Archive for Human Rights

Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri: It’s Not Just for Lawyers

By Blake Heath, Chair of the Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri

Since September of 2011, I have had the privilege of serving as the chair for the newly formed Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri (YPB).  The goal of the YPB is to support the mission and programs of Legal Aid of Western Missouri through social events, fundraising initiatives, and community outreach efforts.  Many people are unfamiliar with the work that Legal Aid does or they assume that the organization is just a bunch of lawyers so there is no need or way for them to get involved.  The YPB hopes to spread the message of what Legal Aid does and to change the perception that the organization is just for lawyers.   Below is more information about the YPB and a brief description of some of the work we have done and will be doing in the future.

In December of 2010, the staff at Legal Aid put together a small focus group of various young professionals in the Kansas City area to explore ways Legal Aid could raise awareness about the mission of Legal Aid, recruit volunteers, and raise financial support.  Legal Aid recognized that older more established attorneys made up the majority of its volunteer and financial support base.  Legal Aid wanted to expand that base to younger individuals, and Legal Aid wanted to find support outside the legal profession.  After several more meetings, the YPB was officially formed to help Legal Aid recruit young professionals willing to further the mission of Legal Aid.

While Legal Aid’s primary purpose is to provide access to the legal system for clients who are normally shutout of the legal system, the work has a much deeper impact on our community.  For instance, Legal Aid is a leader in converting abandoned properties in the urban core of Kansas City into occupied, high quality housing.  Every year, their Economic Development team works with the City and other not-for-profit agencies to bring litigation that brings 80-100 abandoned properties up to code.  Legal Aid’s work in obtaining Protective Orders and divorces for hundreds of victims of domestic violence every year has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of stopping the cycle of violence.  And, every year they get hundreds of people who are permanently and totally disabled access to long-term, pro-active medical care by getting them onto Medicaid when their benefits have been wrongly denied or terminated.

To help support these programs and the mission of Legal Aid, the YPB has been active since its formation in September of 2011.  We have participated in the annual Party with a Purpose, held informational sessions where Legal Aid staff attorneys described their practice areas, assisted with the construction of a one-of-its-kind playground for children with disabilities, and participated in the Run for Justice 5K put on by the Lawyers Association of Kansas City.  In addition to these events, we will be sponsoring a charity bingo event this summer, we have tables for our members at the Legal Aid Justice for All luncheon, we will promote and participate in Legal Aid’s annual golf tournament, and in the fall we will travel to rural Lafayette County Missouri to volunteer with Legal Aid’s Migrant Farm Workers Project Monday Night Outreach.

If you would like to find out more about the YPB or any of our upcoming events, then please feel free to contact me at blake@boughlawfirm.com.  You can also find us on Facebook at Young Professionals Board of Legal Aid of Western Missouri.

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The 2012 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace is… Ruben Garcia

Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, has recognized the life and witness of Ruben Garcia, naming him the 2012 recipient of the Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award.  Pax Christi USA first gave the award to Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, in 1978 and has since recognized some of the most significant U.S. Catholic activists for peace and justice of the past 3 decades, including actor Martin Sheen; poet and priest Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; and Dead Man Walking author Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J.  Garcia is one of the founders and the current director of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas.

During his career at Annunciation House, Garcia has personally welcomed more than 100,000 migrants to his home and community, putting into practice and personally embodying the radical hospitality that Jesus exemplified to the poor, the marginalized, and the excluded. In his nomination of Garcia, Scott Wright, author and biographer of Archbishop Oscar Romero, wrote that Garcia “teaches peace by embodying peace, welcoming the stranger, and inviting others to share in this community where the least have a place at the table. From the experience of welcome and hospitality, comes an awareness and a commitment to address the root causes of injustice that push migrants to flee from the political violence in their countries, or conditions of economic disparity that condemn their families to die in conditions of extreme poverty and misery.”

“PCUSA is pleased to be honoring Ruben Garcia with the 2012 Teacher of Peace Award. For more than 35 years, he has been an inspiring teacher of peace, exemplifying by his life witness the teachings of the Gospel and the spirit of the Beatitudes,” stated Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA. “Ruben’s faith continues to be an inspiring witness to the best of Catholic traditions, social teachings and practices.”

In addition to his work at Annunciation House, Garcia has welcomed and met with hundreds of delegations to the border, teaching by inviting them into the world of the poor and the migrant, and allowing them to see and hear firsthand the stories of immigrants.  He invites them to commit themselves to address the root causes that deny to the immigrant the justice that is due to them in their homeland and in the United States.

