Breaking The I.C.E. Holds
Philadelphia City Council “Getting It Right” on Immigration
Philadelphia – City Council began the first stage of an examination of the administrative and financial cost, along with the practical necessity of the city’s ongoing collaboration with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), this week, and specifically looked at the use of “ICE holds” prior to deportation.
An ICE hold typically occurs when a person has been stopped or detained – often involving a minor traffic violation. Under Secure Communities, in the process of obtaining personal information and fingerprinting, the law enforcement agency’s database is shared with Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
If ICE agents notice an individual with a warrant, a re-entry charge or a previous conviction, they will request the police department do them a favor and “hold” the person for forty-eight hours. The local law enforcement officers are under no legal obligations, nor are the ‘ICE-holds” mandatory. Studies have found, however, that the “ICE hold’ process is prone to mistakes, and individuals are often mistakenly identified, resulting in innocent persons being detained for deportation.
In arguing that city of Philadelphia does not have to “comply” with the ICE-hold requests, Blanca Pacheco of the New Sanctuary Movement said, “they are not criminal warrants, they are not reviewed by a judge, and they are not mandatory.”
Noting that the city is not “reimbursed” monetarily for the ICE-holds, Ms. Pacheco said, the city is “wasting” taxpayers’ money “by holding people who would otherwise be released.”
“The connection between immigration and Philadelphia law enforcement is causing fear and mistrust in an agency that is supposed to protect us, that we should trust,” she said. Moreover, the immigrant community largely see the police as a “wing of deportation” and thereby responsible for “family separations.”
In addition, the use of ICE-holds on juveniles, she said, was directly facilitating “the school to deportation pipeline.”
Cristobal Valencia of the South Philadelphia-based Juntos group, followed Ms. Pacheco and echoed many of her assessments, saying that the use of ICE holds was “undermining the trust” in the police department.
Both Mr. Valencia and Miguel Andrade of Juntos expressed disappointment that the current administration, “in birthplace of democracy,” was moving forward on a policy without more “input from the community.”
While seeing some encouraging “movement” from the Mayor with the creation of the Mayors Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs, Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, opened her comments by asking, “What is a good policy?”
With the principal objective that of fashioning a policy that is “forward thinking,” Councilwoman Quinones Sanchez raised several fundamental question surrounding local law enforcement’s relationship with ICE: What do these detainers cost to the city? What is the burden to the taxpayers, and the burden to the court system, and on our police department?”
“Let’s have that other discussion,” continued the 7th district Councilwoman, “and let’s talk about a policy the makes sense.”
Noting that a number of “sister cities” have much “more progressive” policies regarding undocumented immigrants and the role of the local police, Councilwoman Quinones Sanchez urged opening the subject to “discussion” and examination in Council Chambers.
“Let’s have that public debate in this Council Chamber. Let’s have that public discussion we need to have, (so) that we can ensure that we have a forward (looking) policy.”
By being proactive on immigration, Ms. Quinones Sanchez suggested Philadelphia would be sending “a message to this deadlocked Congress about what is fair and just.”
“Deportation is as Unamerican as you can get,” she added. “Let’s do this and let’s do this in the right way; and in a way that we educate and we formulate policy.”
After noting that the African and Caribbean communities would be represented at March 3rd hearings, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell expressed the need to “protect all of our immigrants, no matter where they come from.”
Another City Councilman, Jim Kenney, agreed with focusing the city’s concerns on the “family.” He went on to say that the city’s policies should be guided by the notion that we want immigrants to “be part of our family.”
Dismissing the need to follow the recommendations of federal officials who generally, “don’t want to help us with education,” but want to help us with deportation, the Councilman spoke of looking to other cities.
Citing the example of cities like New York and Chicago, Councilman Kenney said, “they get it right, and understand the value of immigration.”
“We’ll figure it out,” continued Councilman Kenney, who urged the city to set a new welcoming “tone” that embraced immigrants: “We need people to come here, to live and work in our neighborhoods, and to come out of the shadows.”
Of the 368, 644 deportations in 2013, the Department of Homeland Security reports that 59 percent or 216,810 of them had prior criminal convictions. Of the other 151,834 deportations, D.H.S. reports that 84 percent or 128,398 were apprehended attempting to cross the border.
Philadelphia- In announcing the closing of the Mondelez, Inc. Bakery and former Kraft/Nabisco baking plant in the Northeast, in February, Cindy Waggoner, the V.P. for Integrated Supply Chain Biscuits for Mondelez, Inc., described the decision as “bittersweet.” For the 350 workers, families and neighborhood businesses affected, the shuttering of the iconic company had little that was sweet.
