Pandemic Journal (# 26): Reflections on Life During the Pandemic  

Here are my latest reflections on living through this pandemic.

The morning news on July 1 reported that there have been 10,483,100 people in the world who have been sickened with the coronavirus with 511,540 deaths, all occurring in nearly every country in the world. For the U.S. the numbers are 2,653,200 cases and 127,461 deaths. The recent hotspots are Arizona, Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington and Mississippi.[1] My state of Minnesota has had 36,338 cases and 1,476 deaths.[2]

On June 30 in testimony to a U.S. Senate committee, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said  the rate of new coronavirus infections could more than double to 100,000 a day if current outbreaks were not contained, warning that the virus’s march across the South and the West “puts the entire country at risk.” He added, ““I can’t make an accurate prediction, but it is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that [3]because when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they are doing well, they are vulnerable.”

These are grim statistics and predictions that are endlessly noted in newspapers and television and radio news programs. As an 81-year-old who has been isolated in his downtown Minneapolis condo building since March 19, all I can do is continue to spend time in my condo with my wife, wear a face mask and “physical distance” at least six feet from other people when I leave the condo to buy groceries, walk in nearby parks and go biking.

While in the condo most of my time is spent reading multiple newspapers on my computer and writing blog posts, usually watching MSNBC at night and occasionally other programs. I have to make time to read books for my men’s book group. Within the last week our building’s swimming pool, hot tub and exercise facilities have re-opened to one or two persons at a time, and I have started to use them again.

I have noted the reports that on June 28, Gilead Sciences announced the pricing for the drug remdesivir, the first drug authorized by the U.S. for treatment of COVID-19. The prices were $3,120 for commercially insured U.S. patients (for the shorter treatment course at $520 per dose) and $5,720 for the longer treatment course. For certain U.S. government programs (but not Medicare or Medicaid) and the rest of the world, the price will be $2,340 (for the shorter course at $390 per dose) and $4,290 (for the longer treatment course).These prices were deemed reasonable by the supposedly independent Institute for Clinical and Economic Review on the basis that use of the drug was expected to enable earlier discharge from the hospital and thereby “save” additional hospital expenses. Gilead’s shares suffered a small decline after the announcement based on certain analysts’ belief that the prices for the drug would be higher.[4]

In my opinion, this is a strange way to assess whether a price is reasonable. The proper method, I thought, was to calculate the cost of producing the drug or other product, after subtracting any costs that had been paid for by the government (or by converting that financial contribution into common or preferred stock and paying dividends to the government), and then adding a percentage of the cost as profit, whose reasonableness could then be assessed.

On May 25th I was shocked to hear the news that George Floyd, an African-American man, had been killed by Minneapolis police in south Minneapolis about 3.5 miles from our condo building. To see the teenage bystander’s video of the last minutes of this human being’s life was excruciating. I did not attend any of the immediate protests at this site, but a couple of weeks ago on a pleasant weekday morning, my wife and I visited the site, which felt like visiting the memorial to a martyred saint. As a result, most of my blog posts since then have been about this killing and the related issues of reforming the Minneapolis and other police departments.

Although I believe that the Minneapolis Police Department needs various reforms, I do not support the City Council’s proposed amendment to the City Charter, which will be discussed in a future post.

I also worry about the U.S. and world economy and the financial struggles of so many people, small businesses, political campaigns and our many worthy nonprofit organizations. This concern was voiced in the June 30th testimony of  Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell before the House Financial Services Committee. He stated that although May employment and sales numbers were better than expected, the path forward would depend on both how the virus evolved and a willingness at all levels of government to provide policy support as long as necessary.[5]

I continue to be grateful that I am retired and not worried about keeping or finding a job. Instead I sort through the many requests for contributions and notices of webinars and other ZOOM meetings. I try to respond as I am able.

My church, Westminster Presbyterian in downtown Minneapolis, is shut down because of the pandemic. But every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.it has a worship service on ZOOM that is broadcast in the afternoon on local TV station KSTP. Also available on ZOOM are other services on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. and on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. Adult education is available on Sundays at 9:15—10:15 a.m. on Zoom. Check the church’s Livestream button for details.

Especially enriching have been Westminster’s conversations with other pastors and theologians about important issues. A future post will discuss the June 21st “Conversation on Big Questions for a Changing Church” between Westminster’s Scholar for Adult Education, Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner, who is a Professor at Luther Seminary, with Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

I also continue to be shocked by the incompetence and outrageous comments from the mouth of President Trump and have to restrain myself from letting them distract me.

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[1] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT).

[2] Minnesota Coronavirus Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Carlson, Minnesota deaths up 6, to 1,441, in COVID-19 pandemic, StarTribune (June 30, 2020).

[3] Stelberg & Weiland, Fauci Says U.S. Could Reach 100,000 Virus cases a Day as Warnings Grow Darker, N.Y. Times (June 30 & July 1, 2020)/

[4] Walker, Covid-19 Drug Remdesivir to Cost $3,120 for Typical Patient, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Grant, Gilead Is Wise to Leave Remdesivir Money on the Table, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Carlson, COVID-19 drug price deemed ‘reasonable,’ StarTribune (June 29, 2020).

[5] Rappeport & Smialek, Mnuchin and Powell Offer Mixed Views of Economic Recovery, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2020).

 

 

U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments

The now enjoined Trump executive order requiring state and local governments to consent to refugee resettlement has had what the President probably did not expect: many of the 42 states so consenting, Alexander all by their governors (both Republican and Democrat) also celebrated the many accomplishments of the previous refugees who have resettled in their states. These positive comments about refugees need to be remembered and continuously publicized, and so here they are. [1]

Alaska. Although the state has not officially submitted a consent letter to the federal government, its Governor in a press conference said, “the resettlement program has a longstanding history and is in line with U.S. and Alaska values.  I think America and Alaska get behind because, once again, it’s folks that are in situations where there’s war or some type of persecution and of course, when they apply to come here, the hope is that that’s put behind them and they can get on with their lives and be part of the state, if they choose to stay, and part of the country.”

Arizona. “Throughout our nation’s history, the United States has been a refuge for individuals fleeing religious and political persecution in their homeland, and Arizona has historically been one of the most welcoming states in terms of the number of refugees resettled here. Refugees arriving in the United States have been vetted and approved by the appropriate national security agencies and Department of State and have been granted legal entry to make a new home in the land of the free.”

Arkansas.  “Arkansans have a history of welcoming refugees. While we fully support control of our borders and oppose illegal immigration, we also value the contribution of immigrants and understand the importance of America continuing to be a welcoming nation for those truly seeking refuge and following the legal path to our land. Immigrants bring energy, a thirst for freedom, and a desire to pursue the American dream. This is America’s strength and part of our future.”

California “The State of California is proud to be a welcoming state, and is committed to the continued resettlement of refugees in partnership with local jurisdictions and community partners. California recognizes its resettlement programs and services are an indispensable lifeline to refugees who have been forcibly dispatched from their home countries and cannot rebuild their lives where they first fled.”

“The refugee resettlement program has a long history in California, spanning over 40 years and successfully resettling over 700,000 men, women and children. During these four decades, refugees continuously have contributed to the enrichment of our economy, culture, and society. California’s communities have flourished because of their diversity and ongoing ability to embrace refugees and immigrant families. . . . Refugees deserve our support and we will keep our doors open to these families and people to sustain  an inclusive California for all.”

 Colorado. “Colorado will continue to assist and resettle more refugees in our communities as long as people around the world are displaced from their home countries.”

