H.R. 1873 the Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act – Allowing Energy Companies to Clear Vegetation as They See Fit

H.R. 1873 the Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act – Allowing Energy Companies to Clear Vegetation as They See Fit

The House votes today on H.R. 1873 the Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act. This bill directly impacts us – we all remember the recent fires and know that we live in a fire prone region; hence this bill is our action item. Quick note on this last minute timing, the majority leader in the House (Kevin McCarthy) puts out the weekly schedule which lists the bills that will be voted on and on which days the vote will occur. This week’s schedule was posted at the beginning of this week hence today is our first action item following my learning of this bill.

H.R. 1873 the Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act bill rests on two premises: 1) the federal government does not have a unified approach for allowing utility companies to clear vegetation near power lines and 2) once plans for vegetation removal are crafted and proposed to the federal government it takes too long for the federal agencies to approve the plan. The bill proposes to resolve these premises by allowing the owner of the right-of-way of the land (this is the energy company) to opt-out of submitting a vegetation removal plan to the US Department of the Interior and the US Department of Agriculture – thus allowing the energy company to clear vegetation on federal lands however the company deems appropriate (it should be noted that this bill does not set a limit on the amount of acreage the utility company could deem necessary to clear, the bill gives the utility company the right to clear “adjacent” land but the term “adjacent” is not defined). At first glance this may not seem like a major change, but the critical change is that currently vegetation plans must be submitted and the plans are evaluated for their impact on the flora as well as fauna that dwell on the federal lands. This calls into question what federal lands are for – are they for the preservation of the environment, are they for the benefit of the American people or are they for corporations or are they for all of these and if so how does one prioritize the differing needs of each of these ‘constituents’?

This bill also gives the energy company the right to remove any vegetation they regard to be an imminent risk to power or distribution lines and within 24 hours after the removal of the vegetation to contact and inform the local authorities.

If the US Department of the Interior or the US Department of Agriculture does not approve a plan the energy company submitted or somehow blocks the removal of an imminent risk and a fire occurs then the energy company bears no legal or fiscal responsibility.

As can be guessed this bill is supported by the energy industry, specifically the Edison Electric Institute, which is an association of all US investor-owned electric companies (SDG&E is a member of Edison Electric Institute), the American Public Power Association, which is an association of community owned electric services (the power departments of Puerto Rico, LA, Sacramento and Seattle, etc… are members of the American Public Power Association) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which is an association of not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives. The Western Governors’ Association has also endorsed this bill (https://dailyenergyinsider.com/news/4216-bipartisan-bill-increase-safety-reliability-electric-grid-federal-lands-introduced-house/, http://www.eei.org/about/mission/Pages/default.aspx, http://www.eei.org/about/members/uselectriccompanies/Documents/memberlist_print.pdf, http://www.publicpower.org/about/?navItemNumber=37583,http://www.publicpower.org/joinappa/landing.cfm?ItemNumber=32562&navItemNumber=38715,http://www.politico.com/tipsheets/morning-energy/2017/06/20/perry-preps-for-house-grilling-today-220934, https://www.electric.coop/our-mission/).

The arguments for this bill are expressed most clearly and ardently by the bill’s Republican and Democrat co-sponsors. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) states, “This bipartisan legislation is beneficial for everyone involved, decreasing the risk of blackouts, lowering costs for utilities and the Forest Service, and preventing forest fires. A single tree falling on a transmission line can cause blackouts for thousands of homes and spark a fire that devastates a National Forest, but existing red tape can prevent removal of dangerous trees for months. Under this legislation, rural electric co-ops, utilities, and municipal power providers will be able to proactively remove hazardous trees before they become problems, not after they’ve caused a fire. I’m pleased to work with Rep. Schrader and our bipartisan coalition to ensure that the federal government works with electric providers to keep the lights on, protect rural communities, and keep our National Forests safe” and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) opines, “Properly maintained rights-of-way is essential for public safety and enhancing the reliability of our electrical grid. The LaMalfa-Schrader bill is a no-brainer and this should not be controversial. Preventing forest fires and maintaining a reliable electrical grid should be a priority for everybody. Our utilities need a streamlined and consistent process for being able to get out on the ground and remove hazardous vegetation before it can cause a wildfire. This is exactly what our bill does. State and federal laws require routine maintenance on federal lands, but bureaucratic red tape from federal agencies has been stalling that maintenance, slowing down our electrical utilities’ ability to safely supply dependable electricity. As long as there is a management plan in place that has been agreed to, there should be no need to revisit every project when the project conforms with the management plan. Doing so is a waste of money and time, and is extremely dangerous to our grid’s reliability. Our bill will significantly improve the process by providing clearer, more commonsense regulations that will allow for regular maintenance, permitting utilities to provide consistent electricity to all of our communities.” (https://lamalfa.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/lamalfa-and-schrader-introduce-legislation-to-protect-electrical)

