Constituents Critical of Rep. Lawrence’s Support of Discriminatory Legislation

Bill Would Let Car Dealerships Overcharge African Americans, Hispanics

The U.S. House of Representatives, with the support of Rep. Brenda Lawrence, passed legislation Monday that would make it easier for dealerships to continue the common practice of overcharging African Americans and Latinos for their car loans.

SAM_6480“Just when you think Congress could not possibly sink any lower, they manage to do it, spending time and effort on protecting the right to discriminate when they could be, say, funding the government, or fighting terrorists.” said Deacon Charles Thomas of Michigan United. “I can’t come up with a single, acceptable reason she would vote in favor of this legislation. I would be very interested to hear why she decided to support a bill that discriminates against the very people she is supposed to represent.“

The “Reforming CFPB Indirect Auto Financing Guidance Act” actually aims to eliminate guidance issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2013 that was designed to combat a long-standing pattern of charging African Americans and Hispanics more for car loans than white customers with similar credit histories.

The CFPB’s guidance encourages banks to get rid of an incentive system in which dealerships made more money if they marked up interest rates on car loans. This practice routinely led to African American and Hispanic borrowers getting loans that were worse than their white counterparts, even if they had similar credit histories. Worth noting is that the CFPB said banks could continue the markup practice if they took steps to ensure that they would not regularly overcharge borrowers based on race or national origin.

While discrimination in lending is already illegal, it can be difficult to detect and stop without the efforts of agencies like the CFPB and the Department of Justice.

In recent years, the CFPB and the Department of Justice took actions resulting in more than $140 million in fines and restitution to African Americans and Hispanics who were charged higher interest rates than whites, despite having similar credit risks.

Public outcry gives woman and her 3 year old son reprieve from deportation into civil war

Extension offers hope as Supreme Court rules on President’s immigration action

20140505_114747 (1)A Kalamazoo woman facing a deportation to war torn Nigeria breathed a sigh of relief Monday as immigration officials decided to extend her order of supervision until May 4, 2016. The hearing in Detroit was the last chance for Rejoice Musa and Frederick, her 3 year old, American-born son. She had exhausted every other appeal to stay in the country, but this time came with the names of hundreds of people who signed a petition over the weekend and the support of Michigan Senators Peters and Stabenow. Now Musa will wait with millions of other undocumented parents in the US as the Supreme Court rules on the President’s action to help immigrants in her position.

“This extension will get Rejoice and Frederick out of the fire, but they have a long way to go before they’re out of the woods.” said Diego Bonesatti, Immigration Legal Services Coordinator with Michigan United. “This family’s situation clearly illustrates why the Supreme Court needs to act now and take up the DAPA case. 5 million immigrant parents could be separated from their families or sent into dangerous situations if the Court does not affirm the Obama Administration’s new program.”

Musa came to America on an F1 student visa in 2010, but lost her legal status in 2013 after she found out she was pregnant and had to suspend her studies to give birth to her son. Meanwhile, the ISIS-affiliated terrorist group Boko Haram plunged Nigeria into civil war and infamously kidnapped large groups of school girls.  Even though Musa’s Western education would surely have made her a target, her request for asylum was denied on the grounds that, although Boko Haram controlled the Northern part of the country, she could still move to the southern area.

“They don’t understand.  It’s not that simple. Boko Haram is everywhere.” Musa said. “My brother has been injured in the fighting over there.  My mother is afraid to go out of the house. And as a single mother, it would be very dangerous for me.”

1430594326756 (1)Despite her legal battles and raising a child alone, Musa still graduated with honors from Western Michigan University with a Bachelor’s degree in Aviation and has been accepted into the WMU post-graduate Engineering program. She is currently employed with the Stryker Corporation.

When President Obama issued Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) last year, Musa was told by immigration officials not to worry. But when a lawsuit was filed by a number of state Attorneys General, including Michigan AG, Bill Schuette, the program was put on hold and Musa’s deportation proceedings restarted. The Supreme Court is now deciding whether to take up the DAPA case while the lives of people like Rejoice and Frederick hang in the balance.

