Today's Fair Shots - May 10th, 2017

1-'A Vendor Bill If I've Ever Seen One'; Senate Advances Bill to Ease Licensing Requirements for Immigrant Detention Centers

2-San Antonio Leaders Express Dismay Over Upcoming Requirements of 'Sanctuary Cities' Bill

3-First Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Over SB 4

4-New Report Finds Absence of Workplace Benefits Among Huge Slice of Construction Workers

5-PayWatch Report Shows CEO Pay Gap Remains a Grand Canyon

1) The Texas Senate yesterday tentatively approved a "baby jail" bill reportedly written by a private prison company that would reduce required standards for detention centers that take in immigrant families, including children, who seek asylum in the U.S.

  SB 1018 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, advanced on a 20-11 vote. The bill licensing what Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston called "baby jails" drew opposition from advocates for immigrant families. Garcia said the measure is "a vendor bill if I've ever seen one," referring to an AP report that it was written by a lobbyist for the GEO group, a private prison company that holds immigrant families for the federal government.

  Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, pointed out that a group of pediatricians toured the facilities that the bill takes in and concluded that housing children there, potentially for months at a time, would be detrimental to them.

  The United Labor Legislative Committee OPPOSES SB 1018, which will have a final vote on Wednesday before heading to the Texas House. 

  The Texas Observer's earlier take on the bill remains relevant, especially in the wake of the signing into law of SB 4, the so-called "sanctuary cities" bill:

  The private prison companies that run detention centers for immigrant kids and their mothers have a problem: They can't legally hold families for an extended period in Texas unless they are licensed as child care facilities. The Texas Legislature has a solution, though. On Wednesday, a Senate committee advanced legislation that would simply lower the state standards for family detention centers. The prison firms could skip all the burdensome regulations that other child care facilities must deal with.

  "The point of the bill is to slap a license on the family detention center without substantially changing their operation," said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an immigrant rights group. "It's an attempt to maintain and expand the system of for-profit family detention."

Family detention centers are used by the federal government to hold immigrant mothers and children who arrive at the U.S. border seeking asylum while their cases are processed. Two of the nation's three facilities are in Texas, and both are run by private prison corporations. The two can hold about 3,200 detainees. 

  "Just by having the conversation of whether it's OK to keep children in prison, we're damaging the state of Texas," said Pastor Jim Rigby of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in a committee hearing earlier this month.

  Senate Bill 1018 would effectively lower state standards for family detention centers in order to license them as child care facilities. For example, the bill would allow DFPS to permit minors to share a room with unrelated adults, as sometimes happens in immigrant detention.

Due to federal court rulings, family detention centers can currently only hold children for a few weeks at a time, but the legislation would allow the centers to detain mothers and children for the duration of their legal cases, which can take months or even longer.

  The Associated Press reported last week that SB 1018 was written by a lobbyist for the GEO Group, a prison company that runs the 830-bed Karnes County Residential Center. The facility brings in $55 million per year for the company from the federal government.

  Read more: 

2) One of the many Texas cities that will be disproportionately affected by SB 4 is Ed Sills' former hometown of San Antonio. Elected and civic leaders got together in a news conference to denounce the "sanctuary cities" law, signed Sunday in an all-by-myself ceremony by Gov. Greg Abbott.

  The law will make life miserable for citizens and immigrants alike, but its broader discriminatory effect was confirmed by law officers who are involved with communities of color on a day-by-day basis.

  NowCastSA posted a video of interviews they conducted after a news event. It demonstrates anew that SB 4 sends the wrong message on many levels to not just immigrants, but citizens. When the Chief of Police of a major metropolitan area declares that the new law "will absolutely open the door to racial profiling" and that the basis for asking about immigration status will be skin color, we have progressed from theoretical testimony to what is about to happen in the real world:

  "In my view, this is institutionalized racial profiling and is un-American" said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who led the May 5 news conference on the steps of the Bexar County courthouse.