“Ruben’s commitment to the radical hospitality of Jesus, welcoming all to the table, with preferential option for migrants, teaches peace moment by moment,” stated Cathy Crosby, Pax Christi USA National Council member and chair of the Teacher of Peace committee. “The PCUSA National Council celebrates the opportunity to recognize Ruben’s many years of humble service.  We hope that the work of Ruben and Annunciation House continues to inspire others to work for justice and peace, as we each recognize the countless small ways we are called to build God’s kingdom here and now.”

The Teacher of Peace award will be presented at a special ceremony honoring Garcia in Washington, D.C. in September 2012.

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Notable Excerpts: Shredding the Social Safety Net

The March Global Women’s Project’s Briefing Paper, Shredding the Social Safety Net by Sr. Maria Riley, OP, provides not only excellent information but ample food for thought that may leave you uncomfortable.

In her briefing paper, Sr. Maria says in part:

Americans are living in two worlds which are often at odds with each other: the world of political rhetoric and the world of lived reality. This dualism cuts through almost all current issues be they climate change, food security, economics, social welfare, the middle class, poverty, or U.S. superiority, to name a few. One particularly pernicious example is the current political attack on people in poverty. While politicians of every stripe are debating about cutting entitlement programs from social security to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and extended unemployment insurance, the number of people in poverty is escalating.

The briefing paper includes specific information on poverty, an overview of U.S. social welfare:

The shifting focus from people to the economy and points out that in the U.S. Catholic Bishops Pastoral, Economic Justice for All, they said an economy is to be judged on what it does for people, what it does to people and how people participate in it (#1).  Sr. Maria observes, “Based on those simple criteria the U.S. economy is not doing very well. It is time to renew the social contract between the government and its people with special attention given to those living in extreme poverty.

The April 2012 Briefing Paper will examine alternative approaches to social protection as part of the Global Women’s Project effort to refocus the U.S. economy on human well-being and ecological sustainability.

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National Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Day

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The Sisters of the Holy Cross have prepared a prayer service for victims of human trafficking and a prayer card for use between January 12 and February 5, 2012, Superbowl Sunday. They are found here and here.

Major sporting events are occasions for increased trafficking activity. Pope John Paul II called trafficking, “a shocking offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights,” and Pope Benedict XVI calls it a scourge. The following are facts from Human Trafficking: The Facts from the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING FACTS

• An estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labor (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking

Of these:

  • 1.4 million – 56% – are in Asia and the Pacific
  • 250,000 – 10% – are in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 230,000 – 9.2% – are in the Middle East and Northern Africa
  • 130,000 – 5.2% – are in sub-Saharan countries
  • 270,000 – 10.8% – are in industrialized countries
  • 200,000 – 8% – are in countries in transition

• 161 countries are reported to be affected by human trafficking by being a source, transit or destination count

• People are reported to be trafficked from 127 countries to be exploited in 137 countries, affecting every continent and every type of economy4

The Victims

  • The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age
  • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year
  • 95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking (based on data from selected European countries)
  • 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98 per cent are women and girls
  • 32% of victims are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56 per cent are women and girls
  • Many trafficking victims have at least middle-level education

The Traffickers

  • 52% of those recruiting victims are men, 42% are women and 6% are both men and women
  • In 54% of cases the recruiter was a stranger to the victim, 46% of cases the recruiter was known to victim
  • The majority of suspects involved in the trafficking process are nationals of the country where the trafficking process is occurring

The Profits

• Estimated global annual profits made from the exploitation of all trafficked forced labor are US$ 31.6 billion

Of this:

  • US$ 15.5 billion – 49% – is generated in industrialized economies
  • US$ 9.7 billion – 30.6% is generated in Asia and the Pacific
  • US$ 1.3 billion – 4.1% is generated in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • US$ 1.6 billion – 5% is generated in sub-Saharan Africa
  • US$ 1.5 billion – 4.7% is generated in the Middle East and North Africa

Prosecutions

  • In 2006 there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions throughout the world
  • This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted in 2006

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Will Occupy Wall Street Lead to the Building of a Moral Economy?

