International students warming to US after Biden victory

We shall see how this affects Canada’s relative position but the largest source country for international students is also India as is the case in the US survey. Certainly the Trump administration did result in increased interest in studying and working in Canada:

International students’ perceptions of the United States as a study destination have significantly improved following the presidential election win by Joe Biden, according to new research by IDP Connect. 

The improved perceptions of the US among students surveyed in early 2021 could impact on the pulling power of rival destination countries Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, the research suggests. 

A survey of more than 800 prospective international students in more than 40 countries who are interested in studying in the US – albeit with more than half of respondents based in India – has found that more than three quarters (76%) have improved perceptions of the US since the 2020 presidential election, with 67% stating they are now more likely to study there. 

“I really hope that the result of the election helps students like me to move to America and pursue our dreams,” said one respondent.

Simon Emmett, CEO of IDP Connect, said US higher education institutions should review their marketing and recruitment programmes to take full advantage of the change in perceptions. 

“Since the election in November 2020, we’ve seen higher search activity for the US, with the US now overtaking the UK in regard to international student search volumes.” 

He said: “US universities, colleges and education institutions should be looking at their recruitment strategies and practices to ensure they capture this momentum and support students in their decision-making process.”

When asked how nine key factors would be affected by the Biden administration, respondents expected all to improve, with the welfare of international students, safety of its citizens and visitors, and post-study work visa policies perceived to see the most improvements. 

Furthermore, the majority of students (69%) expected the new presidential administration would have a positive effect on their home country. 

As the students surveyed were at the early stages of their journey, many indicated they are still considering other destinations. Of those surveyed, half (50%) were also considering Canada, while 41% were considering the UK, just over a quarter (28%) were considering Australia and 13% were considering New Zealand as their study destination in addition to the US. 

Increased competition

This suggests that rising demand for study places in the US could mean increased competition for market share among these rival destination countries, the research notes.

The survey also showed that students from Africa were more likely to be exploring their study options in the US and Canada, while Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian students tended to look at the US and UK, IDP Connect said. The country from which students had the most improved perception of the US was Kenya.

A prospective graduate student from Nigeria said: “With this new administration, the United States will favour citizens of my country to study appropriately with due consideration.”

Emmett said the findings of the research are a reminder that students are tuned into global political discussions. 

“Of the students who stated they have a high awareness of US politics, 86% reported a better perception following the election,” Emmett said. 

Respondents were asked to rate how they feel the new administration would affect nine key factors on a scale of 0-10, with 0 representing ‘will become much worse’ and 10 representing ‘will become much better’. Overall, students expect all nine factors to improve. 

This list was topped by ‘welfare of international students’ (7.52), followed by ‘safety of citizens and visitors’ (7.48), ‘post-study work visa policies’ (7.32), ‘economic stability of the US’ (7.28), ‘perceptions of the US overseas’ (7.24), ‘response to coronavirus’ (7.17), ‘political stability of the US’ (7.11), ‘management of social issues, eg community divisions’ (7.10) and ‘travel restriction policies’ (6.94).

Among respondents, 13% indicated they had high awareness of US politics (‘I follow US politics closely’), compared with moderate awareness (34%), low awareness (42%) and no awareness (‘I do not follow US politics’) (11%). 

Biden’s first steps

On his first day in office, Biden revoked former president Donald Trump’s travel bans blocking people from seven mostly Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States, a critical first step towards rebuilding the reputation of US higher education in a global context.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education (ACE), in late November wrote to then President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris on behalf of 43 US university associations calling on them to move to ensure that American colleges and universities are “once again, the destination of choice for the world’s best international students and scholars”.

They urged Biden to withdraw Trump administration proposals to limit international students’ duration of stay and make it harder and costlier to obtain H-1B visas, which provide a pathway for foreign-born researchers to stay in the US on a long-term basis.

They also urged him to make it clear that the Optional Practical Training programme would remain in place. 

Biden has since proposed across the board changes to US immigration laws, including a step to make it easier for international graduate students with advanced STEM degrees to stay in the US by exempting them from immigrant visa caps. 

The draft immigration bill also includes permission for ‘dual intent’, which would mean student visa applicants no longer have to promise that they intend to leave the US when they finish their studies. Under the current single intent requirement, nine in 10 visa denials – close to a quarter of all applications – relate to a failure to convince officials that they solely intend to come and study and then leave.

However, it is not clear yet if the bill could garner enough political support.

Emmett said: “While the new administration has a more welcoming stance towards international students than the predecessor, it will be interesting to see if student perceptions of the US as a study destination continue to improve over the long term.”

Motivations for study in US

When asked why they are interested in studying in the US, the top motivation among respondents was ‘quality of teaching compared to my home country’ (64%), ‘modern, progressive, dynamic’ (59%), ‘institution or university of choice is located there’ (46%), ‘availability of part-time work’ (43%), ‘multicultural’ (33%), ‘attractive climate, weather, environment’ (30%), ‘safe country’ (29%), ‘Optional Practical Training or post-study work programme’ (26%), ‘affordable place to live and study’ (18%) and ‘family or friends recommended’ (14%). 

Among those who responded, 51% were interested in graduate programmes, 30% in undergraduate programmes and 19% in other (non-degree) programmes. Their expected start date of studying abroad was April to July 2021 (19%), August to October 2021 (38%), January to March 2022 (12%), April to July 2022 (6%), August to October 2022 (15%) and ‘beyond 2022’ (8%).

The survey results come with the caveat that they are dominated by views of students in India, one of the largest source countries for international students in the US. A majority and by far the largest group of respondents were located in India (483), followed by Kenya (74), Bangladesh (74), Indonesia (50), Egypt (29), Pakistan (27), Nepal (22), Philippines (22), Vietnam (16) and Cambodia (15). 

In 2019-20 the top five source countries for the more than one million international students in the US were: China, 372,532 students (34.6%); India, 193,124 (18%); South Korea, 49,809 (4.6%); Saudi Arabia, 30,957 (2.9%); and Canada, 25,992 (2.4%), according to datafrom the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report.

Source: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post-nl.php?story=20210303133839873

USA: Immigration Bill Shows Need To End Employment-Based Immigrant Backlog

Good backgrounder:

Without a change in immigration law, it will be sometime in the year 2216—195 years from now—when the last person born in India waiting today in the employment-based immigrant backlog is expected to receive a green card. Barring advances in human longevity, businesses and high-skilled foreign nationals must rely on Congress to solve this problem and enact reasonable policies to welcome highly skilled people who want to become Americans.

The Scope of the Problem: H-1B and L-1 (intracompany transferee) are temporary statuses, meaning if someone wishes to remain in the United States, they must obtain an employment-based immigrant visa (or green card) that grants permanent residence. However, there is far greater demand for high-skilled individuals than the limited number of employment-based green cards allotted by Congress.

