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Is Dominican Immigration Policy Obamafied?

By Roberto Lovato,  Latino Rebels

DAJABÓN, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—On a recent afternoon in this tense border town, a hub for the flow of goods and people between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Haitian immigrants and their Dominican-born children were preparing for the worst: the mass deportations they’d been hearing about for months from railing Dominican politicians and, especially, the local media.

Streets that are usually busy with Haitian street vendors were relatively empty because, migrants’ rights advocates told me, many of them of them were in hiding. At the border crossing, the crush of thousands of people who travel daily between Haiti and the Dominican Republic for work and trade was even more intense than usual as busloads of Haitians voluntarily left their homes in the Dominican Republic rather than be hunted down, jailed and deported as government officials has repeatedly promised in the months leading up a June 17 deadline.

Tensions in Dajabón and across the country have been on the rise since 2013, when the country’s constitutional tribunal decided to revoke citizenship from tens of thousands of people born of foreign-born parents. Then, in 2014, President Danilo Medina issued a decree requiring all undocumented people to register with the government to “regularize” their status in the country by June 17, 2015, further increasing pressure on Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Those providing the required documentation were supposed to be given a two-year temporary status document. Those who don’t will be deported.

Haitian, Dominican and international human rights groups have denounced the process as dangerous, discriminatory and beset by massive bureaucratic failures— including lost papers, understaffed processing offices and corruption. As a result, over 200,000 people, most of them Haitian or of Haitian descent have been left vulnerable to deportation. Many here believe the current crisis follows a well-established pattern of racism against Haitians in the Dominican Republic.


Some Haitians, feeling scared and persecuted, are fleeing even without the government forcing them. “We have reports that Haitian immigrant homes have been burned down,” said the announcer on a bilingual Creole-Spanish radio show last Friday. “And we do not know if the Haitians themselves burned the homes or if Dominican citizens had burned the homes.” (Non-governmental organizations later confirmed that Haitians had burned their own homes to dispose of property they couldn’t take with them back to Haiti.)

But in the end, the predictions of swift, mass expulsions, of government buses overflowing with Haitians deportees, have yet to materialize.

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Editor’s Note: This piece was first published on June 26 at All photos by the author. 

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Senate Passes NSA Reform Bill: USA Freedom Act

Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — After much wrangling over the need to balance national security and privacy concerns, the Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that aims to protect America against suspected terrorists.

The USA Freedom Act now requires overzealous intelligence and law enforcement officials to get a court order before probing phone databanks and engaging in counterterrorism activities such as wiretaps.

The Senate approved the bill 67-32, ending the brief lapse after it allowed the Patriot Act to expire Sunday at midnight. And previously, the House of Representatives passed a version of the bill with 338 Democrats and Republicans.

President Barack Obama, who pledged to address National Security Agency reform, signed the bill on Tuesday. This is one of the most sweeping surveillance reform in a generation.

Several surveillance programs were illegal because it violated Americans’ civil liberties, according to many conservatives on the hill. The most controversial surveillance tool, they said, is the sweeping power under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which requires the government to collect bulk phone records — including the numbers, time stamps, and duration of a call — and give sweeping power with wire taps.

It is a relief to millions of Americans because it reigns in the government’s surveillance powers.

“After needless delay and inexcusable lapse in important national security authorities, my administration will work expeditiously to ensure our national security professionals again have the full set of vital tools they need to continue protecting the country,” Obama said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell meets the press after Senate passes USA Freedom Act bill.

Sen. Mitch McConnell meets the press after Senate passes USA Freedom Act bill.

Other observers said this is “sensible” NSA reform that will restore public confidence in the country’s surveillance programs. That’s because the USA Freedom Act overhauls the government’s collection of bulk phone records and instead requires telecommunications companies to hold the data. The NSA now has six months to end its bulk collection program. Additionally, the Act restores the “lone wolf” provision, which allows law enforcement officials to follow suspects in contact with other terrorist groups.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said this law “balances the need to protect the country with the need to protect the privacy of the American people.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), along with other conservatives who wanted to add more power to the NASA, disagreed with the majority.

“I cannot support passage of the so-called USA Freedom Act,” McConnell said. “It does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens, and it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters at the wrong time.”

Other proponents of civil liberty chimed in on what is considered a major reform of the way the NSA conduct its programs.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the law “is critical to keeping Americans safe from terrorism and protecting their civil liberties.”

