ICE Is Terrorizing Immigrants. Now Some Communities Are Putting It On Trial.

In ten events in ten different cities, from February to May, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is being put on trial. The Detention Watch Network, a coalition of organizations focused on the injustices of immigration detention, has organized people’s tribunals to hold ICE’s history of abuse and oppression up to public scrutiny.

This past weekend, the “ICE on Trial” tribunals continued near detention centers in Taylor, Texas, and Richmond, California. The events are loosely presented in the form of a trial, with a jury, expert witnesses, evidence and testimonials from victims and their families. The symbolic tribunals questions the very legitimacy of the agency.

ICE detains approximately 40,000 people a day in a network of more than 200 facilities throughout the country. Annually, ICE holds about 400,000 people in its facilities. But the numbers don’t tell the story of the misery that the agency inflicts, which involves terrorizing neighborhoodsbreaking apart families; separating children from their parents; subjecting asylum seekers to prolonged detention; and sexually, physically, and emotionally abusing those in its custody. As the ACLU put it recently, “ICE cruelty knows no bounds.”

Though ICE has been a scourge on immigrant communities for years, the past year may have been the agency’s most brutal. Bolstered by anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration and a directive from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prosecute “all immigration cases,” ICE has dramatically widened its net.  It has resumed a Bush-era strategy of terror-inducing raids in neighborhoods and workplaces—and even outside of churches—as well as amplified its individually-targeted arrests at homes and at courthouses, resulting in 42 percent more arrests in 2017 than in 2016.

ProPublica and Philadelphia Inquirer recently collected stories of ICE agents allegedly engaging in racial profiling, conducting warrantless searches, detaining people without cause, fabricating evidence, and even soliciting a bribe. “But in none of these cases,” write journalists Deborah Sontag and Dale Russakoff, “have agents or officers been put on the stand to respond to the allegations.”

That’s where the people’s tribunal steps in. The Detention Watch Network’s ICE on Trial events publicly present a litany of disturbing and systemic abuses committed by the agency. Alan Dicker, one the organizers of El Paso’s tribunal, said they are necessary because “ICE is, in effect, a lawless law enforcement agency.”

According to Princeton professor of International Law Richard Falk, people’s tribunals “have emerged to fill the normative vacuum created by the stark hypocrisies of international justice.” Philosophers Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre famously convened a people’s tribunal in 1967 to hear grievances of war crimes committed by the US military in Vietnam. The same year, organizers in Detroit also called a people’s tribunal after the Algiers Motel killing, when white police officers killed three black teens and severely beat a number of others. The ICE on Trial events are underscoring a similar hypocrisy—or plain scarcity—of justice.

At the El Paso tribunal—which took place on April 21 along with ICE on Trial tribunals in New York City and Gadsden, Alabama—there were four jury members (made up of local activists and people directly-impacted by ICE), three expert witnesses, and a barrage of evidence and testimonials from victims and their families. In all, about 100 people attended. The jury weighed three charges against ICE: The agency does not fulfill its legal obligations to migrants in its custody; it does not live up to moral and ethical standards of the surrounding community; and it oversees an inherently dehumanizing, exploitative, and destructive system.

At least thirteen people have died in ICE custody since the beginning of 2017.

ICE was not invited to the El Paso tribunal in order to ensure a safe space for all in attendance, but responded via email, claiming that the agency is “committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.”

Nellie Alvarado, a 42-year-old El Paso native who testified, explained how she was occasionally laughed at by ICE agents while her husband, Oscar, was in detention in El Paso for 16 months—33 days of which he spent in solitary confinement, unable to receive visitors. Oscar asked for asylum at the U.S. border in Juárez, Mexico in 2015 after being shot by an unknown assailant, but he said he was harassed and threatened by Juárez police, who didn’t seem to believe his testimony. After being released from the hospital on the U.S. side, he was placed in ICE custody as his asylum claim was processed. (It was eventually denied.)