Since 1990, when Congress set the annual limit on employment-based immigrants at 140,000 (and 65,000 H-1B temporary visas), changes in technology have accelerated the demand for high-skilled technical labor. Congress established the current employment-based limits before the internet became a part of daily life. It also predates the iPhone, the iPad, YouTube, e-commerce, Netflix, Google, cloud computing and thousands of innovative companies and technologies that have come into existence and fueled the demand for high-skilled labor.

U.S. businesses would still need more scientists and engineers to grow and innovate even if the number of Americans earning degrees in science and engineering had exploded—and it hasn’t.

Between 1995 and 2015, full-time U.S. graduate students in electrical engineering decreased by 17%. The number of full-time U.S. graduate students in computer science increased by 45% from 1995 to 2015, while international graduate students increased by over 480%. (H-1B visa fees paid by employers have funded approximately 100,000 college scholarships for U.S. students in science and engineering.)

As of March 2020, the backlog in EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3—the employment-based first, second and third preferences—was 915,497, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Without Congressional action, notes CRS, the problem will grow worse: “The total backlog for all three categories would increase from an estimated 915,497 individuals currently to an estimated 2,195,795 individuals by FY 2030.”

Let that number sink in: Within a decade, more than 2 million people will be waiting in line, most for many years or even decades, for employment-based green cards. And there are indications this underestimates the problem.

Table 1 shows that in FY 2018 only about 4,500 Indians obtained permanent residence in the employment-based second preference and fewer than 6,000 received green cards in the employment-based third preference. (The National Foundation for American Policy obtained the data via a Freedom of Information Act request.)

CRS estimates the annual demand for employment-based green cards in the three preference categories is 262,376 (including dependents). This is based on petitions U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved in FY 2018. CRS explains the backlog grew because there is a “current limit of 120,120 green cards for the three employment-based immigration categories.”

Another problem is that Congress established a per-country limit of 7% for each country that burdens mainly potential employment-based immigrants from India but also affects people born in China and the Philippines. The law, in effect, gives the same number of green cards for employment to India as it does Iceland.

In the employment-based second preference (EB-2): “Under current law, and owing to a limited number of green card issuances, the current backlog of 568,414 Indian nationals would require an estimated 195 years to disappear,” according to CRS. David Bier of the Cato Institute predicts “about 186,038 Indian immigrants will die . . . before they receive green cards even if they could remain in line forever.”

“By FY 2030, [the] estimated wait time would more than double,” according to CRS. “Under S. 386, the estimated wait time for newly approved EB-2 petition holders would shrink to 17 years, and in FY 2030, the wait time would be 37 years, the same as for all other foreign nationals.”

S. 386 was a bill in the last Congress sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) that would have eliminated the per-country limit for employment-based immigrants. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) wrote H.R. 1044 with Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) and it passed the House in July 2019. The companion bill, S. 386, was blocked in the Senate for more than a year. It became a Christmas tree for extraneous immigration provisions. The Senate finally approved S. 386 near the end of the session but the House found the provisions to be objectionable and it did not become law. The bill would not have increased the number of employment-based green cards but would have reduced the wait times for those waiting the longest for permanent residence, particularly professionals from India.

Without any change in the law, CRS predicts: “Currently, new Indian beneficiaries entering the EB-3 [employment-based third preference] backlog can expect to wait 27 years before receiving a green card.” (The wait time would be much longer in the EB-2 category.)

Scientists and engineers waiting for their green cards may see their children who have lived in the United States for years be forced to leave the country when they “age out” of their place on a mother or father’s immigration application when reaching 21 years old. USCIS policies during the Trump administration caused many spouses of H-1B visa holders waiting for green cards to lose their work authorization due to long processing delays.

New Immigration Bill Would End the Employment-Based Backlog: The U.S. Citizenship Act, developed by the Biden administration, would eliminate the employment-based backlog within 10 years through various provisions, according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis.

First, the bill would no longer count spouses and children toward the annual limit, which would approximately double the annual number of employment-based green cards. Second, the legislation increases the annual limit for family-sponsored immigrants and allows unused numbers from the family categories to be used by the employment categories. That means once the family backlog is eliminated, which NFAP predicts could happen within 5 or 6 years, backlog reduction in the employment-based categories would accelerate.

Third, the bill eliminates the per-country limit. Fourth, the legislation allows unused green cards from earlier years to be redirected to reduce family and employment backlogs.

The bill also contains a provision, which NFAP has recommended, to allow any individuals who wait at least 10 years with an approved immigrant petition to receive permanent residence without numerical limit. If Congress passed only this reform, it would help many people and bring certainty to otherwise interminable waits for many employment-based immigrants.

Related to the backlog, in its final days, the Trump administration published a final rule designed to price employment-based immigrants and H-1B visa holders out of the U.S. labor market. The regulation would boost required wages 23% to 41% depending on the occupation, according to an NFAP study. The regulation could block people waiting for green cards if the new required salary is too high for an employer to retain them in H-1B status. (Individuals can be extended in H-1B status while waiting for an employment-based green card.)

If the Biden administration keeps the rule, it would be a significant victory for former White House adviser Stephen Miller and opponents of immigration.

Numerous studies and private wage surveys show that there is no evidence high-skilled foreign nationals are paid less than comparable U.S. professionals. If employers were forced to pay high-skilled immigrants 41% more than comparable U.S. workers, one would expect critics would still claim the immigrants were paid less because that is typically the only argument put forward against high-skilled foreign nationals who work in America. Members of Congress are repeatedly told to believe the only value someone born in another country offers a U.S. business or the U.S. economy is a willingness to work for less money.

If we have learned one thing from the pandemic, it is how valuable immigrants are to America. Immigrants play key roles in the two companies responsible for the Covid-19 vaccines Americans are receiving to protect their lives. Moderna’s leaders, two cofounders and critical scientific personnel are immigrants, as are the chief executive (and chief science officer) of Pfizer and a key scientist (Katalin Karikó) who made a crucial breakthrough on messenger RNA,” as noted in a December 2020 article. Even the founders of Pfizer were immigrants.

“We have blown the opportunity to maximize the incredible high-skilled immigrants in this country,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) at a recent hearing. “The backlog of green cards is immoral to me.” Will this be the year moral outrage and economic sense lead to a solution for employment-based immigrants?

Source: Immigration Bill Shows Need To End Employment-Based Immigrant Backlog

ICYMI: Evangelical Leaders Condemn ‘Radicalized Christian Nationalism’

Of note and overdue:

A coalition of evangelical Christian leaders is condemning the role of “radicalized Christian nationalism” in feeding the political extremism that led to the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by supporters of former President Trump.

In a new open letter, more than 100 pastors, ministry and seminary leaders, and other prominent evangelicals express concern about the growing “radicalization” they’re seeing, particularly among white evangelicals.

The letter notes that some members of the mob that stormed the Capitol carried Christian symbols and signs that read, “Jesus Saves,” and that one of rioters stood on the Senate rostrum and led a Christian prayer. It calls on other Christian leaders to take a public stand against racism, Christian nationalism, conspiracy theories, and political extremism.

