#40toNoneDay: Tackling LGBT Youth Homelessness

Posted on 04/26/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: blog, LGBT

By: Jared Hernandez, LULAC National Youth President

It’s a statistic that may shock you: Approximately 1.6 million youth across the country face homelessness each year. Particularly shocking is that approximately 40 percent of these homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), when compared to only 7 percent of the general population. Such a large number can be primarily attributed to family conflict over sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression which often results in youth running away from home or being forced out of their home by their families. With such a disproportionate representation among the homeless population, it’s important to understand the reasons why LGBT youth are experiencing homelessness and what we as a community can do to help eradicate this epidemic.

Why is this important to LULAC, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization? Although it's hard to determine specific statistics, a study of New York City LGBT youth experiencing homelessness estimated that 26 percent of respondents were Latino. This translates to thousands of our Latino brothers and sisters who are experiencing hardship, increased risk of mental illness, sexual assault, and increased exposure to sexually transmitted infections. Throughout its long history, LULAC has defended the civil rights of Latinos and continues to advocate for their well-being—and this includes advocating for the LGBT Latino community. In 2006, LULAC started its first LGBT LULAC Council dedicated to fostering dialogue and understanding between the LGBT and Latino communities, and LULAC has continued its commitment by expanding the LGBT councils to 6 cities and collaborating with LGBT allies in 10 states to distribute over 10,000 pieces of LGBT Latino bilingual educational materials. In February, I joined 150 fellow LULAC National Board and LULAC Youth & Young Adult members to advocate for Latino issues on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and part of our platform focused on speaking to congressional leaders about LGBT Latino youth experiencing homelessness.

On behalf of the LULAC National Youth Board, I am proud to join people across the country on Wednesday, April 27, 2016 for the second annual #40toNoneDay, a national campaign from the True Colors Fund that focuses on raising awareness about LGBT youth homelessness. The goal of the campaign is to ultimately reduce the disproportionate percentage of youth experiencing homelessness who identify as LGBT from 40 percent to none. In order to do that, we must raise awareness about the issue and encourage everyone to take an active role in ending it. On this important day, we stand with service providers, advocacy organizations, elected officials, celebrities, LGBT youth, and community members to bring visibility to our fellow youth in need.

How can you get involved with the #40toNone Campaign? Check out some ideas below to help us spread the word.
1. Promote #40toNoneDay with a Blog, email or on social media
2. Take an “unselfie” and post it on your social media accounts.
3. Host a film night + discussion
4. Ask local officials to declare #40toNoneDay by way of a resolution or proclamation

Visit the True Colors Fund for more information and ideas on how you can be involved.

Jared Hernandez serves as the LULAC National Youth President. He first volunteered with LULAC Youth at the age of 14 in Galveston, Texas. Currently, he is a freshman studying political science at the University of North Texas. Check out more information on LULAC Youth by following @LULACYOUTH on Twitter.

Environmental Justice: Protecting Civil Rights Means Fighting for Clean Water, Air, and Food

Posted on 04/23/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: blog

Photo Credit: Miriam Wasser, Phoenix New Times

By: Luis Torres, LULAC National Director of Policy and Legislation

In 2009, the LULAC National Assembly passed an environmental justice resolution committing the nation's oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization to fight for access to clean water, air, and food. The resolution, called the Declaration of the Principles of Environmental Justice and Environmental Bill of Rights in Latino Communities in the United States, affirmed LULAC’s support to fight for policies that ensure that Latino communities are protected from nuclear testing and the extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water and food.

LULAC has aggressively participated in various campaigns to protect the air, land, water, and food that are essential to our survival. These efforts have included providing testimony to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council expressing support for the Clean Water Rule , signing on to a legal petition requesting that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ban certain classes of toxic flame retardant chemicals found in everyday household products, pushing to expand solar opportunities in states, and supporting standards to limit methane pollution by the oil and gas industry. LULAC has also engaged significantly with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on various issues, even holding a twitter town hall in 2015. In addition, LULAC has continued its grassroots education campaigns and has disseminated critical information to the Latino community on issues like toxic chamicals, climate change , and air pollution, among others.

Despite all this work, as we enter the full swing of another contested presidential election, the media has once again largely painted the Latino community as single-issue voters who care only about immigration. This portrayal could not be further from the truth.

Latinos have repeatedly indicated that issues like education, health care, the economy, and the environment are critically important. According to research on the topic of the environment, Latinos more than other Americans, see climate change as a consequence of human activity. In fact, this year the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda released its 2016 policy priorities report and included one of the strongest environmental planks in the history of the organization.