Alvarado said that her husband was mistreated from the moment he was placed in ICE custody. First, she said that ICE didn’t provide necessary cleaning for his gunshot wound. Weeks later, while in custody, Oscar was diagnosed with PTSD but was provided insufficient access to his medication for anxiety, and sometimes missed doses. He also lost significant weight while in detention. “He received the opposite of the care he needed,” she said.

In response to these allegations, ICE claimed that all “detainees… can expect timely and appropriate responses to emergent medical requests,” adding that “ICE takes very seriously the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care.” Yet at least thirteen people have died in ICE custody since the beginning of 2017, and there are many claims of substandard care.

Alvarado described her husband being in solitary as an experience that was “emotionally disabling”—she was constantly worried that something would happen to him, or that he would commit suicide. Alvarado also claimed she was consistently denied even basic information about her husband—whether he had been transferred to another facility, for instance. She summed up ICE as an agency with “no ethical values, no respect for human life.”

Oscar was deported in 2017 and, since then, Alvarado has lived with him across the border in Juárez. She said, “I expected to find the man who went in, but the man who came out was different.” He became really quiet, didn’t talk much, and had suicidal thoughts. “Where’s my husband who jokes around?” Alvarado wondered aloud.

Private immigration attorney Jessie Miles argued at the tribunal that “ICE is failing to meet legal obligations under the US constitution.” He noted that immigration detention is civil detention—not criminal detention—and “cannot be used for punitive purposes.” Yet despite internal guidelines directing ICE to focus its detention efforts only on those who are a “danger to society” or a “flight risk,” Miles explained that since February 2017 ICE has adopted “across-the-board policies to detain non-dangerous and non-flight risk immigrants.”

Miles said that in the El Paso area, ICE seemingly no longer allows people to fight their cases outside of detention. The ACLU documented 349 parole requests for asylum seekers in the El Paso sector from February to September of 2017. All 349 of them were denied.

ICE, in response, said that the agency makes decisions to release detainees with pending proceedings “on a case-by-case basis.”

The jury in the El Paso tribunal effectively found ICE guilty on all three counts, and encouraged the community to advocate for abolishing ICE, shutting down its detention centers, and building support for those who remain detained. Although the tribunals aren’t legally binding, the idea is to galvanize community resistance to what organizers call an unaccountable, opaque, and out of control agency.

The stakes are clear, as Jean-Claude, an asylum seeker from the Ivory Coast testified in El Paso: He had languished in detention for nearly a year, and at various points regretted his decision to come to the U.S.  He said, “Detention has killed everything in me, my soul and my spirit.”  And that’s despite the fact that his case was one of the few with a happy ending.  After nearly a year of suffering he was granted asylum and now lives in Maryland.

As the Trump administration and DHS continue to criminalize migrants and asylum seekers, people’s tribunals—and the grassroots movements they represent—offer hope that, perhaps someday soon, people like Alvarado, Jean-Claude, and hundreds of thousands of others won’t have to suffer for searching for a safe place to live.



The Supreme Court Could Make Unions a Lot More Radical

Fed up with the harsh conditions under which they were forced to labor, workers from West Virginia decided to call it quits. Together, they left their jobs, donned red bandanas, and amassed 10,000 strong near Blair Mountain, where a local sheriff had assembled a 3,000-man force of police, hired security, and militia to put them down.

No, this isn’t the recent West Virginia teachers strike — it’s a 1921 coal miners strike, which escalated into what would come to be known as the Battle of Blair Mountain. The two sides battled for five days, until more than 2,000 additional U.S. Army troops entered the fray to crush the workers rebellion. Up to 100 laborers were killed, hundreds more were injured, and more than 1,000 were arrested. While the uprising seems like an episode relegated to the largely forgotten labor wars of past, the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) may make such conflicts part of the future for unions once again.

