Illinois legislator proposes designating Arabs as ‘minority’ to qualify for state contracts

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Updated 22 April 2022

Illinois legislator proposes designating Arabs as ‘minority’ to qualify for state contracts

Illinois legislator proposes designating Arabs as ‘minority’ to qualify for state contracts
  • ‘It’s not only about securing contracts with government but getting jobs and resources for schools,’ says Rep. Cyril Nichols
  • ‘Arab-Americans pay their taxes, are law abiding citizens, yet are excluded from the US Census, and various benefits,’ argues Hassan Nijem, president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce

CHICAGO: Illinois Rep. Cyril Nichols has said he will introduce legislation in the state’s General Assembly to add Arab business members as a recognized minority, giving them an improved opportunity to compete for billions of dollars in contracts.

Nichols, during an appearance on the Ray Hanania Radio Show Wednesday, said the “Minority Set-Aside” program requires that at least 20 percent of state contracts be awarded to businesses owned by minorities, a category that currently includes Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders, and women.

Similar laws have already been approved by other states including Michigan, Nichols argued.

“I wanted to make sure the Arab community gets the respect that the other communities want in day-to-day operations in this country,” Nichols said.

“So, I was approached and they said is it possible that you can look at making sure we get the minority status. I said yes, let me look at it. In Detroit Michigan, one of the largest populations of Arab Americans they have this status ... We realized they had legislation in place. We took the same legislation and I said to my staff, look at this and see if this is what we are looking at.”

Nichols said the issue of approving the minority designation for Arab-American entrepreneurs came up while he was addressing a gathering of Arabs and Muslims during an open-air prayer meeting at SeatGeek Stadium in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview.

“Many Arabs and Muslims came up to me asking for help. I told them, I am not only here to represent your voice, but I am also here to bring proper respect to your community. And I decided to do what I can to help them,” Nichols said.

Nichols explained the purpose of the Minority Set-Aside program was to give ethnic and national groups, that are often excluded, the opportunity to compete for contracts on a level playing field.

“That’s my job to represent the Arab community, the Black community, the White community, the Irish Community. I am representing the district. We have a very diverse district,” Nichols said.

“Everybody must be respected regardless of culture, regardless of race. Everybody has an opportunity and this actually gives you guys opportunity … to get help.”

The Minority Set-Aside program was first introduced by states in the 1960s to help ethnic groups that have been marginalized from state government contracts primarily Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and women.

It’s not only about securing contracts with government, Nichols explained. “It’s about getting jobs. There is a Set-Aside for jobs for minority groups. There are resources for schools.”

Arabs, he acknowledged, have been among the most marginalized in America. In addition to often being the target of racism and discrimination, Arabs are not included in the US Census which determines an ethnic community’s political power base. They are often excluded from being appointed to top government agencies.

Nichols said that must change and every ethnic and religious and racial group must be all on the same “equal level.”

Nichols said he has support from other legislators and the bill will be presented for consideration at an upcoming meeting.

“I have sent it over to the chamber and they asked for it. And they are looking over it with their lawyers and right now they say it is a thumbs up and it is ready to go. I will be talking to a couple of people (legislators) the rest of this week and then we will file it,” Nichols said. The bill only needs the support of a majority of the 118 members of the State House, the Senate, before being signed into law by the governor, he said.

“It actually opens the door for a lot of services. It opens the door to be counted in the census. The right way, the proper way. It opens the door for contract negotiations. Now you can go MBW. There are so many doors that will open with this simple legislation which (has) already been done in Michigan.”

Nichols emphasized that Arabs who do not want to compete as a minority group for state contracts can continue to apply and compete with the larger business community, adding: “I am going to fight to get it passed.”

Nichols has a long history of helping communities in need. He served as a former executive director of the YMCA, and as the coordinator for the Chicago Youth Centers before being appointed to the Illinois General Assembly on April 8, 2021 representing the 32nd District. Nichols also worked for the Cabrini Green community base organization, Park District, Cunningham Children’s home, Benedictine University, University of St. Francis, as well as City Colleges of Chicago.