In a press release Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Director Jameel Jaffer said: “”This is the most important surveillance reform bill since 1978, and its passage is an indication that Americans are no longer willing to give the intelligence agencies a blank check.”

Intelligence officials will continue using Section 215 and the roving wiretap provision for investigations that began before the June 1.

The program is one of the most controversial spying programs exposed by the Edward Snowden leaks nearly two years ago.

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U.S. Removes Cuba from Terrorist List

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON—United States officials on Friday removed Cuba from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

The move comes more than six months after President Barack Obama announced plans to re-establish diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana. That’s because State Department officials’ 45-day review was the last hurdle to cement a relationship with Cuba.

State Department officials said that even though the country was removed from the list, the U.S. and Cuba still have differences. The U.S. placed Cuba on the list in 1982 because it allegedly support terrorist organizations in Latin America.

“While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

Currently, only Syria, the Sudan and Iran remain on the list.

The President in December 2014 officially requested Cuba’s removal after a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro in Panama, where the Summit of the Americas was held.

This move paves the way for the U.S. to have embassies in America and Cuba. Officials are expected to announce details next week.

The recent development will also remove selected trade barriers against Cuba. However, Congress would have to reverse the overall embargo.






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State Officials: Hurricane Season Begins June 1

Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD —  June 1 will mark the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season.

As a result, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in a press release reminds residents to be prepared for severe weather that may impact the state.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 with most of the threat period for the state occurring between mid-August and mid-October.

“As we have experienced, it only takes one hurricane or tropical storm to make landfall to have a devastating impact on our state,” Malloy said.  “Now is the time to prepare.  I urge residents to take three simple preparedness steps: Get a kit, make a plan, and stay informed. These three steps will allow you to become more resilient to any storm or emergency you may face.”
State officials said the potential risks to the community includes storm surge, flooding, road or bridge closures.
 “If a storm is approaching your area, carefully monitor weather reports and follow all of the instructions provided by public safety officials,”Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora B. Schriro said.
Connecticut residents can subscribe to get alert messages by going to to register.



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How We’re Losing Our Daughters by Ignoring Their Pain


“Ms. Tiffany, why don’t black girls matter?”

It was an awkward question posed during one of the listening sessions I conduct for Black Girls Unscripted, a documentary in progress which aims to expose girls of color to positive self-imagery, educational resources, cultural exploration, mental wellness and leadership opportunities. It’s during these listening sessions that girls get to sound off and propose solutions to issues of importance to them.

I was stunned by the question, not quite sure how to offer a thorough answer in the 15 minutes we had remaining. So I posed the question back to them: “Tell me why you believe you don’t matter.”

Their responses varied—from the low expectations others have of them to persistent media stereotyping that undervalues women and girls. When I asked who, besides their parents, they confide in regarding their fears and concerns, they stated, almost in unison, “My parents told me to keep my business to myself.”

I was reminded of the stigmas surrounding mental health that permeated my own childhood during the ’70s. Back then, mental illness was viewed as a sign of weakness. I distinctly remember hearing folks say, “Black people don’t get depressed,” or “If black people could endure slavery, we can endure anything,” or “Black women just deal.” Mental-health care was a luxury that few in my community could afford.  And those who did seek treatment often reported experiencing discrimination at the hands of doctors who failed to diagnose them properly.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and not much has changed. Stigmas still persist, and African Americans, especially youths, are still not receiving the necessary mental-health interventions.

A recent Time article highlighted a study published by JAMA Pediatrics indicating that from 1993 to 2012, the suicide rate among black children significantly rose while the rate among white children dropped. An earlier report funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that black American teens, especially girls, may be at high risk for attempting suicide even if they have never been diagnosed with a mental disorder. Researchers estimate that at some point before they reach 17 years of age, 4 percent of black teens overall and more than 7 percent of black teen girls will attempt suicide. It is apparent that our girls are burdened by emotions bearing down on them in ways that we fail to properly address, leaving them to manage feelings of anger, fear and confusion on their own.

But, mostly, they feel invisible.

President Barack Obama recently announced a nonprofit spinoff to My Brother’s Keeper—the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance—which includes investments of more than $80 million for programs focused on the well-being of young black and Latino men.  And while there is plenty of evidence to indicate that black boys and girls are drowning under the weight of similar issues, girls and young women continue to be excluded from the president’s signature racial-justice initiative.

