Make Room for Latinos in the Cabinet

In Huffpost


The American Latino spirit ran full force throughout President Barack Obama’s recent inauguration.

Together we watched as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered Vice President Joseph Biden’s oath of office. Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, the youngest inaugural poet and first Latino and gay poet to recite his work during an inauguration, stirred a sense of hope for the future. Among a crowd of an estimated 800,000 people, the National Mall was blanketed with many of November’s 12.5 million Latino voters and with Latino campaign staff and volunteers hailing from battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Iowa, and Virginia.

The Spanish language even rang in the ceremony’s closing blessing, welcoming remarks at the National Prayer Service and at the official Inaugural Ball, where Mexican rock band Maná performed.

Community members joined the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 30 of the nation’s leading Latino organizations, participating in the “Futuro Talks” summit to discuss key policy issues and a star-studded Latino inaugural performance at the Kennedy Center featured a visit by Biden and headliners like Eva Longoria, Marc Anthony, and Broadway legends Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera who performed together for the first time in history.

Yet in the midst of wonderful inaugural events spiced with Latino sabor, an underlying concern emerged — what future will America see if we have zero Latinos serving in the Cabinet?

Recent resignations by Secretaries Hilda Solis (Labor) and Ken Salazar (Interior) are a major setback for Latinos, the nation and critical policy work on issues like immigration reform. As members of the Cabinet, Solis and Salazar were in the unique position to advocate inside the White House on behalf of the Latino community while implementing a presidential agenda for the nation.

Tradition says that departing members are offered the opportunity to purchase the Cabinet Room chair that bears their name and title on a brass plate. Should Solis and Salazar choose to take their chairs, the Latino community quite literally could be left without a seat at the table.

We insist that, at the very least, two, preferably three, Latino members serve in Obama’s second-term Cabinet. We recently sent the president a letter that named just some of the many talented individuals that could serve the nation well, including administration appointees Thomas Perez of the Justice Department and Francisco Sanchez of the Commerce Department; elected officials Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Linda Sanchez; and other high-profile Latino leaders such as former Surgeon General Richard Carmona and former AFL-CIO Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson.

Beyond the Cabinet, Latinos should be better represented throughout the ranks of the federal government, which is why the NHLA is launching a new “Presidential Appointments Project” on our website to ensure our government and the nation benefit from the talent that our community has to offer.

While the president urges people to wait before rushing to judgment on the composition of his second-term Cabinet, time is ticking and we cannot afford to be silent. We urge the president to demonstrate his commitment to having an administration that reflects America’s diversity — and to “moving forward, not back,” just as he said on the campaign trail.

As we head into a historic immigration policy debate, budget cuts and other related policies, 50 million Latinos cannot afford to be underrepresented on the president’s top executive team. Challenges such as economic insecurity, misguided immigration laws, and sparse Hispanic representation in government continue to limit the opportunities of a community poised to form over one quarter of the nation’s population by 2050.

At such a critical time in our nation’s history, the NHLA member organizations look forward to the president ensuring that Latinos not only have a seat at the table, but that we are seated early in his second term and at all levels of government — from the front desks of his agencies to the mahogany table with brass-plated seats in the White House Cabinet Room.

Also published in the Miami Herald.



Latinos Delivered, Now It Is Your Turn Mr. President

In Huffpost


On Thursday, November 8, 2012 the anti-immigrant fever that gripped the Republican Party for the last decade unceremoniously broke as Fox News’ Sean Hannity announcedthat he supported a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 12 million undocumented Americans in the country. This fever was characterized by misguided (and unconstitutional) state-based anti-immigrant laws, the demagoguing of minorities, and an almost messianic belief that Latinos would ignore the Republican Party’s rabidly anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Mr. Hannity’s change of heart reflects a truth that virtually everyone had acknowledgedbefore the election: Republicans can no longer win national elections without softening their rhetoric, broadening their appeal, and supporting the creation of an immigration process that makes sense for this nation’s approximately 12 million citizens in waiting. Hannity’s “evolution” was mirrored by other conservative newsmakers, politicians, and pundits including Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and even Speaker of the House John Boehner. This evolution occurred not because of a newfound understanding of the issues close to the heart of the Latino community, but, as President Bill Clinton would put it, arithmetic.

Republicans not only lost Latinos — they lost everyone. Aside from the white vote, Republicans lost virtually every single demographic group, including Asian-Americans, African-Americans, the youth vote, women, and Latinos.

But nowhere was the Republican Party’s shrinking relevance more apparent than among Latinos, who comprised 10 percent of the electorate, overwhelmingly supportedPresident Obama and played a strategic role in the swing states. Nationwide, 75 percent of Latino voters supported President Obama, breaking President Clinton’s record of 72 percent in 1996. Critically, the share of Latino votes surpassed the national average in key battleground states, with 80 percent of Latinos in Nevada, 87 percent in Colorado and 82 percent in Ohio voting for President Obama. The Latino vote was also critical in Virginia (66 percent) and Florida (58 percent). Shockingly, in the latter state, President Obama racked up a large portion of the Cuban-American vote (48 percent) demonstrating Democratic inroads with a traditionally Republican demographic. Republicans are not only losing the Latino vote, they are losing it badly.

For the last decade, the Latino electorate was predicted to fundamentally shift the political environment toward pro-immigrant and pro-minority policies. That shift occurred on Tuesday. It is not an overstatement to say that the Latino vote delivered the presidency (and several Senate races) to Democrats. Now it is time for President Obama to quickly take advantage of the momentum now that Republicans seem to understand the basic lesson that extremism has no future. Thus, President Obama must work in a bipartisan manner and enact comprehensive immigration reform.

While the outline of CIR will be debated in the next few months, there are a few broad guidelines that any reform must follow. In addition to creating a roadmap to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented Americans in the country, Congress must also incorporate both the long-stalled DREAM Act and AgJobs. Nor can comprehensive immigration reform ignore so many of the other facets that comprise our broken immigration system. The one, three, and ten year re-entry bars must be abolished — these bars only serve to make legal immigration harder and actually increase the number of undocumented Americans in the country. Congress must rescind the requirement to file asylum within one year, an onerous law which has significantly reduced the ability of immigrants to file legitimate asylum petitions.

Eligibility and visas must be expanded for family petitions to ensure that the United States has a functioning and efficient system of legal immigration — no one should have to wait over two decades to obtain legal status. Congress must also reform the U-Visa system to make obtaining law enforcement certification easier for victims of serious crime and prevent law enforcement agencies from capriciously and arbitrarily refusing to provide certifications. America’s detention system for immigrants has been routinely condemned as inhumane, inefficient, and wasteful — any reform must include a serious look at reforming this draconian system.

Congress must also incorporate the Uniting American Families Act which would end sex-based discrimination and allow permanent partners of lawful permanent residents and United States citizens to obtain legal status. Lawmakers must also reform the national origin quota system which serves only to exclude otherwise qualified immigrants based solely on their country of origin. Finally, Congress must adopt a national framework which prevents states from passing a patchwork of laws that oppresses minorities, depresses economic activity, and infringes on the federal government’s responsibility to enact immigration laws.

There is no time to wait; immigration reform will no longer be put on the back burner. There is already movement in the Senate, with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator Lindsay Graham offering the broad outlines of a potential compromise immigration bill. Pundits and politicians are quickly beginning to realize what economists have known for years: immigration reform is key to growing the economy and putting Americans back to work.

Put bluntly, Mr. President, the Latino electorate delivered and it is time for you to do the same. The fog of partisanship, xenophobia, and extremism has temporarily faded from the immigration debate as individuals from all parties step forward and acknowledge a new reality shaped by the rising tides of changing demographics. Never before have all the factors necessary to accomplish immigration reform synchronized in such a way to make the reformation of our immigration system possible. The economy is rebounding, Republicans are coming back to the table, and the Latino electorate is the strongest it has ever been.

Mr. President, you said your biggest failure of your first term was the failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform. The Latino community has given you a second chance to rectify that failure and the political momentum could not be better now that Republicans are getting on board. Let’s get it done.



Romney’s Secret Plan for DREAMers

In Huffpost


When campaigning for President in 1968, Richard Nixon told America he had a plan for ending the Vietnam War, but when pressed for details would not clarify exactly what that plan entailed. Nixon’s opaqueness led to the media coining the phrase “secret plan” to describe Nixon’s Vietnam strategy. Today, another candidate for president — Gov. Mitt Romney — has a secret plan, but instead of implicating the thick jungles of Vietnam, his plan involves how to address the plight of over 2.1 million DREAMers in the United States. DREAMers are young undocumented Americans that were brought to this country through no fault of their own but cannot legally adjust their immigration status.

On June 15th, 2012 President Obama, after failing to fulfill promises of immigration reform due to a lack of Republican collaboration, announced a sorely needed and common sense change in immigration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Modeled after the DREAM Act, DACA would temporarily suspend the deportation of undocumented Americans that fit a narrow set of criteria. After the announcement, Gov. Romney attacked DACA as an overreach of executive authority, but refused to say whether he would continue the policy if elected President. In a CBS “Face the Nation” interview shortly after the announcement, Gov. Romney was asked three different times whether he would rescind the policy but dodged the question each time. While speaking at the NALEO Conference, Gov. Romney stated that he would “put in place [his] own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure.” However, Gov. Romney failed to clarify exactly what that “long-term solution” would entail.

Gov. Romney’s refusal to clarify his immigration policy has left the Latino electorate in the dark, hesitant, and fearful that a Romney administration would rescind DACA and place DREAMers in deportation proceedings. By failing to express support for DACA, Gov. Romney’s position runs counter to the groundswell of public support behind the initiative. According to a Bloomberg poll taken shortly after the announcement, sixty-four percent of likely voters said they supported the policy. Furthermore, DACA had two-to-one support from independents, a voting bloc crucial to Gov. Romney’s election chances.

While Gov. Romney has been tight-lipped on his DACA policy, his advisers have not been so taciturn. On June 24th, Ed Gillespie, senior adviser to Gov. Romney, stated that DACA would be subject to “review and repeal.” More recently, Kris Kobach, an informal Romney Adviser and architect of SB 1070, filed a frivolous lawsuit to enjoin the implementation of DACA. The lawsuit provided yet another opportunity for Gov. Romney to reveal his stance on DACA. Instead, Gov. Romney refused to condemn the lawsuit and, once again, pointed to his secret plan for DREAMers.

Gov. Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention was another missed opportunity to clarify his stance on DACA. This clarification would have been especially helpful considering that the Republican Platform took an exceedingly harsh stance on immigration, criticizing DACA as an act of “open defiance of . . . constitutional principle[s],” advocating that “federal funding should be denied to universities that provide in-state tuition rates to” undocumented Americans, and vehemently opposing any sort of roadmap to citizenship.

By refusing to outline his stance on DACA, Gov. Romney is walking a fine line between placating his anti-immigrant base and not further alienating Latino voters, a dubious tightrope dance that leaves all sides unhappy. Families live in fear with many worrying about the safety of their children under a Romney administration. The uncertainty has become so prevalent that some DREAMers are refraining from applying for deferred action until after the election, effectively postponing their contributions to our economy. On the other side of the spectrum, conservatives see Gov. Romney’s refusal to clarify his position on DACA as evidence that he is gravitating back toward his previous, more common sense positions on immigration.

Gov. Romney’s secret immigration plan is a byproduct of the difficulty that the Republican Party has making inroads with Latino voters. This difficulty is reflected by an September 10th, Latino Decisions poll which shows that, among registered Latino voters, President Obama leads Gov. Romney 65% to 29%. In short, Romney’s support of extremist policies, such as “self-deportation” and the Republican Party’s support of voter suppression and state-based immigration laws like S.B. 1070 have soured the Latino electorate on Republicans.

Gov. Romney, however, has an opportunity to improve his standing among Latinos and clarify his position on DACA by telling America what his administration would do with DREAMers. Latino organizations and the community will keep putting pressure on Gov. Romney to address this critical issue before the elections. Since President Reagan, no candidate has won the presidency without at least 33% of the Latino vote. If Gov. Romney wants to reach that goal, then he must answer this question: Gov. Romney, where do you stand on DACA?

Hector E. Sanchez is the chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of the 30 leading national Hispanic organizations in the nation. He is also Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). Follow him on twitter at @hesanche.



Wage Theft, Sexual Harassment and Workplace Violence; The Troubling Reality of Many Latina and Immigrant Workers

There are stories of human pain and workers’ rights abuses that are oftentimes ignored or simply never told. Through their labor, workers are fundamental to the prosperity of American society but they hardly receive bonuses, incentives, awards or medals for keeping the wheels of our economy turning. The plight and invisibility of many workers makes them an easy target, vulnerable to the infringement of their labor, civil and human rights. This is a sad and widespread reality that we have been documenting for many Trabajadoras (Latina workers) across the U.S..

Latinas fill traditionally underpaid occupations in industries where wages fall below poverty thresholds for families. In these positions they are more likely to be robbed of their legally mandated wages, an issue that aggravates their already substandard income as they experience the widest wage gap among women. Latinas earn a meager 60 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. These scanty wages limit the prospects Latina workers can offer themselves and their families.

Trabajadoras are the mothers of the fastest growing segment of the population in the nation. The numbers show that Latina workers stand 8 million strong, representing 12.8 percent of women in the U.S. workforce and a growing share of women in several industries and occupational sectors. However, their reality in our society is far from the romanticized notion of the American Dream, where anyone who wants to work hard can make a decent living and provide better opportunities for their families. For many Latinas, the cost of life in America means that they will hold jobs where they will be robbed of their hard-earned wages, paid less than their male and female counterparts, made to work in unsafe and unsanitary conditions and coerced into enduring unwanted sexual advances. These are just some of the grave issues that Latinas face at work and while these challenges deserve our immediate attention, shame, language barriers and immigration status combine to create a breeding ground for injustice.

For undocumented women the situation is even worse. One third of immigrant women are heads of their households. These families have poverty rates that are twice as high as married couple families at 38.7% and 18.5% respectively. Overtime pay is just one of the many wage violations they face. When employers keep the well-earned wages they take a working woman’s opportunity to provide for her children. In the case of domestic workers in New York, the magnitude of financial hardship faced by Latinas in this sector resulted in the inability to make mortgage payments (37%), often going without food (21%) and not being able to pay their utility bills (25%).

Latinas are more likely to report being let go from a job while they were pregnant or within three months after child birth. This is alarming for the economic security and health access of Latinos, a community that is the least likely to be insured (38.9% lacked coverage in 2010) and many lack employer-provided health care.

For women, sexual harassment is one of many evils in the workplace yet it takes for the improprieties of public figures to surface for the public to learn about this growing and troublesome issue. While the media spotlighted Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Herman Cain as they faced sexual harassment allegations, the controversy over their tarnished reputations brought much needed attention to an issue that affects the job quality and well-being of countless women in the U.S..

Latinas in the food and agriculture industry are subjected to some of the highest incidences of sexual harassment. This past year, one-third of all sexual discrimination claims were from within the restaurant industry alone where 22% of all workers are of Latino descent. In agriculture, a survey by the SPLC indicates that 77 percent of Latina farmworkers in the South report sexual harassment to be a “major problem” on the job.

As we seek to protect all workers on the job, immigration and labor issues collide. Reports reveal the unsettling reality Latinas face in low-wage sectors, indicating that women and Immigrants are the most vulnerable group to wage theft. Latino immigrants have the highest minimum wage violation rates of any racial/ethnic groups and the rates are even higher among women, especially if they are undocumented. Apart from being exposed to sexual harassment, Latinas are dying on the job due to workplace violence. In 2010, half of all Latinas who died in the workplace were victims of assaults and violent acts.

Political views aside, if we are a nation of laws and we must uphold them, how do you compel workers to challenge the status quo and report abuses in the workplace whenthey fear deportation. How do we motivate those whose immigration status keeps them silenced and oppressed at work and sanctioned by anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric in our communities. Immigrant Latinas explain that speaking up is not always an option when employers threaten to report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for lacking work authorization. These startling facts illustrate the importance of analyzing workplace issues through a gender lens to expose the injustices Latina workers experience from day to day. Injustice will thrive in silence as long as workers are unaware about their labor rights and immigration status continues to be used as a tool to intimidate and retaliate against workers who are emboldened to protest the abuses.

We can do something to protect and empower Latinas in the workplace. To raise awareness about how Latina women fare in U.S. society, educate them about their rights in the workplace and provide them with the resources they need to fight for justice in the workplace, the Labor Council of Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) has launched the “Trabajadoras” campaign. In a commitment to workers’ rights, this campaign is a concerted, bilingual, community outreach and education effort to look at workplace issues with a gender lens and work to raise the standard for ALL Latina workers regardless of their immigration status. We stand with Latinas across the nation to ensure that their labor, human and civil rights are fully respected because an injury to one is an injury to all.

A New Approach to Immigration: It’s Time to Stop Blaming Immigrants

In Huffpost


Immigration has become a toxic issue in the United States, hijacked and misconstrued to the point of hysteria, while the causes and solutions are traceable and quantifiable but have been ignored. The most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression has increased the stress of families across the United States, drastically affecting the way that the immigration debate is targeted.

As we witness the widespread vilification of immigrants in the U.S. and the anti-immigrant policies that it has inspired, we turn a blind eye to the role that U.S. policy has had on uprooting millions of Mexicans and Central Americans from their homeland, where almost 80 percent of undocumented immigrants come from. A key component missing in the immigration debate is a focus on the root causes of the problem. In “Disposable Workers: Immigration after NAFTA and the Nation’s Addiction to Cheap Labor,” I call attention to the root causes of immigration: international economic policies that have triggered a massive displacement of workers and the U.S.’s addiction to cheap labor.

Immigration reform is a priority and must happen soon but, so far, only short-term solutions have been proposed. For immigration reform to really work, all the factors influencing migration must be addressed simultaneously. There is little point in changing the immigration procedure without also changing the economic forces behind that migration.

There is a strong relationship between free trade policies between the United States and Mexico, the grave reliance on cheap labor of various economic sectors in our economy, and the drastic increase of undocumented migration to the U.S. over the last two decades.

The U. S.’s addiction to cheap labor and powerful business interests have established a deregulated system that is voracious in its demand for cheap and exploitable labor, impacting immigration flows into the U.S. At the same time, the anti-immigrant movement and the immigration enforcement policies that have emerged out of several state legislatures have made undocumented workers more vulnerable and exploitable, living the new American nightmare.

This is why we need a serious discussion that focuses on overhauling our labor, trade, and immigration policies so we can address the root causes of economic insecurity and increased migration and improve the economic opportunities and conditions of all workers in the process.

When NAFTA was being negotiated it was presented on both sides of the border as the magic solution to solve the region’s economic problems. However, NAFTA proved to be a big failure for working people on both sides of the border. Overall it drove wages down in Mexico and the United States, exacerbated the wealth gap and displaced Mexican farmers off of their land and into the already overcrowded cities in Mexico, or on a path to migration to the United States. In NAFTA’s first decade, the annual number of immigrants arriving to the United States from Mexico more than doubled and more than 80 percent of post-NAFTA Mexican immigrants were undocumented.

To quantify, in the years preceding NAFTA (1985 to 1989), approximately 80,000 undocumented immigrants entered the United States from Mexico annually. From 1990 to 1994 immigration increased to 260,000 annually. From 1995 to 1999, the number jumped to 400,000 annually. Between 2000 and 2004, immigrants were crossing the border at a rate of 485,000 a year. According to the World Bank, this makes Mexico the nation that exports the largest immigrant-sending nation in the world — more than China and India, countries whose population is ten times greater than Mexico. When it comes to immigration, free trade agreements have been a clear failure.

Once in the U.S., immigrants find themselves as the perfect scapegoats for a range of problems. Immigrants have been dehumanized and the issue has been analyzed in a reactionary way. The scapegoating of undocumented workers has caused many hardships for this community. Racial attacks against immigrants and Latinos have reached historical highs. Families are being separated by the immigration detention and deportation system. And Latinos in the labor force are enduring unsafe or abusive working conditions that place their health and lives at risk, facing high incidences of wage theft and high rates of injuries and fatalities in the workplace.

U.S. economic policy has been a key contributor to immigration from Mexico. A strategy to balance the economies of North America is three-fold: each country needs to critically reevaluate the social and economic impacts of the free trade agreements; the United States needs to rehabilitate from its dependence on cheap, disposable labor; and Congress must pass legislation that integrates unauthorized workers in the United States to deter their exploitation and bring them out of the shadows. This will help re-establish the opportunity equilibrium, giving immigrants the option to legally work in the U.S. and return to their countries of origin if they choose to. Only then we can promote sustainable economic growth in the region and make respecting worker’s rights a reality and not simply an ideal.

11 million undocumented people in the most powerful country in the world are not a mistake, it is public policy — yet no one is asking who is benefiting from such a broken system. It is hypocritical to keep blaming immigrants for complex problems while we consume produce harvested by immigrants, occupy buildings and homes erected by them, and drive on roads made possible by their labor. Rather than raiding U.S. businesses and communities in search of unauthorized workers or wasting money building walls, federal resources should be used to help re-train U.S. workers displaced by the same forces of globalization that have made Mexico’s communities come unglued.

This Mother’s Day, Let’s Recognize Our Most Vulnerable Working Mothers: Trabajadoras

In Huffpost


This Sunday people all over the nation will show their appreciation and gratitude for mothers’ daily sacrifices. Mother’s Day brings beautiful memories of childhood, surrounded by the watchful eyes and warm embraces of our mothers. But as we honor our mothers, let us also acknowledge the unique challenges that confront the nation’s most vulnerable working mothers.

Trabajadoras, Latina working women, are some of the most vulnerable, and lowest-paid, working mothers in the nation. They represent 12.8 percent of women in the U.S. workforce, but their jobs are among the most dangerous and least compensated in the nation. Most of the research on this issue leads us to one conclusion: Latinas face extraordinary levels of exploitation, with the thinnest protections and highest levels of vulnerability at the work place. Their experience on the job often entails sexual harassment, poverty-level pay and minimal access to healthcare.

Latina working mothers make the lowest median weekly earnings compared to that of other racial/ethnic groups. In 2010, Latina mothers earned a median $495 a week, compared to African-American mothers ($582), white moms ($684), and Asian moms ($824 or more).

Far too many Latina women also lack access to health care, one of the central components of families’ well-being and security. In 2009, Latina women of childbearing age were more than twice as likely (37.0 percent) as non-Latina Whites to be uninsured (14.5 percent).

Latinas have the highest unmarried birthrate in the country (over three times that of whites and Asians and about one and a half times that of African-American women) and more Latina women are likely to be single mothers. Single mothers face tremendous hardships while working on their own to sustain their children. 1 in 4 children in the United States is raised by a single parent, commonly a mother. Families headed by single mothers, especially if they are African-American or Latina, face the highest poverty rates. In 2009, 29.9 percent of households headed by single women were poor, whereas only 16.9 percent of households headed by single men and 5.8 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.

Undocumented women —who often take on the role of the breadwinner in their families— fare far worse. After examining the research and data, we can conclude that by and large the American Dream does not exist for them; their reality is more that of an American nightmare. Providing for their families through their labor, these women face daily and systemic exploitation: dangerous working conditions for low wages, sexual and other physical violence on the job, and the threat of deportation looming over their heads if they complain about any of it. The enforcement-only policies — emphasizing roundups and deportations instead of working with families to find alternatives — that we have seen in the last 10 years only increase these women’s vulnerability at their work place. These inhumane policies also constantly separate families all over the nation, in many cases leaving children without these warm hugs and protection of their mothers.

The journey to the US from countries to the south represents a treacherous feat in itself. According to an Amnesty International report, immigrant women crossing the border face grave risk of trafficking and sexual assault by criminals, other migrants and corrupt public officials. Some human rights organizations and academics estimate that as many as six in 10 women are raped on their way to the United States. Similarly, a recent study of 150 Mexican women working in the fields of California’s Central Valley found that a vast majority of 80 percent stated they had experienced sexual harassment on the job.

A recent study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center interviewed Latina workers in the food industry. Their report describes the “backbreaking labor that helps bring food to our tables.” Undocumented women typically earn minimum wage or less, have no sick or vacation days, and no health insurance. Twenty-two percent of the farmworker population is female in the United States. In these hazardous jobs, farmworkers suffer the higher rates of toxic chemical injuries and skin disorders than any other workers in the nation. The children of migrant workers also have the higher rates of pesticide exposures than the general public. Farmworkers are not covered by workers’ compensation laws in many states.

These women are not only providing the nation’s food supply, but also for the next generation of Americans. Three million U.S. born children live with at least one undocumented parent in the United States. Many have spent much of their lives here and have established ties to their communities.

These statistics may not give a great number of Latina women too much to celebrate on Mother’s Day. But we can aspire to create a better future when being born a Latina in our society is not a punishment that confines these hardworking women to a life in poverty, due to systemic injustices and subjected to a litany of abuses by their employers. In our fight for the protection of our nation’s workers, our efforts will be inadequate unless we address the vulnerabilities of Latinas and immigrant women in our workforce. Empowering them with knowledge of the rights and protections they are entitled to under the law will help them assert themselves in their workplaces, and their communities. And we must work for a systemic change in the economic structure of the nation that is addicted to cheap exploitable labor and thus promotes migration. These women are the mothers of a young and emerging population in the US, and what is good for them is essential to the nation’s future.



Warning: If They Take Wisconsin, They Might Go After Our Weekends

In Huffpost


Workers all over the country are rising up by the thousands to defend the basic American right of collective bargaining. We can fight the anti-union ambush in the states with worker solidarity among Latinos and all workers, but first we need to understand why we are fighting and what is at stake.

What is happening in Wisconsin and other states will shape the future of the middle class in the nation and the basic structure of workplace protections for working people, particularly for Latinos and all minorities.

We can no longer take these protections for granted. The minimum wage, paid sick leave, Social Security, Medicare and child labor laws are among the protections and benefits that workers in the labor movement helped secure for millions of Americans. The 40-hour workweek (as opposed to 60, 70 or 80 hours) did not materialize from one day to the next; it was the subject of a hard-fought battle spearheaded by the labor movement for more than a century. This arduous fight—led by hundreds of thousands of union activists who marched, fasted, lost their jobs and even, in some cases, their lives— won workers the now-standard eight-hour day.

We must defend these rights. Collective bargaining gives workers a way to negotiate with employers for higher wages, job security, and safer working conditions. The hallmarks of the American middle class—raised wages, retirement funds and paid vacation time—weren’t gifts from corporations to their workers. They were the result of collective bargaining. Yes, collective bargaining, the same right that the Wisconsin Republicans, at the bidding of the billionaire Koch brothers, just yanked away from public workers despite massive and unprecedented public protests.

These measures target teachers’ aides, nursing assistants in public hospitals, road repair workers, sanitation workers and others who already labor in tough and low paying jobs. Gov. Walker and his cronies have stripped even these vulnerable workers of their basic right to negotiate for higher wages and better benefits.

Losing Wisconsin could mean losing the first line of defense that workers have when facing abuses. And those who will suffer the most are the workers who are already the most vulnerable in the nation: minorities.

For the Latino community this must be an issue of grave concern. Latinos face the highest rate of death on the job, and they have the lowest levels of pension coverage and health insurance. Many Latinos in low-wage jobs have their wages stolen from them by their employers more than any other group.

On the other hand, Latinos stand to benefit enormously from joining unions. Latino union workers earn almost 51 percent more (in median weekly earnings) than their nonunion counterparts. They also have better health insurance and pension plans. Other workers of color also achieve similar gains the moment they join a union.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state where this struggle for bargaining rights is happening. Other states, including Ohio and Indiana, confront similar assaults that would limit the basic rights of public workers.

According to polls, a majority of Americans support these workers. That’s because most people, whatever their experience with a particular union may have been, understand that unions are central to having a healthy middle class. A recent report by the Center for American Progress demonstrates a correlation between the financial share of the nation’s income going to the middle class and the number of workers in unions. As our middle class erodes, the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans widens.

These recent attacks on organized labor are not new, but they are escalating as a result of unions’ weakened position. For several decades, there has been a decline in union membership among all demographic groups. Corporate lobbyists have succeeded in changing the way labor laws are applied and administered (To whose advantage? You get one guess). Current federal legislation gives employers the upper hand in using tactics (both legal and illegal) to prevent workers from organizing.

The share of workers represented by unions was relatively stable in the 1970s, but since the 1980s it has fallen rapidly. This decline has caused wages to stagnate and the quality of work to take a nosedive for all workers. Now, there is less pressure on non-union employers to raise wages and agree to better working conditions. Today, the richest 1 percent owns 34 percent of the country’s wealth. While the entire bottom 90 percent of Americans own a mere 29 percent of the nation’s wealth. To put this into perspective, if we examine the combined net worth of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans in 2007 and that of the poorest 50% of American households, we find that they are almost the same, $1.5 trillion for the former and $1.6 trillion for the latter. In 2009, the number of people in poverty was the highest it has been in more than half a century since poverty estimates were made available in 1959. This situation is shameful and we must fight back against measures that only exacerbate the problem.

Labor unions strengthen the economy, our tax base and help build the middle class by helping workers secure higher incomes, critical benefits and workplace protections. Unions give workers a fighting chance in an unequal economy and collective bargaining strengthens America’s democratic process. The quality of life of everyone who earns a paycheck is at stake. If the courts back Walker and we lose Wisconsin, the next questions the Koch brothers could raise is: why do these workers have weekends when they could be working? Oh, and their children too.



Strong Social Security Is Central to the Latino Community’s Future

In Huffpost


Social Security is central to the economic security of all Latinos, young and old alike. For 75 years it has played a vital role in providing a safety net for the protection millions of retirees, disabled workers and aged widowers. Social Security has mitigated economic hardship for vulnerable communities, serving as one of the most successful government programs whose benefits can be credited in part with alleviating poverty among the elderly.

As working families nationwide struggle with widespread economic insecurity and baby boomers approach retirement, the President’s fiscal commission is suggesting cutting already modest Social Security benefits as part of deficit-reduction strategy. This plan is flawed and conservatives are capitalizing on the opportunity to call for the privatization of Social Security, reducing benefits and lifting the retirement age in the name of fiscal discipline. These proposals neglect the impact of such cuts on most beneficiaries who rely on Social Security as a principal source of income and lack alternative pension benefits.

Why pick on Social Security when it has never contributed to the national deficit? It is projected to run a $77 billion surplus in 2010 alone and its current surplus of $2.6 trillion is projected to grow to over $4 trillion by 2023. Moreover, Social Security will be able to fulfill 100 percent of its obligations until 2037 and devoid of modifications, after 2037 Social Security will be able to cover approximately 80 percent of its benefits.

As the youngest and fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, Latinos stand to lose if these modifications are implemented. By 2050 Latinos will comprise 17.5% of the U.S. elderly population and on average, Latinos earn less than the average U.S. worker (median earnings of $30,000 compared to $40,000) limiting the benefits available to them during retirement and savings they can accrue. According to the National Hispanic Council on the Aging, without Social Security, the poverty rate among Latino elderly would triple. Latinos are less likely to have an employment-based pension since 6 out of 10 whites over 65 have some type of retirement account while only 1 out of 10 Latinos over 65 have any type of retirement account at all.

Latinos are stakeholders in ensuring the longevity of Social Security not only as contributors but also beneficiaries. Between 2006 to 2016 Latino participation in the workforce is projected to increase by 30 percent compared to 5 percent for non-Latinos and their taxable earnings will make vital contributions to benefit the retiring baby boomer generation.

Even though the actual benefits provided by Social Security are not high and the average amount of benefits that Latinos receive is lower than for other groups, Latinos rely on it and will need those benefits for a longer period than most because of their higher life expectancy. Latino men over 65 have a life expectancy of 85 while it is 82 for the rest, and Latino women over 65 have a life expectancy of 89, whereas it is 85 for other women.

There is overwhelming support from a majority of the American public on the need for Congress to take action soon to strengthen Social Security. Latinos in particular understand the importance of the present and future role of Social Security for our community, and we are willing to pay for it. A recent poll indicates that 84 percent of Latinos agree that preserving Social Security for future generations is critical, even if it means increasing Social Security taxes on workers.

Social Security merits our immediate attention and LCLAA along with several prominent national Latino organizations have joined to re-launch Latinos for Secure Retirement — a coalition to protect Social Security and the future of elderly Latinos from current and impending threats. Protecting Social Security from privatization, benefit cuts and a raise in the retirement age is at the heart of our efforts. To ensure that our elderly can live the sunset years of their lives with dignity we will be relentless in our fight against deficit-reduction measures that target Social Security and exacerbate financial hardship on Latinos.




GUEST BLOGGER SERIES: Hector E. Sanchez “May Day and The Dangerous Reality for Latino Workers”

In Latinovations


This Saturday, workers of all colors and heritage must unite, not just to honor the history of the labor movement itself, but to continue the much-needed fight that started decades ago.

May First is International Workers Day, the commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886, when local police fired on and killed several workers during a rally for an eight-hour work day.  May Day has become an occasion in which we celebrate the historical social and economic achievements of the labor movement in the world, a movement that played a central role in bringing the standard 40-hour work week; safer working conditions; decent wages; collective bargaining; health protection; pensions and retirement; better and more training for workers; and overall, a better environment for workers to speak up for themselves and their families.  Those protections led to the expansion of the American Middle Class.  And a solid middle class is one of the main characteristics of a developed nation.

As we reflect on this historical evolution of social conditions and labor rights for workers, there is a serious contradiction today where millions of workers in the nation still lack access to any of the benefits that this movement brought. This is especially true for a particular group of workers — Latino and immigrant workers — a community that has been under constant attack from various fronts throughout this nation over the last several years.

Let’s start with the conditions at work. A recent 2010 study from the AFL-CIO, “Death On The Job Report,” reflects some of these unique concerns.  Latinos have a high risk of death and injury at work.  In 2008, 804 Latinos died from injuries at work and there has been a steady increase of deaths, 51-percent, since 1992 (the first year this report was published).  Sixty-three-percent of those Latino deaths (503) were born outside the U.S.  The fatality rates for Latinos are much higher than for all workers: the national average is 3.7 per 100,000, while for Latino workers it’s 4.2 per 100,000. In certain professions the Latino share of fatal injuries is extremely high: for carpenters it’s 27%; for roofers, 37%; and for construction laborers, it’s 41%.

That’s not all.  Working Latinos have the highest percentages of wage theft, as well as the lowest access to basic health care. There has also been a drastic increase in racial attacks against Latinos in the last years, resulting in a 32-percent increase of hate crimes against Latinos since 2003.

This historical economic crisis has made a lot of people angry. One particular group decided, mainly the extremist right, to focus that anger against Latino immigrants.  It’s ironic that we do not see these people protesting against the main forces which actually plunged this nation into a recession: the predators on Wall Street, the Bush administration, or any of the conservative policies that promoted extreme deregulation of corporations.

Nonetheless, the efforts of that confused group have paid off — not by creating prosperity and a stronger economy, but by costing the Latino community an exorbitant price. This in combination with the drastic failure of the administration and Congress to deliver immigration reform has opened access to regional extremists to pass hasty irresponsible anti-immigrant legislation.  As a result, discrimination isn’t only practiced behind closed curtains – it’s protected by the law.  The policies range from prohibiting rental housing to undocumented immigrants to the legalization of racial profiling, as we’ve just witnessed in Arizona.  That law, SB 1070, invites harassment against Latinos, even if they are citizens.  It’s a cheap political move aimed at scaring away Brown people, breaking up families, and stripping Americans of their basic rights and dignity.  At a minimum, it’s blatant attack on the social advancement that our brothers and sisters in the labor movement have been pushing for since the origins of May Day.

Organized labor has been on the front line defending the most vulnerable and exploited workers. As we celebrate May Day all over the world, this is the time to stand in solidarity with those that are under serious attack in this nation – our immigrant brothers and sisters.  The union movement must welcome these workers in a more aggressive way. Furthermore, Latinos and immigrants must embrace the labor movement as a tool for social protection and economic advancement. This is the future of our movement, but more importantly this is the future of a more just and a stronger nation.  No one should allow the assault of labor, human or civil rights of any group.  It’s just bad political, social and economic policy.


Keeping Promises: The New Immigration March

In npr


Enough talk, Mr. President — now it’s time for immigration reform. Last week, President Obama met with immigrant rights leaders, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Sens. Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham to talk about this issue. After the meeting, he repeated his dedication: “My commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering.” But there has been little evidence of that since his time in office. On Thursday, Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC) presented their framework for immigration reform. Yet, neither Democrats nor Republicans have spent any tangible political capital on this issue, or seem wiling to. The only clear action in the past year has been the serious increase in deportations, raids and separations of families.

This is why the immigration reform march this Sunday in Washington, D.C., is crucial to solidify the momentum, to show the frustration of the community and to put more pressure on Congress and the administration. Immigration reform this year makes sense politically, economically and socially for all, regardless of political affiliation or views.

The immigration debate must be re-framed in common-sense economic terms. Some presume that immigration reform can’t happen during this economic climate, but that’s exactly erroneous. Evidence shows that normalizing the status of undocumented migrants is good for economic recovery because it would create income gains for workers and households. Reform would allow immigrants to have higher productivity and create more openings for Americans in higher skilled occupations. It would increase wages and spending, all of which generates more tax revenue. It is estimated that immigration reform could add $1.5 trillion to $1.8 trillion to the U.S. GDP over the next 10 years. On the other hand, a deportation-only policy would result in a loss of $2.3 trillion in GDP over 10 years.

An aggressive approach on immigration could actually push Latinos as a motivated voting bloc to go to the polls. About 10 million Latinos voted in 2008; 67 percent of Latinos and 75 percent of immigrant Latinos opted for Obama. It was enough to deliver a number of key swing states like Florida and Colorado. A significant push on immigration reform from the president would give Latinos a good reason go vote again, something the Democrats will desperately need in these midterm elections. If Republicans want to take some of these votes, they need to commit and show that they are willing to move this legislation forward. Today the disappointment and sense of betrayal in the Latino and immigrant community is obvious, and if there is no move on immigration reform this year, a good number of these Latinos will not take time off work to vote in November.



Hector E. Sanchez is the director of policy and research for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

It is time to mature as a nation and analyze the issue of immigration with a cool head and sound judgment. Immigrants have become the scapegoat for many Americans’ resentment, especially as the economy has grown more tenuous. But the reality is that migration is a complex global phenomenon closely tied to economic policies. Powerful corporate forces have set up a hungry deregulated system that is voracious in its demand for cheap, exploitable labor on both sides of the border. In this context, free-trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA have played a central role in displacing people: There is a strong correlation between these FTAs and a serious increase in migration.

It is refreshing to have a smart, progressive president with a solid resume on social justice issues. But it is time to start delivering on promises made. Don’t wait until it’s too late to act and be united for what is best for the nation. As for Latinos, this march can show our legislators, the administration and the public how many people care about this issue and would boost and energize the movement. Immigration reform is a sensible priority — not just for the fastest-growing group in the nation, but for all Americans.