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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

By Kelly Vomacka

*Editor’s note: The author is a lawyer who has provided volunteer assistance to the Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center (KIAC) in Bremerton, among other nonprofits. Her story was provided to me by KIAC’s Immigration Legal Services. Her experiences occurred during President Obama’s time in office. He deported over 2.5 million people, more than any president in history, continuing the upward trend in deportations since the 1980’s.  Incoming president Donald Trump has made mass deportation one of his signature issues, promising to deport as many as 11 million people. This article details the process as it is today; if deportations increase, the system’s ability to respond will undoubtedly deteriorate, and the way human beings are treated–including many children— will become inestimably worse.

A couple of years ago, I volunteered at a weekend workshop for immigrant “Dreamers”—those people you’ve heard about in the news who were illegally brought to the US as infants and are now in their 20s. I enjoyed the workshop so much that by the time I left I wanted to practice immigration law. I loved hearing the Spanish, seeing the amazing young people, helping immigrants achieve the American Dream. Most of my legal experience was in criminal law, and seeing a young adult with no convictions and straight A’s did my heart good.

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Detainees inside the women’s wing of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

So off to Immigration Land I went. A friend of a friend helped me get started, throwing me various bits of contract work and showing me the ropes. Suddenly, there I was, going to court, writing appeals, the works. And what I quickly discovered is that one does not dabble in immigration law. It’s fantastically complex, and trying to peer at the hairs they split could make you go blind. Plus, if you lose, your client doesn’t go to prison, they go to a country where they are pretty likely to die. As in: die. Be dead.

So I chickened out and came back to criminal law. But along the way I met enough immigration lawyers that I started doing some post-conviction relief work for their clients, and I volunteered for a couple of pro bono immigration cases.

Even this tiny bit of immigration “experience” sets me apart from the average criminal attorney, for whom immigration law is a mysterious black box and all they know is “talk to Washington Defender Association.” That’s all I know, too, but I’ve visited Immigration Land just enough to have a few postcards to share from my travels. I think of myself as a tourist who went to Europe and saw 9 countries in 10 days. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I love the Constitution

Seriously, love it. Have you ever wondered what criminal law would look like without it? Okay, I know, you see that every single day. So do I. But really, what if it wasn’t there? What if the accused had no right to counsel, no speedy trial, no jury, none of it? Okay, a few shreds of Due Process for decency’s sake, but that’s all.

There’s no Constitution in immigration law. Not much of one anyway. The Constitution does not apply to borders, and, thanks to our old friend the Legal Fiction, much of immigration law is considered to be “at” the border. Clients have no right to a lawyer, since immigration law is “merely” civil. I have sat in court and watched person after person, with no legal training, no English, and no interpreter, try to defend themselves against deportation. I’ve seen a judge prevent an interpreter from interpreting, even though the interpreter was sitting right there. I’ve seen continuances that go years into the future, once because the interpreter didn’t show up, a few times because the judge was out sick. I’ve seen people locked up without bond who have committed no crime at all.

I’ve seen people locked up on obviously unconstitutional searches and seizures. Yes, I wish the criminal courts would follow the Constitution more closely, but boy oh boy am I glad it’s around at all.

The detention center is a hole

The Northwest Detention Center is the worst jail I’ve ever seen, hands down. It sits out on the Tacoma Tideflats, over a Superfund site. It is surrounded by concertina wire. There is no bus service. The only parking is for staff and government lawyers. There are no coffee or sandwich shops nearby. It is privately run by a national prison corporation, and Congress has mandated a quota of inmates. You read that right: The detention center is required, by law, to fill a certain number of beds each night.

The front door greets you with numerous signs telling you what illnesses you may contract if you go inside. The architecture is Late Brutalist, constructed of whitewashed concrete blocks. Despair oozes from the walls. Everything about the place says “Danger. Keep out.”

But you enter anyway, because you need to get to the courtroom inside. You go through security screening, which is similar to jail screening. Then you are buzzed through a heavy locked door into a dismal waiting area that compares unfavorably to the airport. You make pleasant small talk with the guard to charm your way through the next locked door, into a narrow hallway lined with benches. On those benches are potential deportees, color-coded jail garb, at various levels of misery. Finally you are admitted through the third locked door into the courtroom. I should mention, if it’s not obvious, that the courtroom is open to the public.

I should also mention that plenty of people housed there have legal status in the US. Many of them are Legal Permanent Residents, and notice that first word there is “legal.” Not all, not most, but many.

There’s also a court in Seattle. I can’t call it a courthouse. It’s a suite in an office building downtown. No locked doors, but same screening, same dismal waiting area.

All of the courtrooms are beautiful, with churchy pews for the audience, a wooden railing with a proper gate, big gleaming counsel tables, comfortable chairs, and top notch electronics. The courtrooms are painted in a rich teal that exudes both power and calm. The “judges” wear robes (more on the air quotes in a minute), and the staff operates with hushed efficiency.

