Are we better off than four years ago? Part 4

 Yes – We have a President who is a Constitutional Scholar who believes in enforcing our civil rights laws.

The first piece of legislation that President Obama helped to push and sign into law was the Lily Ledbetter Act, helping women seeking equal pay for equal work.  It reversed a Supreme Court decision that made it almost impossible for women to challenge pay discrimination, a decision that also hurt minorities.

The second piece of legislation that President Obama signed into law was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill that President Bush had repeatedly threatened to veto.  The Asian American community had been pushing for this landmark legislation that makes it easier for federal law enforcement to prosecute hate crimes based on race, ethnicity and religion; added coverage for gender, disability and sexual orientation; and provided training and assistance to local law enforcement so they could do a better job protecting minorities as well. 

The Obama administration has also improved the lives of LGBTQ Asian Americans, moving to end legally sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  He successfully pushed through the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military and making federal employee spousal benefits available to same-sex couples.

The agencies that are given the responsibility for enforcing our nation’s anti-discrimination laws were given both the resources and the leadership they need to be successful.  Importantly, these agencies are reaching out to Asian American community leaders and organization, asking for their input and providing translated information relevant to their clients.  And these agencies are bringing lawsuits on behalf of Asian American victims of discrimination.

The Department of Education convened an anti-bullying summit and worked in partnership with HHS and the Department of Justice to develop policies and enforce federal laws to protect students.  There had been a number of cases where school officials were ignoring the plight of Asian and other vulnerable minorities.

The Department of Justice, working with the Department of Homeland Security, increased the prosecution of human traffickers by 30% over the last three years and has begun funding Asian American community organizations providing victim assistance.  The Attorney General has also successfully challenged several state laws and programs intended to create additional barriers to the ballot box for college students, senior citizens and minorities.  In addition, he has also challenged the constitutionality of anti-immigrant laws passed in states like Arizona and Alabama.

The EEOC has developed a new training program for its attorneys and those at related state agencies to help them better recognize particular forms of employment discrimination against Asian Americans and better serve Asian American victims.

The Department of Agriculture has been doing briefings and providing translated information for Hmong and other Asian American farmers in California, Arkansas, Wisconsin and Minnesota on how to access programs and how to report discrimination in agricultural lending and other programs.

The Department of Labor has been actively challenging discrimination against women and minorities, winning huge settlements for the victims.

In stark contrast, the Bush Administration’s record on civil rights and labor law enforcement was abysmal.  And there is no reason to expect that candidate Mitt Romney would be any better  – in fact he is likely to be worse given his statements belittling supporters of President Obama.  Except for the Voting Rights Act which passed almost unanimously in the House and Senate, little progress was made with President Bush opposing the rest of the civil rights agenda.  Appointees at the Department of Justice largely ignored their responsibility to enforce civil rights laws, as did the appointees at the Department of Labor.  News exposes at the time provided evidence that wage and hour and other violations were not even investigated.

Are we better off than four years ago when it comes to civil rights?  No question.  Are we better off with President Obama than Governor Romney?  Absolutely.