Latino Zika Week of Action and How You Can Lower Your Risk

Posted on 08/06/2016 @ 12:45 AM

By: Geoffrey Nolan, LULAC National Communications Associate

Perhaps you’ve heard of the athletes who refuse to go to the Olympic Games out of Zika fears, or maybe you read about the threat of Zika Virus in the newspaper. The undeniable truth is that the Zika Virus is quickly making its way to American shores and has the potential to infect some of our most vulnerable citizens. Just this week, the CDC issued an unprecedented travel advisory for a Miami neighborhood due to an outbreak, the first time the CDC has issued such an advisory in the United States. Although Zika is a popular buzzword thrown around by media pundits, it’s important that we do not underestimate the severe effects of the virus on certain subgroups. It’s imperative that we take an active role in preventing our friends and loved ones from contracting it.

Even though stories about the Zika Virus receive almost daily media coverage, very few Americans know the actual symptoms of the virus and are able to adequately assess their risk. The tricky thing about Zika is that its symptoms may seem like any other sickness. Those infected often experience fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, and headache. Those at highest risk are pregnant women who can pass the virus to the fetus, causing the baby to potentially be born with a variety of birth defects including microcephaly..

How do you prevent the spread of Zika? Because the primary cause of infection is mosquito bites, it is imperative that one take all the necessary precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants outdoors and always use insect repellent to protect yourself from mosquitoes outside. When inside your home, make sure to eliminate breeding spaces for mosquitoes, including any stagnant water. Zika can also be spread through sexual contact, so it is essential that men always where a condom when engaging in sexual activity to reduce their risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

For Latino Zika Week of Action, LULAC is partnering with other Latino organizations, the CDC, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that the Latino community has all the necessary information to adequately assess their risk factors and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. Together we can stop the spread of Zika and lessen its impact in our country. To learn more, visit www.cdc.gov/zika.

Geoffrey Nolan is a Communications Associate at LULAC National. He graduated from the University of Georgia, where he majored in International Affairs and Spanish.

Ensuring Equality for All

Posted on 06/29/2016 @ 12:45 AM

By: Alejandro Oms, LULAC National Policy and Legislation Intern

Since its founding 87 years ago, LULAC has fought to ensure that Latinos are not left behind as our nation progresses. As the Latino community continues to face obstacles, LULAC will continue to fight on our behalf, but some other communities are falling behind and are fighting the same fights that LULAC fought almost one hundred years ago. One of these communities is the LGBT community, and even today LGBT individuals can be fired from their jobs in twenty-eight states due to nonexistent employment non-discrimination laws. The ACLU is currently tracking legislation in twenty-five states that make it effectively legal to discriminate against the LGBT community and would even allow continual federal and state funding to organizations that discriminate against the community. Despite this, on June 26th, 2015, the LGBT community across the country celebrated the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges which expanded the right to marry to all United States citizens.

Celebration was followed by a disappointing streak of legislative backlashes. On March 23, 2016, the governor of North Carolina signed a bill that prevents individuals from using the bathroom of their gender identity. On April 5, 2016, the governor of Mississippi signed a bill that legalizes discrimination against the LGBT community by allowing businesses and individuals to discriminate against the community based on religious freedom. On May 19, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to allow federal contractors to continue discriminating against LGBT employees on the basis of religious freedom. Anti-LGBT sentiment culminated in the tragic events of June 12 when a gunman entered Pulse Nightclub’s Latin night and killed forty-nine members of the LGBT community and injured another fifty-three people, making it the worst mass shooting in the history of the country.

Justice Sotomayor described feelings that minorities have all experienced in one of her Supreme Court dissents:

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?”, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”

Sotomayor's language can also apply to what the LGBT community faces: Sexuality matters to a young man’s view of society when he watches others sneer as he passes, while he holds the hand of his boyfriend. Gender matters to a young woman’s sense of self as she has to research each state she visits wondering if she will be arrested for using the women’s bathroom. Sexuality matters to a young person who cannot talk to her family about her crush without being thrown out of her home. Sexuality and gender matter because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”

We cannot outlaw hatred, but we should not legalize it.

When I was young I used to watch Mr. Rogers. He once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” As a community, we can look at others fighting the same things we fought decades ago and decide if we are going to be the helpers or if we are going to be bystanders. LULAC stood with the LGBT community through Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the fight for marriage equality. We must continue to be allies to the LGBT community now and ensure that their rights continue to be protected.

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.

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

Posted on 06/25/2016 @ 12:45 AM

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 06/17/2016 @ 12:45 AM

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.

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