So why do so few notice that our girls are also in crisis?

Girls like 17-year-old Ayana*, petite, with dimpled cheeks, who spent 13 years being shifted from one abusive foster home to the next. She reported the abuse to her caseworker, teachers and school counselors. They didn’t believe her. Forced to push down the pain and anger, fighting became her outlet.

Or Myrna*, a doe-eyed Latina, who endures the daily teasing about her broken English and the fear that her undocumented parents will be deported. Self-mutilation became her coping mechanism.

Or with my former mentee, Alisha, who attempted suicide because she didn’t feel pretty or worthy.

Thankfully, each of these girls now benefits from amazing programs that offer a safe haven, access to mental-health resources, a place to connect with girls who share similar challenges and a pipeline to opportunities. It’s stories like these, and the countless others that remain untold, that prompted me to create the Black Girls Unscripted movement, focused on the empowerment of girls and young women of color. We’re building critical partnerships with organizations like Breathe Nonprofit to deliver suicide-prevention education to young people and bring continued awareness of mental-health challenges in our community.

The quote “It takes a village to raise a child” has never been more relevant than it is today. I call on every black woman to commit to doing away with the damaging notions of the “strong black woman” that prevent us from seeking the help we so deserve. Let’s acknowledge that we are breakable and that it’s OK to ask for help when we need it. Let’s all rally together—fathers, sons, brothers and uncles included—to push for policies and programs that empower girls of color, girls who are full of aspirations, potential and hope. Their continued abandonment will only serve to undermine the well-being of our entire community. We owe it to our daughters, nieces, sisters, granddaughters, neighbors and students to advocate on their behalf, make room at the table for their voices and help them reimagine their role in society.

* The names have been changed to protect the identity of minors.

Tiffany L. Gill is an activist, creator of the Black Girls Unscripted film campaign and lover of all things chocolate. Follow her on Twitter.

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‘Anti-Indian Rhetoric’ at Rogue Congressional Hearing

By  Gale Courey Toensing, Indian Country

The United South and Eastern Tribes, seven partner organizations and a federally recognized sovereign Indian nation have asked the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs to renounce the testimony presented at a recent oversight hearing by one of its invited panelists. The panelist, attorney Donald C. Mitchell, supported terminating the federal recognition of tribes he alleged were unlawfully acknowledged by the Interior Department.

On May 6, United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET), the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the California Association of Tribal Governments, the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, the Maniilaq Association, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, and the Native American Rights Fund jointly submitted a statement for the subcommittee’s record of its April 22 oversight hearing on proposed revisions of the federal recognition regulations.

“[Mitchell’s claim that] the Secretary of Interior has never been delegated authority to recognize Indian tribes—and [his] strong inference that such tribes should be stripped of federal recognition as their recognized status lack any legal merit,” the group wrote. “We refute that theory. We ask that the Subcommittee review this material [we have submitted] and disavow Mr. Mitchell’s testimony.” ICTMN has received a copy of the letter.

In his comments and 14-page written testimony, Mitchell, an attorney from Alaska, claimed that Congress never delegated its “plenary power” over Indians to the Interior Department or authorized the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs “to create new tribes” – an expression he used repeatedly that both misrepresents and disparages the formal procedure by which existing tribes are acknowledged. Because Interior acted without authority, Mitchell argued, the federal recognition regulations that BIA officials promulgated in 1978, the 1994 amendments to those regulations, and the current proposed revisions, “if they are published in a final rule. . . were and are ultra vires” – meaning they are actions taken outside of the powers or authority granted to them by law. Since 1978, the BIA has federally recognized 17 tribes. Mitchell urged Congress “to reassume control of the tribal recognition process.”

Photo Courtesy of Indian Country: Obama meets with tribal nations at the White House

Photo Courtesy of Indian Country: Obama meets with tribal nations at the White House

In his written testimony, Mitchell cited without censure Andrew Jackson’s sweeping policy of ethnic cleansing that was part of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, the Allotment Act, which destroyed reservations, and the termination policy, which aimed at erasing Indian identity through assimilation into mainstream American society. He also advocated for the use of “blood quantum” – a Euro-American strategy of genocide – to determine Indian identity.

The material submitted by the tribal organizations cited case after case in which court rulings and Congress itself have explicitly, implicitly and repeatedly acknowledged the Interior secretary’s authority to extend federal recognition to Indian tribes and affirmed congressional delegation of that authority.