The letter reads, in part:

“We recognize that evangelicalism, and white evangelicalism in particular, has been susceptible to the heresy of Christian nationalism because of a long history of faith leaders accommodating white supremacy. We choose to speak out now because we do not want to be quiet accomplices in this on-going sin.”

‘Baptizing’ extremism with religion

“I am not trying to assign to people something that they didn’t want assigned to them — that they were moving and marching in Christ’s name,” organizer Doug Pagitt said during a recent Zoom call with other signers of the letter. Pagitt, who leads the progressive evangelical group Vote Common Good, highlighted the prayer shouted from the Senate rostrum, which was conducted in a style typical of many charismatic and evangelical churches.

“People from our very communities called people to this action in the days before, unleashed them into the Capitol, and then chose to baptize that action in the name of Christ,” Pagitt said. “And this is our time where we need to stand up.”

White evangelical Christians made up a critical part of Trump’s base, and a majority supported him in both 2016 and 2020. A recent survey by the American Enterprise Institute found that three in five white evangelicals believe – falsely – that President Biden was not legitimately elected.

Prominent white evangelical leaders have been among Trump’s most vocal supporters. Several, including Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition and Dallas-based pastor Robert Jeffress, have condemned the insurrection but remained steadfast in their support for Trump.

Signers of the open letter calling out Christian nationalism include Jerushah Duford, a granddaughter of the evangelical preacher, the late Rev. Billy Graham. In an interview with NPR, Duford said she was “heartbroken” by the events of Jan. 6, a feeling she said she experienced throughout the Trump years as she watched many white evangelical leaders align themselves with him.

“It felt like this was a symptom of what has been happening for a long time,” she said.

‘White evangelical brothers and sisters, where are you?’

During last week’s Zoom call, Mae Elise Cannon of the ecumenical group Churches for Middle East Peace, called out unnamed evangelical leaders who she said have declined to sign, citing concerns including how it would go over with their churches or religious organizations.

“White evangelical brothers and sisters, where are you?” Cannon said. “There’s a few of us on this call today, but let me tell you how many people said ‘no.’ ”

Another signer, Kevin Riggs, pastors a small church near Nashville affiliated with the Free Will Baptist denomination, which he describes as “to the right of everybody.” Riggs said in an interview with NPR that he may receive pushback from other pastors for signing the statement, but he expects his congregation, which devotes much of its time to working with people facing homelessness, incarceration, and addiction, to support him.

“I wanted to sign this statement just to say that Christian nationalism is not only wrong, but it’s heretical,” Riggs told other leaders on the Zoom call, adding that evangelical leaders must take responsibility for “rooting out this evil in our churches.”

Source: Evangelical Leaders Condemn ‘Radicalized Christian Nationalism’

American Life Expectancy Dropped By A Full Year In The First Half Of 2020

Telling. Haven’t seen any comparative Canadian data but likely a similar but smaller effect:

The average U.S. life expectancy dropped by a year in the first half of 2020, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Life expectancy at birth for the total U.S. population was 77.8 years – a decline of 1 year from 78.8 in 2019. For males, the life expectancy at birth was 75.1 – a decline of 1.2 years from 2019. For females, life expectancy declined to 80.5 years, a 0.9 year decrease from 2019.

Deaths from COVID-19 are the main factor in the overall drop in U.S. life expectancy between January and June 2020, the CDC says. But it’s not the only one: a surge in drug overdose deaths are a part of the decline, too.

“If you’ll recall, in recent pre-pandemic years there were slight drops in life expectancy due in part to the rise in overdose deaths,” explains NCHC spokesperson Jeff Lancashire in an email to NPR. “So they are likely contributing here as well but we don’t know to what degree. COVID-19 is responsible for an estimated 2/3 of all excess deaths in 2020, and excess deaths are driving the decline.”

The group that suffered the largest decline was non-Hispanic Black males, whose life expectancy dropped by 3 years. Hispanic males also saw a large decrease in life expectancy, with a decline of 2.4 years. Non-Hispanic Black females saw a life expectancy decline of 2.3 years, and Hispanic females faced a decline of 1.1 years.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Black and Latino Americans have died from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates.

The life expectancy decline was less pronounced among non-Hispanic whites: males in that group had a decline of life expectancy of 0.8 year, while for white females the decline was 0.7 year.

Women tend to live longer than men, and in the first half of 2020, that margin grew: the difference in their life expectancy widened to 5.4 years, from 5.1 in 2019.

The report estimated life expectancy in the U.S. based on provisional death counts for January to June 2020. Because the NCHS wanted to assess the effects of 2020’s increase in deaths, for the first time it published its life expectancy tables based on provisional death certificate data, rather than final counts.

Its authors point out a few limitations in these estimates. One is that the data is from the first six months of 2020 – so it does not reflect the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also seasonality in death patterns, with more deaths generally happening in winter than summer. This half-year data does not account for that.

Another limitation is that the COVID-19 pandemic struck different parts of the U.S. at different times in the year. The areas most affected in the first half of 2020 are more urban and have different demographics than the areas hit hard by the virus later in the year.

As a result, the authors write, “life expectancy at birth for the first half of 2020 may be underestimated since the populations more severely affected, Hispanic and non-Hispanic black populations, are more likely to live in urban areas.”

The report parallels the findings published last month by researchers at the University of Southern California and Princeton University, which found that the deaths caused by COVID-19 have reduced overall life expectancy by 1.13 years.

In the U.S., more than 488,000 people have died from COVID-19. The latest estimates from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation predict 614,503 U.S. deaths by June 1.

Source: American Life Expectancy Dropped By A Full Year In The First Half Of 2020

Border agency reports spike of nearly 6,000 immigrant children crossing into US alone

Less than 10 percent of 2019 numbers:

Thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children are attempting to flee to the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic, propelled by devastating natural disasters, chronic violence, and severe economic hardship at home.

US Customs and Border Protection encountered 5,871 kids at the south-west border without a parent or legal guardian last month, the largest influx yet since the start of the public health crisis in early 2020.

That sudden spike is still relatively modest compared to huge figures from fiscal year 2019, when Border Patrol apprehended more than 76,000 unaccompanied children, a trend that reached its zenith that spring.

But unlike in past years, the Office of Refugee Resettlement – which cares for those kids – has had to slash its housing capacity nearly in half in light of Covid-19. And, with nearly 5,700 of 7,100 total beds already accounted for, ORR is preparing to resurrect a controversial influx facility to create space.

“Even though the numbers of children in custody are still relatively low by historical standards,” the lack of available shelter beds is cause for concern, warned Mark Greenberg, director of the Human Services Initiative at the Migration Policy Institute.

Greenberg added: “If we return to the levels that had been experienced in all recent years except 2020, it will pose a significant challenge because of Covid.”