In the shadow of the historic Philadelphia bakery that still bears the name ‘Nabisco/Kraft” on its walls, a group of State Senators, Representatives and City Councilmen stood in solidarity with members of the Bakers and Confectionery Workers’ Union Local 492, Wednesday, Feb. 19, denouncing the Mondelez International company for what it called “greed,” and a failure to deal “honestly” with workers, families and communities that are impacted by a planned 2015 closure.
“What is going on here is pure greed, without consideration for the community, the workers and the families of the Northeast,” declared State Sen. Michael Stack (D-Pa.). “Big business has to learn that workers are customers; and the continued erosion of the middle class and the decline of urban neighborhoods is bad business over the long term.”
Sen. Stack added, that the company had failed to deal “honestly with workers or elected officials.”
State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Pa.) followed by suggesting Mondelez Inc. “prioritize their needs,” and “keep these jobs here.” The 172nd Dist. Representative noted that the employees offered to give the company executives a tour of the area with the expectation of state and local support for building a “state-of -the-art factory.” But, “all we got was silence.”
“Form the very beginning (Mondelez Inc.) were never really interested in actually working with the State of Pennsylvania or the city of Philadelphia to save these jobs,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.). “That is wrong.”
Citing the nearby examples of Pepsi and Crown, Cork & Seal, Sen. Stack interjected, “Those companies that work with American workers know that their product will bring profits.” Then holding up a package of Oreo cookies and noting that it’s no longer produced in the United States, Sen. Stack called for a “boycott” of Mondelez products that were once made by Philadelphia’s Kraft plant: “They’ve shown that they travel on a one-way street and the one way street is all about their profits. It’s all about taking care of themselves and it’s not at all about taking care of workers.”
Councilman Brian O’Neill characterized Mondelez’s treatment of the city’s workers and public officials as a “charade.”
“This has been one long charade. They never intended to stay here,” said the Republican City Councilman. “They weren’t honest with anyone: they weren’t honest with their workers, they weren’t honest with the elected officials, they weren’t honest with anybody.”
“We see the jobs here that are leaving. But there also families involved,” continued Mr. O’Neill. “And there are also jobs that we can’t see. People who will lose their jobs that don’t work here, but their businesses support this plant. So there is a trickle-down effect.”
“The one thing we know is that Mondelez doesn’t care and hasn’t cared from day one,” added Councilman O’Neill. “Their focus is somewhere else, and when a company’s focus is somewhere else and not on the U.S., we’ve got to make sure we don’t reward them.”
Councilman O’Neill angrily noted: “They walk away and life is the same for them; it’s just a lot different for the people they left behind. We’ve got to look forward, because there are no rear-view mirrors here.”
Councilman Bobby Henon stressed the importance of employers that offer jobs with, “family sustaining wages.” He went on to say that such jobs were the foundation of “decent” and “working-class neighborhoods right here in Northeast Philadelphia.”
A Co-Chairman of a Manufacturing task-force, Councilman Henon urged federal and state policies that provide incentives for “manufacturing” and “keep jobs here and keep our families here.”
“Infrastructure isn’t just pipes and roads,” added Mr. Henon. “Infrastructure is the family and family-sustaining wages that (allow us) to raise kids and live the American dream.”
According to the President of the Bakers and Confectioners Union, Local 492, John Lazar, the average worker at the former Nabisco/Kraft bakery earns between $15 and $25 an hour. Mr. Lazar also recalled that in negotiating with Mondelez, the union was willing to make concessions on a variety of issues: wages, pensions, healthcare, part-timers and flexibility in work rules.
Councilman Henon noted, “they didn’t want any part of it.”
In attributing the situation at the former Kraft plant to “structural changes in the economy over the last twenty years,” and “free trade agreements,” Rep. Kevin J. Boyle argued, “Free-trade is not fair-trade. What’s being done by Mondelez is simply busting the union, and sending jobs to southern and right-to-work states” or abroad.
“It’s a betrayal of why my Father came here for at the age of nineteen,” said Rep. Boyle, adding that his father lost a job when a Philadelphia Acme Warehouse closed.
Philadelphia workers are not the only victims of Mondelez’s global strategy. In a more than $12 billion takeover of the historic Cadbury Chocolates of Great Britain, and its century-old plant in Somerdale, England, in 2009, the then Kraft company made pledges of continuity with workers concerned about “foreign ownership.”
Within a year, Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld announced the closing of the Somerdale plant, leaving its “outraged” 400 employees to demand an apology for “broken promises,” according to news accounts.
A former Cadbury worker, Vince Frankom, echoed the views of Philadelphia workers, saying: “It’s upsetting to see this factory sold,” he said. “This was a very famous factory -me and my family had worked here for years -and it was a fantastic company.”
A British publication wrote of the Cadbury closing: “The move comes days after Kraft CEO, Irene Rosenfeld, refused to appear before a committee of MPs at Westminster to explain her actions during the takeover.”