“Since 1980, Colorado has welcomed individuals and families fleeing persecution, war, and violence from all over the world through the United States Refugee Admissions Program. Having a robust refugee program ensures that we are upholding our American values of humanitarianism, freedom, and opportunity. Not only is investing in refugees the compassionate and humane thing to do, refugees contribute to our economy in ways that benefit all Coloradans. For every dollar Colorado invests in refugees, we receive a $1.23 return on investment in tax revenue, and four new Colorado jobs are created for every refugee who is resettled in our State.”

Connecticut. “It is a bedrock principle of the United States of America that we welcome to our shores those fleeing tyranny, persecution and violence. As you well know, prior to being admitted to the United States, a refugee must undergo a rigorous vetting process. And we know from our own experience here in Connecticut that refugees enrich the communities that offer them shelter- socially, culturally, and economically. In addition, many people are resettled in our country as part of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, because they have put their lives and safety, and that of their families, at risk to help ensure the success and safety of our military service members in Afghanistan and Iraq. Connecticut is proud to do its part to honor our country’s commitment to them. The policy of the Trump Administration over several years to cut dramatically the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States is antithetical to our heritage and our values.”

Delaware. “Our country has historically been a refuge of safe harbor for those fleeing war-torn countries, violence, and political persecution. We should continue to stand as a beacon of hope and freedom for people around the world. In that spirit, as Delawareans, we are proud to do our part, and continue to accept the resettlement of refugees.”

Illinois. “Since 1975, the State of Illinois has welcomed and resettled more than 130,000 refugees from more than 86 countries. In recent years, 1,000 to 3,000 refugees, those seeking asylum, and victims of human trafficking arrived in Illinois annually. Refugees have successfully rebuilt their lives and made positive social and economic contributions to Illinois. They have helped revitalize neighborhoods and added to the cultural vitality of our state and communities. As survivors of persecution, refugees embody the importance of human rights, democracy, and freedom. Refugees’ resilience in the face of hardship inspires courage, hope, and perseverance. And refugees’ countless contributions undoubtedly make our states and nation stronger.”

Indiana. “Indiana is a destination of certainty, stability and opportunity. As a state, we are on course to become the absolute best place in America to grow as an individual, a family, a business and as a community. Our long tradition of welcoming and helping to resettle refugees with support from our federal partners, shows the world the compassion of Hoosiers and our willingness to give others the ability to grow and prosper in the great state of Indiana.”

“In just the last five years, state based non-profit agencies have resettled thousands of deserving, qualified individuals in the Hoosier state, who have been fully and carefully vetted by relevant federal government agencies. These are . . . individuals who have gone through all the proper channels, were persecuted for their religious or political beliefs in their homeland and have sought and been granted refugee status in our nation of immigrants.”

Kansas. “Kansas has a long and proud history of welcoming the world’s refugees to our state. Refugees are not simply looking for a better home, they are fleeing some of the most horrific violence, war, famine, religious and cultural persecution of our time. Our country and our state can provide the security they need for a safer place to call home. The citizens of Kansas have shown time and again a strong commitment to welcoming refugees into communities statewide.”  She also said, “Refugees come to our country and state looking for a better place to live. Our country and our state benefit as they also make positive contributions in significant ways. They contribute to our economy, workforce and the cultural fabric of our state and nation.”

Maine. “For more than forty years, and under the leadership of seven Democratic, Republican and Independent governors, Maine has participated in the federal refugee resettlement program. Over the course of those decades we have welcomed nearly 10,000 people from more than 30 countries – people who have resettled in Maine with the hope of finding peace, safety and work for themselves and their families.”

“Maine has a workforce shortage, projected to grow worse over the next decade, creating serious challenges for businesses seeking to hire qualified workers in every industry and in every sector of our economy. Our state welcomes refugees who have skills, education and ability, a proven work ethic and tremendous drive. It is the right thing to do, and it is critical to the strength of our economy and our future success as a state.”

Massachusetts. “Massachusetts is committed to continuing to serve as a source of hope and opportunity, welcoming those seeking refuge with open arms and ensuring that newcomers feel safe, valued and supported as they settle into a new country and integrate into new communities.”

“The United States has a proud and noble tradition of serving as a country of refuge for those most vulnerable in the world. The Commonwealth welcomed 516 refugees last year, from 30 countries, and has welcomed 14,282 refugees over the past decade, from 59 countries. Throughout history, many of the refugees our Country admitted became distinguished scientists, government leaders, entrepreneurs, cultural icons, and public servants. We have much to gain in providing refuge to those in need. Foreign born employees provide significant support to our economy and make up a critical part of the health and human services sector workforce.”

Michigan. “Michigan has a rich history of welcoming refugees and other immigrants to our state. I am committed to ensuring that we remain a leader in responding to the needs of globally displaced families and individuals. We recognize the value of being a welcoming state, and the contribution of refugees to the fabric of our communities. Refugees enhance our state socially, culturally, and economically.”

Minnesota. “Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home. Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.”

“We will continue to work hard to ensure refugees become a thriving part of our communities, and I am confident this demonstration of compassion will mark the first step in these immigrants becoming  patriotic and productive fellow Americans.”

Missouri. “Missouri has a long and rich history of immigration, dating back to America’s earliest explorers, fur traders, and missionaries. Today, Missouri’s population includes thousands of former refugees who have become vital members of our communities. Since 2002, nearly 18,000 refugees from 45 countries have resettled in Missouri.”

“In Missouri, state organizations and faith-based groups work tirelessly to support refugee resettlement. Currently, there are five agencies that integrate refugees in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, and Springfield, where they have helped strengthen local economies, especially through entrepreneurship. These groups do an excellent job of transitioning newly settled populations, ensuring they are educated, trained, and prepared to assimilate into their new community. In fact, St. Louis boasts one of the largest Bosnian populations outside that country itself. Community volunteers, especially faith-based partners, continue to be an integral part of such local resettlement efforts.”

Nevada. “Nevada is proud of our long-standing tradition of resettling refugees. Since the 1970s, Republican and Democratic Governors from Nevada have welcomed these individuals into our state with open arms. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet with dozens of refugee children in the State Capitol. . . . While their unimaginable experiences of suffering and hardship may have originated in different areas around the globe, the personal stories they shared were defined by courage, hope and resilience. These stories embody the dignity and values of this country. Such is the story of Nevada Assemblyman Alexander Assefa. Mr. Assefa came to the U.S. as a refugee with similar hopes and dreams. After a lot of hard work, he became a pilot, a small business owner, and he now proudly serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Above all, he is a proud American.”

“We need not forget that refugees fled for their lives after enduring persecution, war and dire humanitarian conditions. Many waited several years in remote places, while undergoing extensive background checks and security clearances, for the opportunity to start a new life in the United States. Once here, refugees become productive, responsible and self-sufficient members of society and account for an important part of our workforce and that drives our economic engine.”

New Jersey. “New Jersey will continue to welcome refugees anxiously fleeing harm and seeking safety. It is not only the right response; it is the American response. We believe that America must remain a beacon of hope in the world, and we know that opening its doors to those facing danger and oppression is who we are as a nation. We are disheartened by recent attempts to undercut our commitment to freedom and opportunity by shrinking the numbers of who can seek comfort on our shores and by erecting new and significant barriers for refugees desperately reaching for safety. The announcement that your Administration will continue dramatically cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States by reducing admission in the coming year to 18,000 from 30,000 -which was already a drastic decline from the 111,000 ceiling just two years ago – is devastating not only for those seeking refuge from harm but for the United States’ standing in the world.”

“New Jersey will continue to welcome refugees anxiously fleeing harm and seeking safety. It is not only the right response; it is the American response.”

