Latino Voters Call for an Aggressive Agenda to Protect the Environment

In Huffpost


In many ways, environmental issues are connected to many of the other causes close to my heart: civic participation, workers’ rights, immigration and health care.”

It is time to recognize that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the unique negative impacts of the environment on Latino communities across the U.S. and the opinions of this diverse and robust constituency on the matter. A new national poll of Latino votersconducted by Latino Decisions in partnership with Earthjustice and GreenLatinos certainly opened my eyes.

This poll shows that Latinos understand the importance of a clean, healthy environment and the policies that help rein in air and water pollution in our communities. To Latinos, climate change is not a hypothetical term; it is a reality. We understand the vital necessity of curbing emissions that are causing the world to warm because we see and live with the impacts of climate change, locally and globally.

Latino voters want an aggressive agenda to protect the environment and deal with climate change.
In many ways, environmental issues are connected to many of the other causes close to my heart: civic participation, workers’ rights, immigration and health care.

This should not be a surprise, but it was striking to see the number of environmental issues that were such high priorities for Latino voters: strengthening the Clean Water Act, reducing smog and air pollution, protecting the nation’s wildlife, reducing pesticide use in farming, developing clean energy standards and preventing global warming.

But it makes sense. Latinos live it every day. We live next to the polluted rivers; next to the factories that are poisoning our children. We have sadly seen the consequences, up close and personal, of environmental neglect.

Of the top 10 most polluted cities in the country, six of them have populations that are 40 percent or more Latino. We also know that 66 percent of Latinos live in areas where the air is not up to the federal government’s safe air quality standards. That’s unacceptable.

More than three-quarters of Latino voters say they have already directly experienced the effects of climate change. And a higher percentage of Latino voters than American voters in general understand that climate change is being caused by human activity.

Strong connections to ancestral homelands, especially among first generation immigrants, makes Latino voters more sensitive to the global impact of climate change, and many are worried about that impact on their families living in Latin America.

Another poll finding that will surprise some is that Latino voters believe that protecting the environment doesn’t have to come at the expense of a strong economy. Some of the most vulnerable workers in the nation are Latinos. Migrant workers, especially, work in some of the most dangerous industries and face harmful working conditions and poverty wages.

Latinos are more vulnerable, and as a result, more sensitive, to swings in the economy. But this national poll found that nearly 60 percent of Latino voters believe that enacting stronger environmental laws will actually improve economic growth and create new opportunity.

As expected, comprehensive immigration reform remains a vital issue for the Latino community, and this poll affirmed that. The negative impact on Latinos of current enforcement policies – from racial profiling to the break-up of families to the marginalization of undocumented residents – simply cannot be overstated.

Given the drastic impact that immigration policies and enforcement have had on Latinos in the United States (immigrant and non-immigrant alike), several organizations have an ongoing, urgent and necessary focus on comprehensive immigration reform.

But as we head into a presidential election year and continue efforts to make Latino voices and priorities heard, policymakers should take note of the range of issues Latino voters care about. Our community recognizes that protecting the environment is critical and we want action, on all fronts.


NHLA’S Latino Leaders Chart Bold Strategy to Advance Community Interests

In Huffpost


At this pivotal time in American politics, the work of the leading Latino coalition in the nation is more important than ever in order to achieve unity to advance the Latino agenda. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) brings together 40 prominent national advocacy organizations to promote policy priorities and greater unity, visibility and influence for the Latino community in the national political process.

Recently, the NHLA board met to discuss its long-term and short-term strategies. Amid the attacks against the Latino community by political and other groups over the last several years, the board developed a bold six point action plan that will be implemented immediately. This plan comes at a critical time leading up to the Presidential elections and is essential to stymie the anti-Latino sentiments that are becoming increasingly imbedded in the national political discourse and are having a negative impact on our community’s quality of life. Over next two years, NHLA will:

1) Launch a full-scale non-partisan effort to engage presidential candidates to state their positions on Latino priorities

With a record number of eligible Latinos expected to vote in November 2016, the community will play a significant role in the upcoming presidential election. The population of Latinos eligible to vote by 2016 is expected to increase by 18 percent over 2012 to about 28 million people, more than 11percent of voters nationwide. Because many of the candidates have expressed a desire to win the Latino vote, we will engage with presidential candidates from both parties inviting them to discuss with us our agenda and clearly articulate where they stand on each of our policy priorities.

However, despite the clear demographic and electoral trends, limited attention has been focused on investing in Latino civic participation efforts, we estimate that the most serious underinvestment in democracy and civic participation happens in our community. We will work to change that.

2) Unveil the 2016 Hispanic Policy Agenda at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions

NHLA will publish the 2016 Hispanic Policy Agenda in advance of the DNC and RNC. The agenda, which will be formally presented at both of the conventions, outlines the issues of utmost importance to the Latino community. It is the result of feedback from numerous meetings, discussions and roundtables. This agenda consists of specific recommendations, goals and proposed amendments that are necessary to ensure that the Executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary affect a profound, lasting and positive impact.

3) Issue a scorecard for the 114th Congress that reflect the Latino priorities

NHLA will issue a Congressional Scorecard to educate the public, media, and members of Congress on important votes that have been taken in the House and Senate, that impact the social, economic, and political advancement, not to mention the quality of life, of Latinos. The goal of the scorecard is to provide important feedback to the public about actions taken by their political leaders, as well as to shape the upcoming legislative agenda.

4) Continue the “Latinos United” Campaigns to vigorously advocate on Core Public Policy Issues

Since 2012, the NHLA has been mobilizing and activating Latinos on the key policy issues, including Educational Opportunity, Fair Economy, Healthcare, Immigration Reform, and Voting Rights. We launched policy campaigns under the Latinos United banner to elevate the voices of the coalition’s members in advancing and defending public policies that impact the lives of Latinos. In order to ensure all these campaigns are truly inclusive, NHLA created a Latina Task Force to promote gender equity through all of our policy priorities. While we have succeeded in securing some important advancements stemming from this initiative but our work is far from done.

5) Promote Greater Diversity in Public Service and Address the Underrepresentation of Latinos and Latinas at the Federal, State and Local Levels

a.) Workforce Development
Currently Latinos account for only eight percent of the federal personnel. The underrepresentation of Latinos in the federal workforce stands to result in negative implications for the larger Latino community. NHLA has been advocating for structural changes in the federal employment and political appointments processes to curb the potential long-term consequences resulting from unequal representation of the growing majority population. In collaboration with the Hispanic Council on Federal Employment, NHLA approved a recommendation to the President for an Executive Order on Latino Federal Employment. In addition, the NHLA has been applying pressure to hold all of the federal agencies accountable on their diversity and hiring practices. One of our main achievements was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, which addresses workforce diversity, contracting, and educational programs.

b.) Presidential Appointments
In order to ensure that our government better reflects the diversity of the nation, NHLA launched the Presidential Appointments Program, an effort to increase the number of Latino political appointees. In 2014 alone, we supported 30 individuals who were nominated, promoted or appointed to federal political positions. We have also built a resume bank of over 400 qualified candidates. In addition, we have held outreach events with over 70 Latino federal organizations across the country, hosted webinars and provided direct coaching to prospective candidates.

At a certain point in 2012, Latinos were not part of the President’s cabinet. At that time, we called for the appointment of at least three Latinos. We are proud that this goal was realized last year when the U.S. Small Business Association Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro joined the U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez at the Cabinet table. We vigorously supported the nomination and confirmation of all three through grasstops and grassroots efforts, including a social media campaign that engaged 250,000 people across the nation. We will continue these efforts in the next administration.

c.) Latinas Represent
While gains have been made in other areas, Latinas continue to hold a minority of elected positions throughout our country. Latinas make up just one percent of all elected leaders in the United States. Thus, Latinas are absent in places of decision-making power. The consequence of this touches more than just women. It deprives our country of the important perspective of Latina leaders and results in greater alienation of Latinos. NHLA joined forces with Political Parity last year to tackle this grave problem by launching LatinasRepresent, an initiative aimed at highlighting this problem, empowering Latinas to seek elected positions and preparing them for office. To achieve this, we have been meeting with hundreds of Latinas across the country. We have held educational forums, partnered on important research and collaborated with experts to address this problem and inspire more women to run for and win political positions. We will continue our aggressive advocacy with LatinasRepresent.

6) Undertake a Latino Power Project

In order to advance the Latino agenda in the long-term, we will create a plan that analyzes the existing Latino paths to power, defines what Latino power looks like going forward and develops a framework to increase Latino influence. NHLA will spearhead a Latino Power Project that will be guided by Latino leaders, visionaries and professionals around our great country. Together we will take stock of where Latinos stand today on our nation’s “power meter.” We will identify the structural and systemic changes that are required to allow us to reach our full potential. Finally, we will create an advocacy plan that guarantees the fair representation of Latinos at the most important tables and in the spaces where major decisions are made.

The NHLA celebrates the victories that we have achieved over the last few years. We are proud of the important national campaigns that we have built around Latino priorities. Our coalition members have used all of the tools at our disposal from grassroots organizing, engaging the media to amplify our message, convening town hall meetings, issuing substantive reports to educate policy makers and calling for direct action on matters that impact our community.

All of our initiatives to date have resulted in meetings with the President, Cabinet Secretaries, White House Officials, and Members of Congress. We have pressed for further action on Latino policy priorities and, together, we have made important strides.

Even still, the truth is that there is much work to do for the Latino community. As such, we recommit ourselves to achieving our mission of advancing the interests of Latinos in the United States. Most importantly, we seek to engage and partner with the public to realize our goals and fulfill our agenda. The Latino community is as an essential and valuable part of this nation. We are part of the fabric of this country and we espouse the very ideals upon which this country has been built. Latino priorities are, by definition, the priorities of the United States as a whole.


A large group of raised hands

Raise Your Voice to Raise Wages

In Huffpost


There are many signs that the economy is recovering, but we still have a long way to go. It is true that jobs are more plentiful now; the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 2008. In fact, Latinos were the first population group to return to their pre-recession unemployment levels. Approximately 6.8% of the Hispanic workforce is unemployed.

