Immigration – What is our Duty?

42.2 million – the number of people in the United States in 2014 who were  classified as immigrants. From the first indigenous people crossing the ice bridge to North America to European expansion to now with people from all over the world, the US has always been a land of immigration. There have been policies and acts throughout the years that reflect the time period, societal need, customs and political perceptions during that era. Immigration has always been a hot issue, and between the election coming up in November and the Syrian refugee crisis, the light is shining on it more than ever.

History of Immigration

From its beginning, North America has been a land people traveled to for a plethora of reasons, many of which still hold true today. Throughout modern history, people came here for economic opportunity, freedom of religion, freedom from prosecution and the good ol’ desire for adventure. We were a land of opportunity with cheap land and ample availability of work for farmers, fishers, carpenters, tradesmen and craftsmen. Many of the white immigrants began their time in North America as indentured servants. Indentured servants are people who purchased an indenture or contract to work and receive a stipend for a number of years and then be free to pursue their own work after the “contract” ended. These young men became land owners and also needed labor, which lead to the Transatlantic Slave Trade bringing many people from West Africa to the colonies. Many people also emigrated from Europe in order to practice their religion (mostly Quakers and Protestants) in ‘purity’ and free from prosecution.

Most of the immigrants to the US at this point in time were a mixture of people from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Sweden and Africa. In the first half of the 19th century the number of immigrants more than doubled from 742,564 to 1,713,25. This was in part due to repeated crop failures in Germany and the Irish Potato Famine which forced many of their citizens to emigrate for survival. The start of the Industrial Revolution also contributed to immigration due to availability of new jobs for tradesmen and craftsmen.

In the 1840s, people from Mexicans and Chinese started representing a larger fraction of immigrants. This trend was partially due to the US winning the Mexican-American war and Mexico forfeiting the territory that makes up Texas, California and other parts of the American Southwest. All Mexicans already living in this area became American citizens (in other words, they didn’t some to the US, the US came to them). That same year, gold was found in California creating an influx in immigration and movement across the US in the promise of striking it rich.

In the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, advances in technology, like steam-powered ships, increased immigration due to better mobility and decreased cost. The industrial revolution provided jobs needed by many of the new immigrants flocking to the United States. Ellis Island opened in 1892 and was the main point of immigration in the United States until 1954. It is estimated that 40% of Americans can trace their heritage through Ellis Island, go here for a passenger search to see if you can! Also check out these pictures from the LibertyEllisFoundation.org of Ellis Island when it was in use.

Ellis Island

Throughout the 20th century, the United States struggled with growing anti-immigration sentiments and the need for relocation of refugees world wide due to WWI, WWII and the Vietnam War. Illegal immigration also grew and many people called for legislation and action to limit the number of undocumented people getting through US borders.

History of Immigration Legislation

The pendulum has swung back and forth on immigration many times in our history. The first attempt at regulating immigration was the Naturalization Act of 1790. Under George Washington, this act stated that naturalization was only to be given to white, free men of good character who had lived in the US for at least two years. This act was then amended, once in 1795 to require residency for citizenship of five years and then in 1798 to require fourteen years. There were also two controversial acts in 1798, the Alien Friends Act and the Sedition Act, which allowed the president to deport aliens who were considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” and restricted people who were critical to the federal government. Both expired by 1801. Thomas Jefferson repealed the Naturalization Act and reduced residency requirement back to five years in 1800 and officially outlawed international slave trade in 1808.

The first anti-immigration movement was in the 1850s known as “The Know Nothing” movement, where Protestant men aimed to effect the legislative process by causing congress to fear the country being taken over by German and Irish Catholics. This was followed by legislation that encouraged immigration during the Civil War called the Homestead Act of 1862 which offered land at very low costs to settlers who agreed to live on and develop it for five years.

This is also the time that anti-Chinese sentiment started and many different acts were passed reflecting this state of thought in the county. The Anti-Coolie Act was established to tax landowners for using cheaper Chinese labor in an attempt to protect white laborers in 1862. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited all immigration of Chinese people and the Scott Act amended the Chinese Exclusion Act to no longer allow Chinese immigrants to re-enter the country after they had left. Here is an anti-Chinese propaganda poster from the Library of Congress.