Hassan Nijem, president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, which has fought to defend the rights of more than 150 Arab businesses that were closed last summer by Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot, said that the minority designation to qualify for state contracts is welcomed by the community.

“Arab-Americans pay their taxes. They are law-abiding citizens of this country and this state and yet we are excluded from the US Census, and marginalized by local and state governments who exclude us from the benefits that we pay for through our taxes and our hard work,” Nijem said.

“We deserve the opportunity to receive contracts for our businesses so that we can share in the state government pie that everyone else enjoys except us.”

If the bill is approved by a majority of the state’s House members, it would then be sent to the Senate’s 59 members for approval before being sent to the governor to be signed into law.

The Ray Hanania Radio Show, hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, is broadcast each week live on Wednesdays in Detroit, Washington D.C., Ontario and rebroadcast on Thursday in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080 radio. For more information on the show and podcasts visit ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.

Listen to the Ray Hanania podcast here.


UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’
Updated 8 sec ago

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’
LONDON: A Conservative lawmaker submitted a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson on Friday and another quit a role as an assistant to Britain’s interior minister, putting new pressure on the prime minister over illegal parties at his Downing Street residence during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Bob Neill, the chair of parliament’s justice committee, said an official report on the parties issued on Wednesday showed a pattern of “unacceptable behavior” over months during Britain’s coronavirus crisis, and said he did not find Johnson’s explanations to be credible.
“Trust is the most important commodity in politics, but these events have undermined trust in not just the office of the prime minister, but in the political process itself,” Neill said in a statement. “To rebuild that trust and move on, a change in leadership is required.”
Johnson said after the report was issued that he took responsibility for the events but refused to quit.
Another Conservative lawmaker, Paul Holmes, said earlier on Friday he was resigning from his government role as parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office to focus on representing his constituents.
“It is clear to me that a deep mistrust in both the government and the Conservative Party has been created by these events ... It is distressing to me that this work on your behalf has been tarnished by the toxic culture that seemed to have permeated Number 10,” Holmes said in a statement.
Other Conservative lawmakers this week have said they had submitted letters calling for a confidence vote in Johnson to the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee — which would be triggered if 54 such letters are written.
The letters are confidential, so only the chairman of the 1922 Committee knows how many have actually been submitted.
However, Holmes confirmed to Reuters he had not written a letter to call for Johnson to resign.

As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Updated 27 May 2022

As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
  • Prolonged dry periods have been more frequent in recent years due to climate change
  • Farmers build soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water

KATHMANDU: Water scarcity in Kuinkel Thumka, a mountainous village in eastern Nepal, has for years made life difficult for residents — until a few months ago, when they started to capture excess rainfall during the monsoon season.

Located in the Middle Hills, between the Himalayas and Tarai, the village of 850 people lies in Kavrepalanchok district of Bagmati province, where the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), has introduced soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water.

“We built a soil-cement tank in our village eight months ago and started to collect rain,” Gita Kuinkel, a 53-year-old farmer, told Arab News.

“Before this tank, we didn’t have enough water and our lives were hard. It was not enough for our cattle, household chores and irrigation. Now, the water is enough,” she said.

“We don’t have to buy vegetables, we grow and eat vegetables from our own home gardens.”

Cheap soil-cement conservation ponds are constructed in the region with the help of ICIMOD, an intergovernmental research center serving countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, and the Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED), a leading Nepali developmental NGO.

The ponds capture excess rainfall during the monsoon, making water available during prolonged dry periods, which in recent years have been more frequent, even in the Himalayas, as South Asia is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves due to climate change.

Sanjeev Bhuchar, a water management expert at ICIMOD, told Arab News that more than 80 percent of Nepal’s 13 million population was dependent on mountain springs as the primary source of water. But the springs are drying up.

“In Nepal and other Himalaya-Hindu Kush countries, depletion of springs is one of the major emerging water crises,” he said.

