Boy Scouts Risk Losing Tax-Exempt Status

BSA
John Kropewnicki / Shutterstock.com

May 30, 2013; The San Luis Obispo Tribune

A couple of weeks ago, the Boy Scouts of America’s national council approved a resolution that lifted the organization’s ban on gay youth while keeping in place its ban on gay adult leaders. Some lauded this development as a step in the right direction, while others, including California lawmakers, thought it was not a big enough step. Last Wednesday, California’s Senate voted to end tax breaks for the Boy Scouts and any other youth group that discriminates based on sexual orientation or gender identity. SB 323, dubbed “The Youth Equality Act,” amends the state’s tax code and revokes exemptions on state sales, use and corporate taxes.

“While the Boy Scouts of America took a step in the right direction to include LGBT youth, the standing ban on LGBT adults is premised on absurd assumptions and stereotypes that perpetuate homophobia and ignorance,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Equality doesn’t come with an expiration date and we shouldn’t allow discrimination to be subsidized; not in our state, not on our dime.” He argues that this is “out of line with the values of California” and SB 323 aligns laws with Californian values.

The Boy Scouts has yet to release a comment on the Senate vote, but during preliminary committee hearings, a former president expressed his concern. “You’re talking about taxing revenue that is important, especially to the local scouts,” said Rick Cronk. Some critics questioned the constitutionality of the bill. Supporters countered, however, that churches which charter scout troops would not be affected, while the statute would send an unequivocal message about equality. Faith-based groups sponsor about 70 percent of scout troops nationwide.

The Boy Scouts took a tentative step towards progress, but the compromise position on gays was not enough for many. Polls reveal that a majority of Americans support the organization’s decision to end the ban on gay youth but oppose the continued exclusion of gay adults. A similar bill has been introduced in the New York Senate, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if other states follow suit. This is clearly an instance when compromise is not politic.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire.

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“Most Important Legislation for Immigrant[s]” in 2012 Vetoed

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September 28, 2012; Source: CNN

Late last night, California Gov. Jerry Brown had the opportunity to sign the TRUST Act but he opted to veto it instead. The bill was seen as the antithesis of Arizona’s approach to illegal immigration. A federal judge gave Arizona law enforcement officials the green light to ask individuals whom they suspect of being in the country illegally for their papers. The controversial provision, which critics view as essentially sanctioning racial profiling in Arizona, was one of the only aspects of the state’s hardcore immigration law that was not overturned by the Supreme Court in June. In contrast, the California law would have limited the ability of local law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal officials, allowing them to share information only on those undocumented immigrants who are convicted of major or violent felonies.

In a letter explaining his decision, Brown said he was “unable to sign the bill as written,” pointing out that “the list of offenses codified in the bill is fatally flawed because it omits many serious crimes.” Prior to Brown’s veto, Jose Antonio Vargas, the award-winning immigrant journalist who gained notoriety when he admitted to not having papers himself, penned an op-ed extolling California’s TRUST Act as a better way for states to deal with undocumented immigrants. He characterized the bill as “the most important piece of legislation for immigrant communities this year,” arguing that signing the bill into law “can prevent the separation of thousands of families, establish an alternative to Arizona’s approach and send a powerful message to the nation: In a state built and replenished by generations of immigrants, fairness and equality matter.”

While Gov. Brown chose to veto the TRUST Act as currently written, he did not slam the door shut on the bill. Brown ended his statement by stating that “the significant flaws in this bill can be fixed, and I will work with Legislature to see that the bill is corrected.” We hope he does so, as the TRUST Act would, as its name suggests, foster trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement officials. It would have freed the latter to focus on crime prevention and safety. It would have made California a more welcoming place for immigrants who have been integral to its past and who are vital to its future.

Ultimately, however, state-by-state measures are a poor substitute for Congress tackling the issue of unauthorized immigration on the federal level. Nonprofit advocacy organizations should encourage (or continue to encourage, in some cases) our federal lawmakers to produce comprehensive immigration legislation that includes a fair and reasonable path to legalizing the status of millions of people who live and work in the U.S. without papers.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 1, 2012.

Updated: 2012 Ushers in New Laws Impacting Immigrants

E-Verify

More states now require employers to use E-Verify to check work authorization status of new hires. (Photo: windley/flickr)

New state immigration laws took effect this week. These include Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennesseestatutes which require employers to confirm that new hires have work authorization through E-Verify, a federal database that crosschecks employee information against the records of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Opponents of E-Verify say it burdens immigrants because the database is prone to error.

