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New Year Launches Major Civil Rights Effort

By October 17, 2014No Comments

Priscilla 1b&w

By Priscilla Ouchida, JACL National Director

I joined a packed meeting late last year at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., that was organized by the Leadership Conference. The 50 or so people in the room represented every major civil rights organization in the nation. The meeting was a call to action for the most significant legislative campaign in 2014 — restoration of the Voting Rights Act.

With the new year, two major legislative campaigns will happen simultaneously — the push to pass a bill for new voting rights provisions by June and implement immigration reform by July. The efforts will require coordination, targeted strategy and national participation.

Why the rush? As a result of the Shelby County v. Holder(ITAL) decision last year, state and local jurisdictions no longer have to make election changes public, which makes monitoring unfair practices much more difficult. Threats to voting rights include altering election methods, eliminating polling places, distribution of ballots, new identification standards and a whole host of other practices that impact voting and election results. For example, there was a recent effort in Pasadena, Texas, to change district seats to at-large seats in an effort to limit a Latino majority on the city council. Going forward, monitoring election practices will require significant public effort.

On Jan. 16, the House introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, H.R. 3899, by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) A similar bill, SB 1945 by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has been introduced in the Senate. The push will be to enact a bill that protects racial and minority voters that were impacted by the decision that struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. JACL will be joining the field campaign to obtain passage of the bill.

With the release of a Republican platform on immigration reform, there is renewed hope for the passage of a bipartisan measure. The emphasis for JACL will be on citizenship in lieu of efforts to frame immigration reform from a legalization perspective. Legalization without citizenship is not acceptable. The concept brings up vivid memories of the experience of Isseis, who could live legally in the United States but could never become citizens.

It will be a busy year. On the plate are also efforts to increase the minimum wage and to address benefits for workers who are among the long-term unemployed. AAPIs are disproportionately impacted by long-term unemployment. The call for action to JACL is off to a quick start.

Originally published on February 7, 2014