“We believe that America must remain a beacon of hope in the world, and we know that opening its doors to those facing danger and oppression is who we are as a nation. We are disheartened by recent attempts to undercut our commitment to freedom and opportunity by shrinking the numbers of who can seek comfort on our shores and by erecting new and significant barriers for refugees desperately reaching for safety. The announcement that your Administration will continue dramatically cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States by reducing admission in the coming year to 18,000 from 30,000 -which was already a drastic decline from the 111,000 cei ling just two years ago – is devastating not only for those seeking refuge from harm but for the United States’ standing in the world.”

“Over two million of our residents are immigrants, including refugees, representing nearly 23 percent of New Jersey’s population. There is no doubt that refugees have contributed to the strength of our state and have enriched our communities economically, culturally and socially. Refugees who have made New Jersey their home have helped our state thrive by growing our workforce, starting businesses, contributing to local economies, and becoming valued friends and neighbors.”

“We took these actions because we recognize that new Americans are integral to our State’s culture and our economy. Immigrants and refugees in New Jersey include over 120,000 entrepreneurs, employ more than 389,000 people and contribute over $24.2 billion in federal, State, and local taxes. In fact, 43 percent of the State’s science, technology, engineering, and math-focused workforce are new Americans who play a significant part in maintaining the State’s role as a leading innovator in the STEM field. Supporting immigrant and refugee integration is a smart strategy for our State and our country.”

“We know that a strong and vibrant democracy like ours requires that we live out our values through our deeds. To do so, we must continue to hold true to who we are as Americans by helping those who come seeking refuge from violence and persecution around the world. My Administration looks forward to continuing to work together with cities and towns across our great State to welcome immigrants and refugees.”

New Mexico. “New Mexico has always welcomed immigrants of all types, including more than 2,500 refugees from 28 countries who have resettled in New Mexico since 2002, adding to the rich multicultural mix of which New Mexicans are so rightly proud.”[2] She also said, “Unlike other immigrants, refugees have been forcibly displaced from their homes, whether by war, famine, religious and cultural persecution or violence. They leave their home countries fearing for their lives, and they come to our shores and our borders often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, desperate — not for a handout but for a chance to start over.”

“While refugees arrive needing our help, they are often quick to pay back the country and communities that welcome them. They get jobs and pay taxes. They open businesses. They contribute their cuisines and cultures, bringing us new forms of entertainment and understanding.”

North Carolina. “North Carolina was one of the first states to welcome refugees to the United States after the United States Refugee Act was signed into law in 1980. Our state has a strong network of community and faith-based groups which aid in resettlement of refugees who seek safety from persecution.”

North Dakota. “North Dakota has had success at integrating refugees who have become responsible citizens and productive members of the workforce.”

Oregon. “Oregon opposed the President’s recent Executive Order on “refugee resettlement, and ask that you return this year’s refugee admission number to previous annual levels. The values reflected in this Executive Order are not the values on which our country was built.”

“It is a sad day for a nation founded on the principle of welcoming ‘poor, tired, and huddled masses.’ Nobody chooses to be a refugee. Refugees are just like us. They have jobs and families. They are parents and friends, teachers and doctors, farmers and fishermen. Since 1975, Oregon has resettled 67,743 refugees. Refugees contribute every day to the strength of our economy, our communities, and our culture. About 70 percent of refugees find employment within the first few months of resettlement. They pay taxes, buy homes, and open businesses. Their search for freedom and a better future for themselves and their children embodies what it means to be an American.”

Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania has a rich history of opening its doors to those facing persecution and danger. William Penn founded our commonwealth on the principle of religious freedom, seeking to allow those in Europe to escape persecution.”

“It is vital that America retain its moral authority throughout the world. And that means that when vulnerable and displaced individuals seek refuge from violence and oppression elsewhere, we welcome them to find that refuge in America. This maintains our image as a beacon of hope and freedom, and shows the world that America is the antithesis of the places these individuals are fleeing.”

“For decades, refugees have made our communities better, and I am committed to continuing that tradition to the fullest extent of my ability. In communities from Allentown to Lancaster to Erie, and elsewhere, refugees are resettling, making a home, finding employment, starting businesses, paying taxes, and enriching their communities. Church World Service, based in Lancaster, has gained national attention for how it has brought refugees and communities together to find mutual understanding and build strong relationships despite differences. That, to me, is the best of America.”

“During past conflicts, America has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees who were fleeing violence and persecution. [For example,] Jewish refugees came to Pennsylvania from Germany and other European countries to escape the Nazi occupation and religious persecution. . . . As millions of people in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Africa face violence, persecution, and death, we should continue to help those we can while taking care to protect our commonwealth and our country, just as we have done for hundreds of years. To reject refugees outright emboldens the message of those who seek to inspire hatred by saying that we, as Americans, do not have compassion or care for specific groups of people in the world facing persecution or worse.”

Tennessee. “Resettlement will be facilitated by the Trump Administration and non-profit organizations with extensive experience in this area. The refugee population in Tennessee is small, and . . .our consent to cooperate and consult with the Trump Administration to provide a safe harbor for those who are fleeing religious persecution and violent conflict is the right decision. The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, and particularly those suffering religious persecution.”

Utah. “Utah has “historically accepted and resettled more than 1,000 refugees each year from a variety of troubled regions of the world. . . . Utah’s unique history informs our approach to refugees. Our state was founded by religious refugees fleeing persecution in the Eastern United States. Those experiences and hardships of our pioneer ancestors 170 years ago are still fresh in the minds of many Utahans. As a result we empathize deeply with individuals and groups who have been forced from their homes and we love giving them a new home and a new life. And it turns out we do it quite well. Those refugees who resettle in Utah become integrated and accepted into our communities. They become productive employees and responsible citizens. They become contributors in our schools, churches and other civic institutions, even helping serve more recent refugees and thus generating a beautiful cycle of charity. This marvelous compassion is simply embedded into our state’ s culture.”

Vermont. “Since 1989, Vermont has welcomed almost 8,000 refugees, primarily from Bhutan, Burma, Bosnia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam. Prior to 2017, Vermont was resettling an average of approximately 325 refugees per year. Through this consent process, I hope to increase current resettlement to the level of 325-350 individuals annually. Vermont has never conditioned and will never condition refugee resettlement on a refugee’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”

“Vermont’s refugee communities have made countless contributions to our state. Refugees help ensure a healthy sized and diverse student population. They help employers fill open positions, contributing to the community and local economy, and pay federal, state and local taxes. In recent years, refugees have entered employment in critical economic sectors including construction, health care, hospitality and hotels, manufacturing, customer service, education, environmental services, food service, maintenance, meat processing, office/accounting, packing, retail, transportation, and warehouse. Vermont has more open jobs than people to fill them; refugee communities are vital to Vermont’s economic health.”

“I am also heartened by the fact that an average of 90-94% of these new Americans are economically self-sufficient within eight months of arrival in Vermont. In fact, the rate for fiscal year 2029 is 100%.”

Virginia. “Virginia has welcomed refugees who are fleeing war, persecution, or other dire circumstances. We know that no one chooses to abandon their home until conditions become so difficult that the unknown is preferable.”

“The United States has long presented itself as a haven, a place of stability and economic prosperity. We promote the ideals upon which this country was founded, of liberty and freedom. But lo uphold those ideals abroad, we must allow access to them here at home. We must practice what we preach.”

“Virginia helps refugees settle into new homes only in those localities that participate in the Virginia Community Capacity Initiative, which ensures that a community’ s elected officials, faith leaders, schools, and other stakeholders are committed to helping refugees build new homes and lives. We work with resettlement agencies that have deep ties to these communities. We have always been clear that successful resettlement only happens with community involvement.”

“Because of our proximity to Washington, D.C., we are a preferred location for many Special Immigrant Visa holders: Iraqi and Afghanistan refugees who provided services to the U.S. military in those countries, and whose lives and families are in danger because of that service.”

