Latinos Must Think Before Boycotting The Census

In npr

 

Less than six months from the 2010 census, there is a rising movement in the Latino community to boycott the survey. Not only is this a terribly irresponsible and narrow-minded idea for Latinos, but it would be a detrimental decision that would affect all people that live in their communities.

The census — conducted once every 10 years — plays a central role in the shaping of public policies that reflect the ethnic, social and economic diversity of the nation. Unfortunately, minorities and low income communities have historically low participation rates.

A handful of Latino leaders are calling for immigrants to boycott the census due to the “lack of commitment” from the administration to fulfill the promise of immigration reform. They are not asking for undocumented immigrants alone to take a pass — some are asking the Latino community as a whole to boycott. This could result in a significant decline in federal funds and drastically affect highly populated Latino areas. For example, California’s Los Angeles County, where Latinos make up 47 percent of the population. Or El Paso, Texas, where 82 percent of the population is Latino.

Incomplete demographic data is proven to have a negative effect on the development of communities. If people are not counted adequately, millions of dollars in public money will not be received. Almost $400 billion in federal funds go to local, state and tribal governments each year — money that should go to hospitals and health clinics, public schools and transportation projects. It also affects the potential for smart urban planning, responsible development and potential political clout.

 

 

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

Courtesy of Hector Sanchez

The Constitution mandates that everyone participate in the census, regardless of legal status. Undocumented immigrants may have good reasons to fear the government and are already one of the hardest groups to count because of cultural and language barriers. But the information is not and cannot be used to identify individuals. The Census Bureau cannot, by law, share personal information with other federal agencies.

The Latino community is strong and growing. Undocumented immigrants pay payroll, income, property and sales taxes. They stimulate the economy with purchasing power, their work and their businesses. The census should be viewed as a potential source of power, a tool that will help address the need for equality — power that can help stop the anti-immigrant laws and measures in the nation.

Our newly elected leaders still have to prove that they are serious about fulfilling their promise of immigration reform, but boycotting the census is not the right way to put pressure on the administration. Calling for a census boycott would only be a severe setback, hardly a way to advance the Latino agenda.

 

 

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A Torturer On U.S. Soil: Arizona’s Sheriff Arpaio

In npr

 

As debate escalates over the CIA’s alleged mistreatment of detainees abroad, and evidence continues to pile up, the issue of torture challenges American values. Ironically, a person comes to mind who terrorizes children, women, families and an entire community, but he is doing it right here on U.S. soil. He is on the loose and has been at it for years. What’s worse is that he has a badge and a gun. A son of immigrants himself, he exploits the issue of undocumented migrant workers to gain national attention and pushes the levels of abuse, denigration, humiliation, physical cruelty and absurdity to new heights. Meet Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona — self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff.”

Arizona is home to some of the most ruthless anti-immigrant laws and to a wide range of nativist and xenophobic groups. If there is one person who clearly represents the anti-immigrant sentiment in the state — and the nation — that person is Arpaio. With a constant infatuation with media attention, Arpaio does not shy away from nurturing his macho, egotistical idea of a “tough” sheriff, even if it is at the expense of undocumented migrants.

Since he became sheriff in 1993, Arpaio has exploded the number of inmates in the county — not by jailing dangerous criminals but by imprisoning undocumented workers, most of whom are not yet convicted of a crime but are awaiting trial. When he filled up the jail cells, to avoid hurting his popularity by spending taxpayer money, he built tents in the middle of the Arizona desert, where temperatures can reach up to 130 degrees. He deprived the inmates of basic necessities and reduced the meals to two per day while cutting the cost of each meal to 30 cents. He boasts that “it costs more to feed the dogs.” Under such conditions, inmates are always hungry and have suffered drastic physical repercussions; one teenager reported losing 50 pounds since he was incarcerated.

Undocumented migrants also rarely have visitors, not only because of the culture of fear but also because of the sheriff’s policy. A sign outside reads, “Illegal Aliens Are Prohibited From Visiting Anyone In This Jail.”

Denigration and mental abuse have also reached new and surreal heights. The best example is the number of occasions on which he has marched hundreds of undocumented migrants, chained together, through the streets and the desert — in front of the media. One time, the sheriff forced a group to march wearing only pink underwear and flip-flops. He also formed female chain gangs.

Hector E. Sanchez is the Director of Policy and Research for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Courtesy of Hector E. Sanchez

Arpaio’s obsession with undocumented migrants has affected the Latino community as a whole in the region. Arpaio has pushed racial profiling to ludicrous levels — physical appearance to him is enough to stop and question people, and he commonly conducts raids in Latino neighborhoods. Such harassment has created a major culture of fear among Latinos. A number of civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, sued Arpaio over racial profiling of Latinos in Maricopa County.

However, “America’s toughest sheriff” may not be as tough with all criminals. Response times in cases of life-threatening emergencies have slowed under his jurisdiction. Arrest rates on criminal investigations have plunged, while the total number of criminal investigations has soared. A good number of violent crimes, sexual crimes and aggravated assaults have not been investigated. This while clear evidence shows that most of the undocumented migrants Arpaio jails rarely committed other “real” crimes.

Furthermore, his extreme actions have real economic consequences. He has driven Maricopa County into a financial crisis with his obsession with undocumented migrants, and with the number of lawsuits filed against him. It is estimated that the county spent more than $40 million defending Arpaio’s office. Nonetheless, Arpaio’s circus of brutality seems to ingratiate him with a large number of taxpayers. This may explain why he has been easily re-elected for five four-year terms and still remains extremely popular.

By taking on the most vulnerable and defenseless group in the nation — undocumented migrants, many of them women and children — by humiliating them, terrorizing them, torturing them and constantly violating their legal, civil and human rights, and by not reducing real crime, Arpaio has proven to be a pernicious person who contradicts basic American values. His perversions need to be a part of the debate on torture.

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A Latino for the Supreme Court? It’s Time

In Huffpost

 

Replacing Justice David Souter will be no easy feat. Although there are a number of issues to consider, the opportunity to diversify the Court to reflect the composition of the nation is particularly salient. There is no doubt that there should be impartiality in the courthouses, but part of judicial temperament also includes sensitivity and understanding of different groups and cultures. Lack of exposure to other cultures affects the outcomes of judicial decisions. This could explain why, as research repeatedly demonstrates, minorities receive the worst treatment from the courts overall.

The judicial branch is the least diverse of the three branches of government. Only four percent of federal judges are of Hispanic origin. This is echoed in the Supreme Court — one of the least diverse in history. Of the nine justices, eight are men. All were on appeals courts. Six of them graduated from Harvard Law School and only one of them is a person of color.

In 2000, both candidates running for President promised that they would prioritize giving consideration of a Latino for the next appointment to the Supreme Court. Latinos waited. There were two opportunities, but neither time was it seriously taken up. In effect, 220 years after its creation, when Latinos account for 15 percent of the population, Latinos are still waiting.

It is not just about having a Latino in the Supreme Court for the sake of it. It is about having someone on the highest Court of the land who can speak about the law as it affects Latinos — the fastest growing group and largest minority — with an understanding of the history and challenges this community has faced. It is also about portraying such views with the empathy and authority that can only come from first-hand experience.

The urgency to include a Latino on the Supreme Court stems from the uniqueness of the life experiences that Latinos — both U.S. citizens and immigrants — face today: a steady rise in human and civil rights violations; the rapid growth in detentions and subsequent criminalization of the community; invalid deportations; an expansion in discrimination; a drastic increase in hate crimes; a growing tide of racial profiling by local police that enforce immigration laws, as well as de facto exclusion and bias in the public policy and political arenas.

But this is not only about politics. The Supreme Court plays a central role in the legitimacy of our governing institutions, and the fact that we never have had a Latino hurts democracy and creates barriers to fairness and justice in the nation. An unbalanced, non-diverse judicial system affects the way in which people see American society, and it is no secret that courts are out of touch with their communities.

A diverse judiciary would make positive contributions in a number of areas. It would help improve public confidence in the legal system by improving the quality and comprehensiveness of judicial decisions. It would also more subtly increase respect for the law by reducing the visible bias against minorities and by providing role models for minority groups.

In decades past we would hear the argument that there were not enough qualified women and people of color to pick for such an important position as this. Today this obtuse excuse does not hold water. President Obama himself is the best example, particularly when it comes to credentials.

There is a deep bench of women and people of color with strong legal qualifications, integrity and judicial temperament that also are confirmable, unifying and non-controversial to serve on the Supreme Court. They carry with them the legitimacy necessary to dispense justice with quality, along with a strong record and demonstrated interest and experience. There is no doubt that the President should fill this position with the best qualified person. Why not a Hispanic?

The selection of a Latino/a would be a first and would send a powerful message to the nation. In 1967, President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall as the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court. Until his retirement in 1991, Marshall strove to protect the rights of all citizens, but particularly the voiceless American and the immigrant. A little more than 50 years later, President Obama — the first African-American president in history — can make history once again. Our nation is stronger because of its diversity, but not always sensitive to injustice. This is not just a fight for Latinos, it is a fight for the heart of the entire nation.

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Shared Responsibilities for Shared Problems

In Huffpost

 

Three years ago, millions across the nation took to the streets to oppose anti-immigration legislation. Even those of us who advocate for immigrants rights were stunned by the passion exhibited in the streets on that fateful day. This year, with the presence of a new administration, we planned to march again for humane immigration policy. But, an unexpected challenge has surfaced in the form of the swine flu pandemic that could potentially derail much needed domestic reforms, as well as U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations.

By finger-pointing at Mexico and stereotyping immigrants, we do not come any closer to a coordinated strategy that confronts mutual problems. It only demonstrates how we do not take integration seriously. Although we passed NAFTA, we never quite understood the need to build explicit cooperative mechanisms on the social, health, environmental and public safety issues that we now confront.

There is growing evidence that the swine flu originated in a U.S.-owned Smithfield facility in the state of Veracruz. This industrial farm was established in 1994, when NAFTA was first approved. Fleeing U.S environmental, health and safety laws, Smithfield — the world largest producer of pork — opened gigantic pig farms in Mexico. What a pathetic example demonstrating how the two nations are tied at the hip and how negative events impact interests on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead of casting blame, we should be working together, not only to halt the spread of the pandemic within our own region and to third countries, but to ensure that solidarity among us avoids the adoption of damaging anti-immigrant measures that do not recognize the growth of labor-market interdependence between our countries.

We need to find solutions to the real problems that our nation is facing regarding immigration. Today we are witnessing the dehumanization of immigrant families that are being imprisoned and torn apart. Immigrant families are being forced to make inhumane decisions like giving their children to American families when their immigrant mothers are imprisoned for coming without papers. Hate crimes against Latinos are the highest of any group. The number of people dying trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border has reached historical highs.

 

In this context we must move away from the jingoistic myths of the 19th century. Then, Chinese and Irish immigrants were considered dirty; Eastern Europeans and Italians were inferior. Today, immigrants are compared to vermin, roaches and rats. As the richest and most advanced nation in the world, it is incumbent upon us to avoid such a myopic approach. We are better than this.

Contrary to what some conservatives argue — especially during this economic recession — immigrants do not hurt local economies. In fact, U.S. communities that have absorbed new immigrants have seen more of a rise in incomes over those without immigrants.

Our fear is that the swine flu pandemic will now impact immigration reform. President Obama had promised that change was going to happen this year, but in his most recent press conference, he softened his position. While he acknowledged the urgency of immigration reform, he punted on the time frame. The president couched his answer by alluding that the “legislative calendar” could hold up the process. We hope he does not forget that this is a central issue for the Latino community.

Rather than raiding American businesses in search of unauthorized workers and tearing American families apart, federal resources should be used elsewhere. One way is to provide funding to help re-train American workers displaced by the same forces of the global economy that caused Mexico’s communities to come unglued. Another way: revise NAFTA. We are a nation of ideas and rights, not raids.

During the 2006 marches, the people who pick America’s crops, care for America’s children, and build America’s homes stepped out of the shadows for a day in the sun. This May 1st, they marched again to make sure the world once again sees their faces. President Obama’s recent trip to Mexico emphasized shared responsibilities for shared problems and moved us in the right direction. We cannot allow the swine flu pandemic to cast a shadow on one of the most important civil rights issues of our time — immigration reform is just too important for all of us living in this nation.

 

 

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Sotomayor: Good Choice, Obama!

In npr

 

On Tuesday, President Obama selected Judge Sonia Sotomayor to sit as the next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. This unprecedented announcement is a reflection of our nation: the first African-American president nominating the first Latina to the Supreme Court, only the third woman in its history to hold that position.

America is moving in a very positive direction, and the president’s decision demonstrates that he is not afraid to do the right thing. He nominated a woman and person of color to bring much-needed diversity to one of the least diverse Supreme Courts in history, and to a branch where all minorities are highly underrepresented — only 4 percent of federal judges are Latino.

Despite this being a moment of firsts, it is more important to observe that President Obama selected a candidate who not only has incredible experience and a rigorous intellect but who understands the limits of her judicial role. Sotomayor has worked at every level of the judicial system and has more experience than did any of the current Supreme Court justices when they were appointed. She brings more federal judicial experience than any justice in 100 years. And she has more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed to the court in the past 70 years. This will, without a doubt, enrich the judgments of the court.

There should be impartiality in the courthouses, but there also needs to be sensitivity and understanding of different communities and cultures. It is important that judges have the ability to place themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective. In other words, they have “empathy.” Courts today are out of touch with their communities, and research proves that minorities receive the worst treatment from the courts. Sotomayor’s nomination will help to correct that perception.

Diabetic since she was 8, fatherless since the age of 9, Sotomayor was raised in a New York housing project by a mother who maintained two jobs to be able to afford her children’s education. From those humble beginnings, she graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, completing her legal studies at Yale. Sotomayor clearly represents the American dream of hard-working people and serves as an example to all that anything is possible.

In June 1967, days after President Lyndon Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, a note arrived at the White House from Chief Justice Earl Warren, an appointment of President Dwight Eisenhower. In it, Warren stated that “few men come to the court with better experience or a sounder preparation for our work. Also it is in keeping with your policy of opening governmental opportunities to all without regard to race, religion or economic status. In this respect no other President has done as much as you have.”

Forty-two years later, President Johnson has been “outdone.” By nominating Judge Sotomayor, President Obama has opened the door of judicial opportunity and protections for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, economic status or gender. A new day has dawned.

 

 

For The Next Justice, Let’s Have A Latino

In npr

 

There are a number of issues to consider when replacing Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court, but the opportunity to diversify the bench by appointing a Latino is particularly compelling. Never in its 220-year history has a Latino sat on that bench.

The judicial branch is the least diverse of the three branches of government. Only four percent of federal judges are of Hispanic-origin. And, the current Supreme Court is one of the least diverse in history. Of the nine justices, eight are men. All were on appeals courts. Six of them graduated from Harvard Law School and only one of them is a person of color.

It is not just about having a Latino on the Supreme Court for the sake of it. It is about having someone on the highest court who can speak about the law as it affects Latinos and do so with the empathy and authority that can only come from first-hand experience.

The urgency to appoint a Latino stems from the unique challenges that Latinos — both U.S. citizens and immigrants — face today: a steady rise in human and civil rights violations; the rapid growth in detentions and subsequent criminalization of the community; invalid deportations; a drastic increase in hate crimes; a growing tide of racial profiling by local police; and de facto exclusion and bias in the public-policy and political arenas.

But, this is not about politics. The Supreme Court plays a central role in the legitimacy of the country, and the fact that we have never had a Latino hurts democracy. A diverse judiciary would increase public confidence in the legal system. It would also more subtly increase respect for the law by reducing the visible bias against minorities and by providing role models for minority children.

And, there is a significant pool of candidates from which to draw — a deep bench of women and people of color with strong legal qualifications, integrity and the judicial temperament necessary to make it through Senate confirmation.

If President Obama were to appoint a Latino or a Latina, it would send a powerful message similar to the one sent in 1967 when President Lyndon Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court. Until he retired, Marshall strove to protect the rights of all citizens, but particularly the voiceless. A little more than 50 years later, President Obama can break barriers once again. Our nation is stronger because of its diversity, but not always sensitive to injustice. This is not just a fight for Latinos, it is a fight for the heart of the entire nation.

 

 

Two Years After the Big Immigrants Rights Marches, Where Do Things Stand?

In Huffpost

 

On May 1, 2006 millions of immigrants and their supporters took to the streets in 140 cities in 39 states across the United States as part of a wave of mass marches that spring in repudiation of extreme anti-immigrant legislation, passed by Republicans in the House of Representatives. The vast size and scope of the mobilization was stunning. And not only did it mortally wound the far-right Republican initiative, it led some of us to think we might be seeing the birth of an important new movement.

Yet, as we look back two years later, it is hard to say things have improved. In 2007 Congress failed to agree on any meaningful immigration reforms. That failure created policy drift and a myopic focus on border barrier construction and stepped up workplace raids. To make matters worse, the legislative impasse has encouraged a withering barrage of anti-immigrant laws at the state and city level.

Some of the worst state and local anti-immigrant measures recently passed are constitutionally suspect and may eventually be voided in the courts. Nevertheless, whether it is criminal penalties for illegally holding a job (Mississippi), denial of services to undocumented migrants (Prince William, VA), discriminatory housing laws (Hazleton, PA, and Farmers Branch, TX), or local police (Maricopa County, AZ, and Irving, TX) who track immigrants and find pretexts to arrest and then deport them: the message of rejection is clear. Meanwhile, this official sanctioning of prejudice is being echoed in what the FBI reports is a spike of hate crimes against Latinos nationwide.

As recession deepens its bite on the U.S., the sponsors of anti-immigrant laws and ordinances are succeeding by playing on widespread economic insecurity and the false perception that immigrants hurt local economies. In fact, as University of California Law Professor, Bill Hing has painstakingly documented, U.S. communities that have absorbed new immigrant populations in recent decades have seen incomes and opportunities rise more quickly than communities with no such immigrant influx. Just last year the town of Riverside, NJ passed and then quickly repealed anti-immigrant statutes when the local business complained immigrants were leaving and they were losing essential customers.

The root cause of accelerating immigration from Mexico and Central America — the source of more than 80% of our undocumented population — is the stunning opportunity and wage gap. Jobs are scarce in Mexico, but even a fully employed worker will earn only about a tenth of what a comparable worker earns in the United States. NAFTA — which was supposed to deliver wage equalization and reduced migration pressures — has instead brutally squeezed Mexico’s poorest workers and pushed millions onto the migrant trail. A recent Washington Post estimate says as many as 600,000 Mexicans will attempt the trek this year.

For better or for worse, migration has become an essential component of the North American economy. It is not something that can be stopped by fences or punitive laws.

Whoever moves into the White House next year will be faced with the question of whether and how to reopen the immigration debate, but on the campaign trail the candidates will likely treat immigration like the political hot potato it is. But let’s hope not. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have endorsed the idea of renegotiating NAFTA, specifically pointing to labor rights and environmental protection. If the candidates are serious about opening NAFTA to review, they will also have an opportunity to reframe the immigration debate in common sense economic terms.

As part of NAFTA renegotiation we should both push and help Mexico to invest major public resources in productive projects aimed at stabilizing and even repopulating economically broken communities. Rather than raiding American businesses in search of unauthorized workers, federal resources should be used to help re-train American workers displaced by the same forces of globalization that have made Mexico’s communities come unglued. A candidate bold enough to suggest actually doing something to stem immigration by tackling its roots would be taking a risk, but by their willingness to talk about solutions rather than rely on free trade panaceas they could dramatically — and positively — change the character of an otherwise increasingly ugly debate.

During the great immigrant rights marches of 2006 people who prepare America’s meals, care for America’s children and elderly, pick America’s crops, and build America’s houses stepped from the shadows for a day in the sun. In 2008, there will be similar marches in 60 cities all over the nation. Let’s make sure it was not all in vain.