Anti-Chinese Propaganda

Throughout 1880 and 1930 new policies were introduced aimed at getting better trained and skilled workers as immigrants so they were seen as ‘contributors’ to society. These policies ranged from barring polygamists and people suffering from mental illness and contagious disease in the Immigration Act of 1891 to requiring knowledge of the English language and some literacy skills in the Immigration Act of 1917. The Immigration Act of 1917 also barred homosexuals, idiots, feeble-minded persons, criminals, insane persons, alcoholics, and other categories.

The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 limited the number of immigrants to 350,000 and that number was then reduced again in 1929 by the National Origins Act to 150,000 people. There were many policies throughout this time to restrict immigration and send people back to their native lands due to the Great Depression.

Throughout WWI and WWII the United States had issues with having enough people to fight and support the country back home. They started programs allowing Mexicans to work in the US, repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act and allowed women to work. In 1948, the Displaced Persons Act was enacted to allow up to 200,000 refugees displaced by World War II to enter the United States. In addition, a preference system is established for family members of U.S. citizens.In 1975, Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act resettled about 200,000 Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees in the U.S.

In 1980, the Refugee Act was passed. This act defines refugees as a person who flees his or her country “on account of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion” and considers refugees in a different category from immigrants. It also grants the president and Congress the authority to establish an annual quota on the number of refugees allowed into the U.S.

Throughout the rest of the 20th century there were immigration reform acts that aimed to document the legality of immigrants and set caps on the number of immigrants allowed in the country. The Immigration Act of 1990 established the Diversity Visa Lottery (DV lottery or the green-card lottery) to allow entry to 55,000 immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States each fiscal year.

In 2014, President Barrack Obama announced he was going to take executive action to delay the deportation 5 million illegal immigrants to keep families together. For a complete timeline of all immigration legislation go here.

Statistics on Immigrants 

There is no doubt that immigration has been increasing over the years. Below is a table from the Migration Policy Institute detailing the increasing size of the immigrant population from 1970 to 2014.

Immigration Table 1970-2014

According to the same study, Mexican immigrants account for the largest immigrant group at 28% followed by India and China. Around 47% of the immigrations in 2014 were naturalized and the remaining 53% were lawful permanent residents, unauthorized immigrants and legal residents on temporary visas. Forty-six percent of immigrants in 2014 reported having Hispanic or Latino origin. It is estimated there are below 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States in 2016, a decrease from the last six years. There are almost 1 million LGBTQ immigrants in the United States today. Approximately 50% of the 42.1 million immigrants in 2014 were “Limited English Proficient”. Below is a table that breaks out immigrant occupation from the same study.

Immigrant Occupation

In 2012, 69.4% of foreign-born immigrants received a high school diploma and 11.6% had a master’s, professional or doctorate degree and more than half of the foreign-born population are homeowners. Although illegal immigrants gain most of the national attention, it is important to recognize many people are legally immigrating to the US and are qualified, educated people.

The Bills

The bills introduced this year focus on many different areas of immigration: punishments for crimes by illegal immigrants, enforcement of immigration law and policies about Syrian and other refugees.

There are bills aimed at deportation and punishment of illegal aliens who commit crimes. One of which is “Sarah’s Law”, or S. 3124, which would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take into custody certain people who have been charged in the United States with a crime that resulted in the death or serious bodily injury of another person. There is also “Kate’s Law – Stop Illegal Reentry Act”, or S 2193, which would increase the maximum prison term for an alien who reenters after being denied admission, excluded, deported, or removed from two years to five years. It establishes a 10-year maximum prison term for an alien who reenters after being denied admission, excluded, deported, or removed on 3 or more prior occasions and a 5-year mandatory minimum prison term for an alien who reenters after being removed following a conviction for an aggravated felony or following 2 or more prior convictions for illegal reentry.

