Defending the gains of Brown v. Board of Ed

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered its Brown v. Topeka Board of Education ruling May 17, 1954, striking down Plessy v. Ferguson, the “separate but equal” doctrine that served for 58 years as the legal justification for segregation. “Separate is inherently unequal,” the court ruled in Brown.

It has taken decades of heroic struggle since that ruling to batter down the walls of segregation. Many women, men, and children gave their lives. Behind the scenes, giant corporations, banks, and real estate interests have resisted stubbornly because they reap tens of billions in super-profits from racist wage differentials and other forms of discrimination.

Politicians in the service of these profit-greedy capitalists continue to resist measures like affirmative action to overcome discrimination in jobs and education.

A case in point is George W. Bush, who traveled to Topeka to deliver a 12-minute homily on Brown to a nearly all-white audience. “Habits of racism in America have not all been broken,” he confessed.

Across town, Democratic presidential aspirant John Kerry pointed at Bush himself as the main obstacle. “We have not met the promise of Brown when one-third of all African American children are living in poverty,” Kerry said, “when only 50 percent of African American men in New York have a job … when nearly 20 million Black and Hispanic Americans don’t have basic health insurance. … You cannot promise ‘no child left behind’ and then pursue policies that leave millions of children behind every single day.”

The crowd answered with a roaring ovation. Perhaps they remembered that Bush waited until the Senate left town for their spring recess to sneak Judge Charles Pickering on the federal bench. Pickering had argued for leniency for a Klansman who burned a cross on a Black family’s lawn. That trickery exposed Bush as the racist he is and another reason to send the White House gang packing on Nov. 2.

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Immigrant rights win

Should a woman in labor, a child hit by a car, or a victim of a workplace accident be reported to the Department of Homeland Security? Should emergency room admitting clerks turn in their scrubs for Border Patrol uniforms, inquiring into patients’ immigration status, fingerprinting them and forwarding their data to DHS?

A bill in Congress containing just such despicable requirements went down to a well-deserved and resounding defeat May 18.

Seven of the nation’s hospital associations had joined immigrant rights, labor and religious leaders in condemning HR 3722, the “Undocumented Alien Emergency Medical Assistance Amendment,” introduced by ultra-right Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). They made clear there would be disastrous public health consequences for the entire country if emergency health care for one section of the population was criminalized. The bill would not only set a precedent of weakening the requirements of hospitals to treat all emergency patients in the ER but could delay treatment of communicable diseases. A child with a high temperature could have meningitis, pointed out the American Hospital Association’s Carla Luggiero. If that child’s parents defer bringing him to the emergency room because of fear of deportation, the consequences to the health of the community could be far-reaching.

The health of the whole population is endangered when one group is denied health care. Along the same lines, when immigrant workers have no rights, the protection of other workers’ rights and living standards is impossible. The shameful denial of civil and workplace rights to the 11 million undocumented members of our working class undermines the democratic rights and standard of living of all Americans.

Victory over HR 3722 should be a steppingstone to passage of the SOLVE Act (Safe Orderly Legal Visas and Enforcement Act), introduced May 4 by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.). If passed, this legislation would provide a path to legalization and citizenship and the guarantee of protection of labor laws to immigrant workers, as well as the re-unification of immigrant families.