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Save Rejoice Musa & her son from Boko Haram

Click here to stop ICE from rushing the deportation of Rejoice Musa before the Supreme Court rules on DAPA.

Nigerian born Rejoice Musa is exactly the type of person President Obama was trying to help when he took action to stop the deportations of innocent people. She is highly educated and productive. Having earned an degree in Aviation from Western Michigan University with honors, she soon found work with the Stryker Corporation. She was recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration for having “…met or exceeded the high educational, licensing and medical standards established by the FAA.” And she accomplished all this while raising her 3 year old, American born son alone. It should go without saying that a no point did she ever run afoul of the law.

In 2014, Rejoice lost her bid for asylum, but when President Obama issued his executive order, immigration officials told her she would not have to face deportation after all.  Relieved that she could go on with her life, Rejoice was preparing to pursue her Masters’ Degree in Engineering when an injunction was issued putting the executive order on hold.  Now Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is hurrying to get Rejoice out of the country before the Supreme Court can make a ruling that could potentially save the life of her family.

You see, Rejoice has no relatives in the America with whom she could leave her son. Rather than abandon him, they will have to return to Nigeria to face the stigma of being a single parent family together. While such ostracism is not unusual in this traditionally conservative culture, it has been exacerbated by Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has plunged her country into civil war and infamously targeted educated women, particularly ones with a Western education.

If Rejoice is deported, it would be a senseless tragedy. But you can act right now to avoid it.

Add your name to this petition asking Senator Gary Peters and DHS Director, Jeh Johnson to intervene. Peters can author a bill on her behalf to halt her deportation. Johnson can tell Field Director, Rebecca Adducci to offer prosecutorial discretion and stay the order at least until the Supreme Court rules on the president’s executive order.

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Statement on 5th Circuit Court Decision on President Obama’s Immigration Programs

Decision Ends Months of Politically-Motivated Stalling, Immigrant Families Headed to Supreme Court

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+) on Monday, allowing the case to move forward to the Supreme Court. The decision ends 4 months of politically motivated stalling by the court.

Despite granting the case “fast-track” status, the two Republican-appointed judges on the panel delayed the decision in an attempt to prevent the Department of Justice from having enough time to appeal before the next election. Immigrants rights advocates even organized a nine day fast in front of the court to call attention to this blatant politicization of the judiciary and advocate for a ruling.

Judge Carolyn King’s stinging dissent highlighted both the injustice of the delay, and the faulty legal logic behind the decision. In essence, she argued that disagreeing with the content or results of a policy is not sufficient grounds for a constitutional challenge.

The release of Monday’s ruling represents a victory for immigrant communities whose families have been suffering in legal limbo for months. The content of Monday’s decision was expected, given the hostile composition of the panel, and sets the stage for an end-game in the Supreme Court. The Department of Justice has already affirmed their intent to file an appeal as soon as possible.

Immigrant families should clearly understand the impact of this decision. Monday’s ruling does not end the possibility of DAPA or DACA+, but rather moves us closer to a final resolution of the issue in the Supreme Court.

Kalamazoo voters come out to help homeless children

Millage will get kids off the streets, help families get on their feet

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Kalamazoo residents voted Tuesday in favor of a local housing assistance millage  which will create a fund to provide for families with school aged children who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  The millage is expected to raise over $800,000 for the model program in its first year. The initiative is the first of its kind in Michigan and is the result of more than a decade of work by Michigan United, a statewide community organization.

Back in 2006, when the group was still known as the Michigan Organizing project, Michigan United helped establish a pilot project, the Local Housing Assistance Fund, supported by the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage, Kalamazoo county and private donors.

“It’s based on a ‘Housing First’ model.” said Alison Colberg, Deputy director of Michigan United.  “You give people stable housing then work with them to get their lives together. It worked really well.  Now that we have sustainable funding, I can’t wait to see it bear even more fruit.”

Michigan United organized a coalition to put the issue on the ballot in 2010 but saw it voted down by the more conservative commission. Since then, they have worked with ISAAC, the Disability Network, Open Doors and the  League of Women Voters on the “Vote YES For Kids campaign”, making calls, doing many forms of public education and knocking on doors to raise support for the idea.

