Tuesday, December 2, 2014

President Obama’s executive order fails H- 2A immigrant farmworkers

The United States agricultural sector depends on immigration policies that ensure farmers an adequate legal workforce to harvest the nation’s crops and process its food.  Agricultural work is unattractive to United States citizens and immigrants have historically served as the backbone of our nation’s agricultural sector.  Factors that make farm labor unappealing to citizens include low wages compared to other jobs, harsh weather conditions, backbreaking physical labor, and the often seasonal nature of such work.The government estimates that more than 80% of America's crop workers are Hispanic and mostly Mexican. The Department of Labor reports that of the 2.5 million farm workers in the U.S., over half are illegal immigrants.  Currently, there is only one single immigration law that provides legal status to foreigners seeking work as seasonal agricultural labors.  That visa is the H-2A agricultural guest worker visa.    

The H-2A visa is an infamous program, fraught with allegations employer abuse.  The definition of “seasonal worker”, coupled with the traditional rural location of farmlands makes it exceedingly difficult for H2A visa workers to unionize or even merely ban together to advocate for workers’ rights.  First of all, the nature of the visa creates a migrant workforce that presumably disbands and relocates each harvesting season.  Furthermore, the spatial isolation of many farms and fields where H2A visa holders work creates an opportunity for labor abuse to go unnoticed by authorities and the media.  There are a number of articles detailing the abuse faced by H2A workers, including wage theft, human trafficking, and abhorrent working conditions.
In its coverage of Obama’s executive order announcement, The New York Times made it clear that the relief would not be able to protect immigrants under the H2A visa. “Farm workers, for example, will not be singled out for protections because of concerns that it was difficult to justify legally treating them differently from undocumented workers in other jobs, like hotel clerks, day laborers and construction workers.” Thus, any protection afforded to farmworkers in particular is incidental to the overall scope of the executive order.  That scope does not apply extensively to illegal farmworkers and, moreover, the text of the order actually excludes current H2A visa holders. 
A memorandum issued by the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services outlines the exact parameters of the provided relief. Review of the memo expose inadequacies that will leave farmworkers vulnerable to abuse.
In order to qualify for relief under Obama’s new executive order, an applicant must not have lawful status as of November 20, 2014, the date of the memo. In other words, an individual must be illegal in order to qualify for relief.  Agricultural workers currently holding an H2A visa are legally present in the United States and, therefore, unable to qualify for deferred action.  It is true that, ostensibly, an immigrant with a visa does not need to resort to deferred deportation because the government will not deport them so long as they abide by the terms of the visa.  However, the H2A visa has one particularly infamous term that the farmworker must follow: the migrant worker must remain with the same employer.  This small detail allows farmers to have huge leverage over H2A visa holders; as soon as the farmworker criticizes working conditions or asserts the right to fair wages, the farmer can decline to sponsor the immigrant for the H2A visa.  The consequence is that H2A immigrants are bound to their employer in order to remain in legal status. 
The exclusion of current H2A visa holders from deferred action, therefore, leaves a vulnerable population subject to potential labor abuses.  If the president’s deferred action program would have allowed for H2A visa holders to also apply for deferred action, it would have provided the agricultural workforce with a means by which to challenge abusive employers without running the risk of losing their visa and facing deportation.  Inclusion of H2A visa holders would have stabilized the pool of legal workers available to harvest and process the United States’ food supply.  Sadly, President Obama missed the opportunity.   

Why has rural become synonymous with Republican?

Beneath the recent battle royale for the Senate underlies a tension that subsumes partisanship and has been present for years: urban verse rural. This divide was alluded to by Mr. Dale Sterns of DowneyBrand in his recent lecture at King Hall. During his lecture, Mr. Sterns mentioned that the urban populations' vote has been trumping that of the sub-urban and rural residents in recent elections.

The difference in partisanship seems be more and more correlated with how and where people live.

If you are rural, you likely live in spread-out, open, low-population, perhaps agrarian area. If you live in an urban area, you likely experience a high population density and diverse community.

This creates a divide: 'blue' city and 'red' countryside. According to a recent article and the Atlantic, the divide between the blue urban and red rural areas has been growing since 1984, “culminating in 2012, when 27 out of the nation's 30 most populous cities voted Democratic.” This is in contrast to everywhere else, which is much more red.

Most urban area voters have been voting Democratic. This trend in separation skews the national average of counties in presidential elections. There are more rural counties than urban, thus more counties seemingly vote Republican as when compared to the overall vote because there are more rural counties, but fewer rural voters.

This was evidenced in the recent midterm election. Across the nation, rural counties turned out in high numbers and helped turn their states red. For example, in Clark County, Nevada, (where more than two-thirds of the state’s population resides) overall voter turnout was only 41 percent. Whereas turnout in many rural counties topped 60 percent, hitting 83 percent in Lander and 80 percent Eureka Counties. This turnout played a key role in the Republican sweep of statewide offices on the ballot in Nevada. Thus, it is clear that the votes of rural and small-town Americans remain crucial in statewide and presidential elections.

But why the divide? Why has rural become synonymous with Republican?

The Atlantic asserts that the “Democrats did it to themselves.” The headline of the article reveals the contention, “Chuck Schumer is right: Prioritizing healthcare and civil rights over the party's traditional focus on helping working-class Americans move up was a noble but costly choice.” There are many reasons for this decline in support for Democrats among certain groups, but the Atlantic article asserts that it is an abandoning of the New Deal Democratic principles that have caused the rift between rural America and the Democratic Party. 

I think that the problem is much deeper. However, I do feel that rural America likely feels that the Republican party is more concerned with their interests, where this is truthful or mere propaganda.

The effects of rural poverty on education

In the past, television shows such as the “Andy Griffith Show” have portrayed rural life as wholesome and peaceful. However, more recently media attention has provided a glimpse into the combination of rampant unemployment, poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, high incarceration rates, and lack of educational opportunities that plagues places of concentrated rural poverty. Documentaries such as “Rich Hill” are a prime example.
Rich Hill” tracks a year in the lives of three boys in a small Missouri town and highlights the challenges that these boys face in achieving academic success. Only one of the three boys in the film lives with two parents, neither of whom has a steady job. Appachey lives with a single mother who has been working minimum-wage jobs, and Harley lives with his grandmother while his mother is in prison. From the documentary it seems that healthy food is scarce, and only one of the three homes seems to offer a quiet space conducive to studying. All three boys live in environments that affect their mental and emotional well-being, and their schools are ill-equipped to address these challenges.
According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, a larger percentage of public schools in rural areas reported being underenrolled, reported a lack instructional computers with internet access, and a lack of counselors, social workers and special education teachers. Most rural schools face higher costs with lower revenues, and spend an average of 10 percent less per student than metropolitan communities. Teachers in rural communities often have less training, receive lower pay, and are overall less educated than teachers in non-rural communities
Past studies have also shown that when students do not experience quality individualized attention in the classroom, they are more likely to doubt their abilities and feel that no one cares about their performance. If students do not feel that school benefits them, school can begin to feel like a burden and often they will stop going. In “Rich Hill” we see that Harley is a chronic truant who does not seem to be school as beneficial or worth his time. Truancy among rural youth has been associated with decreased parent education and a less structured home environment. Truancy rates can be buffered by more educated parents, or parents who are more involved in a student‘s education, however; in many poor rural areas parents are forced to work long hours or more than one job. In such circumstances it is often impossible for a parent to spend much time with their children.
Participation in school sports or other after school activities can also be a way to prevent truancy among children, but rural communities provide far fewer opportunities for students. Isolated areas rarely have community centers or other safe places where children and teens can go and spend time or engage in extracurricular activities. But although after school programming is essential to the academic success of children, because many students have to travel long distances to and from school, it may not be possible to engage in such after school activities even if they were available.

Even more than poor urban areas, poor rural areas lack resources such as quality education, health care, nutrition education, physical activities, mental health resources, and social enrichment activities. A lack of resources can impede on academic opportunities and successes and eventually a child’s preparation for adulthood. However, because urban poverty has been the basis of the majority of these studies rural poverty and its effect on education often goes unnoticed.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Presidential action and immigration

On November 20th, in President Barack Obama's televised address to the nation, the President broadcasted his plan to reform U.S. immigration policy.