“In recent years, as the federal government has lowered the number of refugees accepted into the United States, Virginia’s refugee number has dropped. We have the capacity to accept and help more refugees than we currently have.”

“These are people who no longer have a home. History shows us that this could happen to any of us. We must all imagine ourselves in their shoes, and treat them as we would wish to be treated. If I were ever in such a position, I hope a friendly country would take me in and let me rebuild my life in peace and safety. I believe people of decency would share that hope. Virginia’s lights are on and our doors are open, and we welcome new Virginians to make their homes here.”

Washington. “[The] State of Washington wholeheartedly consents to welcoming and resettling refugees into our communities—a long and proud tradition that we intend to continue.”

“As the state that resettled the second highest number of refugees last year, we are honored to remain a place of safety and security for those fleeing persecution and violence. Since 1975, Washington has bought in nearly 150,000 refugees from 70 different countries, including Vietnam, Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Refugees contribute to all sectors of our economy—as teachers, service members, doctors, and more—while adding to our rich cultural landscape. They are an integral part of Washington’s past, present, and future.”

“Just last week, we celebrated the success of Dr. Anisa Ibrahim, a Washingtonian who resettled in our state after fleeing war-torn Somalia more than two decades ago. Only six years old when her family first arrived in the United States, Dr. Ibrahim later graduated from the University of Washington Medical School and now leads a pediatric clinic in Seattle—the same clinic that treated her when she and her siblings were children.”

“Her story is not unique. Throughout our state, children and families speak of similar circumstances, of having sacrificed everything to seek refuge in America from violence, starvation, and other horrors most of us will thankfully never experience. Many of these children are now leaders in our communities, bringing with them their unique perspectives on tragedy, perseverance, and triumph. Washington State is stronger and our communities are richer because of their important contributions.”

“Given all of the benefits of a robust resettlement program, we should not cast aside our founding principles as a nation. Enshrined in the Statue of Liberty, the ‘Mother of Exiles,’ is our country’s commitment as a safe place for humanity’s most vulnerable. Lest we forget that, of the 26,000,000 refugees worldwide, more than half are children.”

West Virginia.  “West Virginia has had great success with our refugee resettlement agency, which has been in operation since 1978. Refugees who have resettled here have become productive citizens and are welcomed into our West Virginia family.”

Wisconsin. “Our state has a rich history of opening its doors to people of all backgrounds, experiences, and walks of life. Through the years, while the people seeking resettlement opportunity in Wisconsin have changed, their circumstances have not: they are people seeking a new life, they embrace American ideals, and they bring with them valuable skills and experience which benefit all of us.” He also said, “Following the end of World War II, Wisconsin welcomed its first refugees as defined by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Our state has since continued to offer opportunities for safety and a new life to those from around the world who are granted resettlement. Over the past two decades, Wisconsin has welcomed more than 16,000 refugees from countries around the world, including Laos, Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Iraq. Most recently, our state has welcomed people from Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“Refugees and immigrants are essential to Wisconsin’s economy, from manufacturing to education, and public service to agriculture and healthcare. At a time when we are seeing labor shortages across our state, it is irresponsible for the administration to place obstacles in the path of talented and hard-working folks seeking refuge and a better life.” Moreover, “our refugees are a critically important part of our families, our communities, and our culture—they are part of the fabric of our state. Wisconsin’s refugee population is resilient and determined—they want to help themselves and their family, they want to continue working toward their dreams of living safely and freely, and they are eager to give back to the communities who welcome them. These contributions and our diversity and our differences make us and our state stronger, not weaker.”

Conclusion

It also is noteworthy that at last 19 of the 42 consents came from Republican governors and at least 22 from Democratic governors. Seven other states have not been heard from on the consent issue and thereby impliedly did not consent before a federal court enjoined this program: six with Republican governors (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Wyoming) and one with a Democratic governor (Hawaii). The only state that explicitly did not consent was Texas with a Republican governor.

More importantly these statements and the lives they depict are incarnations of Pope Francis’ advice to us all: Welcome. Protect. Promote. Integrate refugees and immigrants![2]

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[1] Almost all of these celebratory comments were quoted in previous posts to this blog: Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019); Update on U.S.’ Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 16, 2019); Tennessee Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 20, 2019); Another Update on States’ Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 30, 2019); U.S. State and Local Governments’ Justifications for Consenting to Resettlement of Refugees (Dec. 31, 2019) Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020); Alaska Says “Yes” to Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 8, 2020). See also Letter, Utah Gov. Herbert to Pres. Trump (Oct. 14, 2018); Letter, New Mexico Governor Grisham to Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountain (Oct. 7, 2019); Letter, Vermont Governor Phil Scott to President Trump and Secretary Pompeo (Jan. 6, 2020). These opinions about the importance of refugees are consistent with the opinion of a Wall Street Journal columnist. (Immigrants Come to America to work, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 31, 2020).

[2]  Pope Francis Reminds Us To Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate Refugees and Other Migrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2020).

 

Texas Refuses To Consent to Refugee Resettlement

On January 10, Governor Greg Abbott (Rep.) sent a letter to Secretary Pompeo announcing his state’s refusal to consent to refugee resettlement. His letter said, ““Texas has carried more than its share in assisting the refugee resettlement process and appreciates that other states are available to help with these efforts. Since FY2010, more refugees have been received in Texas than in any other state. In fact, over that decade, roughly 10% of all refugees resettled in the United States have been placed in Texas.” He added, “Texas has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.” He also cited the recent surge in migrants crossing the southwestern border last year as a reason for turning away refugees now. [1]

This refusal was contrary to the desires of major cities in the state—San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. The Mayor of Houston reacted with these words: “Regardless of where someone is from, who they are or what they believe, there is a home for them in Houston. Our welcoming spirit has led to our city becoming the national leader in refugee resettlement.” Negative words also came from these groups:

  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service: “This is a deeply disappointing decision – although not surprising given Texas’ previous but unsuccessful opposition to refugee resettlement a few years ago. This is precisely why we filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s unlawful executive order, and we are confident that justice will be served — allowing children and families who have been waiting in desperation for years to be reunited with their family in Texas.” The Service added, “Nearly 2,500 refugees started to rebuild their lives in Texas last year, many of whom have additional family members in harm’s way seeking to join them in safety. These families have been torn apart by violence, war and persecution — but we never thought they would be needlessly separated by a U.S. state official.”
  • The International Rescue Committee: “In addition to making refugees’ lives harder, Texas now forfeits the opportunity for a growing business community that depends on refugees. It forfeits the cultural contributions, the growth, and ingenuity the state has come to enjoy through resettling refugees.”

The Texas decision leaves 40 consenting states (22 Democratic and 18 Republican) and 9 publicly not committed (7 Republican (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Vermont and Wyoming) and two Democratic (Hawaii and New York)). Remember that failure to respond before the deadline, which might be January 21, 2020, will be treated as a refusal to consent.[2]

==================================

[1] Kanno-Youngs, Texas Governor Shuts Gate to Refugees, Using New Power Granted by Trump, N.Y. Times (Jan. 10, 2020); Romo, Gov. Greg Abbott Says New Refugees Won’t Be Allowed To Settle in Texas. NPR (Jan. 10, 2020); Thebault, Texas is rejecting new refugees under Trump executive order, Wash. Post (Jan. 10,2020); Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Profoundly Disappointed by Texas Governor’s Decision To Opt Out of Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 10, 2020).

[2] See the following posts to dwkcommentaries about previous states’ consents: Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019); Tennessee Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 20, 2019); Another Update on Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 30, 2019); Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020): Alaska Says “Yes” to Refugee Resettlement (Jan.8, 2020).

