Monday, April 22, 2013

Pressing Policy: Immigration Policy in The U.S.

As I've been working with a large immigration population during my internship at Nassau University Medical Center this semester, I have finally seen a firsthand account of the effects of the current battle within Congress over immigration reform. Immigration to the U.S, a country made and developed by immigrants, is a complex process defined by the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), which is the body of law currently governing immigration policy. But to better understand the American immigration policy let's look at some statistics from the Immigration Policy Center:

  • There is an annual worldwide limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants
  • There are 480,000 family-based visas available each year (this allows U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to bring certain family members to the U.S.)
  • There are more than 20 types of visas for temporary nonimmigrant workers, most temporary visas are for highly skilled workers or temporary workers who are sponsored by their employers
  • Permanent employment immigration has a limit of 140,000 per year
  • No group of permanent immigrants from a single country can exceed 7% of the total amount of people immigrating to the U.S. in a given year
  • Refugees are admitted to the United States based upon an inability to return to their home countries because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to their race, membership in a social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. The same goes for those seeking asylum in the U.S. and fear returning home
  • In order to qualify for U.S. citizenship, one must be a legal permanent resident (green card holders) for at least 5 years, have a basic knowledge of the english language, U.S. government and U.S. history 
So what is the debacle today? Congress, on the verge of reaching a bipartisan deal in the last week, (which could have helped create an avenue to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today!) has come to a roadblock following the bombing of the Boston Marathon by two Chechen immigrants. With national security at an obvious high, many politicians are calling for stricter immigration laws to avoid terrorist attacks following the tragic events of last Monday. 

As politicians make this an issue of national security, they are lacking the foresight to understand the economic and social importance of our immigrant population. To most Americans, immigrants are viewed as an added pressure to our welfare system, burdening American citizens who are suffering from poverty. According to a Reason-Rupe poll, a staggering 45% of American's believe immigrants come to the U.S. to reap government benefits. However, political blogger Shikha Dalmia explains, immigrants are actually helping to protect our existing social-welfare system. 

Dalmai's blog post entitled Don’t Believe What You’ve Heard About Immigrants and Welfare utilizes the following statistics: 

  • A 2006 analysis by the Texas comptroller estimated that low-skilled unauthorized workers cost the state treasury $504 million more than they paid in taxes in 2005. Without them, however, the state’s economy would have shrunk by 2.1 percent, or $17.7 billion, as the competitive edge of Texas businesses diminished.
  • A 2006 study by the Kenan Institute at the University of North Carolina found that although Hispanic immigrants imposed a net $61 million cost on the state budget, they contributed $9 billion to the gross state product.
Low-skilled foreigners receive the least amount of welfare aid (such as Food Stamps and public assistance) while providing low-wage employment that is vulnerable to abusive powers. By restricting these immigrants from a fair path to citizenship and rights within the U.S. we are stripping both the American economy and society from any means of progress. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Amazing Shrinking American Welfare System

The crushing blows of the Great Depression in the 1930's led to the creation of the American welfare system; a system that has transformed over decades of social and economic change. By the 1980's and 90's, policy makers were eager to make a change to the federal-based aid, hoping to cure American's of their plague of dependency. Rather than target the institution of poverty or the state which produced it, the state targeted the poor people themselves by reducing benefits and changing guidelines and restrictions to make it more difficult to receive assistance.

Bill Clinton's 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and introduced Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), an aid system that only allows families to be on 'roll' for 5 years. Sadly, even those families that are objectively eligible, receiving TANF is incredibly difficult.

Welfare reform reduced rolls by 59% (or about 7 million people). What was seen as a great success by politicians and policy makers was really just making those in poverty poorer without access to assistance. With the economic recession in 2008, poverty has only increased.

The reforms also targeted Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and disability aid, making eligibility more stringent and requiring types of documentation that is often difficult for those in poverty to obtain. The denial rate for homeless adults applying for SSI and SSDI is 80%,  and 70% for all initial general claims! But welfare benefits aren't the only thing shrinking, welfare employees are also dwindling, leaving offices overwhelmed with never ending cases and pressure to push recipients off the roll. With Congressional pressure to make welfare reforms following the sequester earlier this year it is only a matter of time before poverty reaches epidemic proportions in the U.S. We are no longer ending poverty, but feeding it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Health Leads: A New Approach to Social Work in Modern America

[Health Leads] is exactly the kind of social innovation and entrepreneurship we should be encouraging all across this country.