The situation in Flint, Michigan is perhaps the latest example of the need for a sense of urgency to elevate environmental issues and advocacy in the Latino community. The water in Flint, Michigan is full of lead, a heavy metal known to be hazardous to humans and yet, many in that community have long been drinking the poisoned water. While, the full extent of the damage is yet to be understood, the impact on the lives of Latinos in Flint, however, is clearly visible. Sources on the ground report that some children have lost their hair and others have developed unexplained rashes. There are also accounts of pregnant women, who unaware of the contamination, continued drinking the water for months despite the known science that points to the harmful effects of lead on the development of unborn children.

A non-responsive state government, problems with emergency water distribution, lack of bilingual material and governmental staff, all contributed to the scale of the water problem which stemmed from a poor decision by politicians to use toxic pipes that leaked lead (presumably as a way to save tax payer money) at the expense of the health of the residents of Flint, Michigan.

Only now have the media, politicians, and federal agencies started looking more closely at what happened in Flint and who is ultimately responsible. But the real question is, how many more people have to be poisoned by contaminated water before our leaders take national action? How many more children have to lose their hair and develop skin rashes before Latinos elevate the environment as a critical issue warranting government accountability?

The fact is that environmental degradation, pollution, and the effects of climate change are arguably the greatest threat to the lives of millions of Latinos across the United States. According to research from the American Lung Association:

• Half of all U.S. Latinos live in the country’s most polluted cities.
• Although Latinos only account for about 16 percent of the labor force, they account for 43 percent of ground/maintenance and construction workers and up to 75 percent of agricultural field occupations that expose workers.
• States such as California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas—where the majority of Latinos live—are experiencing more intense and frequent heat waves and drought.
• Latinos want action to slow the damage and protect nature not just for them but for future generations.

The time has come to link the fight for civil rights with the fight for clean air, water, and food. Achieving environmental justice for our community means opposing efforts to undermine or repeal bedrock environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. It means supporting strong enforcement of existing public health and environmental laws, including civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, expanding research on the long-term impacts of pollutants, pushing for green jobs, and increasing STEM programs that prepare Latinos for opportunities in the energy sector. Most importantly, achieving environmental justice requires all Latinos to hold our government accountable for the meaningful engagement of our community in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies at the local, state, and federal level.

This is the challenge before the Latino community, and the upcoming presidential election will provide Latinos the most powerful tool they have at their disposal—their vote and the ballot box.

Luis Torres is the Director of Policy and Legislation for the League of United Latin American Citizens. Prior to LULAC, he served as Legislative Director for Congressman Silvestre Reyes, former-Chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and was one of a handful of Latino Legislative Directors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Additionally, Torres also served as a high school teacher in Washington, D.C. as part of Teach for America. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Government and Sociology from Georgetown University, and a Master of Arts in Teaching from American University.

DACA and DAPA: Providing Opportunities for the American Dream

Posted on 04/19/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: blog

By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern

Thousands of immigrant justice advocates rallied in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Monday as the court heard oral arguments in U.S. v. Texas, the most important immigration case in decades.

The lawsuit led by Texas and joined by 25 other states and congressional Republicans, challenges the constitutionality of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program and expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, two key immigration policies enacted by President Obama in 2014.

Implementation of DAPA would protect nearly four million immigrants – those who have been in the country since 2010 and have children of American citizenship or permanent residency – from deportation and grant temporary work permits. An expanded DACA would widen eligibility requirements and increase the number of beneficiaries of the program, which also protects immigrants from deportation and grants access to education and work authorization.

“As a teacher, I feel I can’t teach math and science when I know [student’s] families are broken,” Montserrat Garibay, Vice President for Certified Employees of the labor union Education Austin and member of LULAC Council #4859 in Austin, TX, said. “I think it’s always hard to talk to a four-year-old and tell them their mom is never going to come back. As a teacher, it’s very heartbreaking to have those conversations with kids.”

A few thousand people spilled from the sidewalk onto the street outside the Supreme Court. Supporters of DAPA and DACA chanted the rallying cry, “keep families together,” a reference to parents and children of undocumented status who have been deported, resulting in families being split apart. Unions, grassroots campaigns, and advocacy organizations, including LULAC, were all on hand at the rally.

Ju Hong of the advocacy organization, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), recently reunited with his family in South Korea for the first time in 13 years because of DACA, and wants to ultimately see comprehensive immigration reform.

“I’m here to fight, and I’m here to fight beyond DAPA and DACA, beyond the election,” Hong said. “I will continue to fight until immigrant communities no longer face fear of deportation.”

Inside the courtroom, justices allotted a total of an hour and a half to hear arguments, a deviation from the usual hour given in most cases. The plaintiffs argued President Obama’s policies go beyond his executive power and against Congress, while the federal government said the policy does not grant citizenship and lies within the President’s constitutional power.

One of the key points of contention is whether DAPA grants immigrants lawful status. Areli Zarate, a teacher from Austin, Texas and beneficiary of DACA, said that because the policy does not grant permanent residency, her work permit and status in the country can be taken away from her at any time.

“There’s a lot being said in the media about what is DAPA and DACA, and I want people to get educated about it,” said Zarate, also part of Education Austin. “We can never become citizens or residents. That’s not an option. We’re just here as long as the program is available which means at any time, they can kick us out.”

Stakes were high when Thomas Saenz of the legal civil rights organization, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), presented arguments on behalf of three immigrant women eligible for deferred action under DAPA, the only party offering perspective on the human implications of the decision.

Nancy Vega of New Jersey, an undocumented immigrant and mom of three, one with U.S. citizenship and two protected by DACA, said DAPA would allow her to get a better paying job and more income to put her children through college.

“I am not afraid. I am not afraid because I have not done anything wrong. I do not harm anyone, and I think everyone deserves an opportunity” Vega said. “I would tell the people who are against the President’s policies that we are all immigrants. We all come from immigrant mothers and fathers.”

The court is expected to rule on the case in June. If the case results in a 4-4 split, due to the current absence of one justice, a previous appellate court ruling would keep the policies frozen, but would not set court precedent.

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.

Civil Rights Leaders Discuss the Latino State of the Union

Posted on 04/16/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: blog

By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) hosted its 2016 Latino State of the Union Address Thursday in Washington D.C., where panelists from leading civil rights organizations, including LULAC, discussed the implications of the upcoming Supreme Court case, U.S. v. Texas.

The pending court case will rule on President Obama’s two key immigration policies, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Thousands of immigrant justice advocates are expected to rally at Monday’s hearing in support of the policies.

Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF, said that by representing “intervenors”, three mothers from south Texas eligible for deferred action under the DAPA program, MALDEF has introduced a new perspective into the challenge, one that focuses on the human implications of the decision.

“It’s important that the people’s voice be heard and that’s what MALDEF will be presenting on Monday,” Saenz said.

The Court will rule on the constitutionality of President Obama’s administrative actions on immigration that expanded the DACA program and created DAPA. DAPA would protect nearly five million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow for temporary work permits for those who have been in the country since 2010 and who have children of American citizenship or permanent residency. Expanded DACA would protect undocumented immigrants from deportation and grant permission to work and access to education.

Panelist Gaby Pacheco, an immigrant rights leader and Program Director of TheDream.US called DACA a game changer with respect to how it has opened doors for undocumented immigrants to receive access to healthcare, driver’s licenses, in-state college tuition fees, housing, and more buying power.

“I think with the election and especially what is going to happen on April 18, it is going to have a direct impact on all these families and even the DREAMers who are highly politically involved,” Pacheco said. “Ever since I could remember, part of the equation was not just fighting for immigration reform, but fighting so that other people around us, our community, were aware of what was happening.”

The panel further delved into issues regarding the Latino community, such as the Latino vote’s impact on this year’s election cycle, voter suppression, the widening wealth gap caused by the 2008 recession, and mass incarceration and criminal justice reform.

Brent Wilkes, LULAC National Executive Director, spoke on the organization’s work to register eligible voters, particularly in caucus states such as Iowa. Wilkes noted 13,000 Latinos voted in the Iowa caucuses, compared to only 1,000 in the 2008 election.

“The fact is that once we get the folks to register, they actually turn out about the same number as other populations,” Wilkes said. “So it’s not a turnout gap, it’s more of a registration gap we’re really fighting for and trying to close.”

LULAC surpassed its goal of 10,000 voters (Iowa’s Latino population is 5.6 percent) with a ground campaign consisting of 700 volunteers, mailings, phone calls, and trainings to teach Latino communities what an actual caucus looks like, which Wilkes credits for helping familiarize Latinos on how to caucus and actually participate in the election.

Susie Saavedra, Senior Director for Policy and Legislative Affairs at the National Urban League Washington Bureau, highlighted how the 2008 recession had a more threatening impact on Latino and African American communities, saying that it wiped out 20 years of gains in three years for both the Latino and black communities. The median wealth for white families is 10 times greater than it is for Latinos, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.

On education and criminal justice, Saavedra also commented on the “school to prison pipeline ” that disproportionately impacts black and Latino students the most through school suspension and high dropout rates. In addition, she highlighted another disturbing phenomenon developing in Latino communities, the “school to deportation pipeline ”.

She explained that in Orange County, where youth deportation in California is the highest, the probation department in the county was requiring probation officers to share data regarding youth student arrests with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Prior to the conclusion of the event, Saenz spoke again on the importance of Monday’s U.S. v. Texas case.

“It’s about hope for the future, it’s about hope for this nation,” Saenz said. “It’s about putting in place an initiative that will allow to recognize that these parents are making contributions if through no other means that these parents are raising U.S. citizen children who will be a critical part of our future workforce, a critical part of our future leadership.”

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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