 

 

 

Implications of Reduced U.S. Population Growth 

As noted in a prior post, “on December 30, the U.S. Census Bureau issued its official population estimates for 2019 showing, as expected, a slowdown in overall growth of population and reduced population in 10 states: New York, Illinois, West Virginia, Louisiana, Connecticut, Mississippi, Hawaii, New Jersey,Alaska and Vermont. In addition, the Census Bureau stated, “U.S. population is expected to grow 6.6% in the 2020s, a slide from 7.5% growth this decade” and “urban and rural areas across the country will divide further in the deceleration.”

The slow growth of U.S. population, as discussed in the prior post, is due to several factors: (1) the “U.S. fertility rate—the number of children each woman can be expected to have over her lifetime—has dropped from 2.1 in 2007 to 1.7 in 2018, the lowest on record.” (2) “Death rates, already rising because the population is older, have been pressured further by ‘deaths of despair’—suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-related illness.” (3) U.S. immigration “has been trending flat to lower” and is subject to anti-immigration policies of the Trump Administration.

An editorial in the Washington Post notes that this may cause a positive reduction in the demand for resources. However, the reduced population growth “may mean less economic growth and a diminished support base for a large retired cohort” as well as a warning that “starting a new life in the United States has come to seem less attractive, both to prospective parents already living here and to prospective arrivals from abroad.”[1]

This, said the Post, “is a warning” that “the need for more [immigration] is real,” which “this country cannot afford to ignore.” [2]

Lower population growth is not the problem in rural America. Declining population is its problem. This situation recently was examined at the Regional Economic Conditions Conference of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis by Beth Ford, the CEO of Land O’Lakes, the Minnesota-based, member-owned agricultural cooperative.[3]

She said this population problem was exacerbated by problems in the agriculture economy. “Consolidation was happening across agriculture because of oversupply.” The average age of farmers was rising, and it is awfully difficult for young want-to-be farmers to get into the business, resulting in widows owning 60% of Iowa’s farmland. Many dairy farmers are surviving by taking jobs off the farm. Conventional corn and soybean farming will continue although the farming incentive structure will have to change over time. “Farmers are raising wages for help, but can’t find people who want to do the work.” Consolidation of farms continues because of economies of scale. The rural communities where farmers live are struggling to survive. Under these conditions, government subsidies for agriculture are necessary.

===================================

[1] Editorial, America’s dip in population growth is a warning we shouldn’t ignore, Wash. Post (Jan. 4, 2020)

[2] Recent letters to the Post disagreed with the conclusion that lower population growth was a problem.  Instead, one letter argued that a “decreasing population would naturally buy the United States more time to use the limited amount of resources we have, to find a bipartisan plan of attack against climate change and to create legislation to protect the environment.” Another letter said that “slower population growth provides an opportunity for us to lift up the next generation so we can have a healthy, skilled, productive workforce” by focusing resources and attention on “the 13 million children trapped in poverty.” (Letters to Editor, Slow population growth is a good thing, Wash. Post (Jan. 9, 2020).

[3] Belz,Land O’Lakes CEO calls for investment in rural America , StarTribune (Jan. 9, 2020).

 

Alaska Says “Yes” to Refugee Resettlement  

On January 6, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy (Republican) released his last month’s letter of consent to Secretary Pompeo, pursuant to a request from the Associated Press, although that letter was not found in this blogger’s internet searches.

The Governor that day also gave an interview in which he said “the resettlement program has a longstanding history and is in line with U.S. and Alaska values.  I think America and Alaska get behind because, once again, it’s folks that are in situations where there’s war or some type of persecution and of course, when they apply to come here, the hope is that that’s put behind them and they can get on with their lives and be part of the state, if they choose to stay, and part of the country.”[1]

Conclusion

Alaska is now the 40th state to have consented to refugee resettlement. That leaves the following states which apparently have not so consented: eight with Republican governors (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming) and two with Democratic governors (Hawaii, and New York).[2]

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[1] Bohrer, Alaska will continue to accept refugees, Dunleavy says, Anchorage Daily News (Jan. 8. 2020)

[2] See the following posts to dwkcommentaries about previous states’ consents: Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019); Tennessee Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 20, 2019); Another Update on Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 30, 2019); Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement     

A website from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has a list of 39 states that so far have consented to refugee resettlement with hyperlinks to the relevant documents. This list includes five states that have so consented (three Republican governors (Idaho, Maryland and Missouri) and two Democratic governors (California and Nevada)) in addition to the 34 previously identified in a post to this blog:  [1]

Justifications for Consents

These five additional states provided justifications for their consent. Here they are along with those from four of the previously identified 34 states (Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia).

Arkansas.[2] Governor Asa Hutchinson on December 23 issued a consent letter to Secretary Pompeo, stating, “Arkansans have a history of welcoming refugees. While we fully support control of our borders and oppose illegal immigration, we also value the contribution of immigrants and understand the importance of America continuing to be a welcoming nation for those truly seeking refuge and following the legal path to our land. Immigrants bring energy, a thirst for freedom, and a desire to pursue the American dream. This is America’s strength and part of our future.”

California.[3] In a December 20, 2019, letter to Secretary Pompeo, Governor Gavin Newsom said, “the State of California is proud to be a welcoming state, and is committed to the continued resettlement of refugees in partnership with local jurisdictions and community partners. California recognizes its resettlement programs and services are an indispensable lifeline to refugees who have been forcibly dispatched from their home countries and cannot rebuild their lives where they first fled.”

Governor Newsom added, “The refugee resettlement program has a long history in California, spanning over 40 years and successfully resettling over 700,000 men, women and children. During these four decades, refugees continuously have contributed to the enrichment of our economy, culture, and society. California’s communities have flourished because of their diversity and ongoing ability to embrace refugees and immigrant families. . . . Refugees deserve our support and we will keep our doors open to these families and people to sustain  an inclusive California for all.”

Idaho.[4]  Governor Brad Little’s December 30, 2019 letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo merely said the state consented after all of its counties had consented.

Indiana.[5] Governor Eric Holcomb’s December 13th letter to to Cole Vega (Executive Director (Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc.), “Indiana is a destination of certainty, stability and opportunity. As a state, we are on course to become the absolute best place in America to grow as an individual, a family, a business and as a community. Our long tradition of welcoming and helping to resettle refugees with support from our federal partners, shows the world the compassion of Hoosiers and our willingness to give others the ability to grow and prosper in the great state of Indiana.”

“In just the last five years, State based non-profit agencies have resettled thousands of deserving, qualified individuals in the Hoosier state, who have been fully and carefully vetted by relevant federal government agencies. These are . . . individuals who have gone through all the proper channels, were persecuted for their religious or political beliefs in their homeland and have sought and been granted refugee status in our nation of immigrants.”

Maryland.[6] On December 30, Governor Larry Hogan’s consent letter to Secretary Pompeo said, “Providing more flexibility to states has been one of my key priorities, and I appreciate the administration’s renewed emphasis on state and local engagement in determining policies that affect our security and resources.”

Governor Hogan also stated, “With proper diligence and in conjunction with the continued cooperation of local jurisdictions in our state, Maryland consents to receive legally vetted resettlement refugees in Fiscal Year 2020, per the terms of the Executive Order. We are willing to accept refugees who the federal government has determined are properly and legally seeking refugee status and have been adequately vetted. This, as you know, is different from any kind of ‘sanctuary’ status for those in the United States unlawfully. Maryland’s approach is consistent with both our laws and our values.”

A local newspaper article about this decision stated that Maryland had accepted nearly 10,000 refugees since 2016.

Missouri.[7] Governor Michael Parson’s December 30, 2019 letter to Secretary Pompeo said, “Missouri has a long and rich history of immigration, dating back to America’s earliest explorers, fur traders, and missionaries. Today, Missouri’s population includes thousands of former refugees who have become vital members of our communities. Since 2002, nearly 18,000 refugees from 45 countries have resettled in Missouri.”