The plaintiffs in Janusbacked by right-wing foundations and corporate lobbying groups—seek to deprive AFSCME of its ability to collect agency fees, which are essentially reduced union dues from non-union members. By setting a federal precedent, the case could cleave the public sector workforce across the country into two groups: those paying for collective bargaining and those not paying for it but still receiving benefits such as higher wages—often referred to as “free riders.” The fear is that, without a way to prevent free riding, collective bargaining will be overburdened and underfunded, and already embattled unions—which have fallen from representing 33 percent of workers in 1954 to just 11 percent today—will be finished. Or, as Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, put it, “[S]uch a broad-based attack on workers would leave no group unscathed.”

But this prognosis ignores that unions both existed and made great strides before they were officially recognized or even legal organizations. And it ignores what organized labor has accomplished in the roughly half of U.S. states that already prohibit mandatory agency fees—including West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky, where massive teacher demonstrations have led to statewide victories.

*           *           *

Prior to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employers had no obligation to recognize unions, and they even included anti-union clauses in employment contracts. This prevented millions of workers from joining unions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Unions both existed and made great strides before they were officially recognized

Yet it was during this time that unions were their most militant. Without legal recourse, workers relied on direct action—such as boycotts, pickets, and strikes—to win their demands. These tactics put workers face to face with their opposition: the bosses and their lackeys; mercenaries; local law enforcement; and, as in the 1921 West Virginia coal miners’ strike, even the U.S. military. And with so many union sympathizers barred from official memberships, labor actions often included both unionized and non-unionized workers, if not their entire communities.

The results could be explosive. Besides the Battle of Blair Mountain, which remains the largest labor rebellion in U.S. history, the Haymarket affair of 1886 involved a bombing and Chicago police opening fire on a rally in support of striking workers; the so-called “Colorado Labor Wars” led to the deaths of both strikers and strikebreakers from 1903 to 1904; and two people were killed by the police and militia during the 1912 “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Despite the overwhelming violence used against them in this period, unions were still able to win significant victories, such as the eight-hour workday (albeit only in particular locations and industries). By 1934—the year before the National Labor Relations Act granted unions state recognition—the tide seemed to be turning in favor of workers: Sailors and longshoremen unionized all West Coast ports in the United States, and 400,000 textile workers from New England to the South launched what was then the largest strike in U.S. history.

According to Peter Cole, professor of history at Western Illinois University, these strikes—and the “working class radicalism” they represented—were curtailed by the NLRA. Cole says the Act was designed to contain “radical left-wing forces by forcing employers to accept modest, if still quite beneficial, reforms,” like giving workers the right to unionize and strike.

In other words, the federal government used the NLRA to enforce a peaceful compromise between labor and business, rather than risk the escalation of all-out class war. In exchange for the right to unionize, strike, and collectively bargain, workers agreed to union elections and arbitration of unfair labor practice charges through the newly created National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). That is, rather than rank-and-file union members fighting for their demands through direct action, labor struggles were decided by lawyers and bureaucrats behind the closed doors of NLRB regional offices. (Although the NLRA does not cover public sector employees, many of these same rights were later extended to them through various state and federal measures, such as President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10988, with the substitution of federal and state boards for the NLRB.)

Janus threatens to dismantle this regime of compromise and deliver unions into the pre-NLRA era, shifting labor struggles from the courts back onto the streets. And we don’t have to look as far back as the 1920s for examples of how this could play out. Unions in West Virginia lost the ability to collect agency fees in 2017, yet rather than collapsing, labor’s struggle in the state has hit a new zenith. Without the backing of their union or much faith in their elected representatives, 20,000 rank-and-file West Virginia teachers organized and led their recent nine-day strike, winning raises for public sector workers statewide and inspiring successful teachers strikes in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky—all states where unions are barred from collecting agency fees. In an homage to the past—and perhaps a harbinger of the future—some of the teachers in West Virginia chose to wear red bandanas, just like the striking coal miners of 1921.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and are not representative of the Center for American Progress’ policy positions on any issue. 