Jeanne Christensen, RSM, Editor KCOB

Many of us have been following and/or participating in local “Occupy Wall Street” events.  It is both hopeful that voices are being raised and discouraging that, in many instances, those with power or authority have striven to silence those voices.  Encouraging is what John Gehring, from Faith in Public Life, says in his recent article (Occupy Wall Street, False Idols and Building a Moral Economy),in Catholics in Alliance —  “Even as some pundits and politicos dismiss the Occupy Wall Street movement as a fleeting burst of activism from the far left, Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said last week that the “basic sentiment” behind the protests aligns with mainstream principles of Catholic social teaching on the economy.”  How many churches are waking up to the need to speak out about the gross injustices in the U.S. economic system? Gehring also says:

Ever since Pope Leo XIII ushered in modern Catholic social teaching with an 1891 encyclical challenging the excesses of a savage capitalism that exploits workers for maximum profit, the Catholic Church has been on the front lines of the struggle for economic fairness.  During the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan touted “trickle down” economic theories that disproportionately benefited the richest 1 percent, Pope John Paul II warned against an “idolatry of the market” and insisted that private wealth was subject to a “social mortgage” to benefit the common good. The U.S. Catholic bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, called for an economy that serves the “dignity of the human person” and responded to the era’s anti-tax orthodoxy (which remains a powerful force today with the Tea Party) by urging that “the tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor.” Pope Benedict XVI denounced the “scandal of glaring inequalities” in his 2008 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, and called for a more just distribution of wealth. And last week’s Vatican document, widely covered in the US media, spoke clearly about “the primacy of being over having,” of “ethics over the economy” and of “embracing the logic of the global common good.

The Vatican’s complete document can be found here or here.  This document is an analysis of the moral failing behind the current economic crisis.  Even more—signed by the Council’s head, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and by its secretary, Bishop Mario Toso—the document charts what might be called a “Catholic way forward” from the present morass.  To read an interesting analysis of the document, read Professor Steve Schneck’s article, The Vatican’s Breathtakingly good Statement on Economics .

George Weigel and other conservative Catholic commentators who have arrogantly dismissed Church teaching on economic justice and income inequality for years should dust off their copies of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Compendium is clear that “the Church’s social doctrine requires that ownership of goods be accessible to all.” It points out that the Church has “never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable” – insisting that a “universal destination of goods” is inextricably linked with a “preferential option for the poor.”

As Fr. Tom Reese, S.J., of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University has frequently pointed out, the Vatican’s consistent calls for a radical rethinking of global capitalism is far to the left of the most progressive Democrat in Congress.  While this causes heartburn for those self-styled defenders of orthodoxy on the Catholic right who think they have a monopoly on Catholic identity, it just might be the kind of moral medicine we need today.”

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The Profound Impact of a Penny

By Barry Estabrook, published Monday, June 06, 2011 in Zester Daily

Raising the price of tomatoes by 1 cent a pound would change farmworkers’ lives. Trader Joe’s said no.  Would you pay one penny more per pound to buy a tomato if you knew it would go a long way toward alleviating labor abuse in the fields?  When asked that question, not a single supermarket chain in the country, with the notable exception of Whole Foods Market, said yes. No grocery giant has a legitimate excuse to pinch that extra penny, but of all the holdouts, the most perplexing is Trader Joe’s, which promotes itself as a cheerful bastion of all things ethical.

A penny-a-pound wage increase might seem insignificant, but if you harvest Florida tomatoes, it’s the difference between making $50 a day and $80 a day — the difference between a wage that doesn’t allow you to properly feed and shelter your family and a livable, albeit paltry, income. “It’s the difference between a 19th-century workhouse and a modern factory,” said one member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a human rights group based in southwestern Florida that has long struggled on behalf of farmworkers.

Even with the wage increase, the job still falls well below what most Americans would accept — no overtime, no benefits, no sick leave. But the added penny-a-pound, along with some basic improvements in working conditions, would amount to nothing short of a revolution for the 30,000 workers in Florida who pick nearly one-third of the tomatoes Americans eat.

Last fall, it looked as if that revolution was going to sweep the Florida tomato industry. After nearly two decades of demonstrations, petitions and hunger strikes, the CIW convinced the dozen or so huge companies that grow virtually all Florida tomatoes to sign its Fair Food agreement. The growers agreed to the penny-a-pound increase on one condition: that their customers — supermarkets, fast-food chains, and food-service corporations — absorb the difference.

By signing the Fair Food agreement, the participating growers also agreed to abide by a Fair Food Code of Conduct that included the following:

  • A job-training program outlining workers’ basic rights
  • A mechanism to ensure harvesters actually get credited for every tomato they pick
  • A grievance system for uncovering and eliminating workplace abuses
  • Health and safety committees to address such common job-site occurrences as pesticide poisoning and sexual harassment

All the large fast-food chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway, have agreed to pay the penny and deal only with growers in compliance with the Fair Food Code of Conduct. The major food service companies that supply colleges, museums and national parks also came aboard.

But the “old” system still applies to about half the Florida tomatoes sold. It is a national disgrace. In 2000, the U.S. Department of Labor described farmworkers as “a labor force in significant economic distress.” With annual incomes of between $10,000 and $12,500, their poverty rate is twice as high as other working people in this country.