The main arguments against this bill are that: 1) this bill gets rid of the public’s right to give & the public’s avenue through which to give feedback on vegetation removal plans, 2) it weakens the National Environmental Policy Act by gutting the informed decision making and public involvement requirements 3) project delays are not due to red tape (a study is cited backing up this claim) and thus this bill will do nothing to expedite vegetation removal projects, 4) approval of submitted plans, which are voluntary to submit, must be approved within 3 days by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, if they are not approved within 3 days then they are approved by default and thus risky projects will be allowed to move forward, 5) the Department of Interior has expressed concerns about this bill and does not support this bill due to point four, 6) this bill does not address the Forest Service’s most critical need, which is increased funding and 7) the bill did not follow the standard protocol of having hearings in all the relevant committees but rather was pushed out of one supportive committee (the House Natural Resources Committee) and rushed to the floor for a vote (http://www.sequoiaforestkeeper.org/pdfs/signon_letters/Oppose_HR_1873.pdf). This bill is opposed by a host of environmental groups, which wrote a letter opposing the bill – see link above, including the Sierra Club. The opponents of the bill strongly agree that there needs to be the removal of vegetation that could cause fires if a power line fell, it is just that they do not agree that this bill would do justice to all concerned constituents, in other words their concern is that this bill puts the needs and desires of the energy companies above the needs and desires of we the people and the environment, both of which the government is mandated to watch out for.

A summary of the bill can be found at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1873?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+1873%22%5D%7D&r=1

The complete bill can be found at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1873/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+1873%22%5D%7D&r=1

Maritime Bills HR 2518, HR 2593 and HR 1726, Icebreakers and Corporate Backers

Maritime Bills HR 2518, HR 2593 and HR 1726, Icebreakers and Corporate Backers

In addition to asking Rep. Hunter to vote a specific way, to express his opinion on certain issues, we have also asked that he become a co-sponsor for various pieces of legislation. Now Rep. Hunter has not fulfilled our requests and one could be forgiven for thinking that he simply does not add his name to bills, that he simply does not do the co-sponsor thing, but that is far from the truth. Rep. Hunter has, to date, sponsored or co-sponsored 78 pieces of legislation – that is bills and resolutions – within this Congress (the 115th Congress).

Of these 78 pieces of legislation, 69 have been bills and nine have been resolutions. Rep. Hunter is the originator, the author, the sponsor of 11 of these bills, meaning that he co-sponsored 58 bills. Four of the bills he co-sponsored have passed the House and are under review in the Senate. Of the remaining 65 bills, nine are being considered by committees with three of these nine having been authored aka sponsored by Rep. Hunter.

These three bills are HR 2518, HR 2593 and HR 1726 – all three come out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on which Rep. Hunter sits. In addition to being on this Committee, Rep. Hunter is the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee. Thus it is not so surprising that these bills came out of Committee and that each of these bills has to do with Maritime.

H.R.2518, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017 is an authorization bill meaning that it would allow the spending of monies within the federal budget; it would fund the Coast Guard. This is a long bill, which due to its length I have not read – if you desire to read or skim the bill: https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr2518/BILLS-115hr2518ih.pdf

H.R.2593, the Federal Maritime Commission Authorization Act of 2017 is also an authorization bill so it too would allow the spending of monies within the federal budget. This too is a long bill, which I also did not read – a copy of the bill can be found at: https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr2593/BILLS-115hr2593ih.pdf

H.R.1726, the Coast Guard Improvement and Reform Act of 2017 would not authorize the spending of monies, it would change the Coast Guard but according to the Committee report this bill would make, “no substantive policy changes” to the Coast Guard. As with the last two bills this is also a long bill that I did not read, for a copy of the bill: https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr1726/BILLS-115hr1726rh.pdf and for a copy of the Committee report: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-115hrpt132/pdf/CRPT-115hrpt132.pdf.