First Person

The House Farm Bill Doubles Down on TANF’s Mistakes

Even when I was a single mother facing homelessness, applying to receive cash assistance from the state never felt like a feasible option.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) goes by many names depending on the state where you’re applying for services, but the basics are the same: Recipients are assigned caseworkers and they report their progress—as often as weekly—to show that they are participating in approved work-related activities for the required number of hours. TANF means constant check-ins and a complete loss of autonomy in any chosen career path for little in return. Cash assistance amounts are detrimentally low—sometimes less than $200 a month.

In the new Farm Bill proposed by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Conaway’s mission is to change the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps) to mirror the TANF program. Congressional Democrats adamantly argued against making such changes, which would reduce the number of people who can get the food assistance they need.

Conaway’s Farm Bill would make SNAP’s current work requirements even harsher. Nearly any non-disabled adult under age 60 who isn’t able to work 20 hours every week would only receive benefits for three months every three years. If they’re raising a child age 6 or older, they would still be subject to the new rules. If they’re unemployed or working a job that isn’t assigning them enough hours, tough luck. Much like TANF, people would need to check in monthly or risk losing their food benefits for 12 months for their first “failure to comply,” and 36 months for their second. Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY) says that that this policy is simply “a backdoor way to kick people off the program.”

Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) argued against the changes several times in the committee’s nearly six-hour meeting on the bill. “You need to understand what you’re doing,” he pleaded. “When we put the work requirements into TANF and SNAP, one of the biggest problems is lack of flexibility.”

When I applied for TANF in 2007, I had to attend work preparation classes that were several hours long. Even though I’d worked full-time for more than 10 years, I had to learn how to write a resume, how to go online and look for jobs, and I was told I should consider a career as a secretary or a baker. I had to mark these career paths on a sheet, and tell my caseworker my plan to pursue those fields, even though that wasn’t my interest. Higher education, even at the local community college, wasn’t an option. All of this seemed for show, and a waste of everyone’s time, since I was a month away from giving birth to my first child and determined to be a writer.

TANF’s maze of paperwork is so incredibly difficult to work through that many people, like me, are discouraged before they even begin

Seven years later, as a possible TANF applicant again, I now had a bachelor’s degree. I’d still have to attend those same classes, but with the added stress of finding a child care facility that would accept TANF’s payments for my daughter to attend. Midway through reading the thick packet of paperwork my caseworker had mailed me to apply, I called to ask how much money I’d receive each month as a family of three. “Probably about 80 dollars more than your child support,” she said with a sigh. “It’s probably not even worth it for you to apply.” (If a custodial parent is already receiving a monthly amount in child support, the state reroutes the payments to the agency, and pays the participant directly instead.)

“Okay,” I told my caseworker, tucking the papers back into the manila envelope before I tossed it into the trash. I was not only a qualified applicant, but one the program was supposed to help. Yet TANF’s maze of paperwork is so incredibly difficult to work through that many people, like me, are discouraged before they even begin.

House Democrats voiced their concerns that Conaway’s Farm Bill would similarly overburden SNAP recipients and program administrators if it switched to running as a work program instead of a food program. The amount of paperwork that people would be required to file on a monthly basis—and that caseworkers would need to process—would require new systems, new employees, and training. While House Democrats argued that more than 2 million people would be kicked off SNAP or have their benefits reduced, and 265,000 kids would consequently lose automatic access to free meals at school, that wouldn’t be the end of the suffering—the travesty would continue as more people would lose benefits due to misplaced paperwork or being unable to meet a new work requirement due to a lack of transportation, or child care, or caring for a family member, or any number of reasons.

“States will be unable to provide the services expected of them. And rather than take on the cost of serving their clients … it’s very likely states will take the steps to cut them off all together,” says Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH).

Despite reports that more than half of households receiving SNAP are working households—a number that jumps to 80 percent in the years before and after qualifying for food benefits— Conaway wants to force recipients to provide proof that they are worthy of getting help with food. That they are, essentially, “legitimately poor.”

Fudge argued that a better approach would be to raise the minimum wage, noting that cafeteria employees in the building where the committee met that day made less than $2,000 a month, and therefore qualified for SNAP. “In fact,” she added, “raising the minimum wage to just $12 an hour would save about $53 billion in SNAP over 10 years.”

House Republicans on the committee didn’t seem to want to hear that side of the argument, though. Instead, by turning SNAP into a program like TANF, the amount of people able to get food assistance would dwindle. One can only assume that perhaps that’s the whole point.


First Person

You Shouldn’t Need a Law Degree to Get Food Assistance

I’m a lawyer, but I was barely able to navigate the food assistance bureaucracy in Massachusetts. Even in one of the most liberal states in this country, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is already so hostile to hungry people that had I not had a legal education to help me steer through, I would have starved.

Now, Congressional Republicans are trying to make it even harder for the frailest, poorest, and most vulnerable Americans to access food assistance. They seek to impose harsh new work requirements that will force some of the most marginalized Americans to run a convoluted labyrinth of wage and hour verification paperwork over and over again.

It is a transparently cynical move to chop the program and take food from people who are hungry. Even those who do everything the system demands will be denied assistance—and I am absolutely certain of this, because it almost happened to me.

A few years ago, I was sick and getting sicker. I was not yet sick enough for surgery but far too sick to work.

I have Crohn’s, a chronic, incurable inflammatory bowel disease that causes my immune system to shred portions of my own small intestine. On a certain level, it’s a simple plumbing problem: the small intestine is like a long flexible pipe that brings food from the stomach to the large intestine, winding and twisting back and forth in the abdomen. When scar tissue builds up, it constricts the pipe, making it too narrow for most foods to get through. And then the pipe can clog.

Those clogs are called “small bowel obstructions” and, unlike a backed-up sink, they’re a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. I’ve experienced the special hell of having a tube shoved up my nose, down my throat, through my stomach and into my small intestine. I’ve watched as that tube sucked small bits of almond out through my nose. And, with some of the finest professors of surgery Harvard Medical School has to offer, I’ve discussed the odds that I’d live through emergency surgery if suction didn’t work.

After the almond incident, my physicians prescribed a strict low-residue and low-FODMAP diet. I was highly motivated to adhere to it; I understood the stakes. But as I got sicker and became unable to work, I could barely afford any food, never mind the diet my physicians prescribed. I didn’t have any income. So I applied for SNAP.

First, I faced an extensive application. But, more importantly, I was told that a face-to-face interview was required, and that the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), the state agency charged with administering SNAP, scheduled the interview on their timetable. As an applicant, you showed up when they told you, where they told you—or no food for you.

My life at this point consisted of debilitating symptoms: constant diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, nausea that even powerful prescription anti-emetics barely controlled, anemia, arthritis, and crippling fatigue. But despite my failing health, I had not been declared disabled by any government agency.

Despite my failing health, I had not been declared disabled by any government agency.

Under the current SNAP eligibility rules, an “Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents” (ABAWD) between the ages of 18 and 49 can only receive 3 months of SNAP benefits in any 3-year period if they do not meet the existing SNAP work requirements. Yes, there are already work requirements for SNAP, but Congressional Republicans are pushing for still more draconian rules. They assure us that just as disabled folks are supposed to be exempt under the current rules—an exemption that has proven elusive—they will be exempt under the new regulations, too.

However, proving disability to the government is exceedingly difficult. First, it virtually requires ongoing, meaningful, affordable access to comprehensive medical care. Without medical records, government agencies are loathe to find an applicant disabled. (Yet, conservatives are also working to roll back access to health care at every turn, including by imposing work requirements on Medicaid, making care even more of a challenge to obtain.) Proving disability also often requires the cooperation of overworked health care providers in completing legal forms they’re not trained to deal with. Doctors are taught to diagnose and treat, not judge someone’s capacity to work against specific, highly technical legal criteria. And it means a lot of work for the applicant—work they may be too sick to do.

