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systemic racism

Black History Month: Steps toward dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. 

Today, a House Judiciary subcommittee is hosting a hearing to discuss the H.R. 40 bill which seeks to create a commission that would explore reparations for Black Americans who have faced disproportionate disadvantages due to long lasting systemic racism. If passed, this would be a major step toward dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. 

The effects of systemic racism 

Systemic racism, also referred to as structural or institutional racism, is defined as “a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity,” according to the Aspen Institute. Systemic racism is not something “a few people or institutions choose to practice.” It is ingrained in our social, economic, and political systems and has adapted over time. It identifies the parts of our history and culture that have historically privileged “whiteness” while subjecting people of color to unjust disadvantages. 

Black Lives Matter

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Since the protests from last summer following the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought many issues surrounding racism in the U.S. to the forefront of national conversation. One of the biggest topics in the fight for racial equality is that of systemic racism and dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. 

Systemic racism is present in all systems and institutions and prevents or makes it more challenging for people of color to participate in society and in the economy. Some areas where systemic racism is prevalent include the criminal justice system, employment, housing, health care, politics and education. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed some of the ways in which systemic racism in healthcare, employment, and housing has impacted people of color who suffer from disproportionate rates of infection and hospitalization. 

homeless

Black Americans make up nearly half of the homeless population. (Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash)

Black Americans face greater, disproportionate disadvantages due to historic practices of racism and discrimination within these systems that have evolved over time. One example of this is the, now illegal, practice of redlining. 

Redlining refers to the system used by banks and the real estate industry in the 20th century to determine which neighborhoods would get loans to buy homes, and neighborhoods where people of color lived — outlined in red ink — were deemed the riskiest to invest in.

This practice made it nearly impossible for people of color to obtain loans and was a form of segregation which kept people of color living in poor, low-income, often urban areas while white people were able to afford homes in the suburbs. 

Redlining was banned in 1968, however the areas that were once deemed “dangerous” or “hazardous” by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corp are still more likely to be home to lower-income, minority residents to this day. Black Americans also make up nearly half of the homeless population today, despite making up only 13% of the population. These disproportionate numbers reflect the impact of systemic racism and shows how old systems of discrimination can become ingrained in our society and have lasting effects long after those practices have been banned. 

Steps toward dismantling racism in the U.S.

To properly dismantle systemic racism, change must be made across the board and all institutions must consciously reflect how they may be contributing to the discrimination of people of color or hindering their advancement in society. 

To address the issue moving forward, NAACP President Derrick Johnson outlined three key steps: First, we must “acknowledge that racism actually exists.” Second, we must get involved with organizations that are fighting it. And third, we must elect leaders and policy makers who won’t reinforce or support structurally racist policies. 

“Racism is not a partisan issue, and we need to stop making it a partisan issue,” Johnson said. “It’s a question of morality.”

systemic racism

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

President Biden has pledged to address the issue of systemic racism in his Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity last month where he stated that, 

“By advancing equity across the Federal Government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone.  For example, an analysis shows that closing racial gaps in wages, housing credit, lending opportunities, and access to higher education would amount to an additional $5 trillion in gross domestic product in the American economy over the next 5 years.” 

Additionally, in his Proclamation on National Black History Month, 2021, President Biden reiterated these sentiments stating: 

“we are also launching a first-ever whole‑government-approach to advancing racial justice and equity across our Administration –- in health care, education, housing, our economy, our justice system, and in our electoral process.  We do so not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the smart thing to do, benefiting all of us in this Nation.

We do so because the soul of our Nation will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist.  It is corrosive.  It is destructive.  It is costly.  We are not just morally deprived because of systemic racism, we are also less prosperous, less successful, and less secure as a Nation.”

You might be interested: How systemic racism is costing the U.S. trillions

Another step Congress is taking toward dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. is the possibility of granting reparations to the families of formerly enslaved African Americans. After the Civil War, reparations were promised to formerly enslaved families, but the promise was never fulfilled. Now, Congress is taking another look at the H.R. 40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.” 

The bill has been introduced in every legislative session since 1989, and since the last time a hearing was held on H.R. 40 in 2019, it has garnered the support of 170 members of Congress and 300 organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, NAACP and ACLU. However, in the three decades since the bill was first introduced, it has yet to reach the House floor for a vote. 

Today, a House Judiciary subcommittee is hosting a hearing to discuss the H.R. 40 bill.

If passed, H.R. 40 seeks to establish a commission to study “and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes,” according to H.R. 40’s text.

latinos nominated to the cabinet

A closer look at the Latinos nominated to Biden’s Cabinet

Many changes are underway as we settle into the new presidency. Among issues of immigration reform and COVID-19 relief, another key topic is that of President Biden’s cabinet nominations. Representation and diversity have been central to President Biden’s choices for top White House positions. During the 2020 election, he promised to nominate “the most diverse Cabinet in history,” stressing that he wanted leaders that look like America. Among the Cabinet nominations are many historic firsts including multiple Latinos nominated to the Cabinet. 

Julie Chávez Rodriguez has been appointed as Biden’s director of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations (Photo credit: White house photo office, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

“A Cabinet that looks like America”

The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President on any subject he or she may require relating to the duties of each member’s respective office and comprises some of the most senior positions in the executive branch. Historically until now, these positions have remained mostly male and white. However, if all of Biden’s nominees are confirmed, his Cabinet will contain more women and people of color than any other Cabinet in U.S. history.

“It’s a cabinet that looks like America, taps into the best of America, and opens doors and includes the full range of talents we have in this nation,” Biden said. 

Data shows that among the Cabinet appointees confirmed in the first 100 days of the last three presidential administrations, almost 72 percent were white, and 73 percent were male. Additionally, women have never made up more than 41 percent of a presidential Cabinet, and Black Americans have never accounted for even a third of the Cabinet.

Among Biden’s first 100-plus staffers, around 60 percent were women, more than 50 percent were people of color and 20 percent were first-generation Americans. 

Latinos Nominated to the Cabinet 

Latinos nominated to the Cabinet

Xavier Becerra, nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services. (Photo credit: Office of the attorney general of California, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Xavier Becerra, nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services

Biden has nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to run the Department of Health and Human Services, a critical Cabinet position as the nation grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and navigates a nationwide COVID-19 vaccine rollout. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Becerra would be the first Latino to serve as HHS secretary. Prior to becoming California attorney general, Becerra served 12 terms in the U.S. House, rising to a top leadership post and helping to steer the Affordable Care Act through Congress.

Miguel Cardona, nominee for secretary of Education

Connecticut Public Schools commissioner and former elementary school teacher Miguel Cardona is President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nomination for secretary of the Department of Education. With his nomination, President Biden delivers on his promise to nominate a teacher for the top education job. Now Connecticut’s top education official, Cardona began as a teacher at his former elementary school. He became the state’s youngest principal in 2003, and eventually the district’s assistant superintendent. 

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Cardona would be tasked with helping the administration get students and teachers back in the classroom after the COVID-19 pandemic forced at-home instruction in districts across the country.

Latinos nominated to the Cabinet

Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee for secretary of Homeland Security (Photo credit: official Department of Homeland Security (government) portrait, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee for secretary of Homeland Security

Alejandro Mayorkas previously served as deputy secretary of Homeland Security and as U.S. Customs and Immigration Service director during the Obama administration. In 1998, Mayorkas became the youngest U.S. attorney in the country. He served as the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California until April 2001. He’s currently an attorney at the global law firm WilmerHale. If confirmed, he will be the first Latino and immigrant to hold the job. 

Isabel Guzman, nominee for administrator of the Small Business Administration 

Latinos nominated to the Cabinet

Isabel Guzman, nominee for administrator of the Small Business Administration (Photo credit: State of California, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Latina business leader, Isabel Guzman is the first Latina named to a cabinet-level position. Biden nominated her to head the Small Business Administration as Latino businesses struggle to survive with fewer resources and less funding.

Guzman is currently the director of the Office of Small Business Advocate in the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Prior to her work in California, she worked in the SBA during the Obama administration as deputy chief of staff and senior adviser. Guzman has also started small businesses as an entrepreneur. 

“And as head of the SBA, Isabel will be leading that critical mission to not only rescue small businesses in crisis, but to provide the capital to entrepreneurs across the country so they can innovate, create jobs, and help lead us into recovery,” Biden said when introducing Guzman as his choice.