“There is increasing evidence that spring discharge is decreasing, or in some cases, ceasing altogether.”

Within the past three years, more than 400 ponds have been built across the country, according to Kiran Bhusal, project coordinator at CEAPRED.

“Farmers can easily build such tanks because the procedure is very easy. It is built with mixtures of soil, sand and cement,” he said. “It is helping the people so much.”

Kamala Adhikary, another resident of Kuinkel Thumka, said that it cost the village about $160 to build a water conservation pond, and the standard of living has changed ever since.

“We didn’t have enough water for drinking, we had to buy water from other areas,” she said.

“Now we can wash our clothes, use it for our cattle and even we do farming, and earn money because of it. It improved our economic condition. A lot of problems have been solved.”

 


Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
Updated 27 May 2022

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
  • Number being granted refuge hits 30-year high
  • Most enter via small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risk of prosecution

LONDON: Charities have raised concerns over the potential for asylum seekers to be criminalized or transferred to Rwanda as the number being granted refuge in the UK hits a 30-year high.
The Guardian reported on Friday that Home Office data for the 12 months to March shows 75 percent of asylum claims were granted, with Syrians, Eritreans and Sudanese forming the majority of people making their way from countries with typically high approval rates.
However, most of them entered the UK by small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risks of prosecution under the Nationality and Borders Act passed last month.
The same dataset also showed an increase in the number of Afghans making their way to the UK via the dangerous English Channel crossing, indicating that the resettlement schemes launched after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last year are not working.
“The government has said it is giving Afghans a ‘warm welcome,’ but these figures reveal that many have felt they have been left with no option but to take this dangerous route to make it to the UK,” said Marley Morris, associate director for migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research.
“The government’s new plans in response to the Channel crossings could mean that Afghan asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda.
“Contrary to the government’s claims, there are few safe routes for people forced into small boats to make it to the UK.”


Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
Updated 27 May 2022

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
  • "We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily," said Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness
  • So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries

GENEVA: Countries should take quick steps to contain the spread of monkeypox and share data about their vaccine stockpiles, a senior World Health Organization official said on Friday.
“We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily,” Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, told the UN agency’s annual assembly.
Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa.
It spreads chiefly through close contact and until the recent outbreak, was rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases in Europe, the United States and other areas has raised alarms.
So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating.
“For us, we think that the key priority currently is trying to contain this transmission in non-endemic countries,” Briand told a technical briefing for member states.
Needed measures included the early detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing, she added.
Member states should also share information about first generation stockpiles of smallpox vaccines which can also be effective against monkeypox, Briand said.
“We don’t know exactly the number of doses available in the world and so that’s why we encourage countries to come to WHO and tell us what are their stockpiles,” she said. A slide of her presentation described global supplies as “very constrained.”
Currently, WHO officials are advising against mass vaccination, instead suggesting targeted vaccination where available for close contacts of people infected.
“Case investigation, contact tracing, isolation at home will be your best bets,” said Rosamund Lewis, WHO head of the smallpox secretariat which is part of the WHO Emergencies Programme.


Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school
Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2022

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school
  • Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto

MONTREAL: Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle, local media reported, in an incident that forced several schools into lockdown just two days after a deadly assault on a US primary school.
Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto, and the circumstances of what transpired next were not immediately clear.
But city police chief James Ramer told reporters that the suspect, described as a man in his late teens or early 20s, was dead after he had “confronted” responding officers, without elaborating.
The police force’s Twitter account said that after officers located the man, a “police firearm” was “discharged.”
A spokeswoman for the Special Investigations Unit told the CBC that preliminary evidence showed that two police officers had fired their weapons, and the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
It was not clear if the man was holding the weapon when police shot him.
Ramer said he was unable to offer more details, as the incident was under investigation.
“There’s no threat to public safety,” he said.
“Due to the proximity to a school, I certainly understand the trauma and how traumatic this must have been for staff, students and parents, given recent events that have happened in the United States,” the chief added.
On Tuesday, a shooting at a Texas elementary school left 21 dead — 19 children and two teachers.