When I was eventually healthy enough to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), it took dozens of hours of work from me to gather, review, and collate my voluminous medical records (over 500 pages). It took even more time to complete the application forms Social Security sent me. I approached the work and writing that formed the basis of my SSI application like it was an appellate case before the Massachusetts Supreme Court. In total, just applying for SSI took me more than two months of working whenever I was medically able. I was fortunate enough to get approved for SSI at the initial application stage. Many people my age don’t.

Because I was so sick, I asked DTA to conduct the interview for my SNAP application via telephone. I also asked that the call be in the afternoon because my symptoms were a bit more manageable then. As an attorney, I had the benefit of knowing that the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, part of the law that governs SNAP applications, required that DTA grant my request. But DTA didn’t reply—or at least, I thought they didn’t reply.

Despite giving DTA my full, complete, and correct address, that’s not where they were sending letters. They failed to include my apartment number on the mail they sent me. (As if I lived in a house, when I couldn’t even make the rent on my half of a tiny one-bedroom apartment.) DTA screwed up, I never got their mail, and I wasn’t receiving SNAP.

I called my DTA caseworker, just as I was supposed to do. I would call and then wait on hold for 30 to 45 minutes. An operator would then answer, and transfer me to a voice mailbox. (I wasn’t given the option of directly dialing the extension.) If the voice mailbox wasn’t full, I would leave a message. If it was full, which was usually the case, I would have to start over. After another 30 to 45 minutes on hold, I’d ask the operator for a different case worker, and leave that person a message. I repeated this process daily.

While waiting for DTA to return my many messages, I could never, ever allow the phone to go unanswered—they simply wouldn’t try calling again. No matter how sick I was, no matter if I was vomiting or toileting or running a 103° fever, if I missed a phone call from DTA, during my next interaction with them, they’d accuse me of “non-compliance.”*

I was slipping through the cracks

Usually the person returning my desperate messages was someone who didn’t “know the file” and whose only reply to my desperate questions like “What do I need to do in order to schedule the formal interview?” was “Sorry, can’t help.” I was slipping through the cracks.

Because I am a lawyer, I knew that if I could somehow hang on long enough, I could eventually get my case before an administrative law judge. And, because I am a lawyer, I knew how to keep a log of every single SNAP related phone call I had in a way that a judge would understand and likely find credible. I knew which conversations I was legally allowed to record, and which I wasn’t. I knew what was important to include in the notes I took during every call. Or I did sometimes. Other times the pain, the fatigue, and the brain fog from the methotrexate—a chemo drug used to treat autoimmune diseases—was too much and I couldn’t think straight. I could only hope they didn’t call then.

And then one day, after weeks of waiting and dozens of hours spent trying to fight my way through the red tape, I finally got a piece of mail from DTA. I opened the letter outside. It was summer, and I wasn’t supposed to be in the sun because of one of the medications I was on. They denied my application because I didn’t attend the “in-person interview.” I sat in the street and cried—and I wasn’t supposed to cry, either. After choking down homemade oral rehydration solution, I got to work on this:



What you’ve just read is, essentially, a legal complaint and a motion for a hearing before an administrative law judge. Although the letter is just two pages, dozens of hours of research went into drafting it. Not to mention four years of college, two years of public health graduate school, and three years of law school that enabled me to research the pertinent state and federal statutes and regulations, as well as find and analyze all the relevant legal rulings. In response, DTA reversed the denial and awarded benefits retroactive to the date of my SNAP application. The entire process had taken 10 weeks.

My question for Congressional Republicans is this: Could you—while in constant pain, malnourished, dehydrated, and terrified of eating the wrong thing because it could kill you—have done better? Adding more punishing work requirements for nutritional assistance will harm some of your most vulnerable constituents.