In this election year, laws in KansasRhode IslandTennessee and Texas will require all voters to present photo IDs come November.  Some of these laws are directly connected to the fear that non-citizen immigrants will vote in elections. A Tennessee statute will require election officials to compare the Voter Registration database with the Department of Safety database to ensure non-U.S. citizens aren’t registered to vote. If the database crosscheck reveals any discrepancies, these individuals must show citizenship papers.

On the other hand, California stands out in having a number of new laws which benefit the immigrant community.

California took the opposite stance of many states and made it illegal for municipalities to mandate that companies use E-Verify unless required by federal law.

AB 176 requires test sponsors of graduate exams such as GRE, LSAT, MCAT and GMAT to provide alternative methods for verifying a test taker’s identity. Newcomers who have yet to acquire driver’s licenses or other traditional forms of identification stand to benefit from this ordinance.

SB 126 makes it easier for farm workers, who are predominantly immigrants, to join unions and advocate for labor rights. Employers are prohibited from engaging in unfair labor practices such as preventing farm workers from holding a secret ballot election.

AB 353 prohibits impounding the vehicles of those stopped at sobriety checkpoints and found to be without a valid license.

SB 657 requires large retailers and manufacturers to inform consumers what steps have been taken to ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery and human trafficking which disproportionately victimizes immigrants.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that a wide range of laws in at least 21 states took effect on New Year’s Day. Many of these statutes affect the lives of the 37 million immigrants who call America home.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, January 4, 2012. The editors cut the following section which might of  interest to some readers:

New civil rights laws are now in place which can protect some immigrants.

California has amended its Fair Employment and Housing Act to protect members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender women and men, some of whom also belong to the immigrant community.

Delaware and Hawaii legalized civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. The Williams Institute estimates that there are 28,500 binational gay couples in which one partner is an immigrant and nearly 11,500 gay couples in which neither is a U.S. citizen. Although gay unions, unlike straight ones, do not currently provide a path to citizenship for foreign-born spouses, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act will eventually allow gay Americans to sponsor their immigrant spouses.

 

Reasonable State Responses to Immigration

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While federal legislation stalls, some states are passing their own DREAM Acts. (Photo: dreamactivist/flickr)

Most of us have been transfixed by Alabama’s immigration law which surpasses all other state laws in its harshness and stringency.

The Department of Justice asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to stop enforcement of Alabama’s HB 56, concerned that it could lead to racial discrimination. Advocacy groups also filed a separate appeal, citing the law’s immediate aftermath.

State immigration bills such as those passed in Alabama, Georgia and Arizona negatively impact not only immigrants and their families but society in general. They have wide-ranging externalities including lost productivity and revenues. They also have long-term implications for the well-being of our nation.

Fortunately, there are some states bucking the trend and providing more rational, productive and humane solutions to our broken immigration system.

A couple of weeks ago, Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education, encouraged by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, approved the state’s version of the DREAM Act which will allow undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition beginning September 2012. Students without papers must show that they graduated from a Rhode Island high school which they attended for at least three years or received a GED certificate from the state. They must also sign an affidavit promising that they will pursue U.S. citizenship as soon as possible.

Last weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the second half of his state’s DREAM Act. The first half, enacted in July, sanctioned private scholarships and loans for undocumented college students. These students, with the passage of the second bill, can now pay in-state tuition rates and apply for state aid.

The state DREAM Acts of Rhode Island and California, like other state versions of the stalled federal initiative to improve the prospects of young undocumented immigrants, does not include a path to citizenship. But they do allow motivated and able young people—in whom states have already invested public education—to obtain a college degree, earn better wages, pay taxes, contribute to the economy and give back to society.

Last Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring state agencies to make vital forms and instructions available in the six most common non-English languages spoken in the state. State agencies including the Office of Children & Family Services, Corrections, the health department, motor vehicles and welfare agencies will now have to provide free interpretation and translation services to assist the 13 percent of New Yorkers who do not speak English as their primary language. Cuomo argued that lawsuits and legislation have failed to address the problem and that access to state services can be a matter of life and death for some immigrants.

Finally, last week, the city commissioners of Dayton, Ohio voted to turn their city into an “immigrant friendly” destination with the explicit goal of replenishing the city’s shrinking immigrant community. The “Welcome Dayton” program seeks to reduce the barriers to immigrants who want to open new businesses and thereby spur investment in immigrant neighborhoods. The initiative aims to help immigrants by providing adults with ESL and literacy courses; actively involving local youth in community building; and encouraging cross-cultural events among Dayton’s cultural and arts organizations.

In California, Rhode Island, New York and Dayton, Ohio, rather than marginalizing immigrants and treating them as scapegoats for our difficult times, government is finding ways to integrate them. These state and city leaders see their immigrant populations as economically integral and as contributing members of society. They acknowledge that immigrants are crucial to our nation’s vitality and future.

