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Do Current Social Issues Play Out in the Law?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Horace Blake
February 17, 2015

Blake febPublic administrators are continuously struggling with social issues and the law including issues such as education, immigration and employment opportunities for ex-offenders. As there is no shortage of critics on these issues, the law is the most important avenue where policies are settled or become a guide in how to address each issue. There is frequent mention in the media discussing these highly charged social issues. Exploring these issues in three separate vignettes will inform the reader on what makes these issues so important to the general society, public administrators and the law.

The Social Challenge in Urban Education

When the Supreme Court decided on Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, it was a landmark case that did not curtail many of the ongoing issues in our nation’s educational institutions. The ruling rendered Plessy v Ferguson decision of 1896, which allowed state-sponsored segregation in public education, was ultimately over turned. As a result of Brown v Board of Education de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The result was integration that met with a lot of resistance as many school systems were forced to abide by the law of the land. In many urban school districts, white flight was a way to escape the integration. With the bulk of the money moving to new suburban areas, many inner city school districts were cash strapped with poorly maintained buildings, cutbacks and lack of other resources. To this very day, many districts have had to close buildings, cut programs and lay teachers off as they struggle to cope in a climate where the new segregation is school systems with more than 90 percent immigrants and minorities. The upsurge of charter schools has hardly helped the problem. They too are bogged down with issues of improprieties where the state board of education are taking them over or threatening shutdown.

It’s Not Just Immigration

Immigration is an ongoing occurrence worldwide. However, the issue of undocumented immigration activities presents some dire challenges, which have public administrators struggling with maintaining the law versus how to treat the millions in this classification with dignity and respect. There are criminal elements in the midst of the economic immigrants or those seeking religious or political asylum. The results are that local law enforcement officials are back logged with immigration cases that involves a lot of time to resolve them humanely.

For example, the recent plight of Central Americans on our Southern borders has law enforcement inundated with how to process these individuals with fairness and what the law suggests. The moment any persons cross over or lands on American soil, they gain some additional rights that they did not have before crossing the border. Knowing this, savvy smugglers were able to dump many immigrants across the river where surely they would be caught and processed. In addition the message was out that mothers with children fleeing street violence and domestic abuse would be given preferential treatment. This undoubtedly opened the flood gates. The president, under pressure to act on immigration, has further confounded the issue. Obama’s recent initiative is not a done deal and the courts will eventually have to weigh in.

They Have Paid Society, What Next?

In the current job market, where background checks are one of the deciding factors as to who gets a job, the courts and local public administrators are obliged to weigh in on whether a background can be used to disqualify someone from employment opportunities after they have served their time. Some critics state there is a red flag in hiring a past offender which might create additional issues in an organization. The opposing argument takes the stand that if the system continues to punish these individuals then we are forcing them right back to where they were before. In addition, many who have served time for petty drug crimes or were never given a fair trial due to lack of financial abilities are forced to agree to a plea deal that was the  public defender’s way to get through a long list of clients on the docket without tying up the court system. So the problematic issue is that individuals serve time, exit with a record and are further ostracized by not having fair employment opportunities available to them.

Immigration is related to cultural identity rather than economic anxiety. However, when low- performing urban educational institutions are filled to the brim with minority students and undocumented immigrant children, the cycle continues where lack of education leads to economic depravity and crime eventually becomes a way of life for these masses.


Author: Horace A. Blake is a three-term city commissioner with 20 years community action experience at municipal and state levels. Blake currently serves on the Storm Water  Management Team, working with the city and the community in water management, education and sustainable related issues. He is also the current treasurer in ASPA’s Section on Public Law and  Administration. Blake can be reached at [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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