As confessed, I did not read these bills but due to the history Rep. Hunter has with pushing an icebreaker, owned by one of his main contributors, onto the Coast Guard, I did do some keyword searches, one of these searches being for the term “icebreakers” and in  H.R. 1726 the following passage came up in Section 561: Icebreaking in polar regions, “The President shall facilitate planning for the design, procurement, maintenance, deployment, and operation of icebreakers as needed to support the statutory missions of the Coast Guard in the polar regions by allocating all funds to support icebreaking operations in such regions, except for recurring incremental costs associated with specific projects, to the Coast Guard” (https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr1726/BILLS-115hr1726rh.pdf).

This then led me to do a little internet searching and without any digging at all, the following story came up: Coast Guard willing to give 2nd look at Aivik as icebreaker By Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – June 9, 2017 (http://www.alaskapublic.org/2017/06/09/coast-guard-willing-to-give-2nd-look-at-aivik-as-icebreaker/) and Coast Guard may observe Aiviq icebreaker trials By Kirk Moore on June 8, 2017  (https://www.workboat.com/news/government/coast-guard-may-observe-aiviq-ice-trials/). A press release from Rep. Hunter on the need for Congress to understand the fiscal needs of the Coast Guard was released June 7th following a Subcommittee meeting, which might be the Subcommittee meeting referenced in the articles: https://www.ajot.com/news/hunter-releases-statement-from-hearing-on-infrastructure-plan.

The Aivik is an icebreaker owned by Edison Chouest and Edison Chouest happens to be Rep. Hunter’s second largest campaign contributor (https://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cid=N00029258&cycle=2016#fundraising). In addition it is important to know that the Aivik was built for Shell not the Coast Guard, that the Aivik was used by Shell, without great success, and is no longer wanted by Shell – thus its owner wants to, needs to find someone else who will lease this $200 million vessel…. In addition it is important to know that the Coast Guard has previously declined interest in this vessel (all info from the articles noted above).

I would like to point out that there is no evidence or indicator of anything nefarious, wrong or inappropriate occurring, in fact the Coast Guard may need a whole slew of icebreakers, but I am pointing out that Rep. Hunter sponsors bills, easily signs his name as a co-sponsor onto bills and advocates for the interests of his financial backers but that he is far less willing to advocate for the concerns of us, constituents that may not see eye to eye on every issue but who still dwell in his district.

H.R. 2231, Creating an International Commission on North Korea

H.R. 2231, Creating an International Commission on North Korea

Amidst all the news from the James Comey testimony, it was easy to miss the news that North Korea completed its 10th missile test of this year – on the very same day as Comey’s testimony, which happened to be one day after South Korea de-armed the THAAD missile defense system (http://www.newsweek.com/north-korea-kim-jong-un-missile-tests-intercontinental-ballistic-missile-us-623801). In addition to the increasing number of missile tests, experts state that there is an escalation in the kind of tests being completed (source: see above) and this escalation is of significant concern, “The advancements in the last six months have caused great concern to me and others, in the advancement of and demonstration of technology of ballistic missiles from North Korea,” U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. James Syring told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee just two days before North Korea’s latest missile launch (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/north-korea-fires-another-salvo-of-missiles-defying-international-condemnation/2017/06/07/7d8b8ff2-4bdb-11e7-b69d-c158df3149e9_story.html?utm_term=.fb6d1dc0b921). Since Rep. Hunter sits on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee it is safe to assume that Rep. Hunter heard Syring’s concerns, which ought to make Rep. Hunter more inclined to support H.R. 2231.

H.R. 2231, aims “To establish a joint commission on North Korea…” and la raison d’etre, the reason for being, of the Commission would be to, “prevent North Korea from becoming armed with nuclear weapons and strengthen the shared goal of achieving a denuclearized Korean Peninsula”. The joint Commission would be chaired by the U.S. Secretary of State and comprised of the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury; Secretary of Energy; Secretary of Defense; and Director of National Intelligence as well as the governmental counterparts from participating countries. Countries in the Indo-Asia Pacific region would be invited to participate, particularly Japan, South Korea and China [quick aside, based on last week’s post on women as mediators & negotiators, I would like to point out that this bill’s sponsor is a woman – Suzan K. DelBene of WA– and thus one should probably not be surprised at her goal of having historical adversaries come together to bend the course of history away from aggression with North Korea]. (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2231/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2231%22%5D%7D&r=1).

The joint commission would be tasked with coordinating, conversing, coming together in order to 1) detect North Korean violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions and develop possible responses 2) enhance monitoring of nuclear weapons proliferation capabilities 3) have technical discussions about North Korea’s nuclear program and accompanying United States sanctions 3) share appropriate information among the intelligence services of participating countries so to identify immediate threats and 4) create guidelines for the coordination of multilateral direct action against shared threats (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2231/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2231%22%5D%7D&r=1).

