Three Years After Shelby, We Still Need Congress to Restore the VRA

Posted on 06/24/2016 @ 07:45 PM

By: Alejandro Oms, LULAC National Policy and Legislation Intern

Fifty-one years ago, thousands of protesters left Selma, Alabama to march to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in order to fight for equality at the voting booth. The months leading up to the march were filled with violence against peaceful protesters and growing national pressure to protect everyone’s right to vote. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prevent discriminatory voter laws. Although it would take ten years for the VRA to be properly expanded to include Latinos, the legislation protected minority voters in states and counties with histories of discrimination for almost fifty years. Three years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court determined that the formula that determined which states qualified for “preclearance” in section 4 of the VRA was unconstitutional. Previously, states in the Deep South, the Southwest, and other cities and counties had to seek approval from the federal government when changing their voting laws to ensure that they were not targeting vulnerable minorities groups such as Latinos and African Americans.

One of the hallmarks of the VRA was that it protected American citizens from all walks of life during its forty-eight years. Vice President of Litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) Nina Perales used the VRA to protect the voting rights of Latinos for years. Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Perales penned an opinion piece on the importance of the case and its potential consequences. At least one of Arizona’s redistricting plans each cycle between 1975 and 2013 had been rejected under the VRA because the new districts would intentionally harm the Latino community’s ability to represent itself in government. In that same time frame, the VRA prevented implementation of more than two hundred election laws in Texas that would have been detrimental to Latino representation.

This autumn’s election will be the first presidential election without the protections of the VRA. Without strong federal protections, we have already seen some of the effects of the Shelby County decision. Several states have taken advantage of lax regulations and have implemented voter identification laws, lessened the amount of early voting, and implemented other hindrances in registering to vote, which disproportionately affect minorities. One notable controversy since the end of the VRA was the contested Arizona Democratic Primary of the 2016 election cycle where counties in Arizona with large Latino populations contained almost 75% less voting locations than they did in 2012.

Despite massive bipartisan support for the restoration of the VRA, Congress has continually failed to pass legislation with an updated coverage formula to implement the act within the parameters of the Supreme Court ruling. In the face of congressional inaction, state governments continue to suppress voters of color in the name of saving money and combating voter fraud. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts praised the VRA and the good it achieved. The issue the Court found was not in the spirit of the Act, but in its application formula. Chief Justice Roberts explicitly states, “Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.” The Court hoped that Congress would do its job and update the formula to protect minorities in a modern age throughout the entire country.

As it always has, LULAC will continue to encourage voter registration and civic participation, despite congressional inaction to protect the rights of Latinos to vote. We will be holding registration drives through the election season. Click here for more voter registration information based on your state. If you would like to volunteer to help our registration drives, Click here.

Alejandro Oms is a Policy and Legislation Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with a degree in political science and certificate in international relations.

Commemorating Four Years of DACA

Posted on 06/16/2016 @ 07:45 PM

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

By: Alejandro Oms, LULAC National Policy and Legislation Intern

On June 15th, 2012, President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Two years later, President Obama expanded DACA and created its sister program, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), to continue supporting the United States’ immigration population in the midst of congressional inaction on comprehensive immigration reform. While the DACA expansion and DAPA currently await a ruling by the Supreme Court, the original DACA is presently unchallenged and continues to be a source of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

DACA changed the game for young immigrants by granting temporary, renewable work permits that last two years to undocumented immigrants who meet several qualifications that include education requirements and background checks. Upon implementation, DACA had the potential to cover over one million undocumented youth.

Last October, United We Dream released a report analyzing surveys of DACA recipients to gauge the basic life improvements that DACA has brought to its recipients. Three years after its passage and implementation, almost nine hundred thousand applications have been approved and almost four hundred thousand renewals have been granted. These temporary permits have allowed the majority of the recipients to get better jobs in part; due to increased access to driver’s licenses (90% of DACA recipients have obtained their driver’s license since the beginning of the program). Two-thirds of those who have obtained new jobs have seen an average wage increase by 45%. Not only does this increase in wages lead to increased tax revenue for state and federal government, but it also leads to increased wages that stimulate the economy. In total, if the Supreme Court upholds the DACA expansion and DAPA, state and local governments will collect over eight hundred million dollars in additional revenue each year.

DACA also provides long term economic and social benefits. The higher paying jobs that DACA permits allow immigrants to receive also help pay for higher education. On top of higher wages paying for higher education, several states also allow DACA recipients to pay in-state tuition at state universities. In addition to the new ability to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), DACA has drastically reduced the cost of a degree for undocumented immigrants. Approximately one third of DACA recipients have been able to attend college because of the program. College students can also get health insurance through their college which has assisted more than a quarter of DACA recipients in enrolling in healthcare coverage.