The US Congress introduced S 2538, or ICE Agent Support Act of 2016, to provide resources and incentives for the enforcement of immigration laws in the interior of the United States.

Some states have been adamant against accepting Syrian refugees in fears that it will bring terrorists onto our soil. Just as a reminder, Syrians are resettling all over the world due to a five year long civil war that has torn the country and families apart and surrounded them with constant violence and danger. Here is an infographic depicting the number of Syrian refugees in the US in 2016 and states willing to accept their resettlement by migrationpolicy.org – if you remember the US pledged to 10,000 refugees this year.

Syrian Infographic

For a little context, neighboring Turkey has accepted 2.7 million refugees, and Germany has accepted 600,000.

The US introduced the Resettlement REFORM (Re-Evaluation of Financing Our Refugee Mission) Act, or HR 4267, which would authorize a state to refuse, without penalty, to expend refugee resettlement assistance with respect to an alien who “is a national of a country that is a state sponsor of terrorism or a terrorist sanctuary, or has no nationality and the country in which the alien last habitually resided is a state sponsor of terrorism or a terrorist sanctuary”. Arizona introduced HB 2370 which would allow the state to refuse to help refugees if it can’t ensure they have undergone thorough background checks and also would require the federal government to fully compensate the state for any costs that the state incurs for the placement of refugees. Missouri introduced HCR 97 which would specify that state funding will not support Syrian refugees and Missouri will not allow Syrian refugees to settle in the state.

The US introduced HR 4731, titled the “Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2016” which would impose new caps on refugee resettlement limits, discriminate on religious grounds, redefine the word “refugee,” and give local and state governments broad powers to refuse resettlement. The new definition of who is a “refugee” states that protection from violence would not be offered “if that violence is not specifically directed at the person.” This impacts the Syrian refugee crisis because the violence of the war is not directed at them as “individuals,” but occurs as part of the broader civil war. Jennifer Quigley of Human Rights First stated, “If you look at the situation in Syria, Russia is bombing entire townships, not singling people out as individuals, but targeting them regardless because they are in a war zone. The language in this bill is a huge change from existing standards and would drastically narrow the definition of who constitutes a refugee.”

North Carolina currently has five different bills relating to immigration reform: H 100H 1069H 1086S 868 and H 482. These bills range from tightening E-Verify statutes to protect jobs for citizens and deny jobs to illegal immigrants, disallow all basic use of community ID cards, punish “sanctuary cities” by withholding state funds, make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to vote and punishing employers who misclassify workers as legal.

The Syrian crisis is not the only refugee crisis. Michigan introduced HR 0009 which is a resolution to urge the President of the United States to allow an additional 25,000 refugee visas for displaced Iraqis, with preference for placement in Michigan. The US introduced S 3106 the “Secure the Northern Triangle Act”. This is meant to create a coordinated regional response to better protect refugees and asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Conclusion

America is a land built on immigration. We are a melting pot. Most of our ancestors are not from here and we have all experienced the benefits from being able to immigrate to this land. People come here and make our lives better and believe in and love our country. This story of a West Point graduate that went viral is proof. Idrache worked his way through one of the nation’s most prestigious military schools after immigrating to the United States from Haiti, earning his citizenship and serving for two years as an enlisted soldier with the Maryland Army National Guard, according to Army records. When he responded to the story going viral he said, “I woke up this morning and found my face all over Facebook and with it myriad of amazing comments about my accomplishments,” Idrache wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream and may God bless America, the greatest country on earth.” Here is the picture that went viral.

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This valedictorian’s speech when viral when she made a bold proclamation in her graduation speech: “I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of the United States. I decided to stand before you today and reveal these unexpected realities, because this might be my only chance to convey the truth to all of you that undocumented immigrants are people, too.” She is headed to Yale University this fall, a college currently ranked 3rd in the United States.

On the other side of this, here is a photo of a family when the U.S.-Mexico border opened for 3 minutes in an initiative called “Opening the Door of Hope”.

