Social Work in This Political Season: So Much on the Line
With the Republican and Democratic National Conventions behind us, the political season is in full force. Whether we experience this with excitement or dread, what happens on Tuesday, November 6 will be decisive in terms of the direction the country heads in, for a long period of time.
So much of the political debate is directly related to social work. When candidates for President, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives are talking about cutting taxes or reducing government oversight of financial institutions, we must consider the viability of our economy for lower income communities and the capacity of social programs.
Social workers should be very concerned about these elections, starting with the Presidency. Incredibly, regulations now prohibit membership organizations such as NASW from publicly announcing their endorsements for federal office to the public. To comply with this requirement, NASW must restrict access to this information by placing it on a members’ only page on its website. For any member who wishes to access the National NASW endorsement page, please click here.
All social workers, however, are invited to view the endorsements made by NASW-NYC’s political action committee, PACE (Political Action for Candidate Election) by clicking here.
Issues such as reproductive rights and women’s health; health care, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act; gay marriage; as well as Social Security are all on the line with this election.
This issue of the newsletter will touch on a few issues. In the lead article Gary Parker discusses the relationship between social work values, poverty and the election. In another article, Dr. Christiana Best Cummings discusses issues relating to immigration. Also included is information on how to make sure you are registered to vote, and if not, how to do so. With so much on the line, please encourage your clients to register and to vote. And don’t forget to register and vote yourselves.
Voter Registration Deadline:
October 9, 2012
In 2008, 6 million Americans didn't vote because they missed the registration deadline.
It is estimated that 40% of social service clients are not registered to vote.
As social workers one of the best ways we can empower our clients
is to help them register now.
For more information please click here
Social Work Values and the Presidency
Gary Parker, MSW, Deputy Director, McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research
The upcoming election boils down to a simple question: Does government get in the way of the well-being of its people thereby creating economic hardship and increased poverty, or should government intervene and provide supports that protect and assist those impacted by poverty? Some may say this is an oversimplification. However, this is the fundamental and ideological question that defines the two political parties and their respective candidates for President of the United States. The voters will decide the answer and it will have a direct impact on social workers across the country.
The social policies and programs that have been implemented starting as far back as the Great Depression are coming under fire by ideologues who believe that the economy has not improved because the government is providing services to poor and working class families. Their proposed solution is to cut those services and reduce the tax rates paid by corporations and the wealthiest of Americans in order to create more jobs and provide everyone the opportunity to prosper and thrive. Furthermore, they argue that social service programs only breed a culture of dependency and their elimination will empower a sense of individual responsibility.
This movement is directly at odds with the social work mission to serve individuals, families and communities in order to ensure that basic needs are met so that all can achieve an improved quality of life. Within the preamble of the NASW Code of Ethics, there are six core values identified as rooted in the profession: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. These values are being questioned, challenged and in some cases contradicted by conservative legislators. I’m not questioning the competence of those who want to cut taxes for the rich and eliminate social services and public sector jobs. I have no doubt they will be very good with a budgetary knife.
However, to advocate that addressing issues of poverty is not the responsibility of government, but a secondary by-product of successful corporations fails to recognize the dignity and worth of a person. Further, health and mental health services should not be reserved to those who can afford them. Publicly funded community health centers facilitate positive human interactions and dignify the importance of human relationships.
Most social workers are called to the profession by a deep rooted belief in social justice and a determination to elevate service to people in need. With increasing case loads and fewer resources, it is easy to set aside a coordinated effort for advocacy and change while we work to address immediate needs. However, if we let this trend to abandon the poor continue, we are doing our clients and profession a huge disservice. Further reductions in the publically funded safety net will result in enormous numbers of individuals, families and communities becoming impoverished and falling victim to the far too often violent consequences that accompany financial hardship.
This election is going to be decided by a small number of swing voters who may not be aware of the issues. Those voters might be your friends, families, colleagues and neighbors. Share with others your values and belief that society has a responsibility to respond directly to the privations created by oppressive and discriminating social, economic and political systems. Every vote is going to count, particularly given the highly organized efforts to suppress the vote of mostly low income communities of color.
Regardless of the outcome of this election, our work to advocate for the most vulnerable will be ongoing. Government run and publicly funded programs, although sometimes flawed, are not the cause of the country’s ills. We must do a better job of demonstrating the successful outcomes of social services. Our best strategy is not well-meaning political ideology lacking substance but policy positions grounded in sound research data that empirically documents our values in vital human service programs across the country.
