From the News Wires
Everybody's favorite ABC drama, "Scandal", is the subject of a must-read piece in the New York Times. In it, the show's creator, Shonda Rhimes, talks about how she deals with being one of the most powerful writers in television. "What was great for me about 'Scandal' was I had earned a lot of political capital with the network," Rhimes told me Willa Paskin at the Times. "I had done 'Grey's,' I had done 'Private Practice.' What were they going to do, fire me? I wasn't worried about what anybody else thought. This one was for me."
But, importantly, Rhimes also discusses the fact that she, a black woman, casts some of the most racially diverse shows on television. Racial diversity isn't usually television's strong suit.
Rhimes refuses to make an issue of her casting. "I think it's sad, and weird, and strange that it's still a thing," she told me over the phone a few months ago. "It's 2013. Somebody else needs to get their act together. And, oh, by the way, it works. Ratings-wise, it works." In addition to its general success, "Scandal" is also rated No. 1 on network TV among African-American viewers.
While race on Rhimes's shows is omnipresent, it is not often discussed explicitly. This has led to a second-order critique of her shows: that they are colorblind, diverse in a superficial way, with the characters' races rarely informing their choices or conversations. Rhimes, obviously, disagrees. "When people who aren't of color create a show and they have one character of color on their show, that character spends all their time talking about the world as 'I'm a black man blah, blah, blah,' " she says. "That's not how the world works. I'm a black woman every day, and I'm not confused about that. I'm not worried about that. I don't need to have a discussion with you about how I feel as a black woman, because I don't feel disempowered as a black woman."
In November, TVEquals.com released an infographic that showed just how white the Fall 2012 TV line up was. It wasn't pretty.
Comedian (and beloved board member of the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com) W. Kamau Bell is back on FX for a second season of his show "Totally Biased." And this week he took to New York City streets to ask people of color in: what have you always wanted to say to white people?
And then he presents an actual white man for them to speak to! The segment is rich with honest and funny race talk. But of course it begs the question: what would you like white people to know?
The congressional battle over immigration reform began in earnest yesterday as the Senate Judiciary Committee jumped into the amendment process. The Senators started on the border security section of the legislation and Republicans spent much of the eight-hour session calling for significantly more border control. Though at the end of the day, the legislation moved only slightly to the right, the minority party's zeal for more enforcement appeared nearly unlimited.
On Tuesday, Senators on the Committee filed over 300 amendments to the legislation. Yesterday, as they began the voting process, the 18 members got through 32 of the proposed changes. Several amendments passed to increase the border buildup in the already border-heavy bill. The committee approved an amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to require border patrol to stop and detain 90 percent of border crossers on the entire border. As the bill was originally written, that "effective control" provision applied only to areas with historically high rates of crossing. The Senators also agreed on an amendment that will require the Department of Homeland Security to report back to the Judiciary Committee.
The Democrat controlled committee rejected several more amendments from Grassley and other members that would have strengthened so-called border triggers and threatened the path to citizenship entirely. Even with the additional amendments, some Republicans said they would simply not support the legislation.
"The committee has voted down every serious border security amendment today," said Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican. "If it doesn't have real border security, it will not pass."
The comments from Cruz beg the question: What is enough enforcement? And the tone many Republicans set suggests that for them there's no limit. In the Senate, those Republican demands may not prevail, but in the Republican controlled House, which has yet to begin deliberations on reform, these sentiments will be powerful obstacles.
Meanwhile, the willingness of Democrats and members of the bi-partisan Gang of Eight Senators who wrote the bill to agree yesterday to several of the border enforcement amendments has some asking how far they'll be willing to move to the right as the rest of the amendments come to vote in the next several weeks.
The next section of the bill, which the Senators are expected to take up on Tuesday, contains the 10-year path to citizenship. While Democrats and the two Republican Gang of Eight members on the committee will reject proposals from Cruz and others that would gut the path to citizenship, there are many smaller amendments that could dramatically limit the promise of the reform bill.
An amendment filed Tuesday by Sen. Jeff Sessions, a veteran and vocal opponent of immigration reform, would remove from the bill a provision allowing deported parents, spouses and children of U.S. citizens to apply to come back to the U.S. That provision, which could help tens of thousands of families reunify, was seen as a major victory by immigrant rights advocates who point to the crippling effect of deportations on families. It's not clear though on which side of the Gang of Eight and Democrats threshold for compromise that provision will fall.
In a similar way, two amendments from Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., would add immigration rights for same-sex couples. The original legislation excludes LGBT rights. Tens of thousands of gay U.S. citizens are now prohibited from petitioning for green cards for their non-citizen partners because of federal laws. The Leahy amendments aim to fix this discriminatory legal arrangement. But Gang of Eight member Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has yet to say how he'll vote on the measure, which Republicans broadly oppose.
Republicans were not the only ones to propose additional enforcement yesterday. The committee passed an amendment from California Democrat Sen. Diane Feinstein's that could increase funding to localities to prosecute non-citizens in the criminal justice system.
Ultimately, it appears the comprehensive immigration reform bill will move to the right as it is amended. The question though is how far can it move in that direction before it's too exclusionary for some Democrats and immigration reform advocates to accept.