With a threat as significant as North Korea and recent history showing the difficulties that occur when one nation goes it alone – let us urge Rep. Hunter to support this bill. H.R. 2231 will not be able to stop North Korea from launching more missiles but it will create a Commission that can increase the odds of a wise response.

This is one of those bills that is truly worth reading, it is not long and makes a lovely case for itself: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2231/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2231%22%5D%7D&r=1

For an interesting look at why Kim Jong Un may be launching all these tests: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/what-does-kim-jong-un-want-with-all-these-missile-tests-talks-perhaps/2017/06/08/85125afe-49cd-11e7-b69d-c158df3149e9_story.html?utm_term=.c9fb201f81c7

H.R. 2484: Ensuring Women at an Integral Part of Conflict Resolution, Peace and Security Creation

H.R. 2484: Ensuring Women at an Integral Part of Conflict Resolution, Peace and Security Creation

Despite it being 2017, despite women making up roughly 50% of the population (per the World Bank the number is just above 49.5% http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL.FE.ZS), despite all the years and decades of fighting for equal rights, women have been and still are underrepresented in politics, mediation, negotiation, the top tiers of business and conflict resolution. H.R. 2484, the “Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017” looks at the representation of women in “overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution” as well as in “post-conflict relief and recovery efforts” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2484/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2484%22%5D%7D&r=1). While not stated within the bill, if this bill became law it would align US foreign policy with the policies of The United Nations and thus with many other nations. In 2013, The United Nations Security Council (on which the US sits & sat), by unanimous vote, “demonstrated renewed determination to put women’s leadership at the centre of all efforts to resolve conflict and promote peace… the Council adopted a resolution that sets in place stronger measures to enable women to participate in conflict resolution and recovery” (http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/10/press-release-on-adoption-of-wps-resolution, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/feature/wps/).

In case you are curious as to why it is deemed imperative for women to be more equally represented in conflict-resolution, peace-promotion efforts…. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka the United Nations Women Executive Director spoke to the UN Security Council in 2013, before their unanimous vote and stated, “Women’s leadership is central to reconciliation and conflict resolution and to peacebuilding efforts that bring results for families and communities” (http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/10/press-release-on-adoption-of-wps-resolution).

Statistically it has also been found that, “Women’s economic participation and their ownership and control of productive assets speeds up development, helps overcome poverty, reduces inequalities and improves children’s nutrition, health, and school attendance. Women typically invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their families and communities than men.… With even a few years of primary education, women have better economic prospects, fewer and healthier children, and better chances of sending their own children to school…. Women are agents of change in their families, communities and countries. Increasing the voice and participation of women in politics is essential for advancing issues of importance to women on national agendas, with benefits for both women and men” (http://www.oecd.org/dac/gender-development/investinginwomenandgirls.htm). For specific facts such as, “Countries where women’s share of seats in political bodies is greater than 30% are more inclusive, egalitarian, and democratic” go to USAID: https://www.usaid.gov/infographics/50th/why-invest-in-women, which notes that, “Aid programs that provide women opportunities to better their health, education, and well-being have effects far beyond a single individual. A woman multiplies the impact of an investment made in her future by extending benefits to the world around her, creating a better life for her family and building a strong community” (https://www.usaid.gov/infographics/50th/why-invest-in-women).

Women have also been found to be effective leaders, negotiators and mediators: “The evidence shows that female leaders typically have more compassion and empathy, and a more open and inclusive negotiation style. This is not, of course, necessarily true of all women — there are many different leadership styles. That said, modern ideas of transformative leadership are more in line with qualities women generally share: empathy, inclusiveness [being collaborative as well as less hierarchical] and an open negotiation style” (http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/29/opinions/women-rising-benefits-society-young/index.html). Gwen Young, the author of this cited CNN article, goes on to state that “Today’s global problems require leaders that have diverse skill sets and innovation that can only come from diverse ideas and players. Women bring the skills, different perspectives and structural and cultural difference to drive effective solutions. In short, female leaders change the way global solutions are forged” (http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/29/opinions/women-rising-benefits-society-young/index.html).