In his address, the President announced that he intends to take Presidential Action on immigration. President Obama noted this action was a direct ramification of the stalemate position that the House of Representatives had adopted on immigration reform. According to the White House, the President’s “Immigration Accountability Executive Actions” will help secure the border, hold “nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants accountable, and ensure that everyone plays by the same rules . . . These executive actions crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes as they register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.”

The Presidential Actions taken November 20th are not amnesty, as some would claim. These Presidential Actions are a reform. What President Obama is doing, is using his executive power to restructure immigration enforcement policy and prioritize deportations.

Those who benefit from the President’s executive action are: parents of U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent Residents; undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16; and spouses and children of Legal Permanent Residents. It is worth noting that for most of these, the beneficiary must be able to pass a background check in order to apply for Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and a work permit. The reform is an attempt on the administration to check the ongoing deportation of undocumented immigrants and stop the separation of families, such that, the undocumented parents of U.S.-born citizens get a temporary "deferred" status and thus can't be removed for three years. The actions are anticipated be in effect by May 20, 2015.Recent polling by the American Communities Project suggests that people living in urban areas are supportive of the president’s move, and that those in the exurbs and rural America are strongly opposed to the President’s actions.

However, rural America should actually like the reform, if only for economic reasons, as it has been suggested that without a stable workforce America’s rural agricultural producers will crumble in the coming years. Further, reform will bring labor exploitation that provides an unfair advantage to those who refuse to observe the law to an end. 

In his speech, the President acknowledged that our immigration system is broken and the impact that it has on the economy and the American people. He said: 

“Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America.”
Fixing this system benefits everyone. Ideally, Obama will continue to try to work with Congress to pass a bipartisan bill that everyone in Washington will support. This would have more widespread, permanent effects.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Significance of rural votes in Colorado's 2014 gubernatorial general election.

Prior to the 2014 mid-term elections, earlier this month, reporter Jack Healy wrote an article in the New York Times projecting a tight governor’s race in the state of Colorado. The gubernatorial race pitted incumbent Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former Mayor of Denver, against Bob Beauprez, a Republican and former congressman. This was the second time these two have faced each other in the race for Governor’s Mansion—Beauprez losing in the last match by 17 points.

The article explains that Republicans focused their efforts on distinguishing Beauprez’s stance from Hickenlooper’s on gun control, the death penalty, and hydraulic fracturing. Republicans believed that rural votes would pay an important role in this election, so they focused on these issues hoping to play off the differences between urban and rural Coloradoans. Reiterating Republicans’ focus on the importance of rural voters in this election Beauprez expressed, “Rural Colorado, I think, probably determines the outcome of this election.”

Well, Tuesday, November 4, 2014 came and Tuesday, November 4, 2014 went. Election results were tallied. CNN and Fox News reported on those tallied results. And when it was all said and done, Beauprez lost the gubernatorial race.

Beauprez was unable to oust incumbent Hickenlooper. The race was tight, but Beauprez lost. He won 46.2% of the votes, but Gov. Hickenlooper won 49.1%. Post-election, I was interested to see whether Republicans and Beauprez were correct in claiming that rural Colorado would “…I think, probably” determine the outcome of this gubernatorial race. Did Beauprez lose because he lost the rural vote? Or was the importance of the rural vote overhyped by Republicans?

To decipher the impact of rural votes, I will compare the Beauprez-Hickenlooper gubernatorial results to the Gardner-Udall senatorial results. These two races had similar facts, a Democratic incumbent challenged by a Republican, who had served in Congress, for a statewide seat. Despite the similar settings between the two races, the results differed drastically. While the Hickenlooper was reelected, Udall’s incumbency was terminated in a 2.5 point loss to Gardner.