  San Antonio Police Chief William McManus was blunt: "Let me be clear. SB4 is bad for public safety. it will not help make our streets safer," he said. "It is also a racial profiling bill."...

  Gloria Mora spoke on behalf of the grassroots community group C.O.P.S./Metro Alliance. "We ask Gov. Abbott to reject the ideologies of fear and scapegoating and to veto SB4. C.O.P.S./Metro Leaders refuse to give up a culture of hospitality and welcoming the stranger for the sake of inhuman law and order," she said.

  "In spite of the legislature's and governor's actions, we at C.O.P.S./Metro will work to make sure that San Antonio takes care of all of our neighbors by partnering with SAPD and the Sheriff's department and by creating a legal defense fund for children of immigrants, by creating a city ID that will serve all residents, and by whatever means necessary," she said...

  Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said his jail houses 4,000 inmates each night and there are about 27,000 people in the county on any given day who have warrants out for their arrest. "The vast majority of those 4,000 jail inmates, the vast majority of those 27,000 people running around wanted in Bexar County are American citizens," Salazar said. "They are not undocumented immigrants. That is not who's committing crimes in Bexar County."

  Wolff said localities "are now being asked to enforce federal law that has no connection to crime on the streets. Undocumented workers pay income tax, local and property taxes, a majority have family members who are citizens. over 97 percent haven't even committed a misdemeanor crime," he said.

  Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas "Nico" La Hood said the law could create conflicts of interest and legal headaches. "District attorneys around the state could find themselves in a position where they are defending the county they represent in a civil action, and at same time evaluating whether or not they should prosecute them for noncompliance of this statue," La Hood said. "SB4 creates a slippery slope for us all."

  Read more and see the video:

3) Today saw the first lawsuit by a civil rights organization against SB 4. Maverick County, LULAC and the border city of El Cenizo sued the state, the Texas Tribune reports:

  The League of United Latin American Citizens, Maverick County and the city of El Cenizo sued the state of Texas on Monday, claiming that SB 4 has failed to properly define a "sanctuary city," and that the city and county - both on the border with Mexico - have kept their residents safe by choosing to operate as sanctuaries since 1999.

  El Cenizo, in Webb County, has about 3,300 residents, many of whom are undocumented immigrants. The lawsuit claims that "Plaintiffs are safer when all people, including undocumented immigrants, feel safe when their local law enforcement officers can be trusted for reporting crimes or just speaking with them about issues in the community."

  Read more:

  Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a "travel alert" for Texas in the wake of the signing of SB 4, the Austin American-Statesman reports. While the law isn't actually scheduled to take effect until Sept. 1, the alert stems from the ACLU's concern that some law officers will start asking about immigration status now:

  The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a travel alert for Texas following the passage of Senate Bill 4, warning visitors to expect possible violations of their constitutional rights if stopped by law enforcement.

  The "sanctuary cities" bill that was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday requires law enforcement officers to comply with federal government requests, and bans police chiefs from urging officers to avoid asking questions regarding immigration status during detentions, which include situation like routine traffic stops.

  "The ACLU's goal is to protect all Texans and all people traveling through Texas - regardless of their immigration status - from illegal harassment by law enforcement," said Lorella Praeli, ACLU director of immigration policy and campaigns, in a release on Tuesday. "Texas is a state with deep Mexican roots and home to immigrants from all walks of life. Many of us fit the racial profile that the police in Texas will use to enforce Trump's draconian deportation force."

  Read more:

  The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund posted this statement onAttorney General Ken Paxton's dubious effort to steer litigation on SB 4 by filing a preemptive lawsuit requesting a declaratory judgment that the law is constitutional:

  "First, MALDEF is extremely proud to stand with the brave officials of Austin and Travis County in defending wise and constitutional policies to protect public safety and to prevent discrimination, in pursuit of a shared goal of making Texas the example of successful immigrant integration that it should be. MALDEF is also proud to be recognized as forward representative of the millions of Texans who reject the odious SB 4 as wholly inconsistent with state history, origins, and future aspirations. As an organization founded in Texas and with a powerful and continuing presence in San Antonio for nearly half a century, MALDEF has an undeniable interest in getting Texas back on track following the enactment of this legislative derailment. 