Armed with these statements as well as facts that women bring quantifiable and needed benefits to the table, let us return to H.R. 2484, which aims, “To ensure that the United States promotes the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict… [by creating a] policy of the United States to promote the meaningful participation of women in all aspects of overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution, and post-conflict relief and recovery efforts, reinforced through diplomatic efforts and programs” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2484/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2484%22%5D%7D&r=1). This intention would be achieved by the US creating a “single government-wide strategy, to be known as the Women, Peace, and Security Strategy, that provides a detailed description of how the United States intends to fulfill the policy objectives [to promote meaningful participation of women…]” (source: see above). The strategy would be crafted by, “the President, in consultation with the heads of the relevant Federal departments and agencies” (source: see above). The bill provides great detail how exactly the already present and relevant US departments and agencies would support foreign nations, agencies, etc… in promoting and integrating women into the mediation and negotiation process and I encourage you to read the details of this bill.

Supporting this bill, supports women and supporting women, supports our humanity.

HR 2625 Connecting More Veterans with Man’s Best Friend – Dogs…

HR 2625 Connecting More Veterans with Man’s Best Friend – Dogs…

Dogs (like cats) have been part of our human history for thousands of years, the oldest evidence of the bond between human and canine was found in Israel, “a 12,000-year-old human skeleton buried with its hand resting on the skeleton of a 6-month-old wolf pup” (https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2009/February/feature1.htm). This does make one wonder, how many of us throughout the centuries have gained succor from the very same hand gesture? And that is the point – the interaction between human and dog is complex, ancient and highly beneficial to humans (to dogs too but that is not the focus of this post).

Known health benefits range from increased walking & mobility, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, increased survival rates post heart attack, lower stress responses & quicker rebounding from stress. Additional benefits are found in terms of reduced anxiety, depression, a better outlook and overall mood. These health benefits also lead to fewer doctor’s visits and less spending on health costs –one study found a savings of $11.7 billion due to people having a pooch. When one looks to specific groups of people, such as children with autism, people with chronic pain, the elderly and veterans, to name but a few groups, one finds additional health benefits unique to that population. (Sources for this paragraph: https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2009/February/feature1.htm, https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html, https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html, https://habri.org/pressroom/20141027, https://habri.org/pressroom/20151214, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/03/09/146583986/pet-therapy-how-animals-and-humans-heal-each-other).

With regards to the health benefits veterans receive from animals, there are studies that look at specific animal interventions (generally using horses or dogs) and there are also studies that look at the benefits a veteran gains from having a service dog as a companion animal – both categories of studies show reductions in anxiety, depression and in the symptoms of PTSD. It is important to state the official VA position is that not enough specific research has been done to warrant deeming a service dog evidence based therapy and thus an official intervention of the VA  – the main reason for this is that the research has not been done, not that the research has found results which do not support the benefits of dogs for PTSD, but have hope – research is in the works (https://habri.org/pressroom/20150921, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/04/461529833/veterans-say-trained-dogs-help-with-ptsd-but-the-va-wont-pay, https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/dogs_and_ptsd.asp, https://habri.org/pressroom/20150416).

The fact that service dogs for PTSD are not an official VA therapy means that the VA does not provide service dogs to veterans for PTSD, rather outside agencies due. In order for a dog to be a service dog it must be trained to do a specific task that goes above and beyond what a pet normally does and the specific task(s) must benefit its owner and materially improve the life of its owner. Meaning that licks, jumping for joy and loving do not count; rolling over, shaking and catching a Frisbee mid-air do not count, but opening doors, finding an exit, looking around corners or checking perimeters to ensure that no one is there, that no one could be waiting in ambush does count. Currently the VA is experimenting with pushing its definition to allow the mental health issues from PTSD to qualify someone for the benefit of a service animal (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/dogs_and_ptsd.asp) and in the words of VA Secretary David Shulkin, “I’ve seen the impact that these dogs can have on veterans and so I’m a believer. I don’t want to wait until the research is there. If there’s something that can help our veterans, we want to be pursuing it,” (http://www.military.com/benefits/2017/05/19/va-service-dogs-mental-health.html).

So let us pursue H.R. 2625 the “Wounded Warrior Service Dog Act of 2017” which would, “Subject to the availability of appropriations provided for such purpose, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall jointly establish a program, to be known as the ‘K–9 Service Corps Program’, to award competitive grants to nonprofit organizations to assist such organizations in the planning, designing, establishing, or operating (or any combination thereof) of programs to provide assistance dogs to covered members and veterans” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2625/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2625%22%5D%7D&r=1). For the sake of clarity, these grant monies would be open to any nonprofit – the use of “wounded warrior” in the title of this bill is not in relation to the Wounded Warrior Project non-profit agency. The bill is a quick read and has clear requirements for the non-profit to show that it is capable of working with service dogs as well as veterans, that the non-profit is certified by or meets the standards of the Assistance Dogs International, the International Guide Dog Federation and that the animals are humanely treated (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2625/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2625%22%5D%7D&r=1).