On trips to Immokalee to research my book, “Tomatoland: How Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit,” I toured a decrepit trailer with neither heat nor air-conditioning. It had one miserable shower stall and toilet to serve the 10 men who called the place home and paid a rural slumlord $2,000 a month for the privilege. I spoke with a “crew boss” who quit her job after seeing her workers sprayed on an almost daily basis with some of the most toxic pesticides in factory farming’s chemical arsenal.

And I did something I never imagined doing in the 21st century: I interviewed a man who had toiled as a slave. He received no pay, was locked in the back of a produce truck at night and was beaten if he refused to work or tried to escape. He was one of more than 1,000 people freed in seven Florida slavery cases successfully prosecuted since 1997. A U.S. deputy attorney told me that southwest Florida was “ground zero for modern day slavery.”

As part of the CIW’s campaign for Fair Food, a contingent of workers approached a Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan this spring to deliver a letter to its manager. They were not met by the usual chipper Hawaiian-shirted greeters but by security guards who turned them away. Following protests at 23 Trader Joe’s stores across the country in April, the company, which is owned by the trust of the founder of Aldi, a discount chain based in Germany, posted a headline on its website.  “A Note to Our Customers About Florida Tomatoes and the CIW” claimed that the agreement for Fair Food was “overreaching, ambiguous, and improper.”  It accused the CIW of “spreading misleading and not factual information.”  Their charge rings hollow.

The CIW has received awards from Anti-Slavery International of London, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and the U.S. Department of State, to name a few. FBI Director Robert Mueller sent a letter of commendation to the CIW. The lawyers of such behemoths as McDonald’s would never have allowed their executives to sign the Fair Food agreement if it was “improper.”

At the very least, Trader Joe’s management should follow the lead of a past adversary of the CIW and issue a statement like theirs: “The CIW has been at the forefront of efforts to improve farm labor conditions, exposing abuses and driving socially responsible purchasing and work practices in the Florida tomato fields. We apologize for any negative statements about the CIW … and now realize that those statements were wrong.”  The speaker was Burger King CEO John Chidsey during the 2008 ceremony in which he signed the Fair Food agreement.

A two-time James Beard Award winner, Barry Estabrook was a contributing editor at Gourmet. His work has also appeared in The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine, Men’s Health, Saveur, Gastronomica, TheAtlantic.com and many other national magazines. He has been anthologized in “The Best American Food Writing” 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010. His award-winning website is politicsoftheplate.com, and his book “Tomatoland,” is an investigative look into industrial-scale tomato agriculture, will be published by Andrews McMeel this month.

 

Summertime is clearly time for action in North Carolina.

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DWN Report Spotlights Influence of Private Industry on Immigration Detention

Note: Article taken from DWN email.

As the largest for-profit prison company in the country, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), prepared for its annual shareholders meeting, a report released by the Detention Watch Network (DWN) shed new light on the growing influence of the private prison industry on the immigration detention system.

Drawn from a variety of sources, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Reading Room, and the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, the report reveals the companies most heavily invested in the business of immigration detention – CCA, The GEO Group Inc., and the Management and Training Corporation – and suggests increased lobbying activity over the last decade, both in terms of dollars spent and government entities targeted.

“For years, private prison firms have played a critical role in shaping public policy around immigration detention, pursuing the bottom line at the expense of basic civil rights and tax payer dollars,” said Emily Tucker, Director of Policy and Advocacy at DWN. “This report highlights deep corporate investment in the detention business, raising concerns about how the corporate profit-motive is fueling the expansion of the detention system as a whole.”

According to research by DWN, corporations have increasingly devoted resources over the last decade to lobbying for policies and programs that will increase their opportunities to do business with the government. Of the five corporations with ICE contracts for which official federal lobbying records are currently available, the total expenditure on lobbying for 1999-2009 was $20,432,000, with CCA ($18,002,000) and GEO ($2,065,000) as the top two spenders. Lobbying efforts targeted a wide range of government entities, indicating a comprehensive strategy for influencing policy and legislation.

Both CCA and GEO have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as a lack of transparency and accountability has led to multiple cases of abuse and mismanagement in their facilities, resulting in the termination of contracts in a few recent cases.

“ICE has called for sweeping changes in the immigration detention system,” said Tucker. “Yet they continue to partner with private prison firms that are part of the problem. We hope this research inspires further exploration into the relationship between prison corporations and the government at all levels. We need to reduce our dependence on detention and begin putting human rights over profits.”

Go here to read the full report.

For recent coverage of the report, visit the following:  The Latin American Herald tribune; The San Antonio Current; Houston Press; The Colorado Independent

 

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