Posted on February 02, 2018 in Countdown

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SOTU: To Hell and Back

If you watched Trump’s first State Of The Union address, you probably caught a lot of the awful stuff you’ve come to expect from this administration. Facts be damned, Trump attacked family unification by calling it what we refuse to repeat here, and falsely claiming it allowed for “virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.” To hell with peace and international law, Trump was proud of his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. To hell with human rights and America’s image abroad, Trump bragged about keeping Guantanamo open. Who cares about sharply rising civilian casualties from US strikes in Afghanistan.Our environment and the planet’s climate are at stake? Meh, Trump was proud of ending what he claims was a “war on American energy.” But we saved the worst for last: He used the suffering of loved ones who had to endure extraordinary loss as victims of violent crimes to justify his draconian immigration policies. And what made the headlines after all this? Trump’s “call for unity”. Well, we as a country might not be united in how we view this speech, but we will be united in suffering the damage of Trump’s policies, so there’s that.


Deporting Our Values

During the State of the Union address, an empty seat was held by Congressman Tim Ryan for Amer Adi. Amer is a husband to an American wife and a father to four American daughters (see them all here), a taxpayer and a business owner who lived in the US for 40 years, and who gave hundreds of turkeys to poor people over Thanksgiving. He was deported to Jordan this week, because authorities accused him of once having a sham marriage to obtain US residency, though the claim is being disputed by none other than the ex-wife herself, who insists their marriage was real. Congressman Ryan believed that a fair hearing for Adi would make a solid case for him to stay, but Ryan’s pleas were ignored, and Adi has now been separated from his family. Also, did you hear about the veteran with PTSD who served two tours in Afghanistan, and who is about to be deported over a drug conviction? He’s on hunger-strike now, saying he’d rather die on American soil than face uncertainty abroad. If these stories are as disturbing to you as they are to us, imagine how much more disturbing it is to hear that ICE director Thomas Homan reportedly said that while he didn’t want the job at the beginning, he’s “enjoying it” as it currently unfolds.


Like We’re Not Here

For years… no, for decades (like three of them), we’ve been fighting to place a “Middle Eastern and North African” ethnic category on the decennial census, and 2020 was set to be our year. But even the census is not safe from the orange administration, so when it was announced the 2020 Census won’t have a MENA category, we were not happy and have called it a “severe blow” to our community and an “egregious rejection of stakeholder interest that impedes the possibility of an accurate count.” We’ve gotten used to many things being politicized but to delay an important decision and guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) knowing full well that it would upend a multi-year long researched process was notable for even us.  Don’t worry, though, because it is not like everything—from health data to language assistance at polling places to the allocation of 675-billion-dollars—depends on an accurate count of communities. And the Trump Administration isn’t being “traditional” here in insisting on an outdated census, they do want an update: a question on citizenship status, which would destroy any chance of an accurate count. Yep, you figured it out. But don’t worry, we are fighting it and will keep you updated.


Will an Arab American Candidate Hop To It?

After 23 years in the House, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen announced this week he will not run for re-election this year to represent New Jersey's 11th District. Mr. Frelinghuysen was Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, one of the most coveted and powerful posts, making his decision to retire a significant blow to Republicans trying to maintain control of the House. Though we suspect he's fed up with people misspelling his name, Congressman Frelinghuysen did not give a specific reason for his decision to retire. Perhaps it was due to pressure from unhappy constituents who did not feel heard when he failed to attend in-person town halls or recognize weekly protests outside his district office organized by local group NJ 11th for Change. Or maybe it was because he was poised to face stiff competition from Democrats vying for a seat in a district that doesn't seem tied to one party: in 2012 Mitt Romney (R) won the district by five percentage points, in 2016, Hillary Clinton (D) lost the district by only a single percentage point, and in 2017 Gov. Phil Murphy (D) carried the district. Regardless of the reason, ol' Rodney is out, leaving yet another open seat for the taking this year. And, in case you haven't heard from just about every news outlet out there, 2018 is a big election year. With a New Jersey Congressional candidate filing deadline of April 2nd, there is still ample time for candidates to throw their hats in the ring for this race (we're looking at you, the more than 100,000 Arab Americans living in New Jersey). Because we agree with Rodney when he says "Public service is an incredible way to turn your convictions into something that serves the greater good...." So, hop to it.


Injunction junction, what’s your function?

In a victory for free speech (yippee!), a federal court in Kansas issued a preliminary injunction blocking a law that punishes people for expressing their political views. The law, which requires state contractors to certify “they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel,” is the subject of a lawsuit filed last October by the ACLU. Basically, Kansas’ Department of Education refused to contract with a veteran math teacher who was selected for a special program to train her fellow educators all across the state. Despite her qualifications, Esther Koontz was denied participation because she, as a member of the Mennonite Church, boycotts products “associated with acts of violence or policies of military occupation, including items produced in [Israeli] settlements.” Koontz argues the Kansas law violates her First Amendment rights, and we agree! Stay tuned, because this case is bigger than Kansas: 24 states have passed similar laws. We’ll leave you with a dose of irony: former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who authorized the law back in June, became ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom on Wednesday, shortly after signing a proclamation declaring Tuesday a statewide day of fasting and prayer on his behalf. Establishment Clause, anyone? Not so much.