Despite this good news, too many of our friends and family members are not earning enough to cover their basic expenses. In fact, more than 40% of Latinos are paid poverty-level wages. And Congress left town without taking action to raise the federal minimum wage from its paltry $7.25 per hour.

Fortunately, the public, not Congress, now has a chance to weigh in on whether to raise wages for millions of working people. The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing to raise the salary threshold to determine which workers are entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. Currently, only salaried workers who earn less than $455 a week ($23,660 a year) are eligible for overtime pay. Under the new proposal, any worker who earns less than $970 a week or about $50,440 a year would be entitled to overtime pay.

This regulatory change could directly benefit 13.5 million people, including 2.1 million working Latinos, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That means higher wages for more than one-third of Hispanic salaried workers. Expanding overtime protections is the right thing to do to boost wages for our community. Unfortunately, big business is strongly opposed to this change and they are flooding the Labor Department with myths about how this would hurt the economy. We know they are wrong. The Labor Department needs to hear from more working people who want fair wages.

Join me in contacting Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to show your support for expanding overtime pay. Visit (in English) or (in Spanish) to write to Secretary Perez. You can also use the salary calculator on the website to find out how much more you would earn. Together we can raise our voices to raise wages.

Hector E. Sanchez is the Executive Director of LCLAA (Labor Council for Latin American Advancement) and Chair of the NHLA (National Hispanic Leadership Agenda).



Low-wage Latino workers could be key to 2016 election

In Orlando Sentinel


Two in five working Latinos would get a raise under the bill recently introduced in Congress by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour over five years.

The federal minimum wage is the hot-button issue that may factor decisively in the 2016 elections in Florida and across the country. During the past two years, 16 states and 15 cities or counties voted in referenda or state legislatures to raise local minimum-wage levels, and more state and local initiatives are planned for next year’s presidential election.

Politicians are paying attention to the Latino vote, and Latinos are paying attention to the candidates who support increasing the minimum wage, now stuck about 25 percent below what it was in 1968, adjusting for inflation.

If Florida represents the key swing state, and Latinos figure as a key swing demographic, then the minimum-wage issue may be the swing-voter issue — and critical for either the one or possibly two open Senate seats in Florida. Nationally, the Democrats solidly back the increase; so far, congressional Republicans haven’t budged. But the math next year may make them reconsider.


Polls now show that more than 70 percent of Latino independents in Florida would support a candidate who backs an increase in the minimum wage. Overall, increasing the minimum wage enjoys support from 75 percent of voters, including 53 percent of Republicans, according to a January poll by Hart Research Associates.

Raising the wage would help people like Mariamee Rodriguez, a 42-year-old mother of two in Miami who also takes care of a disabled parent. If Rodriguez is lucky, she is paid $1,000 a month from her job in a private mental-health facility. She loves her job, but receives no health insurance or paid leave, a challenging circumstance exacerbated by her 20-year-old daughter who suffers from a chronic lung condition.

“A family of four can’t survive on $12,000 a year,” Rodriguez said. “I sometimes have to stop paying one of our bills because I need to pay for my daughter’s medications. I get food stamps, but because Florida hasn’t approved Medicaid expansion, I have a daughter who could die.”

Latinos like Rodriguez work hard; yet in 11 states, more than half of Latino workers have wages of less than even $11.50 per hour, as do 44 percent of Latino workers in Florida, according to recent research by the Economic Policy Institute and Oxfam America. Just more than one-third of private-sector Latino workers have employer-provided health insurance or get a pension plan through their employers. They cook food in hot restaurant kitchens, clean office buildings while most office workers sleep, process food on assembly lines, and work in the fields to harvest American produce.

Poor government labor standards and educational opportunities have stifled economic mobility for too many U.S. workers. Instead of providing good-paying jobs, our economy generates unprecedented corporate profits while leaving hard-working Americans with low and stagnant wages.

So, why should lawmakers pay attention to Latinos when it comes to raising the minimum wage? The number of Latinos has grown from 3 percent to 17 percent of the U.S. population in the past 50 years . By 2050, Latinos will comprise nearly 30 percent of all working-age Americans. A minimum-wage increase would mean tens of billions of dollars in additional purchasing power.

Latinos also have become an ever larger share of the electorate, not just in Florida, but in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada as well — as politicians are keenly aware. In recent elections, Democratic candidates have outperformed the Republicans in the Latino vote, making the issue of Republican support — or not — of raising the wage even more determinant in swaying Latino voters to their cause.

Today, hard-working Latinos are raising their voices by calling for an overdue raise for all low-wage workers. They rightly demand an end to wage and immigration policies that drive wages down, hinder upward mobility, and erode labor standards.

In a nation made great by immigration and predicated on the principle of opportunity for all, it is horribly wrong not to have a minimum wage and an economy that enable all workers to provide for their families and give their children opportunities for a better life. Tens of millions of workers like Rodriguez need and deserve a better life.



The U.S. Capitol in Washington is seen Wednesday evening, Jan. 14, 2015. A man who plotted to attack the U.S. congressional building and kill government officials inside it and spoke of his desire to support the Islamic State group was arrested on Wednesday, the FBI said. A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Ohio charges Christopher Lee Cornell with attempting to kill officers and employees of the United States. The Capitol Dome is covered with scaffolding for a long-term repair project.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Top Latino Priorities for the 114th Congress

In Huffpost


As a coalition of 39 preeminent Latino organizations, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) seeks to influence public policy to ensure that Latino interests are taken into account at the national level. This is an important time to reflect on what the Latino advocacy community believes Congress should accomplish and which policy areas Latinos should keep an eye on in the coming weeks. It is all of our responsibility to hold Members of Congress accountable.

As a new Congress convenes, Congressional Republican leaders have repeatedly underscored their desire for bipartisanship. This is a welcome approach and now that they are in the majority they have two years to prove that they are serious about this effort.

While Latinos are impacted by every public policy issue debated at the federal level, there are at least four areas with a tradition of bipartisan cooperation where the 114th Congress should start. NHLA has national campaigns to support these efforts and we look forward to working with Congress to ensure we make real progress on the following:

1. Immigration

Congressional Republicans have complained about President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which he took as a direct result of the House of Representatives’ inability to pass immigration reform legislation, despite support from a majority of its membership. With a new Congress comes a new opportunity for the House to pass legislation. Everyone agrees that a legislative solution is the best course of action, and the work of the Senate in 2013 demonstrates that a bipartisan solution is achievable.

In the Senate, the majority that passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June 2013 remains largely intact after the midterm elections. Of the 68 Senators who voted for the bill, 57 remain in office today, and at least three new Senators are immigration reform supporters, providing a filibuster-proof majority for passing the bill again.

In the meantime, we will continue to support the President’s executive action on administrative relief to fix our broken immigration system. President Obama has the legal authority to execute these actions and they are important measures which will provide much needed relief to our communities as we wait for Congressional action.

Unfortunately, House leadership has chosen to start the 114th Congress in an anti-immigrant and anti-compromise fashion, voting on repealing the President’s immigration actions. Turning the clock back on immigration enforcement that puts people in fear of deportation and family separation is cruel and wrong-headed. There will be no social, economic, or public safety benefit to the nation. Republicans must join the broad coalition of business, labor, and faith groups that support fixing our broken immigration system with comprehensive legislation.

2. The Economy

Latinos were among those hit hardest by the great recession, recent improvements in the economy and job market have been critical for our community. This new Congress can demonstrate sound economic leadership by, first of all, not repeating any of the manufactured crises that caused a government shutdown and brought our nation to the brink of default. The instability these unnecessary crises create harms the economy and hurts Latino businesses and workers alike.

Second, Congress should ensure that its efforts to keep government spending in check do not come at the expense of needed investments in our long term prosperity which depend on adequate funding for education and job-training.

Third, Congress should also permanently extend the 2009 expansions of the refundable portions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit – popular tax credits that reward work and keep millions of adults and children out of poverty.

3. Nominees To Serve In The Administration

The confirmation process for the president’s nominees has too often devolved into political point-scoring. Sometimes nominations are even delayed for reasons completely unrelated to the nominee or their qualifications. Latino nominees have been among those to suffer from this dynamic. With the fresh start that this Congress provides, the new majority has the opportunity to put past practices behind it and exercise the role of advice and consent as our constitution’s framers intended. At a minimum, nominations should be brought to the Senate floor in a timely fashion for a straight-forward yes-or-no vote, rather than held in limbo indefinitely.

4. Voting Rights

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act (VRA). This pivotal legislation has repeatedly protected voters, particularly those in minority communities, from those who would seek to perpetuate their own power by denying the democratic voice of others. Unfortunately, discriminatory practices still appear whenever the growth of the minority vote is perceived as threatening to the powerful. The elections season has become litigation season, as voters are often forced to seek judicial recourse when discriminatory changes are put in place and implemented in the weeks and months prior to a vote. The Supreme Court has weakened the deterrent effect of the VRA and eliminated its most efficient component. The 2006 VRA reauthorization – the fourth time the VRA was reauthorized – occurred under a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. There should remain a strong understanding of the universal support for the right to vote.

What better way for Congress to pay tribute to this 50th anniversary of the VRA than to enact a critical restoration of the one of the most powerful and efficient portions of the venerable act. Amendment of the VRA enjoys strong bipartisan support inside and outside of Congress. As a growing population, Latinos, in particular, need a modernized Voting Rights Act following the Supreme Court’s narrow 2013 decision to strike down the formula for its pre-clearance provisions. Modernization can and should benefit all voters, including particularly those groups whose growth in democratic participation may be wrongly perceived as a threat.

Before Latino voters turn their attention toward the presidential contest next year, both parties in Congress have the opportunity to build a record – not just rhetoric – of pragmatic solutions that support Latino families, workers, businesses, and consumers. This is an opportunity that could pay huge dividends come 2016, where the Latino vote will play a critical role, and our coalition will be scoring these votes.

No exceptions for racial profiling

In The Hill


The killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other unarmed African American men by police officers have sparked a much-needed national conversation on the urgent need to address biased policing.  As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder prepares to step down, he is determined to make civil rights enforcement and criminal justice reform cornerstones of his legacy as the nation’s 82nd and first African American Attorney General and has said that he will be releasing new guidance on racial profiling by law enforcement.  But will he ensure that one of his final acts as Attorney General is a truly meaningful advancement of civil rights? 


In 2001, President George W. Bush pledged to end racial profiling by law enforcement.  He said, “It’s wrong, and we will end it in America.”  His administration would later enact guidance to federal law enforcement agencies banning racial and ethnic profiling.  This guidance, however, had serious flaws: federal agents could continue to target Americans based on religion or country of origin and could target any group of Americans so long as the scrutiny was related to border or national security. 


Since the issuance of the guidance in 2003, abuse of these loopholes has run rampant and profoundly damaged the lives of thousands of innocent Americans at the border, at the airport, and in day-to-day law enforcement activities in cities and towns throughout the United States. 


In 2009, Attorney General Holder ordered an internal review and stated his commitment to ending racial profiling, saying a year later that “racial profiling is wrong. It can leave a lasting scar on communities and individuals. And it is, quite simply, bad policing—whatever city, whatever state.”  The Attorney General has also said that he and President Obama have shared a common vision for creating a more perfect union. 


Now, five years later, the Attorney General is expected to announce revised guidance to expand the definition of racial profiling to protect not only racial and ethnic profiling, but also profiling based on religion, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation. While this suggests progress, these reforms must also close the national security and border integrity loopholes.  


These two loopholes are broad enough to swallow the rule, permitting profiling in border communities and anywhere that a national security justification can be invoked. For example, Border Patrol agents have boarded buses and trains travelling within 100 miles of the Canadian border, in places like upstate New York, even if the trains and buses did not cross or even approach the borders, asking people for proof of their status and sometimes even searching and detaining them.  Similarly, the national security exception allows for continued mapping and massive data collection of innocent communities throughout the country – including information about where they live, work and make charitable donations – not based on evidence of wrongdoing but simply based on race, ethnicity or religion. 


At the local level, state and local police receive federal funds and partner with federal law enforcement through Joint Terrorism Taskforces, Fusion Centers, ICE 287(g) agreements, and the Secure Communities program.  These partnerships have continued even in jurisdictions where there have been findings of discriminatory policing and even arrests of officers.  


That is why it is also crucial that the Attorney General issue a uniform, national standard that applies to state and local law enforcement, as well as federal agencies.  The Attorney General can do so by requiring police departments that partner with federal agencies or receive federal funds to adopt the federal standard against profiling.  It would be wholly illogical and undermine the federal policy to have local and state police target individuals based on discriminatory criteria, while their federal partners do not.  


Race-based assumptions in law enforcement also perpetuate negative stereotypes that send a dangerous message to all Americans: that “the other” is to be feared and targeted.   In the last few years alone, according to the FBI, the Latino and Muslim communities have seen a nearly 50 percent jump in hate crimes.  Discriminatory anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 have mushroomed in at least five other states.  A strong and comprehensive federal guidance is needed to send a clear message nationwide that bias will not be tolerated in law enforcement. 


Some argue that racial profiling is a small price to pay for protecting our nation.  This argument, while stoking fear, simply isn’t supported by the facts. There is no singular, accurate profile of a terrorist or drug smuggler, and efforts to anticipate potential terror attacks or drug smuggling based on religious, racial, or country of origin consistently fails to produce accurate targets, while alienating communities and wasting valuable time and resources. 


It is time for President Obama and Attorney General Holder to fix an egregious wrong and ensure that all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion, are treated equally and fairly by law enforcement.  With leadership and courage, they have the opportunity to create a truly lasting and meaningful legacy that will be celebrated by many future generations who will live more free.



We Still Need the Voting Rights Act

In Huffpost


One Year After the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision, Congress Must Act to Modernize VRA

Anniversaries are normally a cause for celebration. But there is no joy in Latino communities across the country over this week’s one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court Case case known as Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. One year ago this week, the Shelby decision, delivered by a narrow Supreme Court majority, dealt a severe blow to one of the most powerful civil rights enforcement tools ever enacted — the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Since Shelby County, jurisdictions in at least seven states attempted to (or succeeded in) passing discriminatory voting policies. The goal behind these policies seems obvious: disadvantage minority voters, and particularly the Latino community, in the political process.

To help restore much-needed voting rights protections, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, our coalition of 37 preeminent national Latino organizations, recently gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court to announce the formal launch of the “Latinos United for Voting Rights” campaign. In conjunction with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) , we released a report, “Latinos and the VRA: A Modern Fix for Modern-Day Discrimination,” describing the egregious and far-reaching discrimination faced by Latino voters in past election cycles and since the Shelby decision. The report underscores the need for Congress to move legislatively on updating the VRA. It should remove any doubt that discrimination still exists and shows that the nation’s fastest growing voter segment needs a reinvigorated Voting Rights Act.

As the report notes, almost 7 million Latino eligible voters live in jurisdictions that were previously subject to the preclearance requirement but are now without these protections. This includes 5.7 million eligible Latino voters residing in the covered states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and 1.2 million Latino voters in covered localities within California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.

Preclearance, the administrative procedure required by section 5 of the VRA, was really the “teeth” behind the VRA. It was a mechanism designed to secure swift and cost-effective reviews of electoral changes that could discriminate against minority communities. Any changes to voting procedures in states and local jurisdictions covered under the Act were required to be cleared and pre-approved by the Justice Department or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before implementation.

These reviews served to help ensure that changes in voting practices wouldn’t diminish the ability of U.S. citizens to vote, particularly U.S. citizens of from minority communities that were previously subject to discrimination. After last summer’s Shelby decision, we lost this important part of the law, as the responsibility was placed on Congress to determine a new formula for preclearance.

The Voting Rights Act is a monumental piece of legislation that many civil rights heroes in our country fought to pass. Leaders like Congressman John Lewis literally bled for this bill to pass, through non-violent demonstrations that often turned deadly for the peaceful participants. Congressman Lewis and other giants sought fundamental protections to vote, especially for those who had been denied this right for decades. We should continue to uphold their legacy. Today as we continue to face challenges to voting like those documented in our report, we need Congress to act to reinstate preclearance with an appropriate formula. With the dismantling of this key provision, there is a dangerous void in current protections and voters everywhere are vulnerable to discrimination.

Fortunately, Congress has the opportunity to right the Court’s decision through the enactment of federal legislation that would restore the longstanding and overwhelming bipartisan consensus in support of this critical protection. In January this year, U.S. Representatives James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI), introduced H.R. 3899, The Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), which currently has a bipartisan list of 25 additional cosponsors. NHLA is pleased to see that the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing this week on the Senate companion bill and we urge House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to advance this bill through the congressional process as well, beginning with a hearing and markup in the House Judiciary Committee.

In letters sent to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees this week, we shared our “Latinos and the VRA” report. I hope our documentation helps Chairman Goodlatte and his colleagues understand that discrimination in voting still exists — and that they cannot let the VRA die out on their watch, especially when the VRA has always had bipartisan support through each and every reauthorization. The VRA is still needed today to protect vulnerable communities.

This week’s Senate hearing is a critical step in ensuring that all of America, including Latino voters, are able to enjoy the constitutional right to vote — now and in the years to come. I urge Chairman Goodlatte and the House Judiciary Committee to act promptly on fixing the VRA in their chamber of Congress as well so that we can uphold the value of every citizen’s right to participate in the electoral process, no matter his or her race, socio-economic status, or language spoken at home.



Stop Devastating Latino Families With Senseless Deportations and Pass Immigration Bill This Year

In Huffpost


Over six years have passed since Barack Obama was elected President of the United States with 67 percent of Latino voters behind him. In 2012, he secured his re-election with 71 percent of Latino voters on his side. For many Latino voters, their support rode in to ballot boxes based on the President’s promise to finally fix the broken immigration system he inherited. While the President authored the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum two years ago granting legal status to many of our nation’s Dreamers, one alarming statistic today rings louder than any other in our community — Obama’s Administration has deported almost two million people, mostly Latinos.

The skyrocketing deportation rate is crippling society in irreparable ways and has seriously increased the vulnerability of Latino workers. Deportations impact our economy — limiting total wages, decreasing tax revenue, and disrupting the workforce of small and large businesses. It destabilizes growing communities stripped of their leaders, consumers, and neighbors. It tears families apart and makes it difficult for youth to succeed without a stable family structure.

For these reasons and more, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, the coalition of 37 preeminent national Latino organizations that I chair, released a new report titled, “Detention, Deportation, and Devastation: The Disproportionate Effect of Deportations on the Latino Community.” The report released in conjunction with MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) assesses the record-breaking deportation rate of the last six years, its devastating impact on vulnerable Latino families and upon the larger national Latino community, and the path forward to a fair and just immigration policy. What the report makes clear is that deportations disproportionately impact Latinos, as almost 97 percent of all deportees in 2013 were of Latino descent.

When it comes to the lack of action on immigration reform, a serious blame game is underway. Some blame the President, others blame Congress. Some blame the Department of Homeland Security’s political leaders for needing to do more to ensure that enforcement policies are administered more humanely (which Secretary Jeh Johnson is reportedly exploring). Others blame career staff that may have “burrowed in“ from political jobs serving the Bush Administration into permanent career positions at federal departments where they still have a say when it comes to implementing — or blocking — policies and programs.

Either way, when it comes to this blame game, enough is enough. Real people’s lives are at stake. Two million fathers, daughters, mothers, and sons that believed America had a place for them — and their countless loved ones (many of whom are U.S. citizens) — are living in the midst of torn families. All parties need to accept responsibility, be courageous, and act. Deportations exacerbate poverty, unemployment and single parent households increasing economic uncertainty. As the report points out, over 5.5 million children have a parent who is undocumented, and 4.5 million of these children are U.S. citizens. Deportation policies contribute to the existence of an entire cadre of Latino children that are parentless and mired in poverty.

While the President shares responsibility on deportations, so does Congress. That’s why our coalition’s “Latinos United for Immigration Reform“ campaign is also announcing a strategic effort to target 30 Republican Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including members of House leadership, to support and vote on a fair and just immigration reform bill this year. While the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, the U.S. House of Representatives has yet to act on fixing our broken immigration system. In the past year, NHLA held over 62 townhalls in 39 congressional districts, and our membership helped bring in 15,000 postcards reaching 96 percent of Congress. Our groups will be even more surgical in the months to come engaging in in-district townhalls, meetings, communication strategies and digital engagement efforts so that House leaders and members representing districts with significant Latino eligible voters understand that their constituents DO want reform.

While Speaker John Boehner recently flooded headlines for saying Congress should act on immigration reform this year, he also raised the same point in November of 2012 saying, “This issue has been around far too long… and while I believe it’s important for us to secure our borders and to enforce our laws, I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, others, can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”

I urge Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Republican Policy Committee Chairman James Lankford to find common ground amongst their Republican colleagues to finally bring forward a bill. At a time when both Parties should be fighting for the Latino vote, Members of Congress need to remember that they are accountable to all voters, including those of Latino descent.
There are enough votes in the House to pass an immigration reform bill, the Senate has passed their version of reform, and the President is ready to sign a bill. It’s time for the House to bring forward a vote on a bill that will meaningfully help fix our broken immigration system — and, in the meantime, the President can and must do more.

The administration must take clear and concrete steps to address the humanitarian crisis resulting from its uneven and blunt enforcement of immigration policy. President Obama has the authority to halt deportations using various forms of prosecutorial discretion and has the authority to expand affirmative relief. Until then, the Latino community will continue to disproportionately suffer the consequences of a dysfunctional and unjust immigration system.

The plan underway right now — of doing nothing and playing the blame game — is simply unacceptable.



No More Excuses: The Time Has Come to Translate Latino Population Growth Into Political Clout and Political Posts

In Huffpost


What do California, Nevada, Florida and Texas have in common? If you guessed that they are all states highly populated by Latinos you are correct. And if you guessed that all of these states also have dismal records of appointing Latinos to executive level positions, correct again.

The fact is, the states with some of the highest Latino population growth rates over the last decade have failed to ensure that state government is reflective of the population it represents.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, these four states saw percentage increases from 2000 to 2010 in the Latino population as follows: Nevada , 82 percent; Florida, 57 percent; Texas, 42 percent and California, 27.8 percent. These areas are also among the states with the highest Hispanic share of the state population. The 2011 American Community Survey reveals Latinos are 38 percent of the state population in Texas and California, 27 percent of the population in Nevada and 23 percent of Florida’s population.

Yet when it comes to having Latinos in leading public policy positions at the state executive level, research commissioned by the Ford Foundation on behalf of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) delivers an unwelcome snapshot of Latino underrepresentation in these and other states. The research identifies people of Hispanic origin in elected or appointed positions — from 2004 to 2012 — in the cabinet and in the state’s highest court. The numbers are underwhelming. For example, in Nevada over the last eight years only two Latinos served in appointed positions. In Florida, six have served in eight years. In Texas 23 have served, although we are talking about a state with nearly 10 million Latinos, and in California, with over 14 million Latinos, just ten people of Latino descent have served over the last eight years.

The research reflects that, for the most part, even in the most Latino populated states there has been no more than a token presence of Latinos in appointed political posts.

So, while the Latino “appointment gap” is striking, it presents an opportunity requiring immediate action. While Latinos clearly had a say politically in the Presidential election, additional political leverage lays in the importance of the Latino vote and in a deeper involvement in local and state-level political decision-making positions. The time has come for more in the Latino community to step forward into diverse leadership roles throughout the political pipeline. The time has also come for state and local advocates to elevate the historical underrepresentation of Latinos in government to new levels of advocacy and, in particular, to raise the appointment gap as an electoral issue in Gubernatorial and other statewide office elections being held in 2014.

Earlier this year, NHLA launched a new “Presidential Appointments Program“ to ensure that our federal government and the nation benefit from the talent that the Latino community has to offer. Our coalition of 36 national Latino organizations has been active in advocating for increased Latino representation in the President’s Administration, supporting junior to Cabinet-level candidates including Thomas Perez, who was officially sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden last week as Labor Secretary.

While we celebrate the addition of a Latino voice in the president’s cabinet, it is unacceptable to have this level of underrepresentation at the highest level of government. One voice is not enough. The vacant posts of the Department of Homeland Security Secretary and Small Business Administrator provide opportunities for the president to include two more Latinos in a cabinet that better reflects the rich and diverse composition of our nation.

More can and must be done. That is why NHLA’s Appointments Program is moving into its next phase of work — leading the first-of-its kind, multi-state advocacy effort to identify and support candidates to serve as political appointees in state executive level positions. Our goal is to have the NHLA State Latino Appointments Project serve as the talent bank and counselor providing support to state-based advocacy efforts and to Latino professionals seeking appointed positions with current and future Administrations either in their state or in presidential administrations.

Nearly 200 people attended a reception and resume drop kicking off NHLA’s four-state pilot program this past Friday at the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement’s Labor Summit in Los Angeles. Moving forward into the Fall, NHLA and its member organizations will build on this momentum by partnering with in-state allies in California, Nevada, Texas and Florida to continue outreach efforts addressing the appointment gap and to develop advocacy strategies that can also be implemented in other states.

NHLA and its 36 affiliated organizations are eager to work with state leaders to help them finally close this serious Latino “appointment gap.” There are no more excuses.

For more information on applying for — and partnering with — this exciting advocacy effort, visit NHLA’s site and follow us via Twitter (@NHLAGENDA@HESANCHE), Facebook and our new LinkedIn group.



It Is Time for the EPA to Step Up Protection of Farmworkers

In Huffpost


How valuable is a man or woman? How valuable is a farmworker? How do you measure the value of a life?

These are questions Cesar E. Chavez once asked us to consider.

The revered labor and civil rights leader appealed to our humanity and social conscience, urging us to empathize with the farmworkers who toil in our nation’s farm fields and collectively reject the injustices these workers face.

He called on us to boycott table grapes, in solidarity with the plight of Filipino and Mexican-American farmworkers who were striking not just for a minimum wage but for an end to the use of toxic pesticides that were poisoning workers and children. In the summer of 1988, Cesar led a 36-day fast to protest the use of pesticides that were linked to cancers and birth defects in farming communities.

A fight he started almost 50 years ago continues to this day, a reflection on the failure of our national policies to adequately protect those who are at the frontlines of on-the-job exposure to hazardous chemicals.

An estimated 5.1 billion pounds of pesticide are applied to crops annually in the United States, threatening the health of farmworkers and their families. Regular exposure to pesticides over time causes chronic, debilitating health problems.

Farmworkers experience symptoms including rashes, blisters, nausea, and stinging in the eyes, as well as far more serious health impacts such as infertility, birth defects, and neurological disorders.

Farmworker Mily Trevino-Sauceda was working on a citrus farm in Blythe, California, when an overhead plane sprayed the fields and all the workers in it, with toxic pesticides. One of her fellow farmworkers, an expectant mother, was rushed to the hospital. The baby survived, but the mother lost her life that day.

Reina Lemus de Zelaya didn’t realize the harms of pesticides during her time working the fields of Florida. She had yet to hear the stories of rashes, stinging eyes, blisters, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems, asphyxia, and even death that so many farmworkers routinely share.

So she worked the fields through all stages of her pregnancy and even brought her baby daughter to work, keeping her in a stroller by her side. Her daughter, unlike Reina’s other children, suffers from asthma, illness, and learning disabilities.

These stories from California and Florida echo the conditions I witnessed in labor camps in North Carolina, where I encountered farmworkers with rashes and sores on their hands and toes, working and living in conditions comparable to the developing world.

This is the alarming reality facing farmworkers around the nation who toil in America’s nurseries, greenhouses and agricultural fields. The federal government estimates that there are 10,000-20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry annually.

But in spite of those health threats, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not updated the agricultural worker safety standards for more than 20 years. The existing standards under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) that covers farmworkers are woefully inadequate, and far more lenient than Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules that currently protect other workers.

The time has come for the EPA to strengthen its standards and improve protections for farmworkers.

A coalition of farmworkers and advocates from the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Earthjustice, farmworker associations, and other groups has come together in support of those reforms. In meetings on Capitol Hill this week, farmworkers and advocates are calling for changes to the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard that would provide more frequent and more comprehensive pesticide safety training for farmworkers.

Participating farmworkers are calling on their legislators to strengthen standards so that agricultural workers and pesticide handlers are regularly provided with more information about the health risks associated with exposure to specific pesticides, noting that successful farmworker training programs currently underway in California could be replicated on a national basis to support improved health outcomes.

The coalition is also calling on the EPA to require safety precautions and protective equipment limiting farmworkers’ contact with pesticides as well as medical monitoring of workers who handle neurotoxic pesticides.

The EPA’s continued neglect of farmworker protections is unacceptable.

Farmworkers and their allies are calling for sensible and obtainable changes to the Worker Protection Standard, and the people that play an essential role in our daily sustenance deserve nothing less.

As Cesar once did, we must ask ourselves, “Do we carry in our hearts the sufferings of farm workers and their children? Do we feel their pain deeply enough?”

As a nation, our policies speak for themselves. We can stand with farmworkers and their children as they confront this toxic menace or continue to enable injustice with inaction.

We can and must do better.

Hector Sanchez is the Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and Chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) in Washington, DC. Along with Earthjustice and farmworker advocates, LCLAA is advocating for changes to the EPA standards protecting farmworkers.

This post first appeared on Latina Lista