In Colorado, there are 47 nonmetropolitan counties, according to US Census data. Of those 47 rural counties, in both races, Democratic candidates won the same 14 counties and Republican candidates won the same 33 counties. The margins of victory and number of votes won in those 14 democratic-leaning, rural counties were larger for Hickenlooper than Udall. For example, in Ouray County, both Hickenlooper and Udall won, but Hickenlooper acquired 53.6% (1,430 votes), while Udall won only 42.9% of the vote (1,145 votes). In the same county, Gardner lost by a smaller margin and won more votes than Beauprez did. Gardner won 45.9% of the vote (1,228), while Beauprez won only 42.9% (1,145 votes). The outcomes in all rural counties won by Democrats look the same: Hickenlooper obtain more votes than Udall; Gardner obtained more votes than Beauprez in their loss. When analyzing the 33 counties that Republican candidates won, the same occurs: Gardner obtains more votes than Beauprez, but in the county victory; Hickenlooper obtains more votes than Udall, but in a losing effort. Looking solely at rural counties, it might seem that rural votes did largely determine the gubernatorial race. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case because of what happened in the metropolitan counties.

In the metropolitan Mesa County, Republican candidates won. But like in the rural counties won by Republicans, Gardner won more votes than Beauprez did in the county victory (Gardner: 37,607 votes; Beauprez: 33,655 votes) and Hickenlooper won more votes than Udall did in the county loss(Hickenlooper: 18,969 votes; Udall: 14,639 votes). Additionally, Beauprez failed to win a metropolitan county that Gardner won, Jefferson County. Beauprez, also, gained fewer votes than Gardner gained in metropolitan counties that both Republican candidates lost (e.g., Denver County).

Thus, it seems as though rural or nonmetropolitan votes did not play as significant as role in the gubernatorial race as Republicans speculated. It seems as though had Beauprez gained more votes in metropolitan counties that he both won and lost, he might have been able to edge out Hickenlooper in the same way that Gardner beat Udall. So, it appears that Beauprez merely lost the race, hands down. Had he performed as well as Gardner did in the rural counties, he likely still would have lost because of his under-performance in metropolitan counties.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The presidential pardon power--Thanksgiving edition

According to article II, section 2 of the United States Constitution, the president has the “[p]ower to grant [r]eprieves and [p]ardons for [o]ffenses against the United States.”  Accordingly, those who have been convicted of federal crimes may petition the president through the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Seemingly, this authority to pardon federal criminals has been extended to turkeys.  Most turkeys have been privately executed each Thanksgiving season, but for at least the past half century, the president has pardoned one or two birds each year. 

On this year’s Thanksgiving eve, President Obama pardoned two turkeys.  Each bird was 20 weeks old and weighed 48 pounds.  One of the turkeys was named Mac, and the other was named Cheese. 

To most people, including myself, the turkey pardoning has merely been just another White House tradition that the president undertakes for the public.  Perhaps it is a tongue-and-cheek way of showing support for our nation’s agriculture, and more specifically, turkeys.   

The origin of this annual tradition is unclear.  Legend has it that the tradition began in 1863 during Lincoln’s presidency.  According to an official White House blogger, the story begins with Tad Lincoln who pled to his father to grant clemency for a turkey destined for the White House dining table.  In another legend captured by a New York Times article, Tad Lincoln named this lucky turkey “Jack”, which then became a “First Turkey”—that is, a pet that followed Tad around.   

From 1873, during President Grant’s term, a Rhode Island farmer named Horace Vose began sending turkeys to the White House every Thanksgiving, even though not all birds ended up on the dinner table.  However, since Vose continued this practice for the next quarter century, he earned himself publicity and established a new White House tradition.  Vose died by the start of World War I, which then prompted a wide range of individuals and organizations to send turkeys to the White House.   

The present day tradition has been somewhat consistent since 1947.  In 1947, President Truman hosted a photo-op for the turkey donated by the National Turkey Federation.  Since that Thanksgiving, the National Turkey Federation has provided turkeys to the president; this year’s event marked the 67th annual National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation.  

Although President Truman might have started an annual turkey presentation, the turkeys in this era were not pardoned, but were rather cooked for the president.  It wasn’t until 1963 when President Kennedy chose not to eat the turkey presented to him and returned it to its farm.  President Nixon did something similar by sending his turkeys to a local petting zoo. 