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Our system is broken. Families are separated. People whose lives are falling apart and whose families are in danger are not getting the help and protection they need. I understand that taking in refugees and the challenges of illegal immigrants is difficult and expensive, but they are humans whose lives matter and who love their families. This is such a difficult issue because how much of their burden should be on us, as American citizens, to help save and improve their lives.

The Right of Freedom of Religion or Freedom from Discrimination?

Religious freedom vs. anti discrimination is a tug of war that has engulfed our lives through social movements and the media since the 1960s beginning with feminism, racism and gay rights. Since then, there have been countless moves forward in an attempt to understand where the line lies between giving people their religious freedom and protecting different classes of people from the discrimination sometimes perpetuated by the religions which we so value the freedom to practice.

Religious Freedom Restoration Acts

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993: “Prohibits any agency, department, or official of the United States or any State (the government) from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except that the government may burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) furthers a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Here is a post outlining the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with a focus on Indiana’s RFRA that took the nation by storm a little over a year ago. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in 1993, intended to prevent other federal laws from burdening a person’s First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. Many states have introduced their own RFRAs over the years. Indiana introduced SB 0101 in January 2015 that basically allowed businesses to elect to not do business with certain classes of people if doing so in some way impeded their right of “the free exercise of religion”. In 2016, twenty-one states have enacted their own RFRAs since 1993 and there are currently ten states considering legislation on the topic.

RFEAPerlis.com made this map of the current states with RFRAs:

Map of RFRAs 2016

And here are the current ten bills pertaining to RFRAs

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Virginia is the only state that has passed legislation so far this year with HB 791 – “and act that reaffirms that the religious rights asserted in a specified section of the code are the natural and unalienable rights of mankind”. Unfortunately, many bills which support these acts, do enable discrimination of some shape or form to different classes of people. This is where my subject of discussion comes in – religious freedom vs. anti-discrimination.

Religious Freedom vs. Anti-Discrimination.

Religious Freedom –  “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching” –Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Anti-Discrimination – Law opposed to or intended to prevent discrimination (= unfair treatment of someone because of their sex, race, age, etc.)

Discrimination – the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually :  prejudiced or prejudicial outlook, action, or treatment

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, here are the different “types” of discrimination: age, disability, equal pay/compensation, genetic information, harassment, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex and sexual harassment. These cover not firing people after they turn 40 to not testing someone’s genetics to see if they are at a higher risk of disease to retaliating against someone for filing a discrimination charge. Sex-based discrimination has been expanded to include “discrimination against an individual because of gender identity, including transgender status, or because of sexual orientation is discrimination because of sex in violation of Title VII.”

There are many different ways anti-discrimination laws pertaining to religion are playing a major role in our society today. These new laws cover areas like genuinely including the right of freedom of religion to more than just branches of Christianity, like Muslims to not discriminating against women who get pregnant outside of wedlock to protecting children from dying in homes where religious beliefs impede life saving medical treatments. Currently one big focus of freedom of the religion vs. anti-discrimination debate is how the laws that protect people’s freedom religion affect members of the LGBTQ community across the United States.

The Bills 

Recently, there have been polarizing moves within the area of freedom of religion vs anti-discrimination. Although both movements have been active for quite awhile, they again captured the public’s attention when a series of bills in North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi aimed at protecting citizens’ freedom of religion were recognized by a large portion of the United States as laws that enable discrimination, ostracization and hate rather than protecting citizen’s religious freedom.

North Carolina’s HB 2 is by far the most widely publicized recent bill on this topic. Known as the “Bathroom Bill”, HB 2 stipulated that transgender people would be allowed to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity (see this post that covers this topic more in-depth) along with taking away local governments’ abilities to extend more protections to protected classes and prohibiting local governments from raising minimum wage levels above the state level. The Senate Democrats were so upset with the passing of this bill that they walked out of the session in protest. South Dakota has a similar bill, HB 1008, which  singles out transgender students by prohibiting them from using the restroom that matches the gender they live as everyday.