As more migrants attempt the arduous journey across the US-Mexico border, CBP officials are citing push factors such as “underlying crime and instability” in their countries of origin and “inaccurate perceptions of shifts in immigration and border security policies”.

Before taking office, Joe Biden’s administrationwarned that its comparatively pro-immigrant agenda would not translate to an immediate shift at the border. On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that, despite rare exceptions, the vast majority of migrants are still being turned away.

“Now is not the time to come,” she said.

Since 2014, a flood of immigrant children and families largely from Central America’s Northern Triangle have made their way to the US, many in search of refuge from a crush of gang-related violence, poverty and persecution. Between fiscal year 2013 and 2014, CBP apprehensions of unaccompanied children at the south-west border surged by 77%, while apprehensions for families more than quadrupled.

That significant change heralded a new era in US border migration, defined by asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations. In response to the humanitarian crisis, former president Donald Trump devised hard-line tactics to try to deter Central Americans and others from seeking protection in the US, then used Covid-19 as a rationale to effectively shutter the border altogether to defenseless migrants.

Under the guise of public health, the Trump administration subjected hundreds of thousands of people – and at least 13,000 unaccompanied children, according to the ACLU – to rapid expulsion from the US without due process during the pandemic.

A federal judge eventually blocked the US government from applying that policy to unaccompanied minors, and Biden has said he will not resume expulsions for kids who show up without a parent or guardian, according to CBS News.

But amid the border closure, children unable to safely enter US custody have turned to perilous border crossings, said Erika Pinheiro, policy and litigation director at Al Otro Lado.

“They suffer so much,” she said. “And the fact that the US government forces them to suffer more is really hurtful to think about.”

In an elaborate game of telephone, news articles about immigration enforcement in the US and Mexico have gotten distorted in the foreign press, then exploited by smugglers, who have every incentive to spread rumors encouraging people to cross the border.

“There’s sort of like one message that comes out of the news. It gets repeated down here, maybe not completely accurately, and then the smugglers really capitalize on that, too. So it sort of builds on itself,” Pinheiro said.

As the number of unaccompanied children encountered by border enforcement increases to levels not seen since the summer of 2019, ORR is preparing to reactivate a temporary influx care facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, that will initially be able to house about 700 kids.

The remote Carrizo Springs facility was opened in July, 2019, but closed in a few short weeks.

ORR said officials anticipate “the need to start placing children at Carrizo Springs in 15 days or soon after”, a move that has alarmed some advocates.

“There’s no reason to warehouse these children in these potentially dangerous facilities,” Linda Brandmiller, an immigration attorney in San Antonio, told USA Today.

Unaccompanied kids have been arriving primarily from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in recent years. The vast majority are teenagers.

“In a substantial number of cases, they are fleeing for their lives,” Greenberg said. “But whether that will allow them to qualify for asylum will depend upon how asylum policies are now changed.”

Source: Border agency reports spike of nearly 6,000 immigrant children crossing into US alone

Across The South, COVID-19 Vaccine Sites Missing From Black And Hispanic Neighborhoods

Not surprising. Hope someone will do a similar analysis for Canada (once we have a full supply of vaccines):

Georgia Washington, 79, can’t drive. Whenever she needs to go somewhere, she asks her daughter or her friends to pick her up.

She has lived in the northern part of Baton Rouge, a predominantly Black area of Louisiana’s capital, since 1973. There aren’t many resources there, including medical facilities. So when Washington fell ill with COVID-19 last March, she had to get a ride 20 minutes south to get medical attention.

Washington doesn’t want to fall sick again, so she was eager to get vaccinated, which is in line with federal health recommendations. But she faced the same challenge she did last year: finding a local provider, this time for a vaccine. She tried for weeks, checking at pharmacies in the area. And she was put on a waiting list.

Georgia Washington has lived in Southern Heights, a predominantly Black neighborhood in the northern part of Baton Rouge, La., since 1973. After falling ill with COVID-19 last year, Washington was eager to get vaccinated, which is in line with federal health recommendations. But Washington again had difficulty finding a local provider, this time to get a vaccine.

“I’ve got lots of patience,” Washington said. “I just want to get it over with.”

Communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now they’re at risk of being left behind in the vaccine rollout.

Using data from several states that have published their own maps and lists of where vaccination sites are located, NPR identified disparities in the locations of vaccination sites in major cities across the Southern U.S. — with most sites placed in whiter neighborhoods.

NPR found this disparity by looking at Census Bureau statistics of non-Hispanic white residents and mapping where the vaccine sites were. NPR identified counties where vaccine sites tended to be in census tracts — roughly equivalent to neighborhoods — that had a higher percentage of white residents, compared with the census-tract average in that county. Reporters attempted to confirm the findings with health officials in nine counties across six states where the differences were most dramatic: Travis and Bastrop counties, Texas; East Baton Rouge Parish, La.; Hinds County, Miss.; Mobile County, Ala.; Chatham County, Ga.; DeKalb County, Ga.; Fulton County, Ga.; and Richland County, South Carolina.

The reasons are both unique to each place and common across the region: The health care locations that are logical places to distribute a vaccine tend to be located in the more affluent and whiter parts of town where medical infrastructure already exists. That presents a challenge for public health officials who are relying on what’s already in place to mount a quick vaccination campaign.

It’s a problem that exists not just in the South but across the country. A team of researchers at the West Health Policy Center and the University of Pittsburgh found nearly two dozen urban counties where Black residents would need to travel farther than white residents to a potential vaccination site — unless health officials act to narrow the disparities.

“We’re hopeful there will be new facilities that are stood up,” says Dr. Utibe Essien, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh who studies health disparities and worked on the research team. “But what we saw play out with COVID testing was there were new facilities that came up, but they relied on existing infrastructure.”

“This is structural and foundational to the racial disparities in our country.”

Troubles getting vaccinated in Black neighborhoods

In the part of Baton Rouge where Georgia Washington lives, there is just one Walgreens where COVID-19 vaccines can be found.

Ever since an interstate was built through Baton Rouge in the 1960s, the population in the northern part of the city has struggled with housing, food insecurity, poverty and crime. These inequities have always fueled disparities in health care in Baton Rouge. The vaccine rollout is just the latest example.

“When you go to north Baton Rouge, there are very few [health care] choices. And then how many of those are participating in the vaccine program?” said Tasha Clark-Amar, CEO of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging.

Clark-Amar runs about two dozen senior centers around the city, and her organization stepped up to fill the pharmacy gap by obtaining and providing vaccines. Clark-Amar’s group organized a pop-up clinic in mid-January, giving out around 1,000 doses that it secured from the grocery chain Albertsons. But another time, a community health clinic planned to give Clark-Amar around 150 doses for seniors — except the clinic couldn’t deliver on that promise and she had to cancel the pop-up event at the last minute.

“I was livid. I was so angry and frustrated,” she said. “Thirty-five of the people we had registered are between the ages of 80 and 99. Now you tell me, how am I supposed to pick?”

