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Kentucky editorial roundup

November 29, 2018

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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Nov. 27

The Lexington Herald-Leader on asylum seekers:

Parents and children who have walked 1,000 miles to ask for asylum are not breaking United States laws by crossing the border, no matter what President Donald Trump says.

Trump’s administration, on the other hand, has repeatedly ignored or flouted the laws that Congress has enacted on immigration, which explains why Trump keeps losing in court.

Rather than tear gassing children, the administration should do its job by providing the personnel and space required to process asylum claims as set out by law. Instead the administration is intentionally creating backups of asylum seekers at the border.

The backups started before Trump’s pre-election warnings of a dangerous invading caravan. (Never mind that many of the invaders were outfitted in diapers or flip-flops.) In late September, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General reported that limiting the volume of asylum-seekers at ports of entry had fueled an increase in illegal border crossings.

Of course, none other than former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had encouraged adult asylum seekers to cross at ports of entry to avoid prosecution and separation from their children. Parents blocked by backlogs at ports of entry were more likely to cross illegally, the IG explains, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis of family separations spawned by Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy.

The law allows even those who have crossed illegally to seek asylum once they’re here.

There’s no guarantee that asylum will be granted. Sessions made it even harder to win asylum by excluding victims of domestic violence from consideration. But immigrants are guaranteed the chance to seek asylum through a process enshrined in law.

Our asylum laws are rooted in post-World War II responses to the shameful rejection by this country and others of refugees from the Holocaust.

Common sense and common decency tell us that only those fleeing genuinely desperate circumstances would leave their homes on foot for a 1,000 mile-plus trek with young children in tow.

But now immigrants fleeing the criminal gangs that Trump has repeatedly evoked are damned, under his law-defying policies, if they follow the rules and damned if they don’t.

...

A well-meaning leader would pursue a couple of options:

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? Work with Congress to reform immigration laws. From the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to advocates for the undocumented, there is widespread support for revamping a system that makes it too hard to legally immigrate and keeps too many people, including the children of immigrants, in the shadows and exploited by human smugglers and unscrupulous employers. If our standards for awarding asylum need to be changed, that is the job of Congress not the president.

Online: https://www.kentucky.com/

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Nov. 25

The Daily Independent of Ashland on people losing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits:

We are going to address a tough issue and we readily concede up front we don’t have all the answers.

We are referencing what appears to be a significant cutback in access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The Associated Press reported in November that some 10,000 people have lost access in Kentucky recently to SNAP benefits, i.e. food stamps. The AP said the cutbacks applied to more than 10,000 low-income Kentucky adults who were removed from a federal program that helps them buy food after they failed to comply with newly reinstated rules requiring them to either get a job or do volunteer work to keep their benefits.

The rules requiring a job or volunteer work actually have been in place for years. Much of Kentucky has in the past received a waiver, but Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has been allowing many of the waivers to expire, the AP said. All but eight of Kentucky’s 120 counties now have the requirements in place. The exceptions are eight counties in eastern Kentucky that are participating in a federal pilot program.

The rules require adults ages 18 to 49 with no children or disabilities to work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week. Adults who don’t show they are meeting the requirements for three consecutive months will lose benefits.

We have to say right up front we agree with these requirements in principle. We think most people do. If you need SNAP benefits and you can work, you should in some form or fashion ... For many of our lower paying jobs, feeding a family of four, for example, on an $8 an hour job is close to impossible if one is also responsible for rent, etc. But we do say again that if one needs SNAP benefits, we think getting people into the workforce or volunteering at a local nonprofit whenever possible is obviously a good thing.

Jason Dunn, policy analyst at Kentucky Voices for Health who directed Kentucky’s SNAP program from 2011 to 2017 under the administrations of Bevin and former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, said he suspects the number of people losing their benefits is just starting. Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokesman Doug Hogan said the program has “appropriate exemptions and good cause exceptions for not meeting requirements.”