This is a photo of some of the protestors to HB 2 from thefederalist.com:

HB 2 Protest

The next bill that gained national attention was Georgia’s HB 757. The “Pastor Protection Act” stated that no pastor can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding. In addition to performing weddings, a faith-based group could not be forced to hire or retain an employee whose beliefs contradict those of the organization, and religious schools would be able to reject holding events for people or groups to whom they object. Potential consequences from this bill include single mothers and their children being denied safety at the domestic violence shelter, hospitals denying same-sex couples the opportunity to say goodbye to their partner, and restaurants refusing a child’s birthday party because his parents are divorced. Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the bill stating “Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way. For that reason, I will veto HB 757.”

Finally, Mississippi introduced HB 1523, the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”. This bill would have allowed individuals, businesses, government employees, nonprofits and other entities to discriminate against not only LGBTQ people, but also anyone who’s had extramarital sex, based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs”. Like the two previous bills, just before it would have taken effect, the Governor, Tate Reeves, eviscerated the bill. Reeves stated, “The State has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others. Showing such favor tells ‘non adherents’ that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and . . . adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community. And the Equal Protection Clause is violated by HB 1523’s authorization of arbitrary discrimination against lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons.”

Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe, also vetoed a bill, SB 41, this year. It would have allowed businesses and individuals to cite their religious beliefs as a reason for refusing services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He stated, “We should be pursuing policies to make Virginia a more vibrant and welcoming place to live, work, and raise a family. Senate Bill 41 would accomplish the opposite by making Virginia unwelcome to same-sex couples, while artificially engendering a sense of fear and persecution among our religious communities. Accordingly, I veto this bill.”

Tennessee introduced HB 1840 that would allow mental health professionals to refuse service to anyone based on the “sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist.” It is a very broad bill, even including unlicensed counselors. California introduced SB 1146 which “significantly reduces religious freedom” and “would effectively eliminate faith-based institutions as a choice for California’s most disadvantaged students.”

Conversely, many states have been introducing anti-discrimination bills throughout the United States. Massachusetts made massive strides forward in anti-discrimination for the LGBT community at the beginning of July in 2016 by passing S 2407 “An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination”. This bill guarantees that transgender people can use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities. Pennsylvania introduced S 1157 which bans anti-trans discrimination in health care and insurance coverage.

The “Do No Harm Act” or HR 5272, was introduced in May of 2016. This bill makes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 inapplicable to federal laws (or implementations of laws) that protect against discrimination or the promotion of equal opportunity put in place by acts like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act and the Violence Against Women Act.

Pennsylvania introduced SB 1307 which would prohibit discrimination in housing or employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression citing the “right of freedom from discrimination”. Pennsylvania Governor also signed two anti-discrimination executive orders to expand protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression or identity for commonwealth employees and employees of businesses who are contracted by the commonwealth. New Hampshire Governor, Maggie Hassan, also signed an executive order banning the state from discriminating against its employees on the basis of gender identity and gender expression stating, “By making clear that gender identity and gender expression are protected in the State’s anti-discrimination policies, this Executive Order helps ensure that New Hampshire state government welcomes and incorporates the talents and contributions of all of our citizens. As we celebrate Pride Month, this Executive Order reinforces that New Hampshire is a welcoming state where everyone has the opportunity to share in our high quality of life and economic success.”

Virginia passed two different anti-discrimination bills; SB 12 which bans discrimination against state employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and SB 67 which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the Virginia Housing Law aka not allowing discrimination based on those factors.

Indiana and Florida introduced similar bills to those of Pennsylvania and Virginia, Indiana SB 344 and Florida SB 120,would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity for housing, employment and public accommodations. The bills have a relatively broad exemptions that allow businesses and individuals to discriminate by citing religious objections – so not quite an “anti-discrimination” bill.

Perhaps the most concerning, in my opinion, is the First Amendment Defense Act or HR 2802. Not only is the majority of the language in the bill concerning to me in its ability to allow discrimination, but it is set to be heard on the the one-month anniversary of the Orlando Massacre where 49 people lost their lives and 53 were injured in an act of terror and hate crime.