President George H.W. Bush was the first president to grant an official pardon to the White House turkey.  Ironically, upon release, one of the turkeys was sent to a park named “Frying Pan Park” in the outskirts of the Washington, D.C. metro area.   

Gone are the days where a private citizen like Vose can offer a turkey to the White House each Thanksgiving, as the White House does not currently accept perishable donations, such as food, for security reasons.   

If you want to eat a presidential turkey, though, you can do so by purchasing the Grand Champion brand turkey from Jaindl Farms, which is the Orefield, Penn. farm that has supplied the White House with turkeys for actual consumption for the past forty years.  

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Souq day, the most important day of the week

The trucks arrive early in the morning, around 4:30 a.m. By 6 a.m. the dusty field in the middle of town is transformed into a small tent city. By 3 p.m. they will all be gone and the field will be littered with trash. It’s Sunday or what I call ‘souq’ day in Had Ait Mimoun. Had Ait Mimoun is a small village in Morocco. It was my home for two years while serving in the Peace Corps. I estimate the population to be around 1,000. However, on souq day the number easily swells to 2 or 3 times that.

Souq means marketplace in Arabic. It generally refers to an open-air market place. Imagine a swap meet/farmers market hybrid. You can buy anything and everything there, from groceries to clothes to household goods. The souq can be daily or weekly. There are even specialty souqs, where the entire marketplace is devoted to one kind of product like the spice souq in Marrakech. The weekly souq is the most common form. Vendors travel around a souq circuit in their respective regions and each village in the area has souq one day per week.

The souq is of tremendous importance to a village like Had Ait Mimoun. The souq is the only opportunity for villagers to buy fresh food. In Had Ait Mimoun, there are only three small stores called hanouts. A hanout is nothing more than a walk up window where you can buy staple items like milk, eggs, flour, oil, sugar, and tea. And the milk and eggs are not always guaranteed to be in stock. A weekly souq eliminates the hardship of travelling 30 kilometers to the nearest city to buy food and goods.

A key difference between shopping at a hanout and the souq is price. At the hanout, all the prices are fixed. There is no negotiating. At the souq, the prices are flexible and fluctuate with your bargaining skills. Prices are always negotiable. If you buy in bulk or all your produce from one vendor you can usually get a lower price. I witnessed people argue over price down to the half Dirham (1 Dirham = $.11). Five cents may not seem like a lot, but in Had Ait Mimoun every Dirham counts. Vendors even sell on credit. They keep a ledger of what is purchased, the price, and by whom.

A good majority of the villagers work in agriculture. By no coincidence payday is on souq day. On souq day the farm managers come to town with large wads of cash. The field workers seek them out one by one and get their money to live off for the next week. By days end most of that money is gone.   

Souq day is about more than just shopping for food. It is an important day for community. It’s guaranteed that the whole village will be flooded visitors. Relatives visit with each other. Business deals are negotiated. The Sheriff comes to town. The normally vacant cafes in town are full of people chatting over a cup of tea or coffee.

I had a souq tradition. Every Sunday I would wake up early because my bedroom window was on the perimeter of the souq field. I would get up and buy sfinge. Sfinge is fried dough like a doughnut but without a sugary topping. Then I would go shopping with my host mother. I was always looking for the most outrageous thing I could find. The best souq find I made was a knockoff Dolce and Gabbana belt. It was thick white leather and had a gaudy belt buckle. The buckle was shiny chrome and in the shape of my initials DG in cursive font. After navigating the souq my host mother would make a large lunch and we would share it with friends and relatives. 

I miss the souq. It is one of my fondest memories of Had Ait Mimoun. I forged good relationships from the vendors I shopped from. I spent a lot of time talking and visiting with people on souq day. Most of my cultural and language competence came from my experiences on souq day.