“No one loses access to SNAP benefits, although some beneficiaries may choose not to comply, or cannot comply because they are already working but not reporting income,” Hogan said.

What we’ve found when it comes to these types of benefits is that the devil is usually in the details. Each case is different. One thing that is a top priority in our view is to avoid the common stereotype that anyone getting SNAP benefits must be a freeloader. ... Another concern we have is that many in poverty or struggling in life aren’t civically engaged and may find it very challenging to simply carry out tasks in life that most of us take for granted. So, we would hope that the state is, when it is cutting these benefits, doing some level of diligence in making sure people know the rules and are capable of meeting the requirements before they get cut off.

Philosophically, our belief is that many of our modern day social welfare programs are not sustainable in any way, shape or form. This is a viewpoint based strictly on scratching out numbers. We also believe philosophically that we are each responsible for our own destiny. ... However, philosophy and ideology aren’t always compatible with everyday reality, and the reality is a lot of people need these benefits. ...

Our view is cutbacks are necessary but they need to be done with both wisdom and compassion whenever possible.

Online: https://www.dailyindependent.com/

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Nov. 23

The Lexington Herald-Leader on why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should let the Senate vote on justice and prison reforms:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s excuse that the Senate lacks time to consider bipartisan prison and sentencing reforms rings lame, especially in a season when many Americans are working brutally long hours to meet the demands of their jobs.

More likely, McConnell wants to avoid a public fight inside his Republican caucus, a fight sparked by retrograde Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and others unwilling to do the smallest thing to trim the huge costs — in dollars and human potential — that mass incarceration inflicts on our country.

McConnell should let the Senate vote. Given the support the bill has on both sides of the aisle, getting the 60 votes to end a filibuster should not be hard.

Then this Congress could claim a genuine bipartisan achievement.

And McConnell, master of obstruction, could claim some credibility for his recent appeal for bipartisanship from the Democratic House that takes office in January.

Speaker Paul Ryan says the Senate version of the First Step Act would zip through the House. President Donald Trump says he is eager to sign it. The package of modest reforms has support on the right from evangelical Christians, some big Republican donors, including the Kochs, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and on the left from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for American Progress and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Given that the United States imprisons a greater share of its people than any nation, the First Step Act is just that, a first step. But it’s taken years of debate and compromise to reach the consensus behind even that first step.

If this Congress fails to approve the bill, the new Congress would have to start all over. It could take still more years to reach another compromise and consensus. Meanwhile, real people, real families, real communities are suffering in ways that both Republicans and Democrats now serving in Congress are ready to relieve.

Contrary to opponents’ scary warnings, the First Step Act would not flood the streets with felons. It applies only to federal courts and prisons which account for 181,185 of the more than 2 million Americans who are in prison or jails.

If it becomes law, maybe 7,000 people now in prison could win release, through retroactive increases in time off for good behavior and a reduction in the punishment for crack cocaine offenses. Congress in 2010 reduced the huge disparity in punishments between crack and powdered cocaine. Because crack was more prevalent in black neighborhoods, the law had produced an imbalance that’s held up as evidence of race-based injustice.

In the future, federal judges would have the authority to skirt mandatory minimum sentences for more nonviolent drug offenders; an estimated 2,000 people a year would be eligible. The bill reduces some mandatory sentences, the “three strikes penalty” and the number of people who could receive extra years for committing a crime while holding a gun.

It pumps $375 million into job training and rehab programs and gives inmates the chance to earn 10 days in halfway houses or in-home supervision for every 30 days spent in rehab and job training. (Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions slashed funding for halfway houses and dismantled efforts to improve education in federal prisons.)

The bill also enshrines in law what many consider basic decency, such as providing women with free sanitary supplies and not shackling them while giving birth and not holding juveniles in solitary confinement.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill earlier this year; bipartisan negotiators in the Senate have strengthened it. McConnell should put it to a vote.

Online: https://www.kentucky.com/

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