This is a photo from a candlelight vigil held to honor the victims in Denver, CO from kwgn.com:

Orlando Shooting

This Act is seen by many people as congress’s response to the shooting. The Act would grant special rights to individuals with a “religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage” along with stating that the “the Federal Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with” a religious objection to marriage equality or a faith-based belief that sexual relations must be reserved to a marriage between people of the opposite sex.

The World

There have also been movements throughout the world pertaining to acceptance and freedom of religion. Last year, President Obama told Kenya, an African state, to abandon anti-gay discrimination. He stated for “a law-abiding citizen who is going about their business, and working at a job and obeying the traffic signs and not harming anybody, the idea they will be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong, full stop.” Africa is one of the hardest places for LGBTQ people to live with same-sex relations being illegal in 36 of 54 states and, in some, it is even punishable by death.

Canada introduced C-16 that would change the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code of Canada to ban discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or expression and protect transgender people from hate propaganda. Prime Minster, Justin Trudeau, stated “As a society, we have taken many important steps toward recognizing and protecting the legal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning or two-spirited community. There remains much to be done, though.

In the beginning of July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law an “anti-terror” package which included measures detrimental to religious freedom. Under the new law, in order to preach and teach the gospel you must have a permit and it restricts evangelism to registered church building sites. A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists, “If the law produces any undesired outcomes, the government will introduce measures accordingly by presidential decree.”

Public Voice with Anti-Discrimination 

Throughout the last six months, three states specifically have received criticisms from the public and had many public figures take a stance against legislation proposed in the state. A Walt Disney Co and Marvel Studios spokesmen stated, “Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”

Bryan Adams, Sharon Stone and Ellen DeGeneres have all publicly spoke out against Mississippi’s bill. Ellen stated, “I’m not a political person, I’m really not, but this is not politics. This is human rights. When I see something wrong, I have to talk about it.”

Finally, when North Carolina passed HB 2, it was almost a national movement to voice disagreement with the ruling, cities prohibited state sponsored travel, musicians canceled concerts and companies banned together to ask for the bill to be repealed and threatened to leave the state.

Conclusion 

I believe that freedom of religion, like most of our amendments, needs to be updated to the world we are living in here in the 21st century. I believe that everyone has the right to be who they are and believe what they choose, but not at the cost of others. The great thing about the Unite States of America is we were founded on being free to believe what you want and be who you are, and I am totally 100% behind, except for when your beliefs inhibit other people from receiving their basic human and constitutional rights.

I am agnostic and do not personally believe in religion. Just because I don’t believe in it, and the freedom to practice religion does not directly affect me, that by no means give me the right or position to take that right away from other people to practice their own religion without risk of persecution. I also happen to be a heterosexual white female, just because I am not gay, transgender, a person of color or whichever other discriminated group, doesn’t give me the right to take away their opportunity to live their lives full of the rights that come along with being an American, solely because it does not pertain to me. The beauty behind the idea of America to me is that it is a melting pot, full of different, interesting and amazing people who all bring their own spice of life the the table. We are supposed to value freedom above all else. Shouldn’t every single person be free to be themselves?

My understanding of religion from those in my life who are very in touch with their faith is religion is about love, acceptance and being a better person through helping the world. So I leave you with this bible verse:

1 John 4:18-21: “There is no fear in love but perfect love cast out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, I love God and hate the brothers or sisters are liars for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandments we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

It is our job in life to love, care for and respect one another no matter your race, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, education level, economic level or religion.

Wanted: A Pulse and a Pell

“A Pulse and a Pell” is the goal of Education Management Corporation (or EDMC) according to attorney Harry Litman. For those of you who don’t know, “a Pell” refers to the Pell Grant scholarship from the federal government given to many citizens to pay for part of college. For-Profit colleges have been experiencing a massive wave of litigation and regulation to “crack down” on practices many citizens and politicians deem unethical, and even illegal. From the closure of Corinthian Colleges to the lawsuit filed against DeVry University, and of course the embattled Trump University, one thing is for certain about for-profit college; their time is limited unless they get with the newly regulated program.

What is a “For-Profit” College 

What makes these colleges”For-Profit” lies in how they are structured and managed. There are three different classifications of universities: Public, Private Non-Profit and Private For-Profit. Public universities receive their funding from tuition and endowments. Because most of these universities are state-run, part of their funding comes from state/local taxes, making the schools less expensive for in-state students. Public Universities are accountable to the public, and are overseen by an elected or appointed board of regents. Private Non-Profit universities receive funding mostly from student tuition and endowments. Because they are organized as a non-profit, there is a board of trustees who are in charge of developing the institutional plan, which is not dictated by the state. Private Non-Profit universities can receive support from the government through tax breaks or student loans, but taxes do not directly go to benefit the university. Finally, Private For-Profit universities are run by companies who have duties to investors and stockholders. They are privately run (with no state intervention) and exist in part to generate a return for their owners/shareholders. These colleges can receive up to 90% off their funding from federal student aid.

Why would you go to a For-Profit College? 

For-Profit colleges cater to a specific group of people by marketing themselves as educational institutions which are just as good as Public or Non-Profit universities, but cater to the specific needs of their target markets. They have tracks which focus not in an area of study (english, phycology, marketing) but in more job-specific curriculums (business administration, medical billing or web design).

Jeffrey Leeds, whose private-equity firm owns a large portion of EDMC, stated, “Our mission is straightforward, and one we are proud to take on — to help students, typically nontraditional students, successfully complete college programs with workplace skills that enable them to get good jobs in a tough economy.”

Many of these “non-traditional” students who attend For-Profit colleges are first generation college or academically marginal students. One of these groups is military students who want a degree to enhance their future careers to work on while in service. Many For-Profit colleges target and cater to this group of students because it is guaranteed income due to the GI Bill. Another target group is working young people or parents who need a flexible school schedule in order to maintain their full-time work schedules and personal responsibilities. The special needs of these groups are hard for traditional colleges to accomodate due to their traditional structure of daytime classes. For-Profit colleges allow students to go to class after work or take classes online, allowing students to fit classes in when they have time.

The Debt-y Downer 

The cost of education is on a steep upwards trajectory. This cost pressure is causing overcrowded conditions at more affordable community colleges as well as increased competition for limited federal and private scholarships. Here is a graph detailing the increase in college tuition over the last twenty years:

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Here is a graph of the total amount of outstanding student debt from 2003 to 2013 – it has quadrupled in just ten years.

debt quadrupled[1]

Here is a graph detailing the amount of student debt by household net worth, showcasing the majority of student debt belongs to lower-income people.

debt by wealth

This graphic details how For-Profit colleges’ debt compare to Public colleges.

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When college is so expensive and hard to get into, many students are forced to look for alternatives, which is where For-Profit colleges come in. By not “wasting time” on things like the variety of non-career focused classes required for a traditional liberal arts degree, these students save valuable time. For-Profit colleges accept these students’ financial aid and are much easier to gain admittance to (usually just and application and fee) than traditional colleges.

Where’s the Problem? 

Back in 2011, the Department of Justice sued EDMC claiming they did not deliver the education they advertised and promised to students. They stated that EDMC had a “ ‘boiler-room’-style sales culture”, meaning its recruiters used “high-pressure sales techniques, and inflated claims about career placement to increase student enrollment, regardless of applicants’ qualifications”. EDMC allegedly paid recruiters bonuses based solely on how many students they enrolled — which is against the law.

Some of these universities only have certain degrees or departments “accredited” and, at times, do not clearly communicate which ones are and are not with students. Accreditation is the process of validation in which colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning are evaluated. The standards for accreditation are set by a peer review board whose members include faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Accreditation exists to ensure the education provided meets acceptable levels of quality with a valid, credible reputation for other institutions, students and the public (possible future employers). If a school is not accredited, students can not transfer credits if they want to attend a different university (public or private).

Many of the students in For-Profit colleges are lower income, working-class students who must supplement their tuition with federal financial aid. So much so that some of these For-Profit colleges received up to 90% of their funding from the federal government (i.e., Pell Grants). In 2011, For-Profit colleges only enrolled 12% of the nation’s students, they received 25% of the federal funding. People who support For-Profit colleges state that of course default rates will be higher for these “higher-risk” populations, so the increased amount of debt national student debt as a result of these students defaulting on loans is not necessarily on the shoulders of the institution.