The Governor continued, “In Missouri, state organizations and faith-based groups work tirelessly to support refugee resettlement. Currently, there are five agencies that integrate refugees in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, and Springfield, where they have helped strengthen local economies, especially through entrepreneurship. These groups do an excellent job of transitioning newly settled populations, ensuring they are educated, trained, and prepared to assimilate into their new community. In fact, St. Louis boasts one of the largest Bosnian populations outside that country itself. Community volunteers, especially faith-based partners, continue to be an integral part of such local resettlement efforts.”

The Governor concluded, “We will continue to work hard to ensure refugees become a thriving part of our communities, and I am confident this demonstration of compassion will mark the first step in these immigrants becoming  patriotic and productive fellow Americans.”

 Nevada.[8] Governor Steve Sisolak in a December 18, 2019 letter to Secretary Pompeo stated, “Nevada is proud of our long-standing tradition of resettling refugees. Since the 1970s, Republican and Democratic Governors from Nevada have welcomed these individuals into our state with open arms. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet with dozens of refugee children in the State Capitol. . . . While their unimaginable experiences of suffering and hardship may have originated in different areas around the globe, the personal stories they shared were defined by courage, hope and resilience. These stories embody the dignity and values of this country. Such is the story of Nevada Assemblyman Alexander Assefa. Mr. Assefa came to the U.S. as a refugee with similar hopes and dreams. After a lot of hard work, he became a pilot, a small business owner, and he now proudly serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Above all, he is a proud American.”

“We need not forget that refugees fled for their lives after enduring persecution, war and dire humanitarian conditions. Many waited several years in remote places, while undergoing extensive background checks and security clearances, for the opportunity to start a new life in the United States. Once here, refugees become productive, responsible and self-sufficient members of society and account for an important part of our workforce and that drives our economic engine.”

Tennessee.[9] After a perfunctory consent letter to Secretary Pompeo, Governor Bill Lee was more fulsome in a December 18 letter to the state’s Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of its House of Representatives that stated, “Resettlement will be facilitated by the Trump Administration and non-profit organizations with extensive experience in this area. The refugee population in Tennessee is small, and I believe our consent to cooperate and consult with the Trump Administration to provide a safe harbor for those who are fleeing religious persecution and violent conflict is the right decision. The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, and particularly those suffering religious persecution. My commitment to these ideals is based on my faith, personally visiting refugee camps on multiple continents, and my years of experience ministering to refugees here in Tennessee.”

West Virginia.[10]  Governor Jim Justice’s December 20, 2019 letter to Secretary Pompeo, said, in part, “West Virginia has had great success with our refugee resettlement agency, which has been in operation since 1978. Refugees who have resettled here have become productive citizens and are welcomed into our West Virginia family.”

Conclusion

Now we wait to learn whether the other 11 states will also consent to such resettlements. They are nine states with Republican governors (Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont [11] and Wyoming) and two states with Democratic governors (Hawaii and New York). The following  colored map on the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s website showing the consenting states in green and the 11 remaining states in gray emphasizes that the most of the remaining states are in the Deep South.

Consent Map Refugee Resettlement

 

This blogger believes it safe to assume that the three remaining Democratic  governors will consent and that it is more problematical whether the eight remaining Republican governors, primarily from the Deep South, will do so.

In the meantime those of us who support refugees should celebrate and congratulate those states that have consented and shared the many contributions to their states by previously resettled refugees.

=================================

[1] Lutheran Immigrant & Refugee Service, Consents to Refugee Resettlement.

[2 ] Letter, Governor Hutchinson to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 23, 2019); Gov. Hutchinson agrees to allow refugees into Arkansas, THV (Dec. 24, 2019).

[3]  Letter, Governor Newsom to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 20, 2019).

[4] Letter, Governor Little to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 30, 2019); Blake, County, Little offers support for refugee resettlement, but questions over jurisdiction remain, 6KPVI (Dec. 30, 2019); Assoc. Press, County, governor support refugee resettlement in Idaho, Id.Bus.Review (Jan. 3, 2002). /

[5]  Letter, Governor Holcomb to Cole Vega (Exec. Dir. Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc.) (Dec. 17, 2019);

[6] Letter, Governor Hogan to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 30, 2019); Sanchez & Hutzell, Maryland Gov. Hogan agrees to continue accepting refugees, Capital Gazette (Jan. 1, 2020).Tan, Maryland Gov. Hogan issues written consent for refugee admissions in response to Trump order, Wash. Post (Jan. 2, 2020).

[7] Letter, Governor Parson to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 30, 2019); Suntrup, Gov. Mike Parson says Missouri will continue accepting refugees, St. Louis Post -Dispatch   (Jan. 1, 2020).

[8]  Letter, Governor Sisolak to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 18, 2019).

[9]  Letter, Governor Lee to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 18, 2019); Letter, Governor Lee to Lt. Gov. McNally & Speaker Sexton (Dec. 18, 2019).

[10] Letter, Governor Justice to Secretary Pompeo (Dec. 20, 2019).

[11] This blog’s 12/30/19 post erroneously listed Vermont as consenting.

 

U.S. Citizens Convicted of Felonies Should Be Allowed To Vote

As mentioned in a prior post, the U.N. Human Rights Committee recently raised the issue of whether convicted felons should be entitled to vote in U.S. elections. As a result, the Committee recommended certain changes in those laws that will be discussed below.

First though we will look at U.S. laws on the subject before examining the U.N. Committee’s recommendations and ongoing efforts in the U.S. to reform these laws.

U.S. Laws on Voting by Felons

With certain exceptions, the determination of eligibility to vote in federal, state and local elections in the U.S. is left to the laws of the states.[1] Here is a summary of those laws:[2]

Number of States   Names of States and District of Colombia Felon Voting Status
2 Maine & Vermont Eligible to vote in or out of prison
14 District Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island & Utah Eligible to vote after term of incarceration
4 California, Colorado, Connecticut & New York Eligible to vote after term of incarceration + parole
20 Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, West Virginia & Wisconsin Eligible to vote after term of incarceration + parole + probation
11 Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia & Wyoming Not eligible unless various conditions are met

Since 1996 many states have passed laws to expand felon voting rights and to simplify the process for restoration of such rights. There, however, are a few outliers that have imposed greater restrictions; they include the following:

  • In 2011 the Florida Board of Executive Clemency adopted a new policy requiring all ex-felons to wait five and seven years before applying to regain voting rights.
  • In 2011 the Iowa governor revoked an automatic restoration of voting rights for all ex-felons and instead imposed a requirement for ex-felons to apply to regain such rights.
  • In 2012, South Carolina mandated that felons on probation could not have such restoration.

The bipartisan National Association of State Legislatures (NASL) points out several problems administering these laws that make it more difficult for former felons to vote:

  • “Even in states where ex-offenders automatically regain the right to vote upon completion of their sentence, the process of re-registering to vote often is difficult. One reason is the complexity of the laws and processes surrounding disenfranchisement. In some cases, it is difficult to determine whose rights can be restored. This can vary in some states according to the date of the crime, the conviction, or the release from prison, or the nature of the crime. The complex restoration process also can be daunting. It often involves lengthy paperwork, burdensome documentation, and the involvement and coordination of several state agencies.”
  • NASL adds that a “second barrier to restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders is the often inconsistent communication among agencies. The methods of communicating the loss and restoration of voting rights among courts, corrections and elections officials are not always reliable, timely or consistent. This inconsistency can result in uneven application of the law, even when the laws are clear.”
  • Another barrier, according to NASL, “is lack of information. Ex-offenders sometimes are not aware that they regain their voting rights automatically upon completion of their sentence. They go through life believing they cannot vote when, in fact, they can. In other cases, they are not informed of the process for regaining their rights or offered assistance in doing so. As long as they remain ignorant of the necessary steps, ex-offenders cannot begin the process of regaining voting rights.”
  • The “final obstacle” to former felons voting, says NASL, “is under-funding of parole boards in some states where offenders must apply to have their rights restored. A massive backlog of applications can exist because the agencies do not have adequate staff or resources to process them in a timely manner.”

As a result of these laws and their administration, an estimated 5,800,000 U.S. citizens were ineligible to vote in the 2008 elections. This included 1,400,000 African-American men, more than 676,000 women and 2,100,000 ex-felons who had completed their sentences. Another way of looking at this disenfranchisement, 7.7% of all African-American citizens were ineligible to vote in 2008.

All of this is happening with 2.2 million U.S. citizens in prison or jail in 2012, a larger share of the total population than in any other country and about five times greater than the average for other industrialized nations.

The U.N. Committee’s Recommendations

Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides, in part, that “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 [race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status]and without unreasonable restrictions: . . . (b) To vote . . . at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors. . . .”

As previously mentioned, this treaty created the U.N. Human Rights Committee and empowered it to conduct periodic reviews of compliance with that treaty by its States Parties, one of which is the United States.

Therefore, U.S. compliance with Article 25 regarding voting was one of the topics covered by the recent Committee’s report of its review of U.S. compliance with the ICCPR.

The Committee first reiterated “its concern about the persistence of state-level felon disenfranchisement laws, its disproportionate impact on minorities and the lengthy and cumbersome voting restoration procedures in states.”

The Committee then recommended that the U.S. should “ensure that all states reinstate voting rights to felons who have fully served their sentences, provide inmates with information about their voting restoration options and remove or streamline lengthy and cumbersome state voting restoration procedures, as well as review automatic denial of the vote to any imprisoned felon, regardless of the nature of the offence.”

U.S. Advocates for Expansion of Felon Voting Rights

A number of U.S. NGOs are advocates for expanding voting rights for felons. They include (a) the American Civil Liberties Union; (b) the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of over 200 national organizations promoting and protecting U.S. civil and human rights toward the goal of a more open and just society;[3] (c) the Sentencing Project, which works for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration; (d) the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law;[4] and (e) the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

In addition, several prominent public officials have supported such reforms.

Earlier this year in a speech about criminal justice reform at Georgetown University, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made extensive remarks about the need for reforming our laws regarding felon voting.[5]

The Attorney General emphasized the need to do all we can to encourage the need for successful reintegration of individuals who had been convicted of felonies, including the restoration of the “single most basic right of American citizenship—the right to vote.” Otherwise such disenfranchisement perpetuates “the stigma and isolation” of former felons and increases “the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”

Moreover, said Holder, such disenfranchisement has a “disparate impact on minority communities.” Today roughly 2,200,000 black citizens (or 1 in 13) are excluding from voting for this reason; in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia that ratio is 1 in 5. For Florida that represents 10% of the state’s potential electorate; in Mississippi, 8%.

Holder added that Iowa recently abolished automatic restoration of voting rights after completion of a criminal sentence in favor of an innocuous-sounding requirement to apply to the governor for such relief. However, according to Holder, after two years of the new policy, fewer than 12 such applications had been approved out of 8,000.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky repeatedly has called for expansion of felon voting rights. In February 2014 he testified before a Kentucky Senate committee in support of restoring the right to vote for many non-violent felons in his state. Paul said that restoring voting rights for those who have repaid their debt to society was simply the right thing to do. In other words, “One mistake in life shouldn’t permanently block a citizen’s access to the ballot box [because the] right to vote is among the most important rights we have. It is something for which people in other countries have lost their lives.”

Following Senator Paul’s testimony, the committee and then the full Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would restore the right to vote in Kentucky for many non-violent felons who have completed their sentences. If the Kentucky House approves the same measure and the two houses agree on a compromise bill, it will be on the ballot for voters to approve in November.[6]

In Virginia, former Governor Robert F. McDonnell (Republican) enacted a policy in 2012 that allowed those with non-violent felony convictions to have their voting rights automatically restored. In addition, McDonnell and his Democratic successor, Terry McAuliffe, have supported a state constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to ex-felons automatically upon the completion of their sentences.

Conclusion

This problem of obstacles to felons’ voting was brought home to me when I went door-knocking for the re-election of President Obama in 2012 and encountered several people who said they were not eligible to vote. They did not say why, but I surmised that they had been convicted of felonies and had not yet completed their parole or probation. I felt then (and now) that they were entitled as U.S. citizens to have their voices heard in the election.

Given the high levels of incarceration in the U.S. and the deplorable conditions in most of our prisons, these potential voters should provide a way to increase the importance of this public policy issue and to be a force for improving those conditions.

Another benefit of such reforms should be the elimination of the supposed “need” to have restrictive state voter “ID” laws to eliminate or reduce purported voter fraud. A Wisconsin voter “ID” law on April 29th was stricken down as unconstitutional by a federal district court.

I hope that all U.S. citizens become concerned about the disenfranchisement of our fellow citizens who have been convicted of felonies and become advocates for changing the state laws that cause this deprivation.

—————————————————————–

[1] The U.S Constitution provides that “Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations [set by the States for the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives] except [not] as to the Places of chusing Senators” (Art. I, sec. 4). The Fourteenth Amendment says,”All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.  No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (14th Amendment.) (The 14th Amendment also implicitly endorses a state’s denial or abridgment of a U.S. citizen’s right to vote because of participation in “rebellion, or other crime” in connection with allocation of seats in the House of Representatives.) The Constitution further provides, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude [slavery]” (15th Amendment) or “sex” (19th Amendment) or “age [18 years of age or older]” (26th Amendment). In addition, the federal Voting Rights Acts of 1965 and of 2006 imposed certain measures to implement the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, and last year the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated an important part of the latter statute.

[2] Greater details on these laws are available on a ProCon website, on the Brennan Center website and on a map prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union.

[3] The Leadership Conference submitted its report on felon voting to the U.N. Human Rights Committee in connection with the latter’s review of U.S. human rights.

[4] The Brennan Center along with ACLU is supporting the proposed federal Democracy Restoration Act that would restore voting rights to ex-felons who had completed their incarceration. It was introduced in 2014 by Representative John Conyers, Jr. (H.R. 4459) and Senator Ben Cardin (S.2235).

[5] The U.N. Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations noted its “satisfaction” with Attorney General Holder’s speech, which also was applauded  by a New York Times editorial.

[6] On March 5th the Kentucky House rejected the Senate bill because it did not go far enough in expanding the voting rights, and by the end of March, legislators did not think a compromise was likely this session of the legislature. On April 16th, however, the House passed a bill that will prompt a conference committee to try to work out a compromise that both houses could accept.

U.S. Supreme Court Shows Unjustified Hostility to the Voting Rights Act of 2006

On February 27, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, No. 12-96, which raises the following issue:

  •  “Whether Congress’ decision in 2006 to reauthorize [for 25 years] Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act [of 1965] under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) of [that] Act [requiring certain states to obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice or a special federal court for any changes in their election laws] exceeded           its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.”[1]

As has been frequently reported, during the argument Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy asked questions and made comments strongly suggesting that they were prepared to invalidate this statutory provision,[2] a conclusion that already had been reached by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in a prior case. If this is a correct reading of the recent argument, then there would be at least a 5-4 majority on the Court to declare the provision unconstitutional.

According to Linda Greenhouse, a leading Supreme Court follower, the “goal of [the petitioner] Shelby County and [apparently a majority] . . . on the Supreme Court is to depict Section 5 as an anachronism, a needless cudgel held by the big bad federal government over the head of a transformed South.“

Here are just a couple of examples of that attitude from the argument.

