Legis* Research Team: Updates Regarding Legislation and Legislator Actions

The Legis* Research Team monitors the intersection of archives issues and legislative resources and concerns, legislative bills, and individual legislators. This post, part of our Research Post series, was written by Katharina Hering, Mark Prindiville, Ashley Levine, and Lindsay Hiltunen.

In the past several months, I have focused on monitoring opposition against the Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s (ICE) “Visa Lifecycle Vetting Initiative” (VLVI), formerly called the “Extreme Vetting Initiative” (EVI) in and outside of Congress. On April 5, 2018, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX), Ranking Member of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urging her to halt the VLVI. “The Trump Administration’s extreme vetting initiative must be stopped.  Not only will it be ineffective and inaccurate, but will certainly be discriminatory and unjustly target certain communities. ICE’s intention to build a program with unknown limits to search social media platforms demonstrates a disregard for privacy, due process, and the rights to free speech and free association. This initiative will undoubtedly chill free speech online.” In March 2018, citing concerns raised by the Brennan Center for Justice and other civil liberties and civil rights organizations about the Extreme Vetting Initiative, the Congressional Black Caucus, via letter, requested that DHS suspends all activities related to the VLVI.

Among the groups opposing the VLVI were the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (ART) and the Concerned Archivists Alliance.

Several civil rights, civil liberties and privacy rights organizations provide regular updates on the opposition against the VLVI, including the Center for Democracy and Technology, National Immigration Law Center, Georgetown’s Center for Privacy and Technology, and the Brennan Center for Justice, among others.

— Katharina Hering

Senator Gary Peters of Michigan voted in favor of banking deregulation on March 6, 2018, as well as his fellow Michigander, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and 14 other Democratic Senators. Coincidentally, both Peters and Stabenow have history with banking lobbyists, as campaign and leadership PAC donations from securities and investments have been found via OpenSecrets.org. Peters has received $726,879, while Stabenow has obtained $587,939, ironically including corporate/PAC donations into the realm of the gender wage gap issue.
— Mark Prindiville

In following the activities of the TV, radio, and internet news program, Democracy Now!, the legislator, Tom Cotton (R-AR), and the legislation, H.R. 3923:  Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2017 (Sponsored by Adams Smith, D-WA), failures of government accountability in documenting abuse of undocumented persons by government agencies (e.g. U.S. Immigrations Customs Enforcement, a.k.a. ICE) amid simultaneous efforts to bolster aggressive immigration enforcement policies, are increasingly apparent.

The Democracy Now! website dedicates a section entirely to reporting on immigration issues in the United States. Articles bearing headlines like, “Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Allow Jailing of Pregnant Women,” to, “Immigration Activists Fight to End ICE Arrests at Courthouses,” and, “17 States Sue Trump Administration over Census Citizenship Question,” highlight the current administration’s efforts to crackdown on immigration from non-European (i.e. non-white) nations, and terrorize undocumented people within the U.S. These reports underscore concrete steps taken by ICE to simultaneously increase surveillance of immigrant communities (through data gathering mechanisms, such as the “Visa Lifecycle Vetting” initiative), and double-down on aggressive detainment activities (raids on courthouses, communities, and sanctuary cities). ICE activities are shrouded in secrecy, while ICE leadership neglects to adequately explain its extralegal actions.

Tom Cotton’s legislative activities mirror those of the administration in which he serves. For example, last year Senator Cotton sponsored S. 354: RAISE Act, which aims to limit illegal immigration by significantly reducing several provisions of U.S. policy that encourage legal immigration. S. 354 would end the Diversity Visa Program, a State Department initiative that grants an additional 50,000 legal permanent resident visas each year from countries with low rates of U.S. immigration. This bill also aims to reduce the number of family-sponsored immigrants, as well as cap number of refugees around the world offered U.S. permanent residency to 50,000. Tom Cotton also sponsored S. 1720: RAISE Act, a bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to establish a skills-based immigration points system.

Meanwhile, since its introduction in October 2017, H.R. 3923:  Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2017, has seen no action made in the House. This bill aims to provide standards for facilities where undocumented persons in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (ICE) are detained. Since ICE’s inception in 2003, and up to 2015, 150 individuals died in the agency’s custody. Furthermore, the immigration detainee watchdog group, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), highlighted 14,693 reported incidents of sexual and physical abuse in ICE detention centers from 2010 to 2016, with just about 1 percent of these reports actually resulting in investigations. ICE has even reversed its policy of not detaining pregnant women, as reports of multiple confirmed miscarriages and  inadequate medical care in ICE detention facilities have come to light. This new policy follows President Trump’s Muslim Ban, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” from January 2017, which has led to increased interior enforcement across the country.

— Ashley Levine

The most active monitoring I have been doing lately stems from the National Coalition for History. An active advocate for many important policy issues that impact archives, libraries, and other cultural heritage institutions, the National Coalition for History has been doing a lot of work to keep the issue of Humanities funding in the forefront. Member organizations represent thousands of historians, genealogists, archivists, teachers, students, and other stakeholders, so they are keeping current on issues that impact those professions and the communities served. Active social media campaigns have been highlighting some of these efforts, as well as collaboration with other non-profit educational organizations to encourage face-to-face and other modes of history-related advocacy. Current goals and accomplishments that impact the archives profession include working to prevent the elimination of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, an important source of funding for archives across the country, and leading the effort to pass the Presidential & Federal Records Reform Act. The National History Coalition has an active social media presence, so be sure to check them out on Facebook and Twitter, or historycoalition.org, to get a sense of current advocacy work and major accomplishments.

— Lindsay Hiltunen

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