Another issue is there doesn’t need to be a test to be admitted to a For-Profit college. Some students lack the skills needed to succeed in college so this inherently sets them up at a deficit. Lack of testing for these skills is a main factor in programs not being accredited, and also lack of necessary skills is a leading factor to students dropping out and ultimately defaulting on tax payer financed loans. Although For-Profit colleges are a higher education system that allows people who may not otherwise be able to attend college the opportunity to attend, legislators are realizing that college may not be meant for everyone and these for-profit education institutions can take advantage of of vulnerable students.

The Bills

Most of the bills throughout the US focus on two principle ideas: protect students from being misled into thinking their degree is worth more than it is and showcase that these degrees can result in (gainful) employment. There are, however, bills being introduced to help further For-Profit universities operations and give them breaks.

The Students Before Profit Act (US S 2098) introduced in 2015 called for enhanced civil penalties against the executive officers of colleges that misrepresent information, such as job placement rates, to students. It essentially stops For-Profit colleges before they can get off the ground. The Consumer Protection and Choice Act (HR 4018), which followed, is designed to severely limit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) ability to rein in predatory lending like car-title, payday and high-cost installment loans (common for many students). Maryland introduced HB 741 which would address Consumer Protection provisions and the guarantee fund issues as well as require schools to state upfront whether students would qualify to receive a license upon completion (along with strengthening accreditation of the licensing entity).

Many acts work to ensure “gainful employment”, most often associated with college graduates who become employed after they graduate, as a way to measure or rank the college or university where they received their education and training. US HR 970 works on supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act by repealing certain Department of Education regulations to determine whether a school is eligible to participate in programs under the Higher Education Act of 1965. For example, defining “gainful employment” along with imposing standards and disclosing requirements on programs that prepare students for “gainful employment” in a recognized occupation making regulated and understood. Nearly all states concern themselves with issues around gainful employment, including issues around education:

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The Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act (US S 1165) would require programs offered by institutions to meet any state or federal licensing requirements and programmatic accreditation that is necessary for entering an occupation in order for the institution to receive taxpayer-funded tuition such as Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, G.I. Bill benefits, or Department of Defense Tuition Assistance funds. This works to ensure students and taxpayers are not left footing the bill for predatory and valueless programs.

Washington introduced HB 1949 which protects students of For-Profit colleges from deceptive claims and outrageous student loan debts. It works to put an end to false claims by For-Profit colleges and vocational schools about post- graduation employment rates and pay expectations, creates a new Ombudsman for students to take complaints to and violations would allow the Attorney General to take action under the Consumer Protection Act.

Arizona recently introduced SB 1402 which would lower the state property tax on the state’s accredited for-profit colleges from 18.5 percent to 5 percent, thus enabling their expansion.

Conclusion

Issues with For-Profit colleges are a key focus in our current political campaigns (TrumpClintonRubio). All of these candidates have have some type of reported interaction with these colleges. Obama took initiative with the Education Department to cancel over $27.8 million of federal student loans from students at Heald College. Even though Obama took this action, he is not safe from association and criticism with For-Profit schemes. It is now an issue that is associated with deep corruption and deceptiveness, at a very high level.

The pressure and demand in society to have a college degree, in my opinion, is way to high compared to the actual necessity of a college degree for many different jobs throughout the United States. Do you really need to have a degree from a liberal arts school and heaping mounds of debt to be trained in carpentry, retail, day care, hospitality, or the plethora of other jobs that make up our society? By that same token, we need to have better access to education for people who cannot attend a “traditional” higher education institution. For white collar jobs, applicants aren’t given a second look if they don’t have a college degree. How can we cater to these special groups, who need to get college degrees but are different than the college students of the past? I think the steps of proving resulting gainful employment and having more oversight are important first moves to help for-profit colleges actually be beneficial and fair to society.