This bill has 29 co-sponsors, 2 of whom are Republicans and one of whom is San Diego’s Scott Peters. Rep. Duncan Hunter is not a co-sponsor, so let us request that Mr. Hunter become one. All the support Rep. Hunter gives to the Coast Guard, his support for Veterans (to date Hunter has introduced 12 bills into this Congress, 3 have to do with the Coast Guard and 2 have to do with Veteran issues/respect for Veterans), the importance of him having served (Hunter used to end his outgoing message with the Marine’s ‘oorah’ chant), the fact that he represents a district with a high number of Veterans and the fact that he does believe government funding is appropriate in certain situations (Hunter introduced HR 1407 this Congressional term, which would give interest free loans to US mining companies for the mining of rare minerals) makes Rep. Hunter a perfect candidate for co-sponsoring this bill, which is under review in the Armed Services Committee, on which he sits.

H.R. 2407 – Changing the Heart of America’s Citizenship and Immigration agency

H.R. 2407 – Changing the Heart of America’s Citizenship and Immigration agency

No one needs me to cite statistics or opine on the fact that we are a nation based on immigration and that we as a nation have often struggled with lovingly embracing immigrants. Yet over the years, our laws and institutions have striven to embody and exemplify our best values, our welcoming spirit and our belief that we are open to those who desire to move from their homelands to ours.

H.R. 2407 the “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Authorization Act”, which is currently being reviewed by Committees within the House – one of them being the House Education and the Workforce Committee – is a bill that does away with the presumption that immigrants come to America for positive reasons and chips away at the American belief that immigrants are a rich as well as strong element of our national fabric.

H.R. 2407 desires to establish a “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services” agency within the Department of Homeland Security – this bill does not create a new agency or change the Department it is under, there currently is a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency in the Department of Homeland Security, rather this bill changes the mission, the focus of the agency. The USCIS agency this bill creates would continue to perform all citizenship and immigration duties and would develop new policies, craft strategy, provide advisement and thus influence/dictate the official U.S. policies on citizenship and immigration. As noted it is the essence of the agency that would change, as evidenced by the mission statements of the current and the intended USCIS.

The current mission statement of the USCIS is, “Mission Statement… [the]USCIS will secure America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system” (https://www.uscis.gov/aboutus). This is a statement that upholds America as a nation of immigrations – that we are a beacon of hope and opportunity. This statement makes it clear that USCIS is primarily there for its customers, those aspiring to gain immigration and citizenship status. This statement is also crystal clear that it is the government’s duty to educate and teach the duties of American citizenship.

The strategic goals denoted on their website underscores this mission statement, “USCIS’ strategic goals include: Strengthening the security and integrity of the immigration system. Providing effective customer-oriented immigration benefit and information services. Supporting immigrants’ integration and participation in American civic culture. Promoting flexible and sound immigration policies and programs. Strengthening the infrastructure supporting the USCIS mission. Operating as a high-performance organization that promotes a highly talented workforce and a dynamic work culture” (https://www.uscis.gov/aboutus).

Contrast the values upheld in the current USCIS with those the new USCIS would espouse. The mission statement of the new USCIS is: “The mission of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is to efficiently adjudicate petitions and applications for immigration benefits for foreign nationals seeking lawful immigration status in the United States and for individuals seeking to become citizens of the United States in a manner that detects and prevents fraud, protects the jobs and working conditions of American workers, and ensures the national security and welfare of the American people” (italics added for emphasis) (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2407/text).

 

So to be clear, the presumption that America is a nation of immigrants is supplanted with presumptions that immigration fraud is widespread, that immigrants threaten US jobs and that the fact of being an immigrant means a person is a potential risk for the wellbeing of our nation and its residents. In the new USCIS the purpose of the agency is not help its customers navigate the system, the purpose is to protect America from the criminal, economic and terror threat inherent from immigrants. None of the presumptions within the new USCIS mission statement are supported by reality and it is mind boggling to truly take in what this mission statement implies (see end of the blog for links to information on the truthfulness of the presumptions).

