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Three Years After Shelby, We Still Need Congress to Restore the VRA

Posted on 06/25/2016 @ 12:45 AM

By: Alejandro Oms, LULAC National Policy and Legislation Intern

Fifty-one years ago, thousands of protesters left Selma, Alabama to march to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in order to fight for equality at the voting booth. The months leading up to the march were filled with violence against peaceful protesters and growing national pressure to protect everyone’s right to vote. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prevent discriminatory voter laws. Although it would take ten years for the VRA to be properly expanded to include Latinos, the legislation protected minority voters in states and counties with histories of discrimination for almost fifty years. Three years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court determined that the formula that determined which states qualified for “preclearance” in section 4 of the VRA was unconstitutional. Previously, states in the Deep South, the Southwest, and other cities and counties had to seek approval from the federal government when changing their voting laws to ensure that they were not targeting vulnerable minorities groups such as Latinos and African Americans.

One of the hallmarks of the VRA was that it protected American citizens from all walks of life during its forty-eight years. Vice President of Litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) Nina Perales used the VRA to protect the voting rights of Latinos for years. Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Perales penned an opinion piece on the importance of the case and its potential consequences. At least one of Arizona’s redistricting plans each cycle between 1975 and 2013 had been rejected under the VRA because the new districts would intentionally harm the Latino community’s ability to represent itself in government. In that same time frame, the VRA prevented implementation of more than two hundred election laws in Texas that would have been detrimental to Latino representation.

This autumn’s election will be the first presidential election without the protections of the VRA. Without strong federal protections, we have already seen some of the effects of the Shelby County decision. Several states have taken advantage of lax regulations and have implemented voter identification laws, lessened the amount of early voting, and implemented other hindrances in registering to vote, which disproportionately affect minorities. One notable controversy since the end of the VRA was the contested Arizona Democratic Primary of the 2016 election cycle where counties in Arizona with large Latino populations contained almost 75% less voting locations than they did in 2012.

Despite massive bipartisan support for the restoration of the VRA, Congress has continually failed to pass legislation with an updated coverage formula to implement the act within the parameters of the Supreme Court ruling. In the face of congressional inaction, state governments continue to suppress voters of color in the name of saving money and combating voter fraud. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts praised the VRA and the good it achieved. The issue the Court found was not in the spirit of the Act, but in its application formula. Chief Justice Roberts explicitly states, “Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.” The Court hoped that Congress would do its job and update the formula to protect minorities in a modern age throughout the entire country.

As it always has, LULAC will continue to encourage voter registration and civic participation, despite congressional inaction to protect the rights of Latinos to vote. We will be holding registration drives through the election season. Click here for more voter registration information based on your state. If you would like to volunteer to help our registration drives, Click here.

Alejandro Oms is a Policy and Legislation Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with a degree in political science and certificate in international relations.

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Commemorating Four Years of DACA

Posted on 06/17/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

By: Alejandro Oms, LULAC National Policy and Legislation Intern

On June 15th, 2012, President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Two years later, President Obama expanded DACA and created its sister program, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), to continue supporting the United States’ immigration population in the midst of congressional inaction on comprehensive immigration reform. While the DACA expansion and DAPA currently await a ruling by the Supreme Court, the original DACA is presently unchallenged and continues to be a source of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

DACA changed the game for young immigrants by granting temporary, renewable work permits that last two years to undocumented immigrants who meet several qualifications that include education requirements and background checks. Upon implementation, DACA had the potential to cover over one million undocumented youth.

Last October, United We Dream released a report analyzing surveys of DACA recipients to gauge the basic life improvements that DACA has brought to its recipients. Three years after its passage and implementation, almost nine hundred thousand applications have been approved and almost four hundred thousand renewals have been granted. These temporary permits have allowed the majority of the recipients to get better jobs in part; due to increased access to driver’s licenses (90% of DACA recipients have obtained their driver’s license since the beginning of the program). Two-thirds of those who have obtained new jobs have seen an average wage increase by 45%. Not only does this increase in wages lead to increased tax revenue for state and federal government, but it also leads to increased wages that stimulate the economy. In total, if the Supreme Court upholds the DACA expansion and DAPA, state and local governments will collect over eight hundred million dollars in additional revenue each year.

DACA also provides long term economic and social benefits. The higher paying jobs that DACA permits allow immigrants to receive also help pay for higher education. On top of higher wages paying for higher education, several states also allow DACA recipients to pay in-state tuition at state universities. In addition to the new ability to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), DACA has drastically reduced the cost of a degree for undocumented immigrants. Approximately one third of DACA recipients have been able to attend college because of the program. College students can also get health insurance through their college which has assisted more than a quarter of DACA recipients in enrolling in healthcare coverage.

As it celebrates its fourth anniversary, DACA faces an onslaught of threats despite the benefits it has provided to the United States. The Supreme Court case against DAPA and the DACA expansion are based on the notion that President Obama has overstepped the authority granted to him in executive orders. Even if the Supreme Court upholds the DACA expansion, the next president can undo President Obama’s original executive order that created DACA with their own executive order. Presumptive democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has stated her support for the programs and expressed a desire to expand them. The presumptive republican nominee Donald Trump has declared he will undo President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Should Trump become president, he could immediately abolish DACA and threaten the jobs and educational opportunities hundreds of thousands of Latinos currently have.

Regardless of the Supreme Court decision, LULAC will continue fighting to ensure that families are not split up by deportation. Through its extensive advocacy networks, LULAC members and community partners will advocate on Capitol Hill and continue pressuring Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that puts families first.

Alejandro Oms is a Policy and Legislation Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with a degree in political science and certificate in international relations.

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