Christiana Best-Cummings, LMSW, PhD, Manager at NYC Administration for Children Services
As the country gears up for one of the most significant political battles -the 2012 presidential election, once again immigration reform has taken the spotlight away from the economy. While the national landscape has been enthralled with the slow economic recovery which originated with the 2008 financial crisis, the Republican debates brought attention to the immigration issue when Mitt Romney, the leading Republican candidate shared his immigration plan based in part on self-deportation. Recently, in the midst of the presidential campaign, with the national unemployment rate at 8.2 percent and the African American unemployment at 14.4 percent, President Obama shifted the public’s attention once again to the immigration issue by introducing The Deferred Action program. Giving President Obama the benefit of the doubt, it is important to note that the U.S. Congress has failed to move forward on two very significant immigration legislations this year-The Dream Act and The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). So, with Congress’ failure to pass these two legislations, the devastating economic condition and the high stakes of the Presidential elections, Americans (politicians, immigrants and citizens alike) welcomed the digression.
With that as the backdrop, on June 16th, 2012, President Obama signed an Executive Order on immigration entitled The Deferred Action Program. This policy puts a temporary stay (2 years to be exact) on the deportation of young people who through no fault of their own was brought to this country as children by their undocumented parents. This is a small move in the right direction by the President to address the lack of action by Congress on The Dream Act and at the same time, it is life-changing for the young people, some 800,000 who are directly impacted by this policy, albeit temporary.
What is The Deferred Action program/policy?
• If you are undocumented and traveled to the United States before the age of 16;
• If you have attended school, or served in the military;
• If it is determined that you pose no criminal or military threat to the country;
• If you are currently 30 years old or younger.
Then you are eligible for a two year “stopgap” as the president stated. More importantly, you are eligible to work legitimately “on the books” without being deported for two years. On the other hand, it is also important to note what this program isn’t.
What the Deferred Action Program/policy isn’t:
• It isn’t amnesty or an official pardon;
• It will not provide you with a green card;
• It isn’t a path to citizenship.
To apply1 for Deferred Action, you will need to meet a number of criteria, including the following:
• Proof of identity;
• Proof of arrival in the United States before age 16;
• Proof of physical presence in the United States on June 15, 2012;
• Proof of continuous residence in the United States for at least 5 years before June 15, 2012;
• Proof of enrollment in school, or proof of graduation from high school, or proof of receipt of a General Equivalency Degree (GED) certificate, or proof of honorable discharge from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States2.
Prior to the Deferred Action program many undocumented immigrants from all over the world lived in fear of deportation which has become an integral part of their everyday life because of the increased number of people being deported today. These immigrants travel to the United States from countries all over the world. While Mexico has the largest number of undocumented immigrants -7 million to be exact, which is significant considering that the overall number of undocumented immigrants have been estimated to be 12 million. The immigrant community and particularly the undocumented immigrant community include people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, South America, Central America, Canada and the Caribbean.
Regardless of the numbers, or the part of the world you’re from when it comes to being undocumented, you’re forced to live under the radar. The life of an undocumented immigrant whether child or adult is a secret one. You’re a member of an underground world built on fear and secrecy. Your life is filled with trepidations at every turn-job searches, school enrollment and everyday activities that citizens and legal residents take for granted. You have to be cautious every minute of your life and very afraid of sharing information with everyone around you including your neighbors, employers, friends and at times even your immediate family for fear that one day someone might say the wrong thing to the wrong person or if they get upset or angry with you they will report you to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Children of undocumented immigrants who are themselves undocumented are particularly anxious. Their anxiety is heightened due to the stories that are reported in newspapers and the underground network community of raids in the workplace or people calling the Department of Homeland Security on the “undocumented”. The fear is further exploited by ghastly employers, and those who like bullying or intimidating the vulnerable. It is also not unusual for American born children of undocumented parents to harbor fear as well. Oftentimes they are preoccupied with concerns for their parent. These children often ruminate “What if when I get home from school today my parents are not home because they are arrested and sent back to their country?” Nonetheless, the Deferred Action program has brought many young adults temporary relief from living in the underground world of the undocumented although their concerns about their parents continue to be anxiety provoking.
