The Rodney Report: Dreams And Dignity

  • Ending The Dream
  • An Ounce Of Prevention …
  • Labor Day And Labor Issues

 

Ending The Dream

On Tuesday, it appears that President Trump will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  Despite Trump’scranky_rodney_image.jpg pledge to treat DACA recipients with “great heart,” this move will place the future of 800,000 recipients in jeopardy, including 22,000 in New Jersey. Commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” DACA recipients were brought to the U.S. as young children and have proven themselves to be productive members of our community.  

The program provided protection from deportation for immigrant youth brought to the U.S. as young children. Many DACA recipients have graduated at the top of their class to become doctors, lawyers, and teachers.  Given the essential role Dreamers play in our economy, the Center for American Progress estimates that ending DACA would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national GDP over the next decade, with a $1.6 billion loss annually in New Jersey alone.  

 

DACA recipients are also our neighbors, family, and friends. Just this past week, Alonso Guillen, a DACA recipient, was volunteering in Houston on a boat to save those trapped by the floodwaters when he capsized and drowned.  Alonso’s dedication to helping others is emblematic of the commitment of Dreamers to their communities.

News outlets are reporting that Trump will delay rescinding DACA for six months to give Congress time to fill the void, but it seems unlikely that this Congress will find common ground on which to act. And while Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen reportedly told an NJ 11th For Change member this weekend that Trump “should have done something to protect DACA,” the congressman has consistently voted against the program.

In 2015, Frelinghuysen voted for legislation to defund DACA although twenty-six Republicans, including LoBiondo, Smith, and MacArthur, broke with their party to vote against the bill.  Frelinghuysen toed the party line, characterizing the program as “executive amnesty.” The same year, Frelinghuysen voted against an amendment that would have encouraged the Pentagon to study options to enlist undocumented immigrants as a pathway to legal status.  Again, 20 Republicans, including two from New Jersey, broke ranks to support the amendment; Frelinghuysen was not one of them. And in 2016, he voted against allowing the military to enlist DACA recipients.  Once again, what Frelinghuysen tells his constituents in New Jersey is at odds with how he votes on the Hill.  

An Ounce Of Prevention ...

As we reported last week, funding to help the Houston area recover after Harvey will be a priority as Congress returns to Washington.  Rodney Frelinghuysen will have a tremendous role to play as Appropriations chair, and he has pledged to help.  But his actions this past year demonstrate his true priorities.

Frelinghuysen was the “architect” behind the latest appropriations bill slashing FEMA’s budget by $876 billion in order to fund Trump’s border wall.   Although the Appropriations Committee is “reassessing the issue” as “circumstances have changed,” the cuts demonstrate a willingness to cave to Trump’s demands, as well as a short-sightedness and a lack of awareness for the importance of federal disaster programs.

Houston’s problems with flooding are not news. In 2015, the city was hit with a flood on Memorial Day that took eight lives, while in 2016, a flood on Tax Day claimed another nine people.  In response, Representatives Al Green and Gene Green (no relation) of the Houston area proposed bi-partisan legislation to appropriate $311 million for flood control projects in the Houston area.  The bill, H.R. 5025, has 102 co-sponsors.  Unfortunately, when the bill was introduced in the House, it was referred to the Budget and Appropriations Committees, where it never came up for a vote.  Frelinghuysen’s office declined a request for a comment from news outlets reporting this story.

Congress must be proactive in funding local efforts to protect against natural disasters before they happen.  As climate change will increase the severity and quantity of storms, it is essential that our leaders in Washington respond to community needs before disaster strikes.  Not only would such an approach potentially save lives, it’s also cost-effective.  The $311 million request to prevent catastrophic flooding pales in comparison to the billions of dollars now needed to repair the devastation.  We hope that appropriations bills going forward take into consideration the needs of areas most at risk, and allocate funding to prevent future tragedies.

Labor Day: A ‘Movement To Suppress Wrongs’

We have officially reached summer’s end, the thought that surfaces every year on Labor Day. But when Labor Day first became an official federal holiday in 1894, it was hardly a poignant seasonal signpost. Our country was living through seismic and seminal events in labor history.

Labor Day’s roots extend into the 1880s, with a parade organized by New York City unions. The idea caught on, and several states (including New Jersey) already had declared their own Labor Day holidays by the time the federal observance came around.

The 1890s was an era of often militant labor struggles, and it bred fierce fighters like Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. Perhaps many primarily recognize her name from being splashed across magazine covers, but Mary Harris Jones was a real person who forged a purpose in the wake of unbearable loss. After her husband and four young children died in an epidemic, Jones worked as a seamstress for a few years before discovering a talent and passion for labor organizing. She fought for the union movement with unyielding energy for the rest of her life. It’s worth considering the commitment required to wring out such concessions as a 40-hour work week, vacation time, and an end to kiddie factory labor.

Unfortunately labor injustice has not faded obligingly into the history books. The Los Angeles Times recently reported on modern-day sweatshops where workers are paid well below minimum wage to turn out clothing for high-profile retailers. And injustices to many other laborers who do necessary, tough work go undetected, because they are undocumented.

As Esquire’s Charlie Pierce reported the other day, undocumented workers will likely do a lot of rebuilding in Texas post-Hurricane Harvey. One study found that half of all Texas construction workers may be undocumented, and a study of construction workers involved in rebuilding Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina found that perhaps a quarter of them were undocumented as well. It’s a plain if inconvenient fact that building trades lean heavily on immigrant workers, an economic factor Frelinghuysen and his fellow representatives would do well to consider as Donald Trump continues his vendetta against immigrants.

Meanwhile, here are some issues to watch as Trump and Congress push ahead on their budget and spending proposals. There’s quite a bit for working Americans to ponder, such as a cut in OSHA spending, plus the fate of overtime rules and various safety standards enacted by the Obama administration. We can also ponder the AFL-CIO’s 15 percent score for Frelinghuysen on workers’ rights, the lowest of the New Jersey delegation.

Now more than ever, it’s vital never to take workers for granted. Writing at In These Times, writer and labor organizer Shaun Richman proposes a workers’ bill of rights for 2017 that likely would get a nod of approval from Mary Harris Jones. “I believe movements to suppress wrongs can be carried out under the protection of our flag,” she once said. The need for fighting wrongs to working people is never far away. (Photo: Library of Congress collections)

-- Liz Jarit and Liz Lynch

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