Latinos nominated in other areas of government

In addition to the Latinos nominated to the Cabinet, President Biden has also continued his mission for diversity in his selections for other positions. Other Latinos who have been appointed to high-level positions include: Julie Chávez Rodriguez who has been appointed as Biden’s director of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, and Adrian Saenz has been appointed deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement. 

“It’s not going to be easy. I don’t go into any of this with rose-colored glasses,” said Chávez Rodríguez, the granddaughter of the civil rights leader César Chavez.

Chávez Rodríguez will work with governors and local officials who are worried about security, pandemic surges, the challenges of mass vaccinations and states’ economic hardships. Despite the “overwhelming” challenges ahead, she said there’s “a real hunger” among governors of both parties and mayors to help solve problems.

“While, yes, we have multiple crises we are facing, I think there’s a real moment for a collaborative government that I am really excited and energized by.”

Confirmations for Biden’s cabinet nominations are expected to continue over the coming weeks. As of now two of Biden’s 23 nominees have been confirmed.

American Rescue Plan

How the $1.9 Trillion “American Rescue Plan” will help communities rebuild post-COVID

The twin disasters of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout have left families reeling from sickness, unemployment, and increases in food anxiety. Communities of color have especially been disproportionately affected. In December alone 140,000 jobs were lost, a majority of which were held by women and people of color. As President Biden steps into office, it is crucial that these issues be addressed with the recovery plan that will aim to combat these crises. 

American Rescue Plan

financial economy recovery after coronavirus impact design

Communities of color disproportionately affected

Since April, workers of color have faced the highest rates of pandemic-related unemployment. Data shows that Black and Latino people are now facing greater rates of unemployment than during the 2008 Great Recession. 

Additionally, people of color are heavily represented in industries that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic such as: service, production, transportation, construction, and maintenance occupations. And those who do have jobs are more likely to be employed in high-risk, high contact front-line positions, disproportionately increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19.

With communities suffering through economic and health crises and unemployment rates at a record high, it’s clear that extensive recovery efforts will be needed to turn the tides. 

When speaking on the issue, Alejandra Castillo, CEO of YWCA USA and former National Director of the Minority Business Development Agency for the Obama Administration said:  

“We know from the past that we cannot just invest at the top and hope for trickle-down impact, this pandemic has amplified what many of us on the ground already knew: that women and communities of color have long faced social and structural infrastructure divestment. We need to re-imagine the health and prosperity of communities and build a comprehensive social and physical infrastructure plan that will create well-paying jobs. To truly do this we need to play to where the future of our economy is going as well as the future of work.”

As President Biden begins to enact recovery measures and legislation, economic security will be a top concern. Additionally job creation will be critical in the post-COVID future as vulnerable communities continue to face insurmountable challenges. 

You might be interested: President Biden to propose immigration reform bill that will legalize 11 million

Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” Highlights 

As a first step toward addressing the nation’s economic and health crises, President Joe Biden has laid out a $1.9 trillion emergency recovery plan. 

The wide-ranging package entitled the “American Rescue Plan” aims to combat the twin crises with provisions delivering direct aid to American families, businesses and communities, and a major focus on COVID testing and vaccine production and delivery.

The “American Rescue Plan” will provide emergency measures to meet the nation’s immediate economic and health-care needs, to be followed in February by a broader relief plan. 

Biden’s proposal is divided into three major areas: $400 billion for provisions to fight COVID-19 with more vaccines and testing, while reopening schools; more than $1 trillion in direct relief to families, including through stimulus payments and increased unemployment insurance benefits; and $440 billion for aid to communities and businesses, including $350 billion in emergency funding to state, local and tribal governments.

The proposal would also increase stimulus payments from $600 to $1,400 per person. Additionally, the plan would expand a tax credit for children to $3,600 a year per child under 6, as well as $3,000 a year for children under 17. It would also extend eligibility for the credit to millions of very poor families and would dramatically boost the Earned Income Tax Credit, a benefit for workers, from $530 to $1,500.

 Other new initiatives in the recovery plan include: 

  • A combined 14 weeks of paid sick and family medical leave for millions of workers
  •  Grants to more than 1 million small businesses, 
  • $35 billion toward making low-interest loans available
  • Increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour 
  • And fund other necessary relief efforts such as food and water assistance, food stamps, and funding for U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico

Biden has also called for an increase in federal unemployment benefits, from $300 per week to $400 per week for millions of jobless Americans. These benefits would also be extended through September, preventing millions of people from losing their jobless aid in March under current law.

These are only first steps, and there is clearly much work to be done to reverse the economic and health crises that have devastated the nation and its most vulnerable communities. 

President Biden to propose immigration reform bill that will legalize 11 million

During his first days in office, President Joe Biden’s first agenda is to address the long-elusive goal of immigration reform with a groundbreaking legislative package and immigration bill that will grant a quicker pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country without legal status.

immigration reform

Photo by Metin Ozer on Unsplash

Biden’s immigration reform bill: “Restoring humanity to our immigration system”

On Saturday, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, sent a memo to the administration’s senior staff that said the new president’s agenda includes “the immigration bill he will send to Congress on his first day in office,” which Klain asserted would “restore humanity to our immigration system.”

Biden’s proposal lays out what would be the most sweeping and comprehensive immigration reform package since President Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which granted legal status to 3 million people who were in the country without documentation.

In an interview with Univision,  VP Kamala Harris gave a preview of the bill’s provisions. The new immigration bill will provide shorter pathways to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people, including automatic green cards for immigrants with temporary protected status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Wait times for U.S. citizenship would also decrease from 13 to eight years under this bill, and there would be an increase in the number of immigration judges to relieve backlog in cases.

This bill differs from many previous immigration bills passed under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The key difference being that the proposed legislation “would not contain any provisions directly linking an expansion of immigration with stepped-up enforcement and security measures,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who has been consulted on the proposal by Biden staffers.

“This notion concerning immigration enforcement and giving Republicans everything they kept asking for … was flawed from the beginning,” she said.

Hincapié added Biden’s team would be able to bypass legislation to quickly make a number of administrative changes.

She expects him to announce several executive actions that would expand DACA, overturn Trump’s 2017 travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries and rescind Trump’s public charge rule, which allowed authorities to deny green cards to immigrants who use food stamps or other public benefits.

Setting a new tone: “It’s not going to be about walls.”

Under Biden’s immigration bill, immigrants would become eligible for legal permanent residence after five years and for U.S. citizenship after an additional three years — a faster path to citizenship than in previous immigration bills.

“I think this bill is going to lay an important marker in our country’s history,” said Lorella Praeli, an immigrant and longtime activist who has been talking with Biden’s staff, noting that the measure “will not seek to trade immigration relief for enforcement, and that’s huge.”

Praeli, president of Community Change Action, a progressive group based in Washington that advocates for immigrants, described the bill as “an important opening act.”

“If there is a silver lining to the Trump era, it’s that it should now be clear to everyone that our system needs a massive overhaul and we can no longer lead with detention and deportation,” she said.

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On the topic of undocumented essential workers, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said “It’s time for essential workers to no longer be treated as disposable, but to be celebrated and welcomed as American citizens. If your labor feeds, builds and cares for our nation, you have earned the right to stay here with full legal protection, free from fear of deportation.”

Additionally, Leon Rodriguez, who was director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2014 to 2017, said that, “the public attitude toward immigration enforcement is at a different place in 2021 than it was at any point prior to the Trump administration. I think there just has been a lot of things about how immigration enforcement was executed under the Trump administration that didn’t sit right with a lot of Americans.”

However, he believes Biden’s overall approach will set an entirely different tone in the conversation of immigration reform in America. He sees a more hopeful, positive era ahead.

“It’s not going to be about walls and keeping people in Mexico,” he said.

While the ambitious bill is a great first step for the new administration, the bill will likely face months of political pushback on Capitol Hill by conservative voters, even with Democrats holding the White House and slender majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Still, if the broader bill were to die or take too long to pass, there are alternate venues Democratic leadership can take to legalize a substantial group of people — specifically the estimated 5 million essential workers now in the country without legal status.

One possible alternative would be to take advantage of COVID relief measures. Democratic leadership could decide to include measures offering legal status to essential workers via a process known as budget reconciliation. This process would only need 51 votes to pass the Senate.

“We are talking about potentially 5 million workers who have put their own lives on the line as essential workers,” Praeli said. “You cannot be essential and deportable.”