Monday, November 24, 2014

Museums in rural America

From the Louvre in Paris, to the British Museum in London, to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim, and American Museum of Natural History in New York, I visit as many museums as I can whenever I vacation. Reflecting on my visits to my favorite museums, I realized they all have one thing in common: location. Many of the world-renowned museums are located in metropolitan cities. This realization compelled me to wonder: what about people who live in rural areas? Are they deprived of the culture and education that museums provide?

According to data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent government agency that counts the number and type of museums in this country, there are over 35,000 museums in the United States. Museums are defined broadly to include aquariums, arboretums, botanical gardens, art museums, children’s museums, general museums, historic houses and sites, history museums, nature centers, natural history and anthropology museums, planetariums, science and technology centers, specialized museums, and zoological parks. This comprehensive definition may help explain why the number of museums is so high. Although the places with the most museums are big cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Diego, and Washington D.C., rural areas are not devoid of museums. For example, Storey County, Nevada, population 3,942, has 11 museums. In fact, 43% of all museums are located in rural towns! For an interactive map of the museums all over the United States, click here.

Even though museums do exist in many rural areas, there are still many counties that do not contain any museums. Up to 175 counties, mostly in the South, do not contain any museums. One of the major reasons is a lack of funding. Unfortunately, funding is often a concern for current museums, too. Due to their location, museums in small, rural towns often have the fewest opportunities for funding or technical assistance, and they cannot afford to bring in the types of desirable exhibits that museums in bigger cities can afford. Because museums are important for a variety of reasons, including providing education and employing people in the community, keeping museum doors open is vital. Luckily, the Federation of State Humanities Councils and the Smithsonian InstitutionTraveling Exhibition Services understand the importance of keeping museums in rural America alive and have partnered together to create the Museum on Main Street (MOMS) program.

MOMS provides museums in rural areas with access to resources they wouldn’t otherwise have and helps them improve their current institutions. For example, MOMS circulates various Smithsonian exhibitions. Since 1994, they have served more than 900 communities with a median population of 8,000 in 46 states and Guam. Not only do rural museums benefit from the resources offered by MOMS, but the community is enriched with greater access to historical and cultural artifacts. To see if MOMS is coming to your area, click here.

Personally, I was happy to learn that museums are not limited to the bigger cities because every individual, no matter where they live, should have access to these educational opportunities. Next time you find yourself in a rural town, you should take the time to check out the local museum – you never know what you might learn!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Detention centers in the deportation equation

Immigrants awaiting deportation – whether refugees seeking asylum or green card holders with years of legal residence in the United States – are often incarcerated in detention centers located in remote areas throughout the country.  The government’s use of rural, geographically isolated prisons is presumably an effort to prevent overcrowding in the large cities where most illegal “aliens” are arrested by ICE officers.  However, the rural location of the detention centers  has such blatant and devastating effects on deportation defense, that it is questionable whether the government doesn’t purposefully isolate immigrants facing deportation in order to make the removal process easier. 
Although I will briefly explain the terms “legal immigrant” and “illegal immigrant” as understood in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), I will not use the statute’s term “alien.”  No human is an alien.  I use the term “non-citizen.”
A legal immigrant is a non-citizen that has been admitted into the United States under the country’s immigration laws.  Examples include legal permanent residents (“green card” holders) and temporary seasonal agricultural workers.  An illegal immigrant is a non-citizen not admitted into the country through legal channels and without a documented legal status.   
Both groups are potentially vulnerable to removal through the deportation process.  Unlike a defendant in the criminal system, a non-citizen does not have a right to counsel at a deportation trial.  Often lacking basic English, a non-citizen may be pitted against the forces of the Department of Homeland Security’s team of attorneys. 
Locating immigration detention facilities in rural counties prejudices both legal and illegal immigrants because it impairs the ability to gather evidence for defense and limits access to legal counsel. 
A legal immigrant might qualify, for example, for Cancellation of Removal.  That form of relief requires a redwood tree of paperwork and evidence.  A successful Cancellation of Removal case often includes: written declarations from friends and family attesting to the non-citizen’s good moral character, proof of a clean criminal history from law enforcement, medical records, financial documents spanning back half a decade.  A non-citizen held in a rural detention facility simply does not have access to those documents.  The remote location makes it physically impossible to gather the necessary documents.  Likewise, friends and family on the outside might have a difficult time traveling to the detention center to offer help with collecting the myriad of documents. 
To further illustrate the problem of an isolated detention center, consider the effect on legally complex cases.   For example, an illegal immigrant might defend against deportation by asking for asylum.  The United States has joined the humanitarian effort to allow non-citizens to stay when they show a well-founded fear of being persecuted if returned to their home country.  The process is incredibility complicated and most people have small prospects of succeeding when they represent themselves.  For example, in 2007, Human Rights Watch noted that represented asylum seekers were granted asylum at a rate of 45.6%, almost three times as high as the rate for those without legal counsel.  A non-citizen held in a remote detention center simply does not have access to competent immigration attorneys that are found in larger cities like Los Angeles and New York.  The Wickersham Commission observed that in “many cases” a lawyer acting for an alien would prevent a deportation “which would have been an injustice but which the alien herself would have been powerless to stop.” Although representation is clearly crucial, many non-citizens are represented by pro bono attorneys that simply cannot afford to travel to rural detention centers to help prepare a case.  As Human Rights Watch laments, “[a]lmost invariably, there are fewer prospects for finding an attorney in the remote locations” where immigrants are detained.
Cesar Garcia Hernandez proposed a particularly innovative method to advocate for the rights of detained immigrants.   Mr. Garcia Hernandez correctly noted that a non-citizen is not afford the protections of the Sixth Amendment, which includes right to legal counsel and right to a speedy trial, because they are not US citizens.  However, Mr. Garcia Hernandez suggest that the governments process of detaining immigrants violations the Due Process Clause, which protects all regardless of legal status. A claim of Due Process violation, then, might effectively provide non-citizens with a legal remedy for the detrimental practice of detainment in rural locations.   
Whether the rural location of many detention centers is a pernicious strategy on the part of the government may be difficult to prove.  Slowly the issue is gaining attention in the media and in the courts.  In 2003, the Supreme Court recognized unconstitutional violations to Due Process that may occur from the government’s power to “detain, transfer, and isolate aliens away from their lawyers, witnesses, and evidence.”   Let’s hope that recognition can serve as a spring board for immigration reform.

It’s okay to be a LGBT student in rural America – or is it?

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has made great strides in the last decade. Although some aspects may be improving, such as marriage equality, young people who identify as LGBT are still suffering in a big way: bullying and harassment in school. According to a study from the Gay, Lesbian andStraight Education Network (GLSEN), rural and small town schools pose the greatest threat for LGBT students.

GLSEN’s study documented the experiences of more than 2,300 LGBT students, ages 13-20, who attend schools in rural areas. This in-depth examination uncovered many significant challenges for these students. For example, 81% of students in rural schools reported feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression; students in the South and Midwest felt the most unsafe. Eighty-seven percent of students reported being verbally harassed, 45% reported being physically harassed, and 22% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. Most rural youth reported that such incidents were not effectively addressed by school staff; only 13% of rural LGBT students said that school personnel intervened when they heard homophobic remarks, while 11% said school personnel intervened when they heard negative remarks related to gender expression.

Many LGBT students cope with bullying and harassment by taking steps that ultimately affect their academic performance. For example, 53% of LGBT students who experienced a high level of verbal harassment reported skipping classes or missing school to avoid hostile school environments. Those students who experienced high levels of harassment and assault had significantly lower grade point averages (2.9 versus 3.2) and lower college aspirations.

Faculty and students can do several things to counter bullying and harassment in rural schools. For example, school administration can implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies. Although forty-nine states already have anti-bullying laws, attaining funding for bullying prevention programs is often troublesome for schools, so schools fail to implement required policies and programs. Additionally, many state laws have lax standards and/or do not have a clear definition of which types of behavior and what situations constitute bullying. To truly help LGBT students in rural areas, faculty and administration need to hold themselves accountable to state laws, and possibly even create more extensive policies within their own schools. Schools can also create curriculum that includes lessons about LGBT people and issues (such as California, which requires public schools to teach students about the contributions of lesbian,gay, bisexual and transgender Americans), and support student clubs, such as Gay-Straight Alliances. Students in rural schools have reported that these kinds of resources provide higher levels of feeling belonging and lower levels of victimization.