  That said, this is a frivolous legal action, filed precipitously and without basis in the law. Rather than wait for aggrieved individuals and entities to pursue their many constitutional challenges to SB 4, the state bespeaks its own apparent high anxiety about the legality of Abbott's Folly, SB 4, by seeking a preemptive strike through this lawsuit. Moreover, as if helplessly condemned to follow a failed script ordained long in the past, Texas repeats a gambit attempted by California Gov. Pete Wilson in defending the notorious Proposition 187 over 20 years ago. So, MALDEF has been through this before; we successfully defeated Wilson's preemptive suit, and will do the same here. 

  We will see you in court, Governor Abbott. In the meantime, we hope that both the governor and the attorney general will seek treatment for an apparent problem with premature litigation."

4) A new Workers Defense Project report finds that 40 percent of Houston construction workers have no health insurance, life insurance, pension plan, paid time off or sick leave, the Houston Chronicle reports.

  More than one third also lack rest breaks or drinking water provided on the job, the Project states.

  Little of this has a chance of being addressed in the current legislative session, but as they say in some quarters, knowledge is power. The article quotes Brother Paul Puente of the Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council:

  The new report is based on interviews with 1,435 construction workers in six southern U.S. cities, including Houston. This city topped the list for worker risk of heat related illness, which afflicts one in six laborers on job sites, the report said.

  Activists, organizers and construction laborers gathered Tuesday outside Houston city hall to present the report, which was produced collaboratively between WDP, the Partnership for Working Families and the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"The very people who are building luxury condos are struggling to get by," said Nikki Fortunato Bas, executive director of the partnership for working families.

  Across the South, the report said just five percent of workers injured in the past 12 months had workers' compensation insurance to cover medical expenses, while 57 percent of workers earned less than $15 per hour.

  "It's a systemic problem," said Paul Puente, executive secretary of the Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council.

  That problem, he said, has discouraged young people from entering the construction labor force, but industry initiatives in Houston and beyond are aiming to improve conditions through investment in training, focus on safety and better treatment of workers.

  The Workers Defense Project also announced it would be hiring its first staff in Houston, adding to paid positions the group has in Austin and Dallas. It said it expected to continue hiring throughout the year.

  Read more:

5) The AFL-CIO today released its annual CEO PayWatch report. As has been the case since the report began, many of the best-known companies pay their CEOs as if they invented the company and are entitled to a share of profits, rather than for their services as top administrator. 

  Decades ago, a CEO would have been embarrassed to take more than 10 times the pay of a front- line worker. Today's report states that the average CEO in the S&P 500 made 347 times the average rank-and-file worker.

  The perverse result? Some of the folks who go apoplectic at the mention of a $15 an hour minimum wage are taking salaries that bear no relationship to their actual contribution and little relationship to the performance of the company:

  CEO pay for major U.S. companies has risen nearly 6 percent, as income inequality and outsourcing of good-paying American jobs have increased. According to the new AFL-CIO Executive PayWatch, the average CEO of an S&P 500 company made $13.1 million per year in 2016 - 347 times more money than the average rank-and-file worker.

  The Executive PayWatch website, the most comprehensive searchable online database tracking CEO pay, showed that in 2016, the average production and nonsupervisory worker earned approximately $37,600 per year. When adjusted for inflation, the average wage has remained stagnant for 50 years.

  "This year's report provides further proof that the greed of corporate CEOs is driving America's income inequality crisis," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "Big corporations continually find ways to rig the economy in their favor and line their CEOs' pockets at the expense of the workers who make their businesses run. Too often, corporations see workers as costs to be cut, rather than assets to be invested in. It's shameful that CEOs can make tens of millions of dollars and still destroy the livelihoods of the hard-working people who make their companies profitable."

  See the report, including some new online features: