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.

Donald Trump and the Lack of Media Accountability

Posted on 04/14/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: blog

Photo Credit: Dominick Reuter/Reuters

By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern

Donald Trump has held a monopoly on the media since announcing his presidential campaign with an onslaught of gross lies targeting minority communities. Coverage of Trump has spiraled out of control, but the media has been the enabler in normalizing Trump’s campaign of hate by putting aside its core duty of holding public figures accountable for their actions.

Last November, in one of the biggest examples of free media attention given to a presidential candidate, Saturday Night Live invited Trump to host despite loud opposition from protesters, including LULAC. SNL is known for having politicians appear on the show during election season; however, having a presidential candidate serving as host during election season is a rarity.

It was an insult to the more than 50 million Latinos in this country that such an iconic program would sell out for the sake of a few cheap laughs, considering NBCUniversal previously announced they would break business ties with Trump right after he labeled Mexicans as rapists, criminals, and drug dealers.

Whether the coverage is satirical or serious, the media -- television, radio, newspapers and magazines, and online -- has been more than happy to play along with Trump’s joke by constantly expanding coverage of him. Soundbites of him scapegoating Latinos and other minorities are on constant rotation, followed by more soundbites of him insulting the disabled, women, and veterans.

More Trump equals more ads sold, higher ratings, and more story clicks. But by promoting wall-to-wall Trump coverage, the media has profited greatly at the expense of minorities and other underrepresented groups.

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves commented on the race in February by confirming how the media has prioritized profit in its Trump coverage, “Who would have thought that this circus would come to town? But, you know -- it may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS, that’s all I got to say. So what can I say? It’s -- you know, the money’s rolling in, and this is fun.”

But for many of the groups targeted by Trump, this is not fun. This is dangerous. In addition to scapegoating minority groups, Trump actively encourages his supporters to use violence against protesters.

The result is widespread violence at Trump rallies. Protesters are getting sucker punched, a teenager was pepper-sprayed, and an African American woman was shoved back and forth by a group of individuals. Instances of verbal abuse by supporters is another example of hate at his rallies, with one instance of a man yelling at black protesters, “Go back to Africa”.

A Trump rally in March scheduled to take place at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a school with nearly 25 percent Latino students, was called off after students of the university began a petition to cancel the event. Students cited safety concerns because of Trump’s statements and outbreaks of violence at Trump rallies that were often directed at protesters.

“As an undocumented UIC graduate student, I feel unsafe knowing that Trump along with his followers will be at my university,” wrote Jorge Mena Robles, the creator of the petition. “It’s become clear that his rallies are not just political events but mobilizing moments for active hate groups to amass.”

Despite outbreaks of violence incited by Trump and his supporters, Trump continues to not only dominate the media, but also dictate the terms. When Fox News turned down Trump’s request to change moderators for the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses in February, Trump decided to skip the debate. The message was clear that Trump would only allow access if he was able to control the narrative. It wasn’t until last month that NBC’s Sunday morning news program Meet the Press finally stopped allowing Trump to call in by phone, a practice used by him throughout his campaign to dodge questions and maintain control over the conversation. Sunday morning programs have conducted at least 28 phone interviews with him, a privilege not given to other candidates.

But why didn’t this happen earlier? Why has it taken this long for the media to hold him accountable?

Even as Trump has endured more recent criticism from the press (he has come under severe scrutiny for saying women deserve to be punished if they choose to have an abortion), it is still not enough to deter him. Any coverage of him must address his unrealistic policies and the effects of his dangerous rhetoric, instead of the current sensational coverage that merely legitimizes his opinions for large segments of the American public Trump was created by the media, and now it’s their responsibility to pull the plug and dump Trump.

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.

The Clock is Ticking on Puerto Rico’s Debt

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

Tags: blog, Puerto Rico

Photo Credit: Ana Martinez/Reuters

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

Last week brought a whirlwind of news on the topic of Puerto Rico. If you’ve been out of the loop, here are the basics. Puerto Rico is in major economic crisis. According to the House Natural Resources Committee, the committee that has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico matters in the U.S. House, Puerto Rico owes more than 70 billion dollars in debt in the form of bonds. In addition, it has a pension liability of 46 billion dollars (covered by only two billion dollars in net assets), unemployment is at 12 percent, and Puerto Ricans are fleeing the island in droves.

Bottom line, the island cannot make its debt payments and keep essential services funded.

Enter Washington, D.C.

Lawmakers on the Hill, under pressure from advocates, bond holders, and consumer groups, have been working on legislation that would provide Puerto Rico with additional options to address its current financial situation. However, the first draft of the legislation — leaked on the internet— got very mixed reviews. Bond holders balked at the idea of court facilitated debt restructuring, civil rights advocates and Puerto Rican politicians decried the oversight board that they say takes away Puerto Rico’s autonomy. The legislation did not seem to meet anyone’s expectations (a good summary of what’s in the legislation can be found here).

With the clock ticking on Puerto Rico’s pending debt payment on May 1st, and Congressional legislation at a standstill, the Puerto Rican government took matters into its own hands and decided to halt all debt payments and instead, use available funds to prioritize keeping essential public services running.

This set off a scramble by hedge funds holding Puerto Rican debt, who immediately filed lawsuits to freeze the assets of Puerto Rico and prevent the Puerto Rico Development Bank from making payments to local government agencies that need funds to keep services running.

So, now what?

The House Natural Resources Committee is expected to release an “updated” version of its Puerto Rico bill as early as today. Meanwhile Puerto Ricans, who are sticking it out on the island, are left in limbo.

At the end, it is unclear if the newest attempt to rewrite the Puerto Rico legislation will be enough to pass it through a skeptical House and Senate before the clock strikes midnight on May 1st when a 422 million dollar debt payment comes due.

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.

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