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Civil Rights Leaders Discuss the Latino State of the Union

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

By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Salay is the Communications Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in communication with minors in history and professional writing, and will be graduating in the Spring of 2016.


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