In the wealthiest country in the world, you shouldn’t need to be a lawyer to get a little help with food.

* Editor’s note: A DTA spokesperson says that subsequent to the author’s applying for benefits, the agency has made numerous “reforms,” including: a “simplified SNAP application,” a mobile app for smart phones, a web-based portal for clients “to self-service and view their information,” and allowing any available caseworker to assist an applicant.



What Ben Carson Doesn’t Get About Poverty

“The prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease.”

Apply Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson’s latest plan and you’ll see just how brainless public housing policy could become.

Last week, Carson unveiled a plan that would, among other things, triple the minimum rent for the poorest public housing residents—from $50 to $150. The change would affect an estimated 1.7 million people, 1 million of whom are children.

His prediction is that higher rents will encourage tenants to earn more money.

“Instead of [public housing] being a stepladder it’s become a mode of life and, in many cases, for generation after generation of individuals and I don’t think it’s their fault,” Carson told the conservative online news outlet Townhall. “I think it’s the fault of the system that has basically sapped the incentive for people to work.”

There’s no doubt that HUD needs fixing. Less than a quarter of families who qualify for housing assistance actually get it.

But Carson misdiagnoses the problem when he pretends that public housing residents don’t work. Many do, just at jobs that pay too little to make ends meet.

The system that truly needs an overhaul is the American economy, which operates on the labor of millions of low-wage workers who earn too little to keep a roof over their heads without help.

“Rent Is Affordable to Low-Wage Workers in Exactly 12 U.S. Counties,” blared the headline on a 2017 CityLab story that detailed the glum findings of a National Low Income Housing Coalition study. To afford the average one-bedroom rental home, a minimum-wage worker would need to put in 94.5 hours a week, every week. Imagine working from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week, 52 weeks a year to afford your one-bedroom—and you’ll understand just how cruel and clueless the former brain surgeon’s plan to make housing even less affordable for struggling families is. Carson proposes that public housing residents pay either 35 percent of their gross income, or 35 percent of their income from working 15 hours per week at minimum wage—whichever is the higher amount.

Imagine working from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week, 52 weeks a year to afford your one-bedroom

“This is a particularly good time because the economy’s improved quite a bit, there are a lot of jobs now,” Carson has said—as though the line between a job and economic independence was straight and true.

It is not, as anyone who’s dealt with low-wage work—not to mention unpredictable scheduling, irregular hours, or wage theft—can attest.

Carson seems to have confused the quantity of jobs with the quality of jobs. In fact, 6 of the 10 occupations that will add the most jobs between 2016 and 2026 pay less than $30,000 per year. Number one on that list—personal care aides—accounts for more than 777,000 new jobs, but at a median pay of just $23,100 a year.

But back to the impracticality of Carson’s plan. Earning that additional $100 in monthly rent will take about 14 hours of minimum wage labor. (Of course, if the federal minimum wage were $15 an hour, as advocated by the Fight for $15 movement and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival, that drops to less than seven additional hours of work per month.)

And that assumes the public housing resident can get more hours at her current job. Or that she can find another job—and has transportation to get there. In cities like Memphis, where I live, the public transportation system is pitifully inefficient. It’s a two-hour bus ride from my neighborhood to the retailer IKEA, which pays a living wage.

Then, assume that the worker can find child care for these additional hours she’s working—and that she can afford to pay for it and the rent increase.

In an April 10 USA Today op-ed, Carson conceded that the housing discrimination Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought—and that the 1968 Fair Housing Act was designed to correct—persists. But while he lauds King, he ignores what King said.

“We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished,” King told the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967.

The solution to poverty?

Money. If you have more money, you’re not poor. (It really is that simple.)

Since most people make money through their jobs, the cure to the sickness of poverty isn’t higher rents for the families struggling hardest to make ends meet.

The cure is a sizable increase in the federal minimum wage, which remains at $7.25 an hour.

Again, King’s words are instructive: “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”