This semester I've had the privilege of working with Health Leads, an organization whose mission is to connect low-income families with resources they need to maintain and improve public health. In recent years the American economy has taken recessionary blows which have not only affected the American market but more importantly the American people. Those who are left by the wayside are unfortunately often those who need the most help, especially low-income families living in an unstable and inadequate welfare system.

The position I am in as an intern is a community Health Advocate. Health Leads desks are located in: Chicago, Baltimore, New York City, Boston, Providence and Washington D.C. My fellow advocates and I, all 11 of us, are the first group of students at a new desk at Nassau University Medical Center which opened in January 2013. The clients we assist have needs which include: food assistance (SNAP), cash assistance (TANF), medicare, healthcare, housing, immigration, childcare and adult education (ESL). Clients are referred to our desk by: resident physicians, nurses and social workers, flyering in waiting rooms and walk-ins. After an initial intake, advocates foster and maintain a relationship with their clients through weekly follow-ups and connecting families with resources.

The community and region surrounding and within Uniondale, NY is one of low-economic growth and stability, fleeting opportunities for employment and a growing population of undocumented migrants.
In wake of the sequester, the social welfare system has seen larger reforms and regulations which affect many of these families, especially women receiving WIC (Women Infant Care) assistance. Through the use of an interactive resource databases, such as 211 Long Island and Hite Site, advocates are able to not only create life changing experiences but better understand how much federal and state policies affect those living in our community.

To get involved visit Health Leads' website!
It's never to late to make a difference.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Whose Side Are We On?

As President Obama makes his first visit to Israel this week, everyone's wondering if we'll be seeing any peace resolutions in the near future. The region has been riddled by an Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the early 20th century, leaving hundreds of thousands of refugees and tens of thousands dead. According to the website If Americans Knew, which is dedicated to informing the American public of the exact statistics involving the conflict, during the fiscal year of 2011 the U.S. gave the Israeli military $8.5 million per DAY, Palestinian forces received nothing. Isn't that incredible and disheartening? Furthermore, The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions estimates that over 27,000 houses have been demolished in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza since 1967, all of said houses have belonged to Palestinians. 

Before I get too ahead of myself I should probably tell you how this all started if you don't already know. In the late 1800's a Zionist movement began to create a homeland for the Jewish people. Following the Holocaust more and more Jewish people migrated to the region, alarming the indigenous population who were slowly losing their land and eventually their rights. The UN intervened in 1947, but instead of allowing the citizens of the region to self-determine their state they chose to divide it themselves. According to If Americans Knew, the UN recommended giving away 55% of Palestine to a Jewish state – despite the fact that this group represented only about 30% of the total population, and owned under 7% of the land. I was just reading an article today about the 10th anniversary of the death of American activist, Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death protecting a Palestinian home by an Israeli Caterpillar D9 bulldozer-- equipment funded by the U.S. (the article here: 

So why does the U.S. continue to provide Israel with such exorbitant military aid? The interest lies in our current relationship with the Middle East at large. With so many nations who are against the U.S. in the Middle East, Israel proves to be a strong ally located in the region. Having strong diplomatic relations with Israel allows the U.S. to have a foothold in a region that fosters so many uncertainties for us as a nation. But Obama's agenda isn't solely to garner peace between the Israelis and Palestinians but also to address the issue of Iran's nuclear weapon program that has been causing  increasing fear around the world. Iran has been vocal in the past of the way the American government has handled the Israeli-Palestinian issue, criticizing the lack of fairness and tact while handling the situation. 

While Israel bathes in the international limelight this week lets hope that American's will finally take the time to understand the incredible injustices we have been funding for decades. 

Here's a little tongue-in-cheek cartoon poking at the wayward conditions in Israel today:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Please Tread On Me!

Following the tragic murder of 26 Sandy Hook Elementary School staff and students, the issue of gun control in America has reached a boiling point. Coined in his article "America as a Gun Culture", historian Richard Hofstadter popularized the term "gun culture" to refer to America's long standing affection to firearms. The admiration stems from the association of guns and the American heritage, a complex duo that has helped foster a relatively lax gun policy in the U.S. A time of western expansion when guns were needed on the American frontier has created a society in which gun violence has reached epic proportions. I'm sure that every single day when you turn on the television or pick up a newspaper, it is almost impossible not to read about another death or injury by gun violence. It is not just the lack of gun controls that haunts American society but the sheer amount of guns in this country itself-- with 270 million guns belonging to put that into perspective that is 88.9 firearms per 100 people!! The U.S. with 4.5% of the worlds population holds about 40% of privately owned guns! 