Reducing bullying and harassment may be a challenging task, especially in rural schools that may have fewer resources. Luckily, organizations exist that are dedicated to helping LGBT students. For example, Outright Vermont is an organization that has worked with LGBT youth since 1989. Although they generally work in both urban and rural areas of Vermont, they have recently teamed up with the Department of Justice on a special three-year project that is designed to reduce bullying in Vermont’s rural communities, such as Bennington, Caledonia, Essex, Lamoille, Orange, Orleans, Windham, and Windsor counties. Outright Vermont helps LGBT students in rural areas by training faculty and staff on LGBT issues, expanding the network of Gay-Straight Alliances and support groups, and providing anti-bullying training and resources. In addition to organizations like Outright Vermont, there are also online resources such as GLSEN. In short, even schools in rural communities who may have more limited resources than their urban counterparts can reach out to various organizations to help LGBT students.

Although the LGBT experience seems to slowly be getting better in rural areas due to national campaigns and new regulations (see posts here and here), bullying and harassment is still a problem. LGBT students in rural communities tend to suffer more than students in suburban and urban areas, and these problems must be addressed. By tackling these issues, faulty and school administrators can help remove barriers to academic success and emotional well-being for LGBT students.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Domestic violence and seeking help in rural communities

We often hear about the isolation of rural America as one of the defining features of rurality. In particular, the social isolation of rural America cuts off its residents from important resources and opportunities, from meaningful access to the political process to access to health care. This geographic and social isolation, and the resulting concerns about confidentiality in small communities can be especially problematic for women who are victims of domestic abuse. Rural women may hesitate to seek services anonymity. This isolation and limited resources can further entrap these women in their violent relationships.  More than one-third of women in rural areas will be victimized by an intimate partner. However, domestic violence and sexual assault services are primarily concentrated in urban and suburban areas. As a result, in many parts of the country it is not unusual for victims to be forced to drive several hours, or even fly out, to obtain victim services.

The geographic isolation experienced by many rural families limits the opportunities for the identification of and timely intervention to domestic violence. There are often large expanses of land that separate one family home from another, and sometimes these distances are also spanned by mountains or impassable waterways. Coercion through deprivation and isolation are common tools used by abusers to maintain their power over the victim, and these problems are only exacerbated in rural areas. In Alaska for example, there have been a number of instances where abusive partners have relocated their families to remote communities to isolate them from the support of their friends and families. With the wintry climate of Alaska, victims are often held hostage in their own homes with no winter clothing or means of escaping their extreme isolation.

In addition, public transportation can be very limited or non-existent in rural areas. Families may not have access to an automobile or may only have one vehicle that is not available to all members of the family. And aside from the problem of transportation, reliable telephone service can also be expensive in certain regions due to the topography and geography of some areas, and as a result many rural families do not have telephones in their homes. This sort of rural isolation decreases the opportunities for the identification of an abusive situation as violent incidences are less like to be witnessed by objective parties and as it boosts the abuser’s ability to prevent a victim’s escape. It is not uncommon for rural victims to report that their abuser controlled the access to any vehicles, refused to allow the victim to learn to drive, or disabled any existing telephone system.

Women in rural areas are much less likely than urban women to have credit in their own name, personal savings, individual checking accounts, or control over their own earnings.
Rural women overwhelmingly report economic reasons, such as limited job opportunities, lack of available housing, insufficient child care resources, as barriers to leaving their abusers. Although economic conditions vary across rural communities, persistent poverty is common, particularly in the southeast, southwest and Appalachian region and rural economics are generally unfavorable to women

Unique aspects of rural life, such as distance from victim services, the close-knit nature of rural communities, and the scarcity of employment and educational opportunities make it difficult for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to report the abuse, leave abusive relationships, and seek services. This paints a bleak  picture of rural areas that are typically seen as warm, safe and inviting in contrast to the violent and unwelcoming urban spaces.