St. Louis became the third city where fast food restaurant workers staged a day-long strike to demand higher wages and the right to unionize. Organizers yesterday expected as many as 100 workers to walk out of restaurants including a McDonald's. The local CBS affiliate reported that last night and this morning, seven St. Louis fast food restaurants have been forced to halt operations because workers refused to come to work.
In April, Chicago hundreds of fast food workers walked off the job . That strike mimicked a November fast food strike in New York. Like those previous actions, St. Louis workers, who often earn the state's $7.35 hourly minimum wage, are demanding a raise to $15 an hour.
The strikes come as low-wage jobs like those in fast food restaurants grow in number. As I wrote in December:
An oft-cited report by the National Employment Law Project reveals that in the fledgling economic recovery, the only parts of the labor market that are expanding significantly provide low-wages. The report finds 43 percent of all jobs gained in the last two years were in food service, retail and other services sector work. These are some of the least unionized jobs in the country. Only about 7 percent of private sector workers have a union and that rate is even lower for service workers.
This new economy is populated by an increasingly non-white labor force. The average fast food worker is about 30 years old, female and, as with low-wage work in general, likely to be a person of color. In 2011, 28 percent of working black women and over 31 percent of working Latinas had jobs in the service sector, compared to about 20 percent of white women.
Further, black and Latino workers are concentrated in the lowest-paying jobs in the service sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
The labor actions are part of a trend to organize workers in service sector jobs that have historically been unorganized or excluded from labor law protections. Most labor experts agree that unionization in the fast food sector is a long way off.
The battle lines in the congressional immigration reform debate were drawn more firmly yesterday when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee filed well over 300 amendments. The committee will begin discussing the amendments tomorrow starting what's likely to be several weeks of debate and voting on the bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
Republicans have introduced a number of amendments that would largely gut the promise of a path to citizenship and impose nearly unachievable benchmarks for border security. But because Democrats hold a ten of the 18 seats on the committee and two of the Republicans, Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., are among the bill's drafters, most of those are likely to fall flat. Meanwhile, several Democratic proposals, most notably provisions to provide same-sex couples with immigration rights, will face stiff opposition from Republicans and possibly some Democrats.
From The Right
Republican members of the Judiciary committee filed the majority of the 300 amendments to S.744. In general, the amendments aim to strengthen enforcement measures in a bill that already requires significant new investment in the border and interior immigration controls.
Utah's Sen. Mike Lee offered an amendment would require Congress to first sign off on a border security plan offered by the Department of Homeland Security. Congress would have the power to decide if that plan is sufficiently implemented before undocumented immigrants could apply to the path to citizenship. Along with an amendment from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tx., requiring the federal government affirm that the US-Mexico border is under "full operational control," these provisions would likely make border security requirement unattainably high. If passed, the so-called border triggers could put the path to citizenship on indefinite hold.
Lee would also require applicants to the path to citizenship to pay all back taxes since entering the U.S. The amendment could prove prohibitive for undocumented immigrants who've lived in the country for long periods.
Among the 77 amendments introduced by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, one would do away with language intended to protect immigrants from being deported because of laws like Arizona's SB 1070. Grassley would also require DHS to deport undocumented immigrants who denied entry to the path to citizenship.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Ut., proposed to increase the fee for green cards after the 10 year path to citizenship. He also wants all registered immigrants to provide DNA records.
From The Left
The amendments getting the most attention are two from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to include in the bill immigration rights to for same-sex couples. The so-called Protecting American Families Act and another amendment, would allow LGBT Americans to sponsor non-citizen partners for green cards and provide other immigration protections to "permanent partners." Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Supreme Court is considering, bars same-sex couple from federal marriage benefits, including those that involve immigration.
Republicans are calling the provision a poison pill. It "will ensure that [the bill] fails," said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Meanwhile, it's not yet clear if the Democratic members of the eight-member group who drafted the bill will support the LGBT provisions.
Democrats also proposed amendments to provide greater protections for immigrants in detention and deportation. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota offered an amendment to protect children of deportees from becoming separated from their parents. Franken was joined in introducing the amendment by several other Democrats but also by Republican Sen. Grassley. The amendment, called the "Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act," would provide detained parents with more access to their children and greater latitude to arrange for their kids to travel with deported parents. In the case that detainees' children are in foster care, the amendment would provide greater access to those proceedings.
Another amendment from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., would expand the version of the DREAM Act in the immigration bill to include undocumented immigrants under the age of 16. Currently, the reform legislation provides a fast track to citizenship for undocumented immigrants over the age of 16 who came the country as children. But the provision does not include younger undocumented immigrants and as a result most minors will have to wait the full ten years for the ability apply for a green card.
Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii introduced a series of amendments to maintain family-based immigration. The reform legislation as written would no longer allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their immigrant siblings. Hirono would restore the sibling visa category and expand family-based immigration to additional relatives.
Senators will begin discussion on the amendments tomorrow and debate and voting will last at least through next week. Because Democrats control the committee, the bill could leave relatively unscathed. But ultimately, how far the bill moves right or left may depend on votes in coming weeks from the four Senators on the Judiciary Committee who took part in drafting the bill. While they will no doubt reject major shifts that change the underlying nature of the legislation, their willingness to agree to smaller amendments could have significant impact on immigrant communities.
This post has been updated since publication.