It’s not a real court

They hate it when you say this, but it’s true. Immigration courts are administrative bodies, not courts. The judges answer to the Attorney General, and ultimately to the president. They are employees of the executive branch of government, and if they stray from government policy, they are punished. They have no judicial independence whatsoever.

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home1We’ve heard a lot about the environmental value of the Suzuki property, and the potential ecological impact from development. In comparison, we’ve heard almost nothing about housing access, lack of diversity and other consequences of Bainbridge Island’s affordable housing problems. I don’t want to further polarize people, but I do think a balancing of the factors in the City’s decision would be helpful.

Fair housing is an ideal that emerged from our nation’s civil rights movement. In the 1960’s, a national advisory commission found that both open and covert racial discrimination prevented black families from obtaining better housing and moving to integrated communities. To overcome the legacy of segregation, unequal treatment, and lack of access to opportunity in housing, Congress adopted the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

The FHA outlaws obvious discriminatory practices like exclusionary zoning, discriminatory lending practices and racially restrictive covenants. Over the years, it has been expanded to cover several protected classes, prohibiting housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or the presence of children. Like many states, Washington has its own fair housing laws, and specifies additional protected classes, such as age, sexual orientation, political ideology and source of income.

But discrimination is not always obvious, and last spring, in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that housing policies resulting in “disparate impact”—a disproportionately adverse effect on protected classesviolate the law even if there is no intent to discriminate. The Court cited zoning laws and other housing restrictions as examples of actions that may not arise from intentional discrimination, but may nevertheless violate the law because they have a disparate impact on protected classes.

Also last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finalized a new rule that gives sharper teeth to the Fair Housing Act, impacting all communities, including our own. This rule requires all agencies receiving HUD money to provide regular reports on actions they have taken to “affirmatively further fair housing.” These reports must be be submitted to HUD for review. This is a more robust standard than the previous requirement to do an “analysis of impediments” to fair housing, which fell short of the goal of increasing housing fairness.

How do these developments affect us locally?

Bainbridge Island receives HUD money through Kitsap County, according to HUD Public Affairs officer Leland Jones. For example, Housing Kitsap–our county’s public housing agency—provides HUD money to islanders who have Section 8 vouchers. Additionally, federal money provided some of the financing for Ferncliff Village, an affordable housing development of our housing nonprofit, Housing Resources Bainbridge (HRB). Thus, the island’s efforts to affirmatively further fair housing must be documented and submitted to HUD under the new rule.

Even before the new rule, there was plenty of publicly available information about regional housing efforts.  For example, a 2014 report by the Puget Sound Regional Council said that although most forms of overt housing discrimination are in decline in the Puget Sound region, the impacts of historical unfairness are still evident. The report further noted, “Structural causes of segregation continue to have a pervasive effect across communities, whether or not self-segregation or discrimination are also at play. People are residentially sorted by economic status. High-priced neighborhoods as well as neighborhoods with limited rental housing fail to provide feasible housing choices for low- and-moderate income households.”

Bainbridge Island is deeply afflicted with these structural causes of segregation, and is one of the most racially segregated communities in the entire region. According to our latest Housing Needs Assessment, the population of Bainbridge Island in 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available) was 91% white. Since 1980, minorities have consistently made up less than 10% of the island’s population. Compare this to other Puget Sound suburbs: Shoreline: 69% white; Bellevue: 60% white. Even our Eastside doppelganger, Mercer Island, is substantially more diverse than Bainbridge at 78% white. (more…)

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Press release from the City of Bainbridge Island today:

Consumer Fireworks Will Not be Permitted on Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island, Wash., (June, 2015) The Bainbridge Island Fire Department, with the support of the City of Bainbridge Island and the Bainbridge Island Police Department, announced today that consumer fireworks will not be permitted this Fourth of July.

The ban is due to the regions tinder-dry conditions, and concern that current conditions combined with hot and dry weather in the forecast make the island extremely susceptible to wildfires. At this time the community Grand Old Fourth firework show is scheduled to proceed.

In addition to being liable for any property damage that would result from an errant firework, those that choose to discharge fireworks in spite of the ban could be cited with a civil infraction and subject to a monetary penalty and default amount of $500 plus statutory assessments. A second violation would constitute a misdemeanor and could carry a fine up to $1000, or imprisonment in jail for a term not exceeding 90 days.

City Manager Doug Schulze emphasized the importance of the ban as a precautionary measure during this extremely dry fire season, “The City fully supports the Bainbridge Island Fire Department’s institution of the ban on fireworks for this season, and encourages Bainbridge Island residents to do their part to protect our island environment and public and private property by complying with the ban, and choosing to enjoy the public fireworks display instead.”