“This is a big victory!” said Alison Colberg, Deputy director of Michigan United. “It’s unique in a time of cuts and austerity. I’m proud to see our community take a stand with the most vulnerable”

Anti-Immigrant Lawsuit Sparks Michigan United Rally

Photos of threatened family members delivered to the Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette

Families of immigrants who are in danger of being deported gathered outside Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Detroit office to fight for their right to stay together in face of a lawsuit that could rip them apart. Schuette is one of the Attorneys General that has taken legal action against temporary relief from deportation granted by the Obama Administration.

“Bill Schuette should have to answer to my children and to me about why their father, my husband, can’t be with us,” said Mireya Quintero-Cornejo, whose husband has been in immigration detention  for 7 months, despite having a clean record.  “Ever is a great father and husband who has worked hard to provide for his children and has harmed no one. The harm has come from the political games that Bill Schuette and the courts are playing and have resulted in the separation of my family with my husband being locked up, and taken away from us. It’s so wrong. The lawsuit against immigrant families needs to be dropped.”

Local families threatened by the lawsuit along with clergy and other community members took action after families from around the country led a 9-day long fast outside of New Orleans’ 5th Circuit Court. That’s the site of the hearing on the lawsuit against Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). Families in Detroit carried pictures of their loved ones threatened by deportation and delivered the photos to Schuette’s office.

“Attorney General Schuette is trying to score cheap political points on the backs of our families,” said Adonis Flores of Michigan United. “There is no good reason to continue deporting parents of US Citizens. AG Schuette should drop the lawsuit now, and the Court should allow the President’s family immigration program to move forward.”

In 2014, the Obama Administration called for temporary relief from deportation for some immigrant parents who have been in the US five years or longer and who have American children. Immigrant families and their communities rejoiced at being given at least a temporary window to normal life without fear of being broken apart. But a group of Attorneys General, including Bill Schuette, sought to deprive them of even this bit of normalcy by blocking DAPA with a lawsuit.

“We will not be turned back or discouraged by legal tricks or stalling tactics,” said Ryan Bates of Michigan United. “Our movement for justice and dignity for immigrant families has come too far. We are winning the hearts and minds of the American people, we are winning in our cities and towns, and we will win in the courts as well.”

 

Michigan United puts the power in the hands of the people

Statewide convention brings hundreds of community leaders together with elected officials


Michigan United held its annual statewide convention Saturday in Southwest Detroit. The theatre across from St. Francis D’Assisi church was filled to the rafters with immigrants, faith leaders and union members from the UAW, SEIU, Teamsters and the Michigan Nurses Association. There was also a strong contingent from the Detroit Action Commonwealth, low-income and homeless people fighting for their right to live with dignity.  “
No one else is working to build a statewide multi-racial organization like ours.” said Freddy Polanco, SEIU organizer and Michigan United board member. “No one else is taking on the toughest issues of poverty, racism, and inequality head on. I am so proud to be part of this team.”

They all came together to remember the fights they’ve been through together, like when they stood up to armed, white nationalists who wanted to send refugee children back into the violence they were fleeing. They also celebrated the resulting victories from the past year, like the President’s decision to stop breaking up families by deporting innocent immigrants, getting boarder patrol officers to wear body cameras and restoring the authority of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.

Alexis Wiley, Chief of Staff for Detroit Mayor, Mike Duggan was on hand at the City Council meeting where they voted unanimously to pass the resolution to restore the board in December to express the Mayor’s support for the move.  She also stood in for the Mayor at the convention where she was able to publicly state Duggan’s position on municipal ID’s.  The identifications would help those with documentation problems, like the homeless and immigrants, to access critical social services. Wiley said “No one in this city should be forced to live in the margins.”