Clark-Amar has been able to schedule other pop-up events. In fact, that’s how Washington was finally able to get a vaccine. She went to one of the council’s pop-up events at a local community center in late January.

Clark-Amar says this patchwork of resources is part of life in many underresourced Black communities.

In the next state over, people are facing similar challenges. In Hinds County, Miss., where the state capital of Jackson sits, there’s only one major drive-through site, which is where the state is sending the vast majority of doses. The state added the site in late January, weeks after it had already put two drive-throughs in the wealthier, whiter suburbs just outside the city.

“It took us a little bit of time to get it logistically set up to make sure we had a Hinds County site,” Mississippi’s state epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, acknowledged at a recent news conference. “But we were always planning to do that. And we are glad that we have that now.”

There’s still a problem for the residents of Hinds County, nearly three-quarters of whom are Black: The vaccination site is north of downtown Jackson in a neighborhood that is 89% white and already has more medical facilities. It’s close to a 30-minute drive from the more rural parts of the county, where many Black residents live.

In Alabama, the state has consistently ranked near the bottom in vaccine distribution since the rollout began.

But in terms of where the vaccine is available, NPR’s analysis found a disparity in one of the state’s largest counties. In Mobile County, 18 vaccination sites are listed on the Alabama Department of Public Health webpage. Fourteen are located in the whiter half of neighborhoods in the county.

Rendi Murphree, director of the Bureau of Disease Surveillance and Environmental Services at the Mobile County Health Department, said it has been hard for the county to get any vaccines at all. She also said distribution is based on which sites have the capacity to store vaccines at very low temperatures.

Joe Womack, a native of a historically Black neighborhood known locally as Africatown, said Black communities in the northern part of Mobile have always dealt with poverty, pollution and health disparities.

“It’s been a struggle ever since the ’70s,” said Womack, president of the Africatown community group C.H.E.S.S.

Beyond the South

Because of the need for a quick rollout, vaccination sites are largely dependent on the health care infrastructure already in place. Places such as pharmacies, clinics and hospitals make convenient sites for vaccines to be administered.

But the locations of those facilities can be inconvenient for millions of Americans. Those are the findings from a team of researchers at the nonpartisan West Health Policy Center and the University of Pittsburgh who analyzed the distance that Americans live from these types of places.

In 23 of the nation’s urban counties, the researchers found, Black residents were less likely than white residents to be within a mile of a site that could potentially distribute vaccines. In just these counties, they estimated 2.4 million Black residents were farther than a mile.

“We worry this is going to exacerbate disparities in outcomes even more now,” says Inmaculada Hernandez, an assistant professor of pharmacy and therapeutics at the University of Pittsburgh who analyzed the data. “The limitations of existing infrastructure in counties are very different.”

And it’s not just in urban areas. In more than 250 other U.S. counties, the researchers found, Black residents were less likely than white residents to live within 10 miles driving distance of a site. Hernandez estimates the true number of places with this disparity to be higher, since the researchers only estimated based on a sample of county residents. Georgia and Virginia top the list of states with the most counties that have this disparity.

The Georgia Department of Public Health declined to comment on the University of Pittsburgh study. The Virginia Department of Health pointed to plans to deploy the National Guard to assist with vaccinations, as well as mass vaccination sites it set up at places like a convention center, a raceway complex and a vacated department store.

“A long history of racism”

The effects of this gap, coupled with historical trust issues between Black Americans and health care providers, are already reflected in the nationwide data showing who’s getting vaccinated. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis published this week — which included race data on half of those who were vaccinated in the first month of the vaccination campaign — Blacks are lagging behind in vaccination rates, even when accounting for the demographics of health care workers and others who were in top priority groups.

Thomas LaVeist, a dean and health care equity researcher at Tulane University in New Orleans, says medical deserts go back into the early evolution of health care.

“But I do think that the South is perhaps more of a problem than some other parts of the country,” says LaVeist, who is also co-chair of the Louisiana COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. “Part of that is a long history of racism, Jim Crow and, in some cases, intentional actions that were taken to ensure that some communities did not have access to health care and other resources, while others did.”

And it’s not just Black neighborhoods having trouble getting access. In Texas, with its large population of recent immigrants, the problem of location and convenience is interwoven with a lack of trust.

Texas health officials recently designated several vaccination “hubs” around the state after advocates and local officials raised concerns about the state’s initial plan to rely heavily on chain grocery stores and pharmacies to distribute the vaccine. The hubs will make their own decisions about where to distribute the vaccines they are allocated.

But as the Texas Tribune reported, when Dallas County tried to take it a step further by prioritizing ZIP codes where mostly Blacks and Hispanics live, state officials threatened to withhold doses.

The way that hubs allocate their vaccines is an especially important issue in smaller counties like Bastrop County, east of Austin.

The state’s list of providers in the county shows they are almost all clustered around State Highway 71 — mostly in the city of Bastrop — which is far from the rural county’s outskirts, where many Latinos live.

Edie Clark, a leader with a local faith-based nonprofit, said her group is worried for neighborhoods like Stony Point, which is a small immigrant community in the county.

Clark said members of the Stony Point community are still reeling from events a few years ago when the Sheriff’s Department turned over roughly a dozen residents to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. Many of those arrested were pulled over for minor traffic violations, like a broken taillight.

“They have a lot of distrust and fear of giving their information out without knowing it’s not going to be used against them,” she said.

Clark said it’s tough to imagine that a lot of people in Stony Point will drive to get vaccinated in the city of Bastrop when they won’t even drive there to get groceries. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced this week that immigration agencies will not make immigration enforcement arrests at vaccination sites.

Fast or fair

Reaching long-neglected communities takes time — and in the race to get vaccines to as many people as possible, time is in short supply.

Still, when the CDC outlined four ethical principles for the allocation of vaccines, two of them included equitable and fair distribution. CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said, “Vaccine allocation strategies should aim to both reduce existing disparities and to not create new disparities.”

But the pressure to get the vaccine out quickly means not everyone follows those principles. In South Carolina, the board of the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control shunned a proposal last week that would have factored age and “social vulnerability” metrics into its vaccine allocations. It opted instead to distribute solely by county population, citing a need for speed.

“I think when you look at speed, certainly, it’s probably a lot easier and faster and quicker to do those calculations when it’s just based on per capita,” said Nick Davidson, the South Carolina health department’s senior deputy for public health.

In Georgia, the high demand for COVID-19 vaccinations has left little opportunity for providers to build up new infrastructure to supplement what already exists or to work with members of historically marginalized communities on any hesitations they might have about getting vaccinated.

That’s why the Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta has been saving a handful of its vaccination appointments for people who might want to meet with a health care provider at the clinic to ask questions before rolling up their sleeves.

“And at the end of most of those conversations, the person says, ‘You know what? That was what I really needed. And now I’m ready to be vaccinated,’ ” said Breanna Lathrop, the clinic’s chief operating officer.