Chief Justice John Roberts
Chief Justice         John Roberts

Chief Justice Roberts asked or, as Greenhouse put it, “taunted” the U.S. Government’s lawyer (Solicitor General Donald Verrilli) with the following questions (and Roberts’ own answers) apparently to express Roberts’ belief that Mississippi has a better record than Massachusetts on black voter registration and turnout and that the Voting Rights Act provision at issue is no longer needed and, therefore, unconstitutional:

  • “Do you know how many submissions there were for preclearance to the Attorney          General in 2005?” (Roberts: “3700.”)
  • “Do you know how many objections the Attorney General lodged?” (Verrilli: “There          was one in that year.”)
  •  “[D]o you know which State has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African American voter turnout?” (Roberts: “Massachusetts.”)
  •  “[W]hat [state] has the best, where African American turnout actually exceeds white       turnout?” (Roberts: “Mississippi.”)
  •  “Which State has the greatest disparity in registration between white and African American?” (Roberts: “Massachusetts. Third is Mississippi, where again the African American registration rate is higher than the white registration rate.”)
  •  “[I]s it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist             than citizens in the North?”  (Verrilli: “It is not.”)

Roberts did not identify the source of his statistics, but afterwards the Massachusetts Secretary of State, William F. Galvin, and political scientists speculated that Roberts drew his conclusions from the U.S. Census Bureau’s “The Current Population Survey,” which collects information on voting and registration every other year. This data, however, should not be used in the way that Roberts did because of their large margins of error, as reported by Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio.

Indeed, Secretary Galvin said that Roberts’ assertion about Massachusetts and Mississippi is just plain wrong and that the only way that the Census Bureau source supports Roberts’ assertion is by including Massachusetts’ non-citizen blacks who are not entitled to vote. To do what Roberts did, according to Galvin, is “deceptive” and “a slur on black voters in Massachusetts.”

Nate Silver, the statistician, also criticizes Roberts’ trumpeting these figures about Mississippi and Massachusetts apparently to justify a conclusion that the Voting Rights Act provisions in question are no longer needed and, therefore, unconstitutional.

According to Silver, “If [Roberts] . . . meant to suggest that states covered by Section 5 consistently have better black turnout rates than those that aren’t covered by the statute, then his claim is especially dubious.” Moreover, says Silver, it is outright fallacious to conclude from this simple comparison of two states, however flawed the data, that the provisions of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the formula in section 4(b) are no longer needed. For example, such data say nothing about whether whatever gains have been made in racial minority voting “might be lost if the Section 5 requirements were dropped now.”

I also fault the Chief Justice for focusing on only one small piece of evidence, however flawed or subject to qualification. Instead, he should be focusing on fundamental principles of judicial restraint as repeatedly proclaimed by the U.S. Supreme Court itself and as cited by the D.C. Circuit in its opinion in this case.

These precedents emphasize that “Congress’s laws are entitled to a ‘presumption of validity’” and that “when Congress acts pursuant to its enforcement authority under the Reconstruction Amendments [including the Fifteenth Amendment], its judgments about ‘what legislation is needed . . . are entitled to much deference.‘“  Such deference is paid “‘out of respect for [Congress’] . . .  authority to exercise the legislative power,’” and in recognition that Congress “is far better equipped than the judiciary to amass and evaluate the vast amounts of data bearing upon legislative questions.” (Citations omitted.)[3]

Justice Antonin Scalia
Justice Antonin Scalia

Associate Justice Scalia also interrupted Solicitor General Verrilli to make this long statement:

  •  “This Court doesn’t like to get involved . . . in racial questions such as this one. It’s something that can be . . . left to Congress.
  • “The problem here, however, is . . . that the initial enactment of this legislation in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear . . . in the Senate, . . . it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term. Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it.
  • “And this last enactment [in 2006], not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same.
  •  “Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is . . . very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes. I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity . . .  unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution.
  •  “You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there’s a good reason for it. That’s . . . the concern that those of us . . . who have some questions about this statute have. It’s . . .  a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress.
  •  “There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now. And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this. The State government is not their government, and they are going to lose . . . votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.
  •  “Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?”

These remarks are shocking and totally inconsistent with the Court’s long-established principles of judicial restraint mentioned above and with Justice Scalia’s persistently stated views about judicial interpretation of statutes.

Indeed, Scalia’s remarks provoked the Washington Post’s Editorial Board to proclaim that Scalia was in “contempt of Congress.” The editorial concluded with these words, “Congress, after careful review, came to an overwhelming conclusion that protection of the franchise in America is much improved but not guaranteed, especially in certain areas. We heard in . . . [the Supreme Court] argument no grounds for the court to claim superior wisdom on that question.”

 Conclusion

What is your opinion on how the Voting Rights Act issue should be resolved? Some argue for holding that provision unconstitutional.[4] Others agree with me that the provision should be upheld.[5]

I went to the University of Chicago Law School before Mr. Scalia was on the faculty, and I have never met him. By all reports, he is a brilliant man who is gracious and funny in social settings. But his comments in this and other Court arguments along with some of his opinions lead me to believe that life tenure for Supreme Court Justices and perhaps other federal judges causes at least some of them to believe that they are omniscient.

A possible solution to such arrogance, as I suggested in a comment to a prior post, is to amend  the U.S. Constitution to impose a term limit on U.S. Supreme Court Justices and perhaps other federal judges. All 50 states in the U.S. and all major nations have age or term limits for high-court judges. The International Criminal Court limits its judges to one term of nine years. Such limits are not seen as restrictions on the necessary independence of the judiciary.

The U.S. Constitution does not specifically grant life tenure to the justices or other federal judges. The Constitution merely says, “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour . . . .” Paul Carrington, a Duke University law professor, has suggested that the “good Behaviour” provision was not intended to provide life-time appointments and that term limits could be imposed by statute.


[1]  This issue was phrased by the Supreme Court itself in granting review of the case. Previous posts have reviewed the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Voting Rights Act of 2006; the prior Supreme Court case regarding the latter statute (Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder); and the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in the Shelby County case. The transcript of the recent Supreme Court arguments in Shelby County is available online as are the petitioner’s brief, the respondent’s brief for the U.S. Government and the reply brief for the petitioner in the case. Other briefs in the case for three intervenors, 19 amici curiae (friends of the court) supporting the petitioner and 28 amici curiae supporting the U.S. Government can also be found on the web. Excellent commentaries about the case are available on the respected scotusblog.

[2]  E.g., Liptak, Voting Rights Law Draws Skepticism from Justices, N.Y. Times (Feb. 27, 2013); Gerstein, 5 Takeaways from the Voting Rights Act arguments, Politico (Feb. 27, 2013).

[3] Roberts’ hostility to the Voting Rights Act apparently goes back to 1981 when as a young lawyer in the Department of Justice he was working on Reagan Administration efforts to weaken the Voting Rights Act.

[4]  E.g., Blum, The Supreme Court Can Update the Obsolete Voting Rights Act, W.S.J. (Feb. 24, 2013); Room for Debate: Is the Voting Rights Act Still Needed?, N.Y. Times (Feb. 27, 2013) (Shapiro; Pilder); Savage, Decision on Voting Law Could Limit Oversight, N.Y. Times (Feb. 28, 2013); Will, The Voting Rights Act stuck in the past, Wash. Post (Mar. 1, 2013).

[5] E.g., Room for Debate: Is the Voting Rights Act Still Needed?, N.Y. Times (Feb. 27, 2013) (Wydra; Charles & Fuentes-Rohwer; Garza; Smith), supra;  Savage, Decision on Voting Law Could Limit Oversight, N.Y. Times (Feb. 28, 2013), supra.