It wasn’t only Mitchell’s testimony that was troubling, USET President Brian Patterson, a citizen of the Oneida Indian Nation, told ICTMN. There was the Hearing Memo, which echoes Mitchell’s claims that the Interior Department has somehow usurped Congress’s power to regulate Indian affairs. And there was a “negative” tone to the meeting itself, Patterson said. That negative tone began with the hearing title – “The Obama Administration’s Part 83 Revisions and How They May Allow the Interior Department to Create Tribes, not Recognize Them.”

Paterson noted that the subcommittee has scheduled an oversight hearing with another “troubling” title — “Inadequate Standards for Trust Land Acquisition in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934” – on Thursday, May 14. “We’re troubled about that hearing as expressed in the title. We’re concerned about Mr. Mitchell seeing the light of day with his anti-Indian rhetoric that is baseless and fictitious. Our USET tribal nation family will not stand on the sidelines and passively watch as others attempt to dismantle and erode our inherent sovereign rights and authorities,” he said.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the hearing was the committee members’ lack of support for the tribes, Patterson said. “Not one of them stood up for the tribes or spoke out against Mitchell’s specious claims,” he said. “Congress has a responsibility to promote tribal self-determination. It needs to respect and protect our inherent sovereign authorities and rights.”

The tone of the meeting became particularly troublesome during an exchange between Natural Resource Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. Washburn attended the hearing to provide an overview of the Interior Department’s efforts to improve the federal acknowledgment process. It’s an effort that’s been discussed for years, but not acted upon until Washburn unveiled a draft “discussion” proposal of revised regulations in the spring of 2013. The draft had been produced during Washburn’s first year in office.

Bishop grilled Washburn about whether he would “commit to pull back” the proposed revised regulations until the committee could conduct “the appropriate oversight and can address the concerns held by this committee and others.” The revised regulations are currently lodged with the Office of Management and Budget for review – the last step before a “final rule” is published in the Federal Register.

“Chairman, we’ve been criticized for moving too slow and you’re asking us to stop,” Washburn said. ‘We’ve been working on this for two years, so respectfully, I won’t commit to doing that.”

Bishop leaned forward, hunched over his crossed arms on the desk in front of him, and glared at Washburn. “One way or another we’re gonna push you until we do it the right way and whether it’s quick or not I don’t care,” he said. The exchange begins at 52:24 in the archived video of the hearing.

The hearing was set up as a forum to showcase opponents of the proposed federal recognition revisions. Panelists were by invitation only. The three invited tribal leaders – Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, Glen Gobin, vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, and Robert Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians – all expressed concerns that their nations may come into conflicts over resources if more tribes were to be federally recognized and fear that the proposed revisions would make it easier for other, perhaps “illegitimate,” tribes to gain recognition.

A key witness was Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who has been at the center of anti-Indian sovereignty activity for more than two decades. Blumenthal threatened to sue the Interior Department if the final rule does not meet his approval. Subcommittee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) invited Reps. Elizabeth Esty and Joe Courtney, two Democrats from Connecticut’s congressional delegation who have been coached by Blumenthal on Indian issues, to sit at the subcommittee’s table.

The only panelist supporting the revised regulations was Brian Cladoosby, appearing in his role of president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), not as chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Senate.

Some observers said they were dismayed by what they saw at the hearing. “This new committee tends to be far more hostile then we have seen in recent years. It is rather disconcerting. It looks like we are going into another era of termination, albeit ‘cloaked’ under feigned ‘good intentions,” said Rev. John Norwood, a councilman of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe of New Jersey and co-chair of the National Congress of American Indians Federal Recognition Task Force.

Norwood warned tribes against falling victim to the government’s “divide and conquer” strategy. “Tribes thinking they are protecting their interests by allying themselves with Congress or federal agencies against other tribes have always found that when the smoke clears, they too have been the target of a government with a history that always tends to bend toward injustice against indigenous dignity and sovereignty,” he said. “Sadly, too many have not learned the lessons of history.”


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Senators Push DOD to Revise Policies for Gay Service Members

 By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and 22 other senators are calling for  an update to the equal opportunity policies to protect gay military service members from discrimination, harassment, or intimidation.

In their letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on Thursday, the senators explained that the 2011 repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enabled service members to serve openly without the fear of being discharged, but failed to include binding protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in Equal Opportunity Programs.

The senators said that under Army, Navy, and Air Force regulations, only race, color, religion, sex, and national origin are protected under equal opportunity policies, so the policy should include sexual orientation as a protected category.

“The repeal of DADT represented great progress toward eradicating a significant barrier to formal equality, but the military is not yet an equitable environment for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members,” wrote the senators. “The absence of formal equal opportunity protections not only undermines foundational American principles of fairness and equality, it also presents an unneeded risk to national security by negatively impacting the morale and readiness of our all-volunteer force.”

“In the three and a half years since the end of the discriminatory policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the military services have failed to include binding protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in Equal Opportunity Programs,” the letter said.

DOD’s policies need, the Senators said to match its 2014 Human Goals Charter, a document, which governs the fair treatment of people. In it, DOD states it will “strive to make military service in the Department of Defense a model of equal opportunity for all regardless of race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.”

“We have the finest men and women serving in uniform and they all deserve equal respect and a safe working environment,” the Senators said. “It is long past time that the military services enact comprehensive reforms to protect all of our men and women from any discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

In addition to Murphy and Baldwin, the letter was also signed by the following senators, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), among others.

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White House Agrees to Sign if Senate Passes NSA Reform Bill

By Ann-Marie Adams, White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — White House officials said Thursday that President Barack Obama would sign the USA Freedom Act if the Senate passes a bipartisan bill aimed at rolling back the government’s authority to spy on its own citizens.

This attempt at National Security Agency reform in Congress, officials said, would clear the way to curb bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and other personal information with warrantless FBI investigative tools under the Patriot Act’s Section 215.



So the National Security Act, would help restrict breaches to privacy rights. The bill, proponents said, is aimed at overzealous government officials who target foreigners in the US and for Americans who have a probable-cause warrant because they travel overseas. After the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, George Bush signed the Patriot Act, granting sweeping changes to civil liberties.



The House passage of the bill comes after the  Obama administration tried to change America’s surveillance methods after a NSA Consultant Edward Snowden revealed massive spying by the American government on its citizens and others.

Press Secretary Josh Earnest said if the Senate fails to pass the USA Freedom Act before leaving for the Memorial Day break, it would jeopardize national security.

“The USA Freedom Act represents a reasonable compromise that strengthens the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s privacy and civil liberties protections,” Earnest told reporters at a press briefing on Thursday after the House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act with overwhelming bipartisan support, 338-88. “We strongly support this bill just as many national security professionals, as well as civil libertarians do.”

Passage of the USA Freedom Act means a break up the so-called “haystack” of domestic phone records so that telecommunications companies can oversee intelligence agencies and change the process of collecting data.

Senator Mitch O’Connell (R-Ky.) in a recent meeting said that Senate Republicans prefer a clean renewal of the Patriot Act, rather than a two-year extension.

Under the reform, however, NSA would still have authority to collect thousands of call records based on a single court order, which ruled that a provision of the Patriot act did not permit a dragnet collection of US phone records.

Also, polls showed broad and deep bipartisan antipathy to government surveillance.

The Senate is expected to consider the bill after Congress returns on June 1.

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Obama Tackles Climate Change in Graduation Speech at U.S. Coast Guard Academy

By Ann-Marie Adams, White House Correspondent

NEW LONDON — In his commencement speech at the United States Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed the issue of climate change, saying there has been too much equivocation in Congress about a dramatic change to the climate, which has implications for national security.

Obama called on Congress to direct attention to proposals that have already engendered much debate.
“I know there are some folks back in Washington, who refuse to admit that climate change is real,” he said to more than 200 graduating cadets. “Denying it or refusing to deal with it undermines our national security.”

Obama also catalogued the impact of climate change, emphasizing the issue at the core of each cadet’s mission, whether it’s cleaning up ravaged coastlines or intercepting drug traffickers from Latin America, the Caribbean or Europe. The newly commissioned ensigns will, he said, will soon be working with refugees from flooded and drought stricken countries, helping to open oil drilling plants and dealing with weather related disasters.

The location for his address about climate change was fittingly in one of Connecticut’s coastal communities, where Super Storm Sandy devastated the New England coast in 2012, causing $394.3 million in damages.

Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states on the eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine.
“The science is indisputable,” Obama said. “The planet is getting warmer….The world’s glaciers are melting.”

Last year, the president also outlined a series of plans he has pushed to restrict carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, promote “clean energy” production such as wind and solar projects and increase federal protection of public lands, saying climate change is a threat to homeland security. As a result, he recently announced the country’s intention to contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to cut carbon pollution and strengthen developing countries’ resilience.

Obama is scheduled to travel to Paris in December for a Climate Summit to discuss a global accord limiting greenhouse gases. The U.S. has already committed to reduce carbon emissions by 2025.

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It Takes a Village to Gain Citizenship

Last month, after over a decade living undocumented in the United States, I became a citizen. As I watched my family waving and cheering during the ceremony, I was overcome with a strange rush of emotions.

I felt joy to finally reach this milestone. But it was also a surreal moment.

For the vast majority of undocumented people, including many of my loved ones, there simply is no “line” to get into for legal status. And even in the small number of cases like mine where a series of lucky chances does open a path, you can’t walk it alone.

I never would have reached this point without the support of a strong network of community organizations and leaders.

As I hugged my baby daughter and my family after the ceremony, I kept thinking that my work for a better society needs to continue. I am currently an organizer for the California Immigrant Policy Center, where I focus on building bridges with amazing grassroots coalitions across the state. I hope when my daughter is my age, she will see a more inclusive future.

The fight for immigrant rights has many facets, from ending deportations to ensuring immigrants’ full inclusion in our communities. One small step, that could have big benefits, is expanding the circle of community-led education and outreach to help immigrants seize new opportunities.

Through a state budget proposal called “One California,” we can do just that. This comes at a crucial time. After years of organizing, a door to temporary relief for some undocumented Californians like my parents will eventually open through new deferred action programs. Meanwhile, another two-and-a-half million Californians are eligible to apply for citizenship, but face many obstacles.

One California would dedicate $20 million to support community-based outreach, education, and application help for both citizenship and deportation relief. The measure is gaining significant support, with hundreds of immigrants slated to gather in Sacramento next Monday for the 19th annual Immigrant Day. One California is one of four key priorities for the day, which will see some 500 immigrants mobilize for a rally and visits to their legislators.

While other states continue down an anti-immigrant path, my family’s story shows why California must double down on its commitment to immigrant inclusion.

We arrived in the U.S. with tourist visas in 1999. While my mom’s U.S. citizen sister filed a petition for us nearly 15 years ago, it’s trapped in a massive backlog. When our tourist visas expired, we became undocumented.

We started growing roots in our new community, but it has been far from a smooth journey. From having difficulties finding jobs, paying college tuition without financial aid, dealing with the emotional and economic impact of my brother and cousin’s deportation, we have endured tremendous hardship and heartbreak.

We overcame many of these hardships thanks to the support of community organizations which provided us with resources like information on health services and food supplies- and the hope that things would eventually improve.

I found refuge in a growing field of undocumented youth activists sprouting on campuses and community spaces across the nation. Working and living with other undocumented people reminded me I was not alone in this struggle.

And I got lucky. Because my U.S. citizen partner and I got married — and because, under convoluted immigration rules, I had come on a visa — the door to Legal Permanent Residency finally opened for me in the summer of 2011. I still remember the moment that my green card came in the mail. Relief ran through my body. But my thoughts turned immediately to my family and peers, still undocumented. Their support helped me reach this status.

Three years later, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles helped me fill out my citizenship application through their citizenship services program. Now, I am now one of nearly five million naturalized citizens living in California.

The benefits that come with citizenship are significant, with earnings increasing between 10 to 14 percent, and increased rates of homeownership and civic participation. But although almost 2.5 million Californians are eligible for citizenship — more than the population of Alameda and San Francisco Counties combined — the lack of support and high cost pose challenges.

The temporary deportation relief programs which immigrants fought to win will also bring strong benefits to the state. While we wait for an expansion of these programs to go into effect, we can already see the benefits of the existing DACA program. From watching my sister — a DACA recipient – -buy her first brand-new car, to friends who are embarking on their professional careers, the program is truly changing people’s lives.

But here again, barriers will stand in the way of folks applying — and many are left out.

As I celebrate this milestone, I am reminded once again I could not have gotten this far alone. It’s taken a village – family, friends, and a strong network of community organizations.

Today, state leaders have a golden opportunity to support these networks and help people like me achieve their goals and dreams.

Carlos Amador is lead organizer of the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC), a statewide organization dedicated to advancing inclusive policies that build a prosperous future for all Californians.

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