One hopes that other states will be less reactionary—ala Alabama—and follow such reasonable responses to immigration.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 12, 2011.

Summer Respite for Kids from Migrant Families

July 29, 2011; Source: Tampa Bay Online | A handful of children from migrant families have been able to enjoy a great American tradition: attending summer camp. Four churches banded together to give more than 100 youngsters the opportunity to enroll in a church-sponsored day camp in Dover, Florida. The children are treated to meals, games, and, of course, some bible study.

Hal Stinespring, pastor of a Georgia congregation, said, “It’s about the gospel. It’s bringing communities together and giving kids the chance to interact with one another regardless of where they are from, what their financial circumstances [are], or what race they may be.”

The National Center for Farmworker Health reports that there are more than three million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States. Close to 10 percent of the laborers and their families are based in the Sunshine State. Florida, along with Texas and California, is one of the top three sending states for migrants – that is, states these itinerant workers call home. Farmworkers fan out to where crops need to be harvested, and return once the season is over. Workers usually travel alone, leaving their families behind – particularly those with school-age children.

Children from migrant families have lives that are vastly different from those of their peers. Poverty regularly denies them the activities and luxuries most American kids take for granted. This camp not only brings communities together, it provides these youngsters with a chance to be just like everyone else – if only for the summer.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly, Nonprofit Newswire, July 31, 2011.

State DREAM Acts: Far from Fulfilling the Dream

Documented and undocumented youth rally for passage of the Dream Act in Times Square - Photo: Sarah Kramer

Frustrated by Washington’s inertia on immigration reform, many states have enacted their own immigration laws, mostly geared towards pushing undocumented immigrants out. State lawmakers have pursued a principle of attrition which anti-illegal immigration group NumbersUSA describes as the “enforcement of all the laws already on the books” at all levels of government to “make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States.” This is accomplished by either imposing strict sanctions on employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants and/or enlisting local and state law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people.

A few states have chosen a different tack and passed laws that aim to make the lives of certain undocumented immigrants a little bit better.  These sympathetic legislators are passing bills that have in mind the welfare and future of children and youth who were brought into the United States as minors by their parents and who consider America their home and themselves Americans.  These measures are touted as state versions of the federal DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented young people.

Ten years ago, the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, signed into law his state’s version of the DREAM Act, which allows in-state tuition for undocumented students who have lived in Texas for three years and either have obtained a GED or graduated from an accredited public or private school.

This month, Maryland was to enact a similar law for Dreamers – the moniker given to undocumented youth – so long as they prove that their parents paid taxes and that they have gone to high school in the state. But opponents of the statute were able to muster more than enough signatures for a petition to repeal the Maryland DREAM Act, and a referendum on the law will be held in 2012.

On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law his state’s own version and even hinted that he would support a measure allowing undocumented students to seek state-funded tuition aid.

While these initiatives are welcomed by Dreamers, their families and advocates, none address the fundamental dilemma faced by these young Americans: their undocumented status. In this sense, the DREAM Acts of California, Maryland and Texas are vastly different from the failed federal version which presents a way to citizenship for some young immigrants.

Dreamers in these few states may now envision a college degree, but can they see a secure and bright future for themselves and their families? Armed with a diploma, they will not be able to work legally and most likely not in the fields they studied.

Will they have to go underground? Or worse, will they leave their adopted country for places they don’t remember, but where they might be embraced and where their taxpayer subsidized education could be put to good use?

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, July 28, 2011.

Raising Funds to Extend the Dream to Undocumented Students

July 4, 2011; Source: BakersfieldNow.com | The College Dream Fund, a nonprofit group in Bakersfield, Calif., awards scholarships to students who are denied access to government-sponsored financial aid and loans because of their immigration status. Its most recent fundraiser netted $25,000 — half of what it had hoped to raise.

The organization was founded by Sharon Mettler, a retired Kern County Superior Court Judge, and Jim Young, chancellor emeritus of the Kern Community College District. Mettler and Young believe that the American dream should be extended to deserving students who were brought to the United States at a very young age and know no other home. Young estimates that about 1,500 undocumented students graduated from Kern County high schools this year.

California might soon pitch in however and help these smart and hard-working young women and men get a college degree. Two bills have been introduced in the state legislature which would allow some undocumented students access to Cal grants, institutional aid and fee waivers at publicly funded colleges and would provide for the same privileges for private financial aid.

Until the federal government reforms our dysfunctional immigration system, states, nonprofits and private citizens will find ways to keep the dream alive for many young people who are American but in papers.

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, July 11, 2011.