Another battle Michigan United is currently engaged in is the fight to end mass incarceration and keep youth out of the pipeline that leads from school into prison.  “The present prison system destroys families, communities and futures. Mass incarceration is maybe the clearest example of unequal justice in our country.” said Rev. Louis Forsythe II of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. “People of color, African-Americans and Latinos, receive the short end of thestick on almost every level. The police treat us differently, more aggressively, and profile us more often because of the color of our skin. We get longer sentences than whites for similar crimes. Instead of investing in Job training, opportunities, education and strong communities, our government has built prisons and enacted longer sentences.”

Recently, a bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers introduced a package of bills to do just that.  Most notably, it would prevent 17 year olds from automatically being sentenced as adults. Three of the bill’s sponsors, Martin Howrylack, Leslie Love and Harvey Santana were on stage at the convention.

12068482_1038589792838227_1851017186755628853_o“There’s an attorney general in this state who says ‘To hell with that package’.” Said Santana. “But I do believe there are people in this state that are going to stand up and say ‘You had better listen to what those folks in Lansing are saying because this ain’t right.’ and those people are you!”

Currently, Michigan is one of just nine states that considers 17 year olds adults for sentencing purposes although they are not considered adults for any other legal reason.  At the courts discretion, they can treat ids of any age as grown ups.

“They can not serve in the military, they can not even vote, “Said Howrylak. “and yet, as young as 11 years old, for some reason this country, this state has decided that these kids should be treated like hard criminals and adults.  What kind of Justice is that?”

12068716_1038589052838301_8036211730179485033_o“It’s beyond time we change the way we sentence and punish youth”. Said Love.  “We should give them opportunities to become something in life instead of sentencing them at 17 and making them serve adult time in adult prisons.”

Kendall Campbell of “Fair Chance 4 All” in Kalamazoo described how his organization worked with Michigan United to begin undoing the damage created by mass incarceration in his community by getting the City of Kalamazoo to require all businesses that receive tax breaks and incentives to commit to non-discriminatory hiring practices for people with criminal backgrounds. To do this, they worked with Humans Beyond Boxes, a local storytelling collective of people with criminal backgrounds to tell the stories of families facing incarceration. They also met with Kalamazoo Mayor, Bobby Hopewell to encourage him to endorse their idea.

Michigan United also held a voter forum in conjunction with the League of Women Voters which gave candidates could publicly take a position on the issue.  Majyck D, a popular Kalamazoo radio personality served as moderator. “I have seen too many families torn apart by our incarceration system. “ said Majyck D. “I have seen too many children in my community robbed of their childhood, and treated like they are less than Human. Our government shouldn’t be locking up our children and giving up on their futures.”

All systems GO! for Michigan United Convention Saturday in Detroit!

Activists and elected officials converge in Detroit for annual event Saturday!

Members and supporters of Michigan United will meet in Southwest Detroit for their annual convention October 10th at 11 AM. We will hold workshops to discuss our work on issues including immigration, ending mass incarceration, the environment and housing.IMG_4546

The payday loan problem is another of the many issues Michigan United has addressed in the past year to help our neighbors. Convention goers will also have the opportunity to photograph themselves helping a payday loan victim out of their “pit of dispair”. It is actually a 2 dimensional trompe l’oeil that creates the illusion that a hell mouth has opened up in our parking lot. This street theater illustrates the hazard short term, high interest loans present to working families.

Dozens of elected officials have also been invited to join us. Already confirmed to attend include: US Representative Debbie Dingell; Michigan State Representatives Stephanie Chang, Harvey Santana, Martin Howrylack, Peter Lucido, Rosemary Robinson, Alberta Tinsley Talabi and Wendell Byrd; Michigan State Senators Burt Johnson, Hoon Yung Hopgood, Coleman Young,  and Steve Bieda; and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and County Commissioner, Jewel Ware.

Michigan Legislators Introduce Youth Justice Reforms

State takes steps to keep kids out of prison

A bipartisan group of Michigan legislators introduced a package of bills Tuesday to keep 17 year old offenders from automatically going into the adult corrections system. In the past decade, more than 20,000 youths under the age of 18 have been sentenced as adults in Michigan. Most were convicted for nonviolent offenses and had no prior juvenile record. The proposed legislation was introduced in conjunction with the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD).