The President’s Deferred Action program has left many people skeptical given the fact that it is a temporary fix to a long-standing issue. For many in the immigrant community this program is viewed as a small, momentary step with an indeterminate future, while others view it as a meaningful step in the right direction with a hopeful and optimistic future. Some of the young people that are directly impacted by this program experience it as a tremendous relief because for the first time since arriving in the United States, they can “come out” from the shadows of the underground world and be part of the mainstream American community. For the next two years they can work, go to school and most of all not live in fear of deportation. Or can they?
The fear of deportation has become even more eminent in recent years than before because of President Bush’s and Obama’s immigration strategies to address the issue of border control in the Southwestern part of the country. According to a CNN report on October 18th, 2011, nearly 216, 698 or 55 percent of the people deported in 2010 were convicted of felonies and misdemeanors, which mean a total of over 400,000 people, were deported in 2010. Additionally, with the current draconian stop and frisk policies and practices that many states and cities throughout the U.S. have instituted, these policies and practices have further contributed to the heightened fear many immigrants currently experience. May 12, 2012 New York Times reported that the NYC Police Department stopped and frisked over 203,500 individuals between January and March of 2012, which is up from 183, 326 for the same period from the previous year. The demographics of the astonishing number of people the NYC Police reported that were stopped, questioned and frisked for the first three months of 2012, 54 percent of them are Black, 33 percent Hispanic, 9 percent white and 3 percent Asian with males making up 93 percent (NY Times, May 12, 2012). Given these numbers many immigrants who are people of color are especially apprehensive of being stopped not because they have committed a crime but because they are undocumented and can be deported. Policies such as Secure Communities (shared data base between law enforcement and ICE) as well as having Immigration Control Enforcement (ICE) located in prisons further exasperate the trust and confidence of the immigrant community.
On the other hand, the immigrant community welcomes a policy that holds the tide back, even one that is temporary. It is perceived as a refreshing transformation on the part of President Obama particularly when he stated “stopping the deportation of young people is the “right thing to do”. Yet even with the President’s endorsement, many in the immigrant community are not sure if they can trust this program. Living with fear for long periods of time has led to a “healthy sense of paranoia” among immigrants, not unlike that of other vulnerable people in American society historically (i.e. experimental medical studies such as the Tuskegee experiment). Although immigrants recognize the many benefits of the Deferred Action program for a small number of people in the undocumented immigrant community, given the fact that it is temporary, specifically two years, and there is no promise for a more permanent solution, and given the precarious political climate we live in with Romney clearly stating he will not support The Deferred Action program, as well as Congress’ inability to pass legislations put forth by President Obama, some undocumented immigrants are concern that “coming out” from the shadows can further lead to more harm than good in the future-post 2014.
At the same time for some immigrants (documented and undocumented) the reason for this change in policy and its motivation- political or not, is not so important. They are grateful for the small steps, hoping it will one day lead to more significant, comprehensive and permanent solutions, such as The Dream Act, which provides a path to citizenship for the same young people that the Deferred Action is trying to help. Another significant bill that has been pending in congress is the reauthorization of The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This law was enacted in 1994 and recognizes the menacing and dangerous nature of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking and supports comprehensive, effective and cost saving ways of addressing these crimes. The revised VAWA provides protection for Native American women and same sex relationships. Consequently, the hesitancy by some immigrants to fully embrace the Deferred Action program emanates from the ambiguous messages the immigrant community have received from the American government based on past and present policies/practices.
It would be remiss of me not to mention a law that is currently in place that moves us forward as a nation on the immigration platform; that law is The Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) Act. This Act is frequently underutilized by social workers in child welfare because many social workers particularly those working in foster care are unfamiliar with it. SIJS was enacted for children under the age of 21 who are in the child welfare system to provide these children with the opportunity to become permanent residents. The reauthorization of this law included protection from human trafficking. More information on this law can be retrieved from the Office of Children and Family Services website, specifically (11-OCFS-ADM-01, 2/7/11).
If the recent Supreme Court split decision on Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070, is an indication of what the future holds, the legal resolution to the immigration problems facing this country, based on current trends signify a long tumultuous and at times ambiguous road ahead for immigrants and Americans alike.
1Application for the Deferred Action program begins August 15, 2012. For more information regarding the Deferred Action application process and criteria go to www.uscis.gov.
2 For further information on the Deferred Action program contact -The New York Immigration Coalition at 137-139 West 25th Street-12th Floor; New York, NY 10001; (212) 627-2227. Or visit their website at www.thenyic.org.
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