Another core belief within the new USCIS is that those immigrating to the U.S. should lose their culture in exchange for American culture (which is of course not monolithic, but that does not seem to matter to the author of this bill). No longer would it be the focus of the USCIS to teach American civics and citizenship, but rather there would be an injunction for the agency to push the adoption of American culture “There is established within United States Citizenship and Immigration Services an Office of Citizenship. There shall be at the head of the Office of Citizenship a Chief who shall— promote instruction and training on citizenship responsibilities, as well as assimilation, for eligible aliens who are interested in becoming naturalized citizens of the United States” (italics added for emphasis)  (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2407/text).

Assimilation is a term that may not be known by everyone but every student of multiculturalism knows the term all too well and every child of an immigrant has tasted it too. Assimilation is the process by which a minority culture is swallowed up by the dominant culture and thus the minority culture fractures or even disappears. It is what was done when Americans in power decided to round up the children of Native American tribes and send them to distant boarding schools, it is what caused waves of immigrants to not teach their children the heritage, traditions, language or customs of their distant homes and it has been shown to be of great psychological cost as well as damage to people. And while assimilation may not be a term known by those outside of the circles of psychology, social work, anthropology, social justice, etc… it is absolutely a term that anyone writing a bill for an immigration agency ought to know and steer clear of, unless of course they know exactly what the term means.

(In case you are curious, acculturation is the term that describes someone moving from one culture and learning a new culture thus becoming bi-cultural, having roots and ties to both heritages. Research shows that acculturation leads to the healthiest, most integrated immigrants. For a brief discussion on assimilation versus acculturation: http://pediaa.com/difference-between-assimilation-and-acculturation/. For lengthier discussions look at the writings of Derald Wing Sue: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/faculty/dw2020/ and Stanley Sue: https://www.paloaltou.edu/faculty/stanley-sue two brothers who are preeminent American psychologists on the issues of multiculturalism.)

To close, it is only the tiniest fraction of Americans who can claim to have no immigrants in their family tree and so why are we writing bills that stand in sharp contrast to what our foremothers and forefathers needed most when they arrived on these distant shores? Why are we attempting to craft a new United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that shrinks the open arms, the welcoming heart that our nation has aspired to be?

Information on immigration fraud is a bit difficult to find due in part to the complexity of defining the issue. There are two kinds of immigration fraud: document fraud also known as identity fraud and benefit fraud. Document fraud is falsely saying you are someone you are not in order to get around immigration laws while benefit fraud is lying and/or falsifying information in order to gain an immigration benefit one is not entitled to (https://www.ice.gov/identity-benefit-fraud). There is a fraud detection unit within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency: https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/directorates-and-program-offices/fraud-detection-and-national-security/fraud-detection-and-national-security-directorate and an official page warning individuals on how to avoid being defrauded https://www.uscis.gov/avoid-scams. Official government Immigration Data & Statistics can be found at: https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics

For information on the fact that immigrants do not threaten the jobs of native born or naturalized Americans:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/artcarden/2015/08/28/how-do-illegal-immigrants-affect-american-workers-the-answer-might-surprise-you/#7aac6328771a, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/01/06/do-immigrants-take-jobs-from-american-born-workers/an-aging-us-is-revitalized-by-immigrants, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/01/06/do-immigrants-take-jobs-from-american-born-workers/immigrants-are-replacing-not-displacing-workers, http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/all-u-s-jobs-did-not-go-to-immigrants/

For information on the fact that immigrants are not a threat to the well-being of native born or naturalized Americans: https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/06/immigrants-and-crime/486884/, https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/terrorism-immigration-risk-analysis, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/us/politics/a-sweeping-order-unlikely-to-reduce-terrorist-threat.html?_r=0, https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2017-04-21/trumps-immigration-restrictions-will-hurt-americans

H.R. 2233 – A supposed reform to the H-1B visa program

H.R. 2233 – A supposed reform to the H-1B visa program

The H-1B visa program, created in 1990, was designed to allow U.S. employers to hire non-U.S. workers on a temporary basis thus enabling companies to fill positions for which there is a shortage of American workers. Some of the key components of the H-1B visa are that workers need to have at minimum a B.A. or specialized training for the designated job and can only be sought out if no U.S. citizen or legal resident can be recruited to fill the position. In addition the guest worker needs to be paid the prevailing wage. Finally, the number of H-1B visas is capped though the exact number of visas available has varied throughout the past years, currently it is capped at 85,000 visas (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-visas-tech-workers-h1b-20150217-story.html; https://www.law360.com/articles/919056/immigration-bill-roundup-visa-extensions-h-1b-reforms). For more information on the specific requirements of the H-1B visa: https://www.uscis.gov/eir/visa-guide/h-1b-specialty-occupation/understanding-h-1b-requirements.