According to the Bainbridge Island Municipal Code Chapter 8.28, the Bainbridge Island Fire Department is authorized during periods of extreme fire danger to prohibit all fireworks. For more information on the ban, please contact Bainbridge Island Fire Department Chief Hank Teran at 206.842.7686. To report the discharge of fireworks, please call 911.

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heatchangeUniversity of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass posted a series of maps this week showing impacts of climate change in the United States. His maps, based on climate models, indicate areas of the country most likely to be affected by rising sea levels, water availability, hurricanes and storms and heat waves.

His conclusion: “A compelling case can be made that the Pacific Northwest will be one of the best places to live as the earth warms.” 

Read Cliff Mass’s post here: Will the Pacific Northwest be a Climate Refuge under Global Warming?

Also coming across my desk today was an article about the city of Eugene, Oregon, which has just passed an ordinance seeking to cut community-wide fossil fuel use by 50% by 2030.

The ordinance also sets a goal for city government operations to be entirely carbon neutral by 2020, either by reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions or by funding local emission reduction projects. It requires city officials to prepare plans for achieving those goals, as well as periodic progress reviews and status reports. (more…)

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IMG_1563The National Climate Assessment issued this week doesn’t have much good news about solutions to our climate problem. The report says natural processes remove about half the carbon dioxide currently being emitted due to human activities. As a result, mitigation efforts that merely keep emissions from increasing are not enough to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but will only limit their rate of increase.

To meet the lower emissions rate used by the report (the “B1 scenario”) in its climate change predictions and assessment–which would still result in significant changes—the world would have to limit global carbon dioxide emissions to 44 billion tons per year for the next 25 years and decline thereafter.

In 2011, global carbon emissions were 34 billion tons per year, and have been rising by .9 billion tons per year for the last decade. We are on track to exceed the 44 billion tons per year within the decade, assuming the rate of emissions does not increase.

Carbon storage in land ecosystems in the U.S. (carbon “sinks”) offset 17% of annual fossil fuel emissions annually, but scientists believe the positive effect of these carbon sinks may not be sustainable.

Between 2008 and 2012, there was a decline in the U.S. in annual emissions of carbon dioxide due to energy use, due to changes in our economy and improvements in government policies and development of alternative energy sources.

In spite of the slight improvements in recent years, the report warns that we need “aggressive and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions by the U.S. and other countries” in order to achieve the B1 scenario that is described in the report.

The report suggests national policy that is urgently needed to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, with a mix of new energy technology for wind, solar and bio-energy, stricter emissions regulation, additional research, and market solutions. The report emphasizes that even if such policies were adopted today the task would be hard, “but delay by any of the major emitters makes meeting any such target even more difficult and may rule out some of the more ambitious goals.”

City, state and regional mitigation actions

The country’s most ambitious state activity is California’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” which sets a state goal of reaching 1990 greenhouse gas emissions rates by 2020. The statute uses a cap and trade mechanism (a cap on emissions and a market-based system of trading emissions credits), as well as a number of regulatory actions.  (more…)

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The New York Times today has a story on a climate change report issued by a panel of scientists, business leaders and government officias, which says human-caused climate change is already affecting the United States in significant, observable ways.

“The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, scientists reported Tuesday, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects,” wrote the Times.

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Rise in natural disasters since 1950 (from Center for Research on Epidemiology on Natural Disasters).

“One of the report’s most dramatic findings concerned the rising frequency of torrential rains. Scientists have expected this effect for decades because more water is evaporating from a warming ocean surface, and the warmer atmosphere can hold the excess vapor, which then falls as rain or snow. But even the leading experts have been surprised by the magnitude of the effect.”

The report, known as the National Climate Assessment, explained that scientists are reluctant to attribute specific weather events to overall climate change, but heavy rains and dramatic weather patterns are consistent with what they expect in a warming climate. Climate change will not happen at a steady pace, and bitterly cold winters will continue, even as they become less likely to occur.

Just six weeks ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with over 100,000 scientist-members around the globe, kicked off a campaign to cut through public confusion and identify the realities of global climate change.

Today’s report was approved by a large committee of science, business, governmental and other leaders, including representatives from two oil companies (Chevron and ConocoPhillips). (more…)

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The world’s environmental problems are so huge and complex it’s hard for most of us to know how to help. Leave it to the experts and hope for the best—Congress is going to stonewall reform efforts anyway, right?

Probably. But right here on Bainbridge Island, you have a golden opportunity to make a real difference for the environment, with one decision on your power bill. And by showing City Hall how much islanders care about clean energy, your efforts could be multiplied a hundredfold!

I’m talking about Puget Sound Energy’s “Green Power” program. I didn’t know it existed until late February when our City Council discussed it.

Chart-copyUnless you participate in the Green Program, over one-third of your electrical power comes from coal, from my home state of Montana. That sparkling, pure water in Montana’s streams, rivers and groundwater for fishing, hiking, wildlife, recreation and drinking water is not so clean and pure in coal country. (more…)

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