Even for those eager to get the vaccine, it’s hard to find in certain parts of the city. Only one of Atlanta’s five large-scale county vaccination sites falls in the Black neighborhoods south of Interstate 20 — and that outlier sits in a shopping mall directly adjacent to the interstate on the outskirts of the city. Many of the smaller vaccination sites that are in those Black neighborhoods are grocery store pharmacies, which receive a much lower number of doses than what can be found at hospitals and the county sites.

A few hours away in Savannah, Ga., NPR’s analysis shows just one of Chatham County’s half-dozen vaccination sites is located in a majority-Black neighborhood. That didn’t surprise Nichele Hoskins. She’s assistant director of a local YMCA-led coalition called Healthy Savannah and works to flatten out health disparities among people of color.

“In order to get people vaccinated, you’re going to have to have that kind of trust,” Hoskins said, noting it can seem a tedious process. “If you’ve ever done retail, it’s going to take a little bit of hand-selling.”

The Coastal Health District in Savannah, of course, can’t take each patient by the hand. The health director, Dr. Lawton Davis, says it’s tough to formalize a plan targeting Black residents, who make up about 42% of Chatham County’s population. So far, the Coastal Health District has reached out to two Black churches and a community health center in a predominantly Black neighborhood to arrange mobile vaccination clinics. It’s also using an existing hurricane evacuation registry of people with disabilities and health issues to help identify neglected neighborhoods around Savannah.

“There simply is not enough vaccine to go around,” Davis says. “I don’t have a formal document that says this is, you know, step A, B, C and D, but we have had reasonably in-depth discussions and we have, shall we say, a game plan on how we think this will go.”

There are other options in a public health game plan.

“Alternative facilities come to mind,” Jeni Hebert-Beirne, who leads the Collaboratory for Health Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health, wrote in an email to NPR. “Public libraries (an important source of free wifi), community centers/park districts, faith-based organizations, barber/beauty shops. These are places that people regularly convene/gather and places where people are more likely to feel they belong.”

Shivani Patel, a researcher tracking COVID-19 health equity issues at Emory University in Atlanta, is quick to acknowledge that the problem is too large for a state’s public health system to solve on its own. Like many across the country, Georgia’s public health system has seen funding cuts in recent years that have reduced its capacity to respond to the pandemic.

Washington is also promising new support for states: A million more doses weekly are on their way to pharmacies, and the White House’s COVID-19 czar said, “[Pharmacy] sites are selected based on their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk.” The new sites are expected to start receiving the doses next week.

“Every day is potentially more lives lost,” Patel said. “This is extremely urgent.”

WWNO’s Shalina Chatlani is a health care reporter for NPR’s Gulf States Newsroom; she reported from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. KUT reporter Ashley Lopez reported from Bastrop, Texas. WABE reporter Sam Whitehead reported from Atlanta.

Methodology: NPR gathered addresses of permanent vaccination sites from state websites. NPR verified these sites by contacting county and state health officials in the nine counties mentioned in this report. Officials were offered the opportunity to review the findings and point to additional testing sites. What counts as a vaccination site varies by state. NPR geocoded vaccination site locations using the Google Geocoding API joined with Census Bureau shapefiles to determine what census tracts they were within. For each county, the analysis included only census tracts within the county’s official boundaries. The Census Bureau provided demographic data per census tract. The main demographic measure referenced in this story was the percentage of the population that identifies as “white alone,” not Hispanic or Latino. For percent white, NPR calculated the number of sites for tracts above and below the median county’s percentage of white residents. Medians referenced are medians of census tracts and are not population totals, and may therefore differ slightly from population totals.

Source: Across The South, COVID-19 Vaccine Sites Missing From Black And Hispanic Neighborhoods

Semotiuk: What Is The American Identity And How Should Immigrants Be Absorbed?

From Canadian immigration lawyer practicing in the USA, ending his commentary on a Canadian note:

It is no exaggeration to say that the United States always was, is now and always will be a nation of immigrants. From the first migrants who crossed the Bering Strait to Alaska and migrated down the West coast, possibly as early as around 20,000 years ago, to today’s immigrants coming from all the four corners of the earth, America was built by immigrants. In a sense, America is like a huge puzzle, completely finished on one end, but continually growing as new pieces are added to the other, representing newly arriving immigrants.

American Identity

These new immigrants are continually changing America’s identity. It is often said that America is a melting pot in which newly arrived immigrants merge with those already here to produce a new breed of Americans. To draw an analogy, the idea is that integrating new immigrants is like baking a cake. The ingredients of flour, shortening, eggs and sugar are mixed together to bake the American cake. Contrast that view, with say that of Canada’s, that sees itself as a cultural mosaic of brightly colored bits of ethnicity, culture, racial identity and language embedded side by side. These visual metaphors attempt to portray each country’s policies and how they incorporate new immigrants into their societies. Critics of these older formulations advance the notions of diversity and inclusion as better views on how immigration and cultural policies should deal immigrants to their societies.

Personal Identity

Just as immigrants are changing the identity of America, however, the country is also changing the identity of immigrants. Consider that on the first day of arrival on American soil, immigrants bring with them their identities forged back home. These identities may include a different language, culture, religion, dress and values – differences that are not ‘normal’ in North America. In time, many immigrants adapt and take on the ways of the majority in America. An example is that male Sikhs sometimes abandon their turbans and clothes and cut their hair. Externally they may look more like other typical Americans, but inside they may still identify with the Sikh faith and customs. By and large, such immigrants love America and are glad they were allowed to come here. Yet many also love their former homeland as well. There is nothing strange or wrong here: just as one can love her mother and father at the same time, she can also love America as well as Italy, for example, if that is where she is from.

What’s In A Name?

An interesting portrayal of how America influences personal identity is in former President Barack Obama’s book A Promised Land. While he was native born, as he grew up he was called Barry Obama. It was only later in life, as he came to grips with his identity that he changed his name to Barack Obama. This is a common identity experience – many Chinese immigrants adopt English first names to better cope with life in English-speaking America. I myself vacillate between Andy in everyday settings, and my native Andriy, related to my Ukrainian origins.

Being True To Yourself

The underlying question is can you live in America as your true self and still be an American? Or is America the kind of country that expects you to change your identity to ‘fit in?’ In other words, do you have to surrender your cultural identity to become an American? More importantly, is America welcoming when it comes to speaking other languages, or does America expect you to effectively forget your native tongue and just speak English? There are Americans with very different answers to these questions and different expectations related to newcomers to this country. This is what needs to be settled for America to find her way in these troubled times.

A Different View of America

Never was this difference in views about America more evident than in the presidency of Donald Trump. His evident hostility to Mexican and Muslim immigrants, and his apparent empathy, or at least tolerance, for those who want a White America, resulted in clashes on the streets of many cities and in Washington D.C. that seriously tarnished America’s image abroad. The efforts of historic figures like Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant to eradicate white supremacists, not to mention the American civil war fought in part to put the legacy of slavery behind it, appeared to be forgotten. Even the efforts of more modern political leaders, like those of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, President Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were all set back by the recent policies of the Trump administration. It may take years for America to heal and return to honoring its founding creed.