As it celebrates its fourth anniversary, DACA faces an onslaught of threats despite the benefits it has provided to the United States. The Supreme Court case against DAPA and the DACA expansion are based on the notion that President Obama has overstepped the authority granted to him in executive orders. Even if the Supreme Court upholds the DACA expansion, the next president can undo President Obama’s original executive order that created DACA with their own executive order. Presumptive democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has stated her support for the programs and expressed a desire to expand them. The presumptive republican nominee Donald Trump has declared he will undo President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Should Trump become president, he could immediately abolish DACA and threaten the jobs and educational opportunities hundreds of thousands of Latinos currently have.

Regardless of the Supreme Court decision, LULAC will continue fighting to ensure that families are not split up by deportation. Through its extensive advocacy networks, LULAC members and community partners will advocate on Capitol Hill and continue pressuring Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that puts families first.

Alejandro Oms is a Policy and Legislation Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with a degree in political science and certificate in international relations.

LULAC National President Honored in Boston

Posted on 06/09/2016 @ 07:45 PM

Recently, LULAC National President Roger C. Rocha, Jr. met with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to discuss issues of importance to the Latino community including housing, immigration, health, employment, economic development and civil rights. President Rocha presented Mayor Walsh with a LULAC Presidential Medal in recognition of his steadfast support for the Latino community and his proven commitment to a diverse city government. Mayor Walsh presented LULAC with a commemorative gift on behalf of the City of Boston. The mayor expressed his continued support of the Latino community and pledged to collaborate with and support the efforts of LULAC councils in Boston. In addition, President Rocha met with various members of the Boston City Council and other municipal, county and state officials. President Rocha was recognized through a Boston City Council and a Suffolk County Magistrate resolution. The resolution recognized his leadership and the significant work of LULAC councils in this region and throughout the nation.

The Fight for a Living Wage

Posted on 06/06/2016 @ 07:45 PM

Photo Credit: Fight for $15

By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern

California and New York passed legislation in March to increase their respective minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour by yearly increments, a move that could see big economic gains and more purchasing power for Latinos.

The “Fight for 15” in these states brings a conclusion to a four-year campaign that will give nearly nine million people in California and New York greater economic security, but when we take a closer look at the numbers, Latinos in particular stand to gain significantly from these wage increases.

Both states carry huge Latino populations. Latinos in New York represent 18.6 percent of the population and nearly 40 percent of the population in California , according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The real impact of the wage hike is twofold when we consider which jobs Latino New Yorkers and Californians work in the most.

Disproportionate Amount of Latinos Depend on Minimum Wage Jobs

We tend to think of minimum wage workers as young teenagers putting themselves through school by working part-time at a fast food restaurant, but numbers show that older workers and a greater diversity of jobs, such as housekeepers and home healthcare workers, are increasingly included in the mix. More than one-third of minimum wage jobs are held by people ages 30-54, meaning that many depend on their low-paying jobs to provide for their families and are often employed in these jobs over a long period of time.

A closer look also shows that Latinos disproportionately hold these jobs. In fact, nearly a quarter of Latinos would benefit from an increase in minimum wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Although Latinos make up about 16 percent of the labor force, they account for more than 70 percent of farm workers, 43 percent of ground/maintenance and construction workers, and 43 percent of maids and house cleaners. The home care worker industry, which is 21 percent Latino, pays less than 10 dollars an hour on average.

The fast food chain business is one of the biggest employers of minimum wage jobs, and also one of the largest Latino employers, making up 20 percent of the workforce nationwide. In New York alone, 17 percent of Hispanics work in fast food restaurants, according to the state’s Department of Labor.

A big reason why Latinos disproportionately take up minimum wage jobs is rooted in the lack of representation of the population in other institutions, primarily education. Hispanics are twice as likely to drop out of high school than earn a bachelor’s degree, which only reinforces the status quo of a racially-divided workforce. The cost of higher education also adds to the financial pressures already faced by Latinos, making it even more difficult for Latinos to receive an education.

Because many minimum wage jobs do not provide sick days, health coverage, or retirement plans, increasing the earnings for these workers can make a huge difference for Latinos supporting families as the cost of living rises each year.

Price of Living Proving Costly for Low-Income Latinos

Latinos in New York and California live in some of the state’s most densely populated and expensive areas.

Metropolitan cities like San Francisco with culturally rich Latino neighborhoods are facing gentrification as increasing housing prices force many Hispanics out. Because buying a home is so expensive in California, many opt to rent and spend 36 percent of their income on housing. In Los Angeles County, renters spend more than half their income (58.5 percent) on housing. Only New York has a worse homeownership rate than California.

Housing crises occurring in Latino neighborhoods in cities are creating a huge problem for Latinos living paycheck-to-paycheck, and a wage increase can alleviate some of the financial burden for many of these Latino families.

The critiques against increasing the minimum wage compromises everything from loss of business revenue to increases of prices; however, study after study shows that increasing the federal minimum wage will lift many people above the poverty line and drive money into the economy.

Millions of Latinos across the country live in poverty and work low-paying jobs, an unsustainable model in today’s economy. Although the increase in the federal minimum wage has become an intense social and political matter, increasing pay will ensure the livelihoods of Latinos and improve the standard of living for millions more.

Mark Salay is the Communications Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in communication with minors in history and professional writing, and will be graduating in the Spring of 2016.

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