While this visa program has been regarded as a genuinely good idea it has also become prone to misuse and abuse, due to loopholes and the quest for profit. These misuses and abuses occur on both sides of the equation, some examples of which are U.S. employers intentionally skipping over American workers and filling the position with H-1B visa recipients whom they pay below the prevailing wage and foreign staffing agencies trapping individuals into debt. For information on the misuse and abuses of this visa program:  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/are-u-s-jobs-vulnerable-to-workers-with-h-1b-visas/, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/oct/28/-sp-jobs-brokers-entrap-indian-tech-workers,https://www.revealnews.org/article-legacy/visa-program-for-best-and-brightest-also-used-to-fill-low-wage-jobs/, https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/new-england-public-policy-center-policy-report/2014/demand-for-h-1b-visas-in-new-england-an-analysis-of-employer-requests-for-highly-skilled-guest-workers.aspx, http://www.epi.org/publication/h-1b-visa-needs-reform-to-make-it-fairer-to-migrant-and-american-workers/.

Due to the problems with this visa program there are and have been widespread calls for reform and a bill that would provide reform is currently under review by the House Education and Workforce Committee. Before looking at what changes this bill would create to the visa program, a quick look at the originator of the bill for some clarity on what the intentions of the bill might be.

The “American Jobs First Act” was introduced by Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama and his opinions on Immigration stated on his, official U.S. Congress, website make one question what his intent for the H-1B visa program is – whether he truly has the best intentions for the visa program in his sights,

“[Congressman Brooks]… introduced the American Jobs First Act, which would reform     the foreign-worker visa program (H-1B visa program), a broken system which exacerbates the country’s labor shortage and depresses wages by bringing in foreign workers to compete with American workers…. Congressman Brooks believes the federal            government has been derelict in its border protection and immigration duties with both short- and long-term adverse effects. Illegal aliens receive free health care at America’s      hospitals, driving up health care costs and delaying emergency room care for American       citizens. Illegal aliens get free K-12 education, driving up education costs by requiring         more English as a Second Language instructors and reducing funds for American citizens.      Illegal aliens take jobs in the blue collar trades, causing wage suppression and denying    jobs for American workers. Congressman Brooks supports and will vote for any            substantive measure that removes illegal aliens from America”           (https://brooks.house.gov/issues/immigration).

While this succinctly states Rep. Brooks’ opinions on immigration, it is also compelling to know that he addressed the House floor in November 2016 supporting Mr. Trump’s allegations that non-U.S. Citizens voted in the election. Rep. Brooks went further stating that “tens of millions of noncitizens are a threat to register to vote, and vote, in America’s elections” (https://brooks.house.gov/media-center/news-releases/news-release-brooks-addresses-house-support-president-elect-trump). Another opinion of Rep. Brooks’ is that the solution to the high cost of health care is to “deport the illegal immigrants” and thus it is not extreme to state that Rep. Brooks seems to regard immigration as a scourge that must be done away with (https://brooks.house.gov/media-center/in-the-news/ijrcom-congressman-proposes-radical-solution-rising-cost-health-care-deport). Which brings us back to the bill he introduced and whether this bill truly is what is best for the H-1B visa program?

The main points of H.R. 2233 are as follows: “This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to revise the H-1B nonimmigrant visa (specialty occupation) program, including by declaring that a petitioner employer:

  • is offering an annual wage to the H-1B nonimmigrant that is the greater of the annual wage paid to the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident employee who did identical or similar work during the previous two years, or $110,000, if offered not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act;
  • will not require an H-1B nonimmigrant to pay a penalty for ending employment before the agreed on date;
  • will not replace or contract to replace a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident with one or more nonimmigrants;
  • has not displaced, furloughed, terminated without cause, or otherwise involuntarily separated a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident employee during the four-year period beginning two years before the H-1B visa petition was filed; and
  • shall attest in the H-1B application that during the previous two-year period there has not been an employee-initiated strike or an employer-initiated lockout, and that no employee in the same or substantially similar occupational classification has been displaced, terminated without cause, or otherwise involuntarily separated without cause” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2233?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+2233%22%5D%7D&r=1).

These amendments to the visa program seem to make it financially unwise if not downright impossible for a company (what company has not “involuntarily separated” an employee from her or his position during a 4 year time period) to hire anyone through the visa program, thus in effect ending the H-1B visa program. While reform is needed gutting the visa program is hardly the solution.