A Return To America’s Founding Creed

But return it must. The days of a country with a single race, single religion and a single culture are gone. They disappeared with the end of World War I and the collapse of the great empires that dominated world politics back then: Tsarist Russia, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman and German empires. Today America has no choice but to transform itself into the multi-ethnic, multiracial and diverse country it needs to be to play a leading role in the modern, multinational, multilingual and secular world. It is time for Americans to return to their founding principles in that regard.

Source: What Is The American Identity And How Should Immigrants Be Absorbed?

Biden bets big on immigration changes in opening move

Good overview:

For the opening salvo of his presidency, few expected Joe Biden to be so far-reaching on immigration.

A raft of executive orders signed Wednesday undoes many of his predecessor’s hallmark initiatives, such as halting work on a border wall with Mexico, lifting a travel ban on people from several predominantly Muslim countries and reversing plans to exclude people in the country illegally from the 2020 census.

Six of Biden’s 17 orders, memorandums and proclamations deal with immigration. He ordered efforts to preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program known as DACA that has shielded hundreds of thousands of people who came to the U.S. as children from deportation since it was introduced in 2012. He also extended temporary legal status to Liberians who fled civil war and the Ebola outbreak to June 2022.

The Homeland Security Department announced a 100-day moratorium on deportations “for certain noncitizens,” starting Friday, after Biden revoked one of Trump’s earliest executive orders making anyone in the country illegally a priority for deportations.

That’s not it. Biden’s most ambitious proposal, unveiled Wednesday, is an immigration bill that would give legal status and a path to citizenship to anyone in the United States before Jan. 1 — an estimated 11 million people — and reduce the time that family members must wait outside the United States for green cards.

Taken together, Biden’s moves represent a sharp U-turn after four years of relentless strikes against immigration, captured most vividly by the separation of thousands of children from their parents under a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings. Former President Donald Trump’s administration also took hundreds of other steps to enhance enforcement, limit eligibility for asylum and cut legal immigration.

The new president dispelled any belief that his policies would resemble those of former President Barack Obama, who promised a sweeping bill his first year in office but waited five years while logging more than 2 million deportations.

Eager to avoid a rush on the border, Biden aides signaled that it will take time to unwind some of Trump’s border policies, which include making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. Homeland Security said that on Thursday it would stop sending asylum-seekers back to Mexico to wait for hearings but that people already returned should stay put for now.

It “will take months to be fully up and running in terms of being able to do the kind of asylum processing that we want to be able to do,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, told reporters.

Despite the deliberative pace in some areas, Biden’s moves left pro-immigration advocates overjoyed. Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of United We Dream, called the legislation “the most progressive legalization bill in history.”

“We made it,” she said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. “We made this day happen.”

It is even more striking because immigration got scarce mention during the campaign, and the issue has divided Republicans and Democrats, even within their own parties. Legislative efforts failed in 2007 and 2013.

More favorable attitudes toward immigration — especially among Democrats — may weigh in Biden’s favor. A Gallup survey last year found that 34% of those polled supported more immigration, up from 21% in 2016 and higher than any time since Gallup began asking the question in 1965.

Seven in 10 voters said they preferred offering immigrants in the U.S. illegally a chance to apply for legal status, compared with about 3 in 10 who thought they should be deported to the country they came from, according to AP VoteCast. The survey of more than 110,000 voters in November showed 9 in 10 Biden voters but just about half of Trump voters were in favor of a path to legal status.

Under the bill, most people would wait eight years for citizenship but those enrolled in DACA, those with temporary protective status for fleeing strife-torn countries and farmworkers would wait three years.

The bill also offers development aid to Central America, reduces the 1.2 million-case backlog in immigration courts and provides more visas for underrepresented countries and crime victims.

The proposal would let eligible family members wait in the United States for green cards by granting temporary status until their petitions are processed — a population that Kerri Talbot of advocacy group Immigration Hub estimates at 4 million.

Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens who have been waiting outside the country for more than six years are just getting their numbers called this month. Waits are even longer for some nationalities. Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens from Mexico have been waiting outside the United States since August 1996.

The bill faces an enormous test in Congress. Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said Wednesday that he would lead the Senate effort. Skeptics will note that Ronald Regan’s 1986 amnesty for nearly 3 million immigrants preceded large numbers of new arrivals and say to expect more of the same.

In a taste of what’s to come, Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, described the bill as having “open borders: Total amnesty, no regard for the health and security of Americans, and zero enforcement.”

To be clear, enforcement has expanded exponentially since the mid-1990s and will remain. Biden’s bill calls for more technology at land crossings, airports and seaports and authorizes the Homeland Security secretary to consider other steps.

Biden warned advocates last week that they should not hold him to passage within 100 days, said Domingo Garcia of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who was on a call with the president.

“Today we celebrate,” Carlos Guevara of pro-immigration group UnidosUS said Wednesday. “Tomorrow we roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Source: Biden bets big on immigration changes in opening move

The ‘Racial Caste System’ At The U.S. Capitol

Of note. May be similar pattern in Canada:

After the Capitol was cleared of insurrectionists on Jan. 6, there was work to be done. You may have seen the video of a group of Capitol workers cleaning up the great halls, trying to restore order and dignity to rooms that had been trashed and defaced.

James R. Jones, an assistant professor of African American studies at Rutgers University, was watching as the mob rioted through the Capitol’s great rooms and hallways. After the tear gas cleared, he knew what was likely coming next: “It wasn’t lost on me that it was going to be Black workers who had to clean up after their mess.”

Jones was an intern at the Capitol during his undergraduate years at George Washington University, and was struck with how racially bifurcated it was back then. “Whites work for whites, Black staffers work for Black lawmakers, Latino staffers work for Latino members, and so on,” he says. And he says there is a largely overlooked community, almost exclusively people of color, who make sure the Capitol complex runs smoothly.

“There’s a whole army,” Jones points out, “workers who are mostly Black and Brown, who really are the custodians of Congress. They are making sure this vast physical complex is up and running for lawmakers, staff and visitors.”

Jones writes about the Capitol’s segregation in his forthcoming book, The Last Plantation: Racism in the Halls of Congress, which will be published later this year by Princeton University Press. I talked to him about the book’s provocative title, the people who work behind-the-scenes, and some of the things Congress could do to balance out its racial inequities. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


If I were to walk through the Capitol Hill complex and randomly pop into various Senate or House offices, what would I see? Do these places look like America?

Well, you’d see that it’s majority white. And part of that is Congress’s own fault. Congress does not collect demographic data on who it employs. So it becomes really hard to see and measure racial representation among senior staffers. I’ve been part of an effort to collect empirical demographic data on congressional staffers, whether they’re senior staffers or interns. What we’ve been able to see is that a lot of the staffers of color are employed by members of Congress who themselves are people of color.

