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DC Fights Anti-Immigrant Program

Last week, federal officials launched the “Secure Communities” program in the District of Columbia amid dissent from the entire City Council and Mayor. Secure Communities is a program designed to target illegal immigration by requiring local authorities to hand over the fingerprints of arrested individuals to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), so the agency can determine the individuals’ legal status and subsequently detain or deport them.

Secure Communities has been a controversial immigration policy because many argue that it erodes trust between law enforcement officials and members of the immigrant community, making people less willing to cooperate with police or less likely to report a crime out of fear of deportation—and therefore making communities less safe.

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Jewish Leaders Strategize around MD Ballot Measures

On Tuesday, Maryland rabbis met with leaders from the Religious Action Center and Jews United for Justice to talk about grassroots organizing around two critical issues that will appear on the state’s ballot in November: marriage equality and the DREAM Act. Both of the aforementioned issues were passed by the Maryland legislature, but opponents gathered enough signatures to put these referenda on the ballot for voters to determine their ultimate execution.

During the meeting, the rabbis received brief overviews of each law, but the focus was on how they can utilize their unique leadership positions to mobilize congregants to hit the polls (and vote for the implementation of each law).

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WI Recall Election Shows Us What Citizens United Has Wrought

On Tuesday, Wisconsinites voted to keep Scott Walker (R) in his gubernatorial seat. While pundits and politicians are drawing a number of lessons from the recall campaign (the third in U.S. history and the first in which the incumbent retained his post), one lesson in particular stands out like a badger in a grass field: Money has too big of an influence in politics in this post-Citizens United world.

Candidates and independent groups spent a total of $63.5 million dollars on the recall campaign, an amount that far surpassed the previous Wisconsin record of $37.4 million, which was set in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Of the $63.5 million, Governor Walker’s campaign raised $30.5 million, two-thirds of which came from contributors outside of Wisconsin. In contrast, the Democratic contender, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, raised only $4 million since he entered the race in March. These numbers boil down to Walker having more funds by a margin of 7.5 to 1. Moreover, $22 million of the spending in the race –that’s one-third of the total amount of spending—came from independent expenditure groups that would not have been able to contribute if it wasn’t for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.

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VAWA and Native American Women

As we’ve written about before, the House and Senate are having difficulties reconciling their different visions for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—which is unprecedented, given that VAWA reauthorization is usually a noncontroversial endeavor. One such area of contention this time around, in addition to ensuring protections for battered immigrant women and LGBT individuals, is the treatment of Native American women – a group that faces a proportionately high level of rape and sexual assault.

The bipartisan Senate version of the bill includes a provision that expands the authority of tribal courts to prosecute non-American Indian perpetrators of sexual crimes. This is an important addition to the bill because it will end impunity for the many perpetrators that are never prosecuted because of the current inefficiencies of the tribal and federal judicial systems. The House version, however, does not include this provision. Supporters of the House version claim that granting such power to tribal courts is a dangerous expansion of authority.

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Wisconsin Governor Faces Recall Election

Next Tuesday, Wisconsin voters will decide whether to recall Governor Scott Walker (R), who was elected in 2010. The recall vote brings to the fore a number of critical issues. For one, the result will be a significant indicator of the popularity and influence of organized labor, making workers’ rights a hot-button issue during this election cycle. Moreover, the results may presage which way the state will swing during the presidential election in November.

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Making a Bad Law Even Worse

As if Alabama’s notorious immigration law, H.B. 56, were not discriminatory enough, the state legislature recently made revisions to the law that further infringe on the human rights of immigrants.

Under the guise of simplifying and clarifying the immigration law, Governor Bentley (R-AL) signed H.B. 658, which was passed during a special legislative session convened to explore reforms to the immigration law. The new law, which preserves much of H.B. 56, goes a step further by requiring the state to publish the names and photographs of undocumented immigrants who appear in court for a violation of Alabama law. The new law also retains an H.B. 56 provision requiring schools to determine the immigration status of enrolling students, even though this provision has already been blocked by a federal court.

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The Health Care Exchange Debate

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the landmark health care reform law, calls for the establishment of health care exchanges in each state, which are entities that will streamline the health insurance market options for consumers. Each state is required by law to set up its own health care exchange by January 1, 2013; if any have not created an exchange by that point, the federal government will establish a program for the state. The exchanges will open January 1, 2014.

The unique dynamic of each state has evinced some interesting approaches to tackling this ACA requirement. The party affiliation of a state legislature and/or governor has indeed influenced the degree to which states are willing to cooperate with the law.

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New Advancements in HIV Prevention

Two new items are under consideration by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that could reduce the number of HIV infections:

  1. Last week, a panel of experts recommended that the FDA approve a pill known as Truvada that could be taken preemptively by healthy but at-risk individuals to prevent the contraction of HIV. The pill is already approved for the treatment of HIV, and the FDA’s final decision about whether to approve it for prevention is expected next month.
  2. The other advancement awaiting formal approval by the FDA is an over-the-counter HIV test kit, which allows consumers to perform oral HIV tests in the privacy of their homes. The test, which detects antibodies to the virus in saliva, returns results in about 20 minutes. On Tuesday, a 17-member advisory panel unanimously recommended that the FDA approve this kit for over-the-counter-use. While the agency declined to comment on when it will release its final decision, executives for the manufacturer expect a decision sometime this summer.

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