and Darrell Issa's grandstanding on its face, a well-considered, rational strategy is essential.
"Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama's lax immigration enforcement policies, and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally, many of whom are children from Central America." - Bob Goodlatte, R-VA 6th
This is a ridiculous and simple-minded assertion designed to play on prejudice and fear. The law that codified current policy toward unaccompanied minors, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) was enacted in 2008 and signed by President Bush. Reagan administration policies in and subsequent neglect of countries in the Central American Northern Triangle, which includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have directly led to the highest homicide rate per capita in the world. These governments cannot contend with rising levels of violence. Internally displaced persons constitute the bulk of those displaced but increasing numbers of people are crossing state boundaries in search of safety. However, criminal gangs are transnational, meaning there is no sanctuary obtained by crossing an adjacent border.
The TVPRA requires the establishment of standards for custody, creation of more child-friendly asylum procedures, and relaxation of eligibility for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ) visa status. These are simple internationally recognized expectations of humanitarian treatment. Do the critics believe that inhumane treatment of children for their first 72 hours or so in America will somehow discourage migration?
Immigration status neither confers nor denies basic human rights. How anyone arrives in America does not affect their status as humans. We do not have a spotless record and to pretend we do is shameful. Fortunately not ubiquitous, our inexcusable cases of exploitation are a close kept family secret.
Happy Independence Day. This week none other than Rush Limbaugh began framing the right wing excuses for the behavior of Americans in Lawrenceville and, now, Murrieta, north of San Diego. The purpose of Ellis Island, he bloviated, was to halt the spread of disease; poking at a spot that sparks fervor aimed at the children who've crossed our border. He sarcastically mocked the words on the Statue of Liberty. And, he seemed to argue that we are not a nation of immigrants. Tell that to the 11% of Virginians who are.
Recently, while waiting for a connection after a cancelled flight in Budapest, I struck up a conversation with a woman who I'd heard speaking English. Turned out that she is in the process of establishing residency in Germany. A naturalized American citizen, her family immigrated to the United States from Estonia after World War II. It had been a struggle to gain that status and it only occurred by happenstance. Sitting in a park in devastated Tallinn, her father struck up a conversation about his dream with a nun who coincidentally was with a Catholic organization working with sponsors for immigrants to the United States.
The family was eventually granted entry status and guided to settle in a small northwest Pennsylvania town where there was a job for her father. It was a company town, essentially owned by his employer. To "help" them settle, they were given credit at the company stores, payment for which was automatically deducted from his wages. It did not take her mother long to come to the realization that they were gradually falling further and further into debt with small hope of escaping a spiral into tacit servitude.
In the heyday of terrorism paranoia, the Virginia General Assembly changed the requirements for obtaining a driver's license. All House and Senate patrons were Republicans. They made proof of legal presence a requirement. Many Democrats were cowed into supporting this. The unintended consequences are apparent now; change the law!
While the grander issues of separating families through deportation, comprehensive immigration reform, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and in-state tuition are terribly important, the day-to-day practical issue of transportation that allows migrants to support themselves and their families is most immediate for laborers. In many cases, persons whose status allows them to legally remain in the United States are prohibited from obtaining licenses under Virginia law.
The consequences on a personal level are devastating. Virginians still in high school, working to support their families, end up taking court docket time, missing school, and paying fines that are doubly punitive. Teachers who take an interest in the welfare of their students often accompany them on their own time in an effort to provide at least support and some counsel. Out of necessity, many end up repeat offenders. Further, being responsible, they make an effort to follow the law by acquiring insurance. But as anyone who has experience in the shadows knows, there is only street justice there. Who knows if these often more expensive policies are even in force?
What a difference a year makes. This time last year there was a sense that comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level may happen in some form. It would be sweeping and, like any compromise, not exactly what everyone wanted. Now we have something worse: only the noise of recrimination.
The Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights (VACIR) met last year to map out the values and principles held by Virginians and provide a voice to Congress. But now what since reform appears dead in the water? Well, during the Obama administration, more than 2 million mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children have been deported; more deportations than in any previous administration. That number is hard to wrap your head around and does not convey the individual personal tragedies involved. For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports 72,410 of those deported said that they had one or more U.S. born children. Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens, then, have had their parents deported. So the VACIR has changed its tact and directed its energy toward pressuring the Obama administration to act since the House of Representatives has failed in its responsibilities. They are also looking at ways state legislators can address the issues.
11% of Virginians were born outside the United States. They, like all Virginians, need the tools and opportunities necessary to build strong families, healthy communities, and a culturally and economically thriving Virginia. For now VACIR is focused on four key areas:
Comprehensive Immigration Reform at the Federal level
Where do we even begin with Federal reform? The well is poisoned. I will disclose that my bias on this matter begins and ends with the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, Simpson-Mazzoli, and close personal experiences with immigration and naturalization. Some 3 million immigrants were granted amnesty in 1986. That is the precedent that those who are angry should focus on when crying about today's "failed policies." And the fact is that the reason for the current flood is not anything President Obama has done but a more pedestrian cause: it's the economy stupid; the economy in Honduras, El Salvador and the rest of Central and South America. Places where we meddled, then abandoned; the spawn of Ronald Reagan's foreign policy abetted by Ollie North and "company."
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