It matters who’s in the room when policy decisions are being made because those decisions will affect everyone. Staffers are instrumental in helping lawmakers think through complicated issues, issues that will confront communities of color. So whether you’re talking about policing or climate change or even economic policy, it matters who’s in the room and it matters what perspectives are being heard and listened to as policy is being made.

You’ve titled your forthcoming book The Last Plantation. Where did that phrase come from?

The idea of Congress as the “last plantation” developed in the 1970s. Lawmakers, staffers and journalists began calling Congress the last plantation to draw attention to how Congress was exempt from federal workplace laws — laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial and gender discrimination in the workplace. This is a law that remade the country’s racial landscape in a really dramatic way, in many ways, catapulting Black men and women into workplaces previously dominated by white men.

Did anyone speak out against this do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do practice back then, or did they all just look away?

There were a few lawmakers who spoke out and understood that this was a problem. One was Senator John Glenn (D-OH). He was famous before he arrived to Congress; he was an astronaut. He was the first lawmaker to go on record calling Congress the last plantation in a Senate hearing in 1978 that aimed to apply federal workplace laws to Congress.

I can imagine some of his peers were pretty offended. How did that go over with them?

Not well! He later mentioned that some of his colleagues did not speak to him for several months after he said that.

But in many ways Glenn was right: Service workers on the Hill received a different set of benefits than the more visible members of Congress. Sometimes unionization gives workers assurances of some protections, like a minimum wage, health care, some kind of pension, due process in the event of a disagreement with a supervisor. Are the current non-legislative Hill workers part of a union? If they are, does that help?

That’s a complicated question. Some congressional workers are allowed to unionize and some aren’t. Those who are directly employed by Congress cannot unionize. Congress, again, has exempted itself from federal workplace laws that allow American workers to unionize. But there are certain workers who are not employed by Congress who are allowed to unionize, like cafeteria workers. This is a group that fought really hard in the 1970s and 1980s for the right to unionize. They had to use “the last plantation” as a metaphor to draw attention to how there was a racial caste system on Capitol Hill.

So in the cafeteria workers’ case, they embarrassed Congress into doing the right thing?

Again, it’s complicated. Members of Congress allowed them to unionize in the 1980s—but because of that, they couldn’t be federal employees anymore. So they became private employees of these third-party contractors who took over the dining services in Congress. As a result, they gained the right to unionize, but they lost their government health and other benefits. Notably as you mentioned, their federal pension.

On January 20, we’ll have a new president, and a number of new people in Congress and in the Senate. What would you ask them to consider, in terms of changing the demographics on Capitol Hill, as they start their terms?

I would ask them to be transparent about their hiring practices so both the Congress and the White House publish and collect demographic data about who they employ. What we know from other work settings is that these data are important for measuring the presence of discrimination. Without these data, we can’t really hold members of Congress or even the president accountable for who they hire—it becomes really complicated to do so in the absence of this data.

The second thing I’d ask is to make sure that the way in which they’re going about hiring and promotion is fair. Often it’s through social networks, and it’s these social networks that in many ways facilitate the hiring of white staffers; it’s just, you know, this insider’s game. So in many ways, we need to push back and have much more transparent and fair hiring and promotion processes, and make sure that people from different backgrounds are able to work in government.

Source: The ‘Racial Caste System’ At The U.S. Capitol

U.S. Census Bureau director to resign amid criticism over citizenship data

Of note (former StatsCan head Munir Sheikh resigned over Conservative government’s replacement of the mandatory census with the less accurate voluntary National Household Survey):

Facing criticism over efforts to produce citizenship data to comply with an order from President Donald Trump, U.S. Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham said Monday that he planned to resign with the change in presidential administrations.

Dillingham said in a statement that he would resign on Wednesday, the day Trump leaves the White House and President-elect Joseph Biden takes office. Dillingham’s term was supposed to be finished at the end of the year.

The Census Bureau director’s departure comes as the statistical agency is crunching the numbers for the 2020 census, which will be used to determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets, as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.

In his statement, Dillingham said he had been considering retiring earlier, but he had been persuaded at the time to stick around.
“But I must do now what I think is best,” said Dillingham, 68. “Let me make it clear that under other circumstances I would be honored to serve President-Elect Biden just as I served the past five presidents.”

A Census Bureau spokesman said the agency’s chief operating officer, Ron Jarmin, will assume the director’s duties. Jarmin served in the same role before Dillingham became director two years ago.

Last week, Democratic lawmakers called on Dillingham to resign after a watchdog agency said he had set a deadline that pressured statisticians to produce a report on the number of people in the U.S. illegally.

A report by the Office of Inspector General last week said bureau workers were under significant pressure from two Trump political appointees to figure out who is in the U.S. illegally using federal and state administrative records, and Dillingham had set a Friday deadline for bureau statisticians to provide him a technical report on the effort.

One whistleblower told the Office of Inspector General that the work was “statistically indefensible.”

After the release of the inspector general’s report, leaders of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights called for Dillingham’s resignation, and several Democratic lawmakers followed suit.

Dillingham then ordered an indefinite halt to the efforts to produce data showing the citizenship status of every U.S. resident through administrative records.

During Dillingham’s tenure, the Trump administration unsuccessfully tried to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire, and the president issued two directives that advocacy groups said were part of efforts to suppress the participation of minorities and immigrants in the head count of every U.S. resident.

Trump’s first directive, issued in 2019, instructed the Census Bureau to use administrative records to figure out who is in the country illegally after the Supreme Court blocked the citizenship question. In the second directive last year, Trump instructed the Census Bureau to provide data that would allow his administration to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the numbers used for divvying up congressional seats among the states.

An influential GOP adviser had advocated excluding them from the apportionment process in order to favor Republicans and non-Hispanic whites, even though the Constitution spells out that every person in each state should be counted. Trump’s unprecedented order on apportionment was challenged in more than a half-dozen lawsuits around the U.S., but the Supreme Court ruled last month that any challenge was premature.

Dillingham oftentimes appeared cut out of the loop on these census-related decisions made by the White House and Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau. At a congressional hearing in July, Dillingham said he wasn’t informed ahead of time before Trump issued his directive on the apportionment numbers.

The pandemic and errors found in the data have forced the Census Bureau to delay releasing the numbers used to apportion congressional seats until early March.

Last week, the Department of Justice and municipalities and advocacy groups that had sued the Trump administration over the 2020 census agreed to put the lawsuit on hold for 21 days so the Biden administration can take power and decide how to proceed with the census and the litigation.

“Director Dillingham’s departure will coincide with the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, providing the new administration the opportunity to appoint competent, ethical leadership committed to the scientific integrity of the Census Bureau,” Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, said Monday.

Source: Census Bureau director to resign amid criticism over citizenship data