Hispanic Chamber Brings Focus on Affordable Care Act
A SHOP for Small Business
Philadelphia – The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is working: “There finally is real competition and you have real choices for health insurance.”
That was the message delivered by Joanne Grossi, the Regional Director of the Department of Human Services, and echoed by Natalia Olson-Urtecho, Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, addressing some fifty small business proprietors and leaders of community-based organizations, Thursday, at a seminar on the impact on small business of ACA or what is also known as Obamacare.
“This piece of legislation will change America dramatically,” said Varsovia Fernandez, President of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, opening the discussion from the GPHCC’s Broad Street headquarters.
With access to affordable health care the “number one concern” of small businesses for decades, Ms. Grossi noted that the United States had been spending more than any other nation in the world on health care, up to $2.8 trillion annually. Yet, “we were not getting the outcomes we wanted. We were 29th in the world in infant mortality and 45th in terms of life expectancy.”
Since the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2010, Ms. Grossi noted that health care costs -as a proportion of the nation’s GDP- have dropped to 17.2 percent. Moreover, as various provisions of the law have unfolded the number of uninsured has steadily declined.
By allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ health care plan until the age of 26, for instance, 3.1 million young persons – and 913,000 Latino young adults- now have health coverage, enabling them to pursue college or job training. With 3.9 million Latinos over 65, Ms. Grossi dismissed the alarms raised by critics of the health care overhaul and the Affordable Care Act’s impact on Medicare, arguing that it has “strengthened” it, and according to the most recent Medicare Trustee report, “the system will be solvent until the year 2026.”
Other provisions of the ACA prevent discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions; and of the 10.2 million uninsured Latinos, some 6.1 million have a pre-existing condition.
Small Business & ACA
Under the Affordable Care Act any small business with fifty or fewer full-time employees can provide health coverage for employees and they will qualify for a Small Business Health Care Tax Credit to lessen the cost. Among the parameters of the health care credit, the full-time employees must earn wages below $50,000 and the employer must contribute at least 50% toward the employees’ premium costs.
In order to take advantage of the credit, Ms. Olson-Urtecho explained that the small business must buy coverage through the new small business health insurance marketplaces or exchanges, known as the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP.
The business exchanges spur competition for customers based on prices and quality; and by pooling risks for small groups they lower overall costs. Beginning this year, businesses are eligible for a tax credit of up to 50 percent, “a credit which is limited to two consecutive taxable years,” noted David Dickson, District Director of the SBA.
The ACA also provides for free preventive services under Medicare, so older employees can have blood tests, screenings, colonoscopies and other preventive services that carry no out-of-pocket costs or copays.
In addition, the ACA reform addressed the so-called ‘donut hole” of the Medicare Part-D, Prescription Drug program and its gap in coverage.
The gap left in the Prescription drug program, begun under Pres. George W. Bush, left beneficiaries to pay 100 percent of prescription costs at a certain threshold level. The ACA, however, will “completely close that donut hole by the year 2020.” In the interim discounts of 53 percent for brand name drugs – that gradually increase – are available to mitigate the cost.
In Pennsylvania’s exchange there are as many as nine insurance companies participating, offering plans that are differentiated by “Metal Levels,” allowing consumers to compare the levels of coverage. So a young person may choose a “Bronze” plan, which has lower premiums and higher deductibles and copays; while an older employee might select a “Gold” or “Platinum” plan that has higher premiums but lower deductibles.
Both Ms. Olson Urtecho and Ms. Grossi repeatedly stressed that the Affordable Care Act prevents “discrimination based on pre-existing conditions” and that every health plan is required to provide a range of “essential health benefits.”
In highlighting some of the other benefits of the ACA reform, Ms. Grossi spoke of the 80-20 rule, requiring Insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on “your medical care.” As of 2012, insurance companies are required to report to the Department of Health and Human Services that they are adhering to the spending specifications or be compelled to pay a rebate to customers.
Since the law was enacted more than 8 million people have received rebates, ranging from direct payments of $512 and $457, to as little as $72. Others, those receiving coverage through an employer, often received the rebates indirectly through credits.
The Vice President of El Zol radio 1340 am, Uriel Rendon, raised several questions about businesses with a dozen employees or less, as well as on the high cost of family coverage. Meanwhile Mr. Gonzalez, a Legislative Aide of State Sen. Stack, questioned Ms. Olson-Urtecho about the availability of tax credits, as well as penalties, for local businesses of more than fifty employees.
While there are 727,000 small businesses in Pennsylvania, employing some 8.7 million people, according to an SBA summary report, the ACA apparently affects just four percent or less than 30,000 of all small businesses in eastern Pennsylvania.
Cecilia Munoz, Director of Domestic Policy Council for the White House says, under the health care reform, the “expanding coverage options and increasing purchasing power’ are giving consumers and not insurance companies control over their own health care. “That’s good for our businesses and our workers.”