11145180_953178574712683_4176913000838121574_o“I was caught up in the adult system at age seventeen. I made a bad decision and ended up with felony on my record. The consequences of having that felony very nearly led me to take my own life.”  said Elisheva Johnson, a Youth Justice Organizer with Michigan United who works with the MCCD on advancing the Youth Behind Bars package. “In Michigan, we can prosecute children of any age as adults if the court sees fit. There is no reason that teens, kids who often come from bad situations in the first place, should be put in adult facilities where there is no fitting rehabilitation for them.  Worse yet, there’s a much greater chance of abuse and suicide. This package is definitely a step in the right direction. We want to thank the legislators for stepping up.”

Michigan is currently one of nine states that automatically prosecutes 17 year olds as adults, even though they are not considered adults for any other legal reason. The package also includes bills that require public monitoring and oversight of youth under the jurisdiction of the MDOC who entered for an offense committed prior to turning 18, ensure age-appropriate programming and outdoor exercise for youth under 21-years-old in administrative segregation, and establish a family advisory board within the MDOC to ensure effective partnerships with families and victims.

FSLO-1352902333-111333“This certainly has to be done.” said Pastor Joan Herbon of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Portage. “It just makes sense knowing that children’s brains aren’t even fully developed until their mid-twenties. Children are children. It’s so much better for the children and for our communities to give them the help and rehabilitation they need in the juvenile system that is equipped for them, instead of throwing them into an adult facility that will just teach them to be better criminals. These children are our children and we are all responsible for them.”

 

Hundreds rally for justice in Detroit

By Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press, October 5, 2015

Hundreds rallied Saturday in Detroit for justice of all types, saying that many citizens are being left out of the city’s development.

Walking from southwest Detroit to Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit, the crowd included members of about 40 organizations, including environmental, Black Lives Matter, immigrant, water rights and labor groups such as the metro Detroit AFL-CIO. Called the “Detroit March For Justice,” the protest was a way for progressive groups that normally work separately to come together and find common ground, said organizers.

“All of these things happening to us, we’re tired of it,” Maureen Taylor, an activist with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told a crowd at Hart Plaza in drizzling rain. “Don’t give up hope.”

Water shutoffs, police brutality and pollution were among the topics during the three-hour event. 

“There was no reason for anybody to have their water shut off,” JoAnn Watson, a former Detroit City Councilwoman, told the crowd. “No man should have the power and authority to shut off anybody’s water.”

Baxter Jones, a disabled former Detroit Public Schools teacher who said he’s facing eviction from his home, led the crowd in cries of “Beat back the bullies.”

“Only evil would try to deprive people of water, something that God put here on this planet for all his living creatures ” Jones said. “We need water to live,” Jones said.

“They’re not going to stop unless you stand up against them,” Jones said. “They might have more money. They might have more power. But we got the people power.”

Other speakers, such as Grove Easterling III, with the Coalition for Black Struggle, touched upon the issue of police shootings. Mertilla Jones, the grandmother of Aiyana Jones, who was killed in 2010 during a Detroit Police raid of a home where she was sleeping, also spoke, calling for police accountability.

And some talked about the pollution problems that some residents in Detroit and suburbs such as River Rouge are facing from nearby power plants. Visiting Detroit, Sierra Club National President Aaron Mair told the crowd that transitioning from coal-based power to alternative sources will improve the health of metro Detroiters and create jobs.

Detroit has played a key role in America’s past, and can continue to do so, he said.

“This is the city where the impossible has always been possible,” Mair said. “This is the Motor City…Detroit can serve America with clean jobs, clean power.”

Regina Strong, director of the Beyond Coal Campaign in Michigan with the Sierra Club, said of Saturday’s rally: “This is the first time this kind of diverse coalition came together.”

Hank Wisner, who works on environmental issues with Michigan United, a social justice group, said that minorities and poor people are often disproportionately affected by pollution. Saturday’s protest was a good way to bring together groups that are often “silo-ed off in our individual groups and it can be forgotten our work overlaps.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

Justice & Dignity for All