It's a sad truth, but statistics have shown that stricter gun control leads to less gun violence in society. A new study by Boston's Children's Hospital which showed that states with more gun laws exhibited less gun violence. Although several factors such as type of laws, enforcement of laws and gun ownership rates in states were not taken into account but the study indicates that laws play a major role in preventing firearm deaths. According to the study, states with the most gun laws had a mortality rate 42% lower than the states which had the fewest. 

Like the story of Trayvon Martin, where a young boy was shot because he was deemed a threat by a deranged neighbor or the case of Virginia Tech where a boy with clear mental health issues killed his classmates in a rage. The access that American's have to gun ownership is shockingly easy, where people with mental health issues can obtain a gun or an enraged civilian can instill his wrath with ease. Of course many advocate for the right to gun ownership to protect themselves, but the reality is the psychosis of a society changes when their is more restricted passage to violence. 15 of the last 25 mass killings in the last 50 years has been in the United States! But Washington Post does acknowledge that "An August CNN/ORC poll asked respondents whether they favor or oppose a number of specific policies to restrict gun ownership. And when you drill down to that level, many policies, including banning the manufacture and possession of semi-automatic rifles, are popular." 
If there was a time to act, it's now. As gun violence spirals out of control, public policy and litigation will be our only savior. Lastly, I leave you with a touching speech from Former representative Gabby Gifford's, a victim of gun violence. Be bold, be courageous.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Policy Spotlight: Sequestration

In recent weeks we've been hearing the term 'sequestration' a lot. With the buzz of the recent election subsiding, the fiscal cliff and governmental divide have the American people piquing their ears to some unsettling policy news. So what is the sequester? Why is it happening? And what does it mean for the American people?

It's a wordy term with a complicated and ominous meaning. Simply put, sequestration is Congress' solution to our countries growing national debt (it stands at over $16 trillion today!). Put into effect at 11:59pm on March 1, 2013, the sequester will cut $1.2 trillion dollars from the federal budget over a 10-year time period. The cuts will be split 50-50 between defense and domestic discretionary spending (these include healthcare, education, law enforcement, disaster relief, unemployment benefits, non-profit organizations and the sciences).

I know, it's a hard pill to swallow but now its time to wonder why this is even happening.
The sequester was originally passed as a part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised America's debt ceiling and provided an incentive for the appointed 'Super Committee' to come up with a more comprehensive and sensible budget plan. Believing the sequester to be enough of a threat for the Committee to come to an agreement it was a shock when they were unable to reach a deal by the end of the year. The cuts aimed to go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, but Congress came to a last-minute decision to delay the sequester until March 1st so as not to coincide with the end of Bush-era tax cuts, an amalgamation of policies referred to as the 'Fiscal Cliff'.

So what now? How is this going to effect the American people?
Programs such as Social Security, public assistance (TANF) and food stamps (SNAP) have been able to avert sequester cuts. But programs such as federal housing, Woman and Infant Care and and Medicare are vulnerable to the governments wielded axe. Federal employees may face unemployment and school programs such as Head Start may also see dramatic cuts. The hard truth is that many of these cuts will affect low-income families more than Congress thinks. Tax hikes are inevitable and without a comprehensive tax-rate the pressure of the sequester may prove to be too much for both our society and our economy. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Policy Project

Public Policy in the United States has been one that has shaped societal norms and efficiencies since the inception of this nation. It's a sad testament to see that the policies we have instituted over generations, decades and centuries has created institutions that lack the capacity and the desire to help the millions of Americans today who live in a society where the rich prosper and the poor are all but forgotten.

I've created this blog to shed light on the many inefficiencies of current policy and agenda makers, who have failed to create a nation-state in which the welfare of the people is of the utmost importance. We've reached a momentous time in history in which we have seen a black president elected to office, mass globalization and technology have made the world more interconnected than ever (think of all the social movements started by social media!), and the devastating effects of terrorism around the world.

Without a solid foundation upon which to build our society, the American government is an amalgamation of liberal and conservative entities who refuse to come to a consensus. With lack of better judgment we're seeing social inequality grow, social mobility decrease and what looks like a descent into impending social upheaval!

The picture below shows the profit-hungry nature of current U.S. policy: