Archive for the ‘Feet in 2 Worlds’ Category

Growing Up Jesús

In Latin America, it’s a name like any other. But here in the U.S., Jesús is a name that could still raise an eyebrow. So Latino USA producer Michael Simon Johnson spoke with a handful of Jesúses to find out what it’s like to grow up with the holiest name in the book.

 

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michael-johnson-headshot-150x150Michael Johnson was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He spent most of his childhood making music and groaning when his parents put on NPR in the car. So naturally he graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Sound Design, moved to New York and made his way into public radio. As an engineer, he has worked for Afropop Worldwide, WNYC’s Radio Rookies, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. He commits much of his time to working on radio and multimedia projects but can often be found playing the bass, rock climbing, and traveling.

The Cost Of A Quinceañera

A quinceañera, or “sweet fifteen,” can be a glitzy affair with rituals to mark a girl’s transition into womanhood.

MTV Tr3s documented the crossover of the coming-of-age tradition in its series “Quiero Mis Quinces”.

As the Latino population in Las Vegas has grown over the past decade or so, so has the business of quiceañeras. Families might empty their pockets to throw a party, sometimes bigger than a wedding, for their little girls.

 

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Kate Sheehy is a Multimedia Journalist with a focus on documentary style radio reporting covering Immigrant issues and marginalized communities. Sheehy has reported for public radio stations in California, New York, Washington, D.C. and most recently Las Vegas, where she was part of a bilingual reporting team called Fronteras: The Changing America Desk.

Tell us your Election Day stories

Decision day has finally arrived after a long, contentious campaign season. We urge all our listeners who are registered voters to exercise your civic right and let your choice be known at the polls.

Did you vote early? Do you live in a battleground state? Did Hurricane Sandy displace you from your polling site? What was the craziest, most inspiring, most unusual thing you saw out there? Post pictures and tell us all about it below, or call our listener line 646-571-1228 and please tell us your name and where you’re calling from.

Image courtesy of Lalo Alcaraz.

Fi2W Commentary: Immigration Not Debated But Still Important

The debate last week between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, like the first presidential debate, did not tackle immigration. A few folks, seeing the digits on their computer clocks near the 90 minute mark, tweeted out loud, “Will immigration, LGBTs, and women be mentioned at all?” Martha Raddatz, the moderator, did ask about abortion at the end, but clearly immigration was not a top domestic issue for her. I suspect it isn’t for the debaters either.

Interestingly, two reports reveal that immigration is not a top issue for immigrant communities either.

The Pew Hispanic Center released a report Thursday that rates education, jobs and the economy, and health care as the top three issues for registered Latino voters. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said the issue of education is extremely important to them, followed by 54 percent who cited jobs and the economy, and 50 percent who cited health care.

Earlier this month, initial findings from the 2012 National Asian American Survey was rolled out showing that the economy is also the most important issue for Asian Americans, followed by unemployment, health care, and education. Fifty-two percent of survey-takers said the economy was the most important problem facing the country today. Close to 20 percent pointed to unemployment, five percent cited health care, and four percent cited education.

Nonetheless, politicians and political parties should not take these numbers as an indication that immigration is not important to communities of color. After all, the majority of foreign-born individuals living in the U.S. – 40 million or 12.9 percent of our population – are from Latin America and Asia. About 1 in 4 children belong to families with at least one immigrant parent.

The Pew Hispanic Center study found that immigration is extremely important personally to a third of Latino registered voters.

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), a coalition of 31 grassroots Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) organizations, recently released its policy platform which stresses the importance of immigration to Asian communities.

We are talking about family members, friends, and neighbors after all, loved ones who would benefit from a reformed immigration system. The party that shows genuine concern for immigrants and their families by pushing for rational reform will reap support and votes beyond this election cycle.

Pew’s findings confirm what we all know: the Democratic Party has a lock on Latinos. It appears that in the past year alone, there was a sharp rise in the share of Latinos who identify the Democratic Party as the one that has more concern for Latinos. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed say this, up from 45 percent in 2011. This is no surprise considering the virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric spewed during the Republican presidential primaries.

As for Asians, there is still the need to stress that they are a voting bloc that cannot be ignored. Although AAPIs overall do tend to lean Democratic, the 2012 National Asian American Survey shows that the party does not enjoy the loyalty of most and certainly not all Asians. There is enough room for the GOP to come in and win more Asians to their side.

Immigration may be ignored during the remaining debates and will most likely be invisible in the flurry of last minute campaign messages, but it is an issue that will not go away.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr

Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Fi2W Podcast: For Latino Voters it’s Immigration & the Economy, Not Necessarily in that Order

Fi2W’s John Rudolph sat down with Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition and Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center to preview the discussion we’ll be hearing next Thursday, October 18 at the “Unlocking the Latino Vote” town hall
at The New School.

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The Latino vote could determine who becomes the next president. According to Lopez, Latinos helped Obama in key states in 2008 and Harry Reid in Nevada in 2010. Most Latinos don’t live in this year’s battleground states—at least half of all Latino voters live in California or Texas—but in contested states like Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, demographic shifts since ‘08 have pushed up the share of Latino eligible voters. This could have a major impact, Lopez says.

The Latino vote is closely tied to the issue of immigration but the economy, education and healthcare are all issues Latinos respond to strongly.

One of the reasons immigration ranks so high says Hong is that it remains unresolved. In 2008, Obama promised to pass reform within his first year in office. Instead he oversaw a record number of deportations. Jobs and healthcare, she says, are important but “immigration remains a litmus test for whether a candidate cares about Latinos.”

“If a candidate comes out opposing the DREAM Act, it’s not just a policy position,” she says.  DREAMers represent the pride and joy of Latino and immigrant communities and if someone comes out against the DREAM Act, like Romney did, it has major repercussions. For this reason, Hong doesn’t expect Romney to get the 40 percent support among Latinos that George W. Bush got.

According to Lopez, the economic downturn has had major ramifications for Latino communities: Right now more Latino children live in poverty than any other group – a first for Latinos. More wealth was lost in the recession by Latinos than any other group. And while there has been improvement in Latino unemployment, it is still two points above the national average of 7.8 percent.

But Lopez says, despite being hard hit by the downturn there remains strong support for the president across every Latino demographic group, except the traditionally more conservative groups like Cuban Americans and protestant Latinos.

According to Hong, support for Democrats among immigrants is not a given. However, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has proven very popular. Close to 100,000 young people have applied, meaning a large bloc of people will soon be getting work permits and protection from deportation.

Click the image to RSVP for the townhall discussion.

According to Hong, a vast majority of immigrant citizens know someone who’s undocumented and consequently know someone who’s eligible to get a work permit through DACA. Similarly, says Hong, the movement in many states to disenfranchise minority voters through shorter voting hours and stricter ID laws could backfire. When people feel attacked, as they did in Nevada in 2010 and in Arizona now, she says, it is a powerful motivating factor to show up and vote.

According to Lopez’s research, a majority of Latinos say they would support Obama over Mitt Romney in a head to head contest. Democrats are still seen as the better party for Hispanics than Republicans and polls have shown stable support for Obama among Latinos over the last ten months. But how many Hispanics will vote? Hard to predict, but because of demographic changes, Lopez thinks it’s likely we will see more Latino voters than we did in 2008.

Hong thinks health care tends to be overlooked when discussing issues Latinos care about. Obama’s health care reform, when implemented, will see an 18 percent increase in the number of Latinos covered. Many Latinos work in places where employers don’t offer healthcare and, Hong believes, Romney’s pledge to repeal Obamacare will lose him support. But how Romney talks about immigration reform, as he’s promised to do in the upcoming debate could greatly affect how Latinos vote in November.

The Oct. 18 town hall is cosponsored by Latino USAAmericas Society/Council of the Americas, and the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs and Global Studies programs.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

Aaron Leaf is a freelance writer and editor who has reported on human rights issues from Zambia, Liberia, Canada and Peru. He is a graduate of Ryerson University and the former editor of Ricepaper, a journal of Asian Canadian arts and culture.

Immigration News Picks: Latino Voters Might Swing Arizona, Utah Has Had Just 745 DACA Applicants

In Arizona, backlash against anti-immigration legislation SB 1070 could mean a major increase in Latinos voting for Democratic candidates. A Latino Decisions poll of Latino voters in Arizona finds that eighty percent would vote for Obama, while just fourteen percent said they would vote for Mitt Romney. This is in a state where Latino voters are much more enthusiastic about voting than the national average.

Speaking at the launch of the poll sponsored by America’s Voice, Rodolfo Espino, Associate Professor of Political Science at Arizona State University, explained the results:

“Latino voters in Arizona expressed frustration towards both political parties immediately following the passage of SB1070. As we head toward the 2012 Presidential election, the feelings of frustration by Latinos have tilted more against Republican candidates and enthusiasm for Democratic candidates has moved up. This has made the general elections in Arizona more competitive than many initially anticipated.”

Check out their interactive Latino Vote Map at latinovotemap.org and our conversation with a Latino Decisions analyst from last month about Latino candidates and their influence on Latino voting patterns.

While Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA has proven popular nationwide with 82,000 applicants in its first month, the response in Utah has been surprisingly small.

Marjorie Cortez, in the Deseret News reports:

“Fear of immigration officials is keeping young illegal immigrants away from the federal government’s deferred action program, with only 745 people applying in Utah during the first month of the program.”

Virginia, by comparison, had 1,954 applicants during the same time period, New York 6,637 and California 20,786. Cortez quotes Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, a DACA supporter, saying that applications in his state are lower than anticipated due to uncertainty over the election. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has said he would repeal the program if he is elected.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr.

Aaron Leaf is a freelance writer and editor who has reported on human rights issues from Zambia, Liberia, Canada and Peru. He is a graduate of Ryerson University and the former editor of Ricepaper, a journal of Asian Canadian arts and culture.

Who wins in November? Romney, Obama or Latinos? Find out Oct. 18

 

Thursday, October 18th
6-8pm | The New School
55 W. 13TH ST. | THERESA LANG CENTER

Latino voters are expected to play a pivotal role in the presidential election, just as they did in 2008. This town hall event will explore the tensions in the complex relationship that has evolved between the Latino electorate and the presidential candidates. Will economic concerns such as unemployment and housing foreclosures guide at the voting booth? Will the candidates’ immigration policies dominate? Or will large numbers of Latinos simply sit out this election? Understanding the political cross-currents buffeting Latinos today will provide valuable insight on the probable outcome of the election, as well as political and policy implications for the nation over the next four years.

A CONVERSATION WITH:
Maria Hinojosa
 President, The Futuro Media Group
Jordan Fabian Political Editor, Univision News
Chung-Wha Hong Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition
Mark Hugo Lopez Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center
Fernand Amandi Partner, Bendixen and Amandi Intl.

In partnership with

 

Fi2W Commentary: Campaigns Blitz Latino Voters with Ads, But Will it Change the Race?

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are stepping up efforts to reach Latino voters ahead of the November 6th election. Last week Obama and a strangely tanned Governor Romney appeared on Univision to answer questions in a town hall-type forum. Their campaigns are also churning out ads directed at Latinos.

In this post I’ll explore what’s different about these ads and whether they can make a difference in the race.

Romney is concentrating on key battleground states like Florida and Nevada where the Latino vote could swing the election. In a recent Florida ad, produced in both Spanish and English, Romney’s favorite Latino poster-boy Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) talks about how Romney has promised to save Medicare. This is a tactical change for a campaign that until now has mainly talked to Latinos abut the economy, the issue that regularly tops polls of Latino concerns.

Romney has largely stayed away from the immigration question when speaking to Latinos, since his anti-immigration rhetoric during the primaries turned off many Latino voters. During the Univision town hall, moderator Jorge Ramos repeatedly pressed Romney on immigration, but Romney remained vague about what he would actually do as president regarding unauthorized immigration.

Another theme that Romney is using to woo Latino voters is disillusionment. The Romney camp knows that about 70 percent of Latinos currently support the president. However, many Latinos feel let down by Obama because he didn’t keep his 2008 promises to create an easier path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants through comprehensive immigration reform.  In a Romney ad airing in Colorado and Nevada called “Ya No Mas” sad-faced Latinos talk about how Obama makes a lot of promises with his pretty words, but doesn’t follow through with results. Their disillusionment is why they are going to vote for Mitt Romney.

Why the change in focus? It could be because Romney’s support among Latino voters is actually shrinking. Only 24 percent of Latinos say they will definitely vote for the GOP candidate, down from 30 percent a few weeks ago. One of the reasons for this decline may be Romney’s now famous “47 percent “ talk in which he said that 47 percent of Americans are freeloaders that live off government. The Obama camp has seized on this in their new campaign ads.

In an ad from the SEIU/Cope Super-PAC, Romney is shown during the GOP primaries saying that most Latino immigrants just want to sneak across the border and get a free government handout,  a comment that is reminiscent of his “47 percent” remark. The ad is airing in states throughout the West that have large Latino populations like Nevada and Colorado. Obama’s supporters want to underscore the problem Romney has with Latinos, that they don’t believe he represents their values and interests. Democrats also want to remind Latinos about some of the anti-immigration statements Romney made during the primaries.

The Obama camp is also attempting to shore up their support among Latina women. In an ad produced by the campaign, Mexican-American actress Eva Longoria urges women to get active in the campaign because, she says, women stand to lose many of their reproductive rights if Romney is elected. In the spot, Longoria also mentions that Obama appointed two women to the U.S. Supreme Court. In another ad, also produced by the campaign, a Latina lawyer named Nydia Mendez talks about how Romney opposed Sonya Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination. Another Democratic ad features popular Spanish-language talk show host Cristina Saralegui saying that Romney only wants to continue Bush’s failed policies.

In addition to the issues, both campaigns are subtly attempting to appeal to Latino voters on racial and socio-economic grounds. Watch Romney’s “Ya No Mas” ad above. Notice anything? The Latinos in the ad are almost all of European origin. The Romney camp probably believes that the segment of the Latino population that is more likely to vote for him, besides the disillusioned, are those that are better off financially.

One legacy of Spanish colonial rule is that the upper classes in Latin America are overwhelmingly white. Take for example the Cuban exiles that came over in the ’60s. Though Cuba’s population is roughly half European and half Afro-Cuban, the first few waves of Cuban exiles were almost entirely white because they were largely from the upper classes. You see this in many other Latin American societies as well. Look at the telenovelas on Univision or Telemundo. The majority of the main characters, usually rich, are light skinned and light eyed while the servants are darker skinned.

By comparison, the Obama ads feature many darker skinned Mexican-Americans. These ads are running in the West where the majority of Latinos are Mexicans who, the assumption goes, are from the working class and middle class.

Will these tactics and changes in strategy work? Are Romney’s attempts to reach out to Latinos going to increase his popularity among this key group of voters? It’s possible, but unlikely. Obama’s massive lead will be hard to overcome. Even though the Romney campaign has spent more money on their Latino outreach than any other Republican candidate in history, it hasn’t done him much good. Though they spent less money on outreach, George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, and in 2008 John McCain won the votes of 31 percent of Latinos. It just goes to show that in the end it comes down to the candidate. And in the case of Mitt Romney, many Latinos just don’t like him.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

Jack Tomas is a writer, filmmaker, and editor working in New York. He’s originally from Houston, TX where he earned a BA in Theater and Communication from The University of St. Thomas. Later, he received an MA in Media Studies at The New School. Jack has worked several years as a professional filmmaker and his films have appeared in several film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival, The LA Comedy Shorts Festival, and The New York Independent Film Festival. He has also worked as a professional blogger since 2009 writing for Guanabee.com, Tuvez.com, Egotastic.com, and Directorslive.com. He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife Marybec and two cats.

Fi2W Commentary: Congress’s Green Card Debate – Should Highly Skilled Immigrants Get Priority?

Yesterday, House GOP members tried and failed to pass legislation meant to keep the best and the brightest foreign students in the United States — at least the ones who earned doctorates from our better universities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Authored by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the STEM Jobs Act would have provided up to 55,000 green cards a year to STEM graduates who agree to work for at least five years for a US employer in a related field.

The bill made sense since we desperately need the talent to stay competitive in the global economy. In a letter addressed to President Obama, 165 university leaders warned that “one quarter of US science and engineering firms already report difficulty hiring, and the problem will only worsen: the US is projected to face a shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree workers in scientific and technical fields by 2018.”

House Democrats however, blocked the bill because it would have eliminated thediversity lottery green card program, and reallocated up to 55,000 diversity visas to new green card programs for the STEM graduates.

A “Dear Colleague” letter circulated Tuesday by leaders of the Tri-Caucus – the Congressional Asian Pacific American, Black, and Hispanic Caucuses – argues that the STEM Jobs Act would effectively eliminate a legal immigration path for some groups, particularly those from African nations, “whose residents were issued approximately 50 percent of such visas in recent years.”

While the Tri-Caucus leaders and other Democrats agree that there is a need to keep STEM graduates in the United States, they contend that “the zero-sum approach of House Republicans, where we are forced to rob Peter of his visa so Paul can wait in a shorter line, is poor policy with poor prospects for becoming law.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who has put forth a bill similar to Smith’s, but which keeps the diversity lottery program intact, charges that that the GOP’s sudden enthusiasm to pass a bill before Congress’s campaign recess is purely political.

“Democrats strongly support STEM visas, and we believe there is a unique opportunity here to craft a balanced, bipartisan bill that can pass the Senate,” Lofgren said. “But the Republicans have instead chosen to rush a partisan bill that has no chance of becoming law to score political points. It seems the only reason our colleagues have chosen to pursue this strategy right before an election is to attempt to appear more immigrant-friendly and to curry favor with high-tech groups.”

In a statement released last night, Smith expressed his disappointment.

“Unfortunately, Democrats today voted to send the best and brightest foreign graduates back home to work for our global competitors,” Smith said. “Their vote against this bill is a vote against economic growth and job creation.”

A bill that would have allowed foreign talent to stay in the country and contribute to our competitiveness and prosperity makes sense, whatever the political motivations behind it might be.

However, as policies are crafted to address our nation’s workforce needs, our lawmakers have to acknowledge that we also rely on other kinds of talent and labor, not just STEM graduates.

“America’s economy needs the skilled farmworker as much as it needs the skilled engineer,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, in a statement. Indeed, our farms are faltering due to lack of farm hands, thanks in large measure to anti-immigrant policies and sentiment.

“Despite the abundant harvest, asparagus growers had to leave 10 percent of their crop in the field this year due to lack of pickers,” complained Ralph Broetje, President of Broetje Orchards in Washington state, one of the largest privately owned orchards in the country. In a press release from the National Immigration Forum, Broetje said “The skilled labor source that we depend on is rapidly disappearing. If Congress does not act soon, U.S. farms will move their operations to other countries that are more cost-effective and have an adequate labor supply. If you look at that apple juice label and see where it’s coming from — it’s already happening.”

“Right now, all across America, there’s a flurry of activity on farms. And there’s a flurry of activity in Congress to provide STEM visas,” said Craig J. Regelbrugge, Co-Chair of the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform in the same release from the National Immigration Forum. “At the end of the day, we don’t just need STEM, we need STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture and Math.”

What we really need is a sane and rational approach to reforming our immigration system. Not to mention a functioning Congress which has our nation’s best interests in mind. Unfortunately, it looks like we will not be getting either any time soon, regardless of the outcome of the November election who ends up controlling the House.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr.

Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Fi2W Commentary: The Choice is Clear for Immigrants

American voters are faced with a stark choice, not only about who will lead the nation in the next four years, but about what our shared future will be like. At the deepest and most profound, it is a decision about what America stands for. About what we stand for.

The conventions in Tampa and Charlotte – the crowds, the platforms, and the speeches – provided the contrast. Immigrants, their families and their communities now have to decide with whom they will cast their lot. Which party and ticket will assure them of their proper place as Americans and help them secure their American dream?

I’d like to think that the answer is obvious, and the numbers show that a majority of immigrants do know who has their interests in mind. But there are some who for whatever reason refuse to see the truth.

A woman immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, worked hard, and sacrificed in order to help her family back in the Philippines and those who came with her. She has accomplished a lot: rising up the ranks in the company where she has worked for decades, and supporting her family here and abroad.

In so many ways she has accomplished her American dream. But as a middle-class woman of color, she has also been held back. She has been denied promotions in spite of her credentials and hard work. Countless times has she complained of less qualified men surpassing her for jobs she can do with her eyes closed. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this was because of her gender. I wonder how much of it had to do with her ethnicity and accent.

She was supposed to retire a couple of years ago but the Great Recession happened. Her investments and the value of her home went under. She has little choice but to keep waking up at the crack of dawn, getting on a commuter train, and putting in her eight hours. She is tired but she does what needs to be done.

And she blames Barack Obama. She faults the man who signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and who fought hard to keep our country from falling into a financial abyss. The man who wants to safeguard Social Security and Medicare for older Americans like her.

She listens to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. She is a hardcore Republican. She believes that Democrats promote dependency on government and that so many abuse system. She refuses to see and admit who is really responsible for her setbacks.

I doubt she watched the Democratic convention. I wish she had. She would have seen so many other Americans of color like her. Not as tokens but as valued members whose voices are heard. She would have learned of policies that safeguard and promote her and her family’s well-being. She would recognize her own family’s story in the struggles and successes of Michelle’s and Barack’s families. She would have heard the man she despises tell her that he thinks of her and her family when making hard decisions. She would have been assured that no one gets a free ride but that together we can create a better future. She would have heard the President’s passionate argument that “no American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and the dignity they have earned.”

Like many other immigrant Americans, she will go to the polls on November 6 and cast her vote. How I wish she realizes who really sees her, hears her, and embraces her as an immigrant and as a woman. It should be crystal clear to her who has her and her family’s future in his heart and mind. Sadly, it isn’t.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr

Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Undocumented Immigrants Plan Protests at the Democratic National Convention

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina - Maricruz Ramirez never thought she would cross the country telling the world that she is undocumented, but when she was invited to join the UndocuBus with 30 others, she didn’t blink.

“I wanted to do this for my children,” she said. “I want a better future for them”.

Ramirez arrived in Charlotte a few days before the National Democratic Convention (DNC) where her group, the self-identified “undocumented delegation,” will engage in protests calling for immigration reform.

Their journey was intended to highlight the situation faced by undocumented immigrants across the country as they get behind the wheel to drive and risk being pulled over by the police, asked for documents and turned over to U.S. immigration agents.

The group has denounced the Obama administration for the record number of deportations in recent years, often targeting undocumented workers without criminal records.

They are especially critical of the administration’s push for agreements known as 287(g), used to deputize local police to perform the duties of immigration agents during patrols, and of Secure Communities, a related program that allows local police to check a person’s immigration status on a federal database.

“We want these programs to stop,” said Miguel Guerra, another one of the riders who began the trip in Phoenix, Arizona. Guerra, the father of three children was arrested in an act of civil disobedience in Phoenix before the journey began, but was later released.

The UndocuBus left Arizona on July 29th to mark the 2-year-anniversary of the state’s SB 1070. In it’s June 25th ruling the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three parts of SB 1070, allowing one portion to stand.  That section makes it mandatory for police in Arizona to inquire about a person’s immigration status when the police have reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. SB 1070 has inspired similar laws in other states including Georgia and Alabama, where the bus made stops en route to Charlotte.

It’s been a “liberating” experience for Ramirez, after a journey that took her through 10 different states and 16 cities where she heard stories and saw the tears of other women enduring her same struggle.

“We’ve helped many others to stand up and not be afraid,” said Ramirez.

She believes the first step to bringing about change for undocumented immigrants is for immigrants to step out of the shadows and tell their stories.

“We don’t come here to live for free. We contribute. We pay taxes,” she said.

Upon arriving in Charlotte on Saturday the UndocuBus delegation went to Central Siloe Church where they heard the story of Isaide Serrano. The young mother awaits an immigration judge’s decision on whether she’ll be allowed to stay in the country.

Serrano is now seven months pregnant and has five other children who were born in the U.S. She was pulled over by a police officer while driving back from the grocery store two years ago, for having her high beams on. When the officer realized that she didn’t have a valid driver’s license he took her into custody.

That encounter led her to a county jail that had a 287(g) program in place where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put a hold on her and began deportation proceedings.

“I’m pleading not to be separated from my children,” said Serrano. “They have all their lives here”.

José Malgandi, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador also rode in the bus. He doesn’t trust what Republicans or Democrats would do to address the issue of immigration.

At Republican National Convention the party released its platform that calls for the creation of,  ”humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas.”  The GOP platform also expresses support for states that pass their own immigration laws like Arizona.

Malgandi said Republicans have used undocumented immigrants as a scapegoat, while the Obama administration hasn’t kept the promise of approving some form of immigration reform, focusing instead on deportations.

“We are going to demand to him (Obama) to not put immigration in an irrelevant place on the agenda,” he said.

For immigrants like Ramirez, the administration’s recent deferred action policy that would benefit children like hers who were brought into the country illegally, is not enough.

“What Obama offered is not a solution,” she said.  She added she hopes that if re-elected, the president will support legislation like the DREAM Act, that would allow undocumented children that were raised in the United States to legalize their status.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr

Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist in Phoenix, Arizona. She worked for La Voz newspaper for the last six years covering the immigration beat and she is a guest contributor on Race Wire. Valeria was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, and moved to the United States in 1999.

Despite Display of Diversity, GOP Actions and Words Send Hostile Message to Immigrants

The Republican Party is trying hard to appear diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. While they can’t do much about the optics of a convention packed with white people, they can control who gets the podium.

Have a look at the list of convention speakers. You have a large number of Latinos, including Ted Cruz, Texas U.S. Senate nominee, Susana Martinez, New Mexico Governor, and of course, GOP darling Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator from Florida. You even have some Asians, with appearances by Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, and Ishwar Singh, president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida.

GOP leaders recognize that our country is fast becoming a majority minority nation and they need to appeal to people of color, especially growing immigrant communities which will decide the outcome, if not of this year’s elections, certainly of the 2016 race and beyond.

Republicans need to understand that most of us can see through this manufactured and condescending visual. The rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric of the GOP presidential primaries is still steaming fresh in our minds. Rubio himself admitted to George Stephanopoulos that he agreed with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when he said “you can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate.”

“Policies matter and, look, the Republican Party does have a challenge,” Rubio said.

The platform they proudly present at the convention is not exactly endearing to us either. While Rep. Marsha Blackburn, co-chair of the Platform Committee, boasts that the platform “represents the inclusiveness of our party and reaffirms the idea that we are the ‘Big Tent Party,’” many of us see it as the exact opposite, as proof of their propensity to exclude.

The GOP platform pushes for reduction in federal spending, particularly social safety net programs. It advocates for a tax code that shamelessly favors the wealthy. It continues the Republican assault on labor unions. It declares an end to “Obamacare.” It spells out an immigration policy that focuses mainly on law enforcement and opposes any form of reprieve for undocumented immigrants.

The thing is, communities of color which are mostly middle and lower income Americans, rely on safety net programs they pay for with their taxes. These are families and individuals who will not benefit from tax breaks for wealthy Americans who do not need preferential treatment. Labor unions protect the interests of all working Americans. The president’s health care reform law has already benefited millions who would otherwise not have adequate care or any healthcare at all. Are Republicans really so tone deaf to what truly matters to immigrants, their children, and communities?

Shenanigans during the convention are also indicative of the climate that greets people of color when they step into Republican spaces. A couple of attendees threw nuts at an African American camerawoman, explaining “This is how we feed animals.” As Zoraida Fonalledas, chair of the Committee on Permanent Organization, started to speak in her accented English, some in thecrowd started chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” The attendees who assaulted the camerawomen were promptly ejected and RNC chairman Reince Priebus did call for order and respect for Fonalledas, but none of the bigwigs has come forward to challenge fringe elements in their midst.

On the contrary, Mitt Romney pandered to birthers and nativists in the GOP ranks when he declared “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate” while campaigning in Michigan last week.

Eric Liu, former speechwriter and deputy domestic policy adviser for President Clinton and a fellow with the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University, writes:

Romney’s implicit pledge of allegiance to the birther movement is as revealing of his character as anything else in his campaign of half-deliberate opacity. He appears to lack a core capacity for empathy. He literally cannot see himself as someone not white, as someone accented or a newcomer … Romney may yet win in November. But he and this whole odious line of attack are on the losing side of history. The tide of demographics is irresistible, and soon enough it’ll sweep up his birth certificate and mine into a new notion of who is truly from this country.

Jeb Bush, who has been admonishing his party to ease up on its hardline immigration stance, told The Hill that inclusive language and policies are important symbols which reflect sensitivity for the concerns of communities of color. He also warned that if immigrant communities do not feel welcome, “we’re going to lose elections.” “That’s not opinion — that’s math,” he said.

Bush’s calculations are spot on. No matter how hard the Republican Party tries, most of us do not feel welcome. Both their words and actions belie their protestations of diversity and inclusivity.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr.

Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Podcast: Can the GOP Convince Enough Hispanic Voters to Help Elect Mitt Romney?


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Republicans say they are aiming for 38 percent of the Latino vote in the presidential election. Mitt Romney is currently polling below 30 percent among Latinos. What can the GOP do to improve these numbers?

We called up Valeria Fernandez, a freelance journalist and filmmaker based in Phoenix, and Pilar Marrerosenior political writer for La Opinión to give us some analysis from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Going into the convention there was a lot of buzz about the strong anti-immigration language in the party platform, but according to Marrero, when she arrived in Tampa at the start of this week, the platform was nowhere to be found. What was leaked was so badly received that the full text was not released.

Marrero says the Romney campaign is trying to step back from the message of “self deportation” that it offered in the primaries. Romney is now talking about a proposal to add a temporary workers’ program, visas for families of green card holders and adjustments for undocumented immigrants who have served in the military. Marrero adds that Romney wants to position himself as having a more humane approach to immigration, but these measures aren’t really being advertised to non-Latino voters.

Fernandez has been seeking out Florida Latino Republicans. A major difference she has found between them and Latino Republicans in her home state of Arizona is that the Floridians largely support the DREAM Act and other attempts at reform while their counterparts in Arizona oppose anything they see as “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and are largely behind anti-immigrant legislation like SB1070. But she says, the Floridians are distrustful of President Obama after he failed to fulfill his promise of comprehensive immigration reform, and believe Romney will be more moderate on immigration after he’s elected.

Polls show that the economy is the top concern for Latino voters. But Marrero says 68 percent of Latinos blame former President George Bush for the poor economy, and have not heard Romney’s economic message. One reason might be that Romney’s outreach to Latino voters is heavily concentrated in the battleground state of Florida with comparatively little activity elsewhere.

With Texas US Senate candidate Ted Cruz, Florida Congressman Marco Rubio and Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño speaking during the convention, many have observed that Republicans are pushing hard to represent the Latino side of their party. But Marrero thinks those three will have a hard time connecting with the majority of American Latinos who are of Mexican origin. The key, she says, is the tone the GOP uses in its outreach to Latinos. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, she says, argued this before the convention: “We can’t tell people to join our cause if they don’t feel welcome,” she quoted Bush as saying.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr

Ted Cruz Brings His Conservative Message to the Republican National Convention

The Republicans kicked off their national convention in Tampa on Tuesday with a program starring a line-up of GOP all-stars. They also carted out many of their Latino headliners. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and First Lady of Puerto Rico Luce Fortuño had their chance to speak before what looked on TV to be a blindingly white audience. But the real Latino standout was Texas U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz.

The Texas delegates, dressed in bar-b-que outfits- Texas flag shirts and cowboy hats – cheered him on. The audience repeatedly jumped to their feet to applaud Cruz during his 12-minute speech. As I watched it I kept thinking, “Why do they keep applauding? He’s not saying anything and what he does say makes no sense!”

I’ve written before about the many things that Cruz, a fellow Cuban-Texan from a conservative family, and I have in common. Our backgrounds aside, I can honestly say that Cruz and I agree on almost nothing. Cruz is a tea party favorite for his extreme rhetoric that includes abolishing the IRS and the education, commerce, and energy departments. But he didn’t come right out and say all of that crazy stuff in his speech. That would have alienated the less extreme members of the GOP. Now is a time to watch what you say.

Speakers at the convention kept repeating the same information:  “Obama put us 16 trillion dollars in debt, 23 million people unemployed,” and keywords like “We Built It”, “freedom, liberty, free market, grass roots,” and “We the People”. Cruz hit all of the talking points and quoted famous lines like, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” and Martin Luther King Jr’s line that men should be judged, “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It’s the equivalent of a band that only plays their greatest hits, only Cruz is playing other people’s songs. Of course the delegates cheered: Reagan’s Berlin Wall quote is the Freebird of Republican rhetoric.

Cruz even spoke in Spanish. He told the story of his father’s immigration to the United States after being imprisoned under the Batista regime in Cuba. He said of his father, “No tenia nada, pero tenia Corazon (he had nothing, but he had heart)” in the thickest gringo accent you ever heard to limited applause. This was a calculated move to prove his Latino cred, and what good is a token Latino if he isn’t “Latino enough”?

Through the haze of tired rhetoric and familiar quotes, he said something that caught my attention, “Unfortunately, President Obama’s campaign is trying to divide America. To separate us into groups. Telling seniors that Medicare will be taken away. Telling Hispanics that we’re not welcome here.”

¿Que?

Let’s put aside for a second that the Republican party platform calls for overhauling Medicare so that seniors would have to buy private insurance with some government assistance. But Obama is telling Hispanics that we aren’t welcome?

Wasn’t it vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan who described arresting and deporting undocumented workers with the fishing term “catch and release”? Cruz supports Ryan even though he is in favor of throwing out so-called “anchor babies”? Cruz repeatedly talked about how much he loves the Constitution, but I guess he forgot that the 14th Amendment provides equal protection under the law to all citizens. Since “anchor babies” are born here, they too are citizens, Ted.

Or perhaps it slipped his mind that he opposes any form of amnesty, including the DREAM Act or the president’s immigration reprieve. Cruz also favors the building of a border wall as well as the terrifying phrase “boots on the ground” along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mitt Romney is hoping that during the fall campaign Latinos will forget all of the anti-immigration rhetoric he used during the primaries and concentrate on how badly the economy has hurt Latinos. Cruz touched on this when he said that there were 2.3 million Latino small business owners being hurt because Obama had “declared war on small business”. He didn’t go into how exactly the president was doing this. Latinos count the economy as their top concern, which isn’t to say that immigration isn’t a close second for most of them.

Latinos won’t soon forget that Cruz, a son of immigrants that grew up in a state with a huge Latino population, has sided with a party whose platform opposes their very presence in this country. How can you trust a man who turns his back on his own people? Cruz repeatedly talks about how his father achieved the American dream by coming to the U.S. and going to school in order to make something of himself. Why then does he oppose today’s Latino youth from doing the same?

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr.  

Jack Tomas is a writer, filmmaker, and editor working in New York. He’s originally from Houston, TX where he earned a BA in Theater and Communication from The University of St. Thomas. Later, he received an MA in Media Studies at The New School. Jack has worked several years as a professional filmmaker and his films have appeared in several film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival, The LA Comedy Shorts Festival, and The New York Independent Film Festival. He has also worked as a professional blogger since 2009 writing for Guanabee.com, Tuvez.com, Egotastic.com, and Directorslive.com. He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife Marybec and two cats.

Understanding Ted Cruz – A Fellow Cuban-Texan Explains the Rising GOP Star

Last month, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz beat out Lt. Governor David Dewhurst in a runoff election for the Republican nomination to run for Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s Senate seat.

It was a big upset: Republican rock stars from Governor Rick Perry to Mike Huckabee endorsed Dewhurst. Cruz, however, was backed by some of the state’s more hardcore tea partiers, (I know, more hardcore than Perry?).  Much like fellow Cubano Marco Rubio, Cruz’s strong opposition to anything smelling of political moderation has led to endorsements from the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Though I am a liberal Democrat and opposed to everything he stands for, I can’t help feel a certain kinship to Cruz, a fellow Cuban-Texan.

Let me explain. Though some of the facts about his family history have been questioned, his “When we came from Cuba” stories are similar to my own. Like Cruz’s family, my grandparents were strong supporters of Castro during the revolution against dictator Fulgencio Batista. Cruz says his dad Rafael, “was a guerilla, throwing Molotov cocktails and blowing up buildings.” Batista later tortured him. My uncle Pedgie was a guerilla fighter under Che Guevara and was murdered in cold blood by Batista’s thugs. Unlike my family, Cruz’s father fled before the triumph of the revolution in 1959. Lucky him.

Rafael Cruz came to Austin in 1957 with only $100 sewn in his underwear. The story reminds me of my grandfather leaving Cuba in 1969 with his medical diploma cut into small pieces and sewn in his boxer shorts. Except for a brief stint in Canada where Ted was born, the Cruzes settled in Texas rather than the Cuban exile mecca of South Florida.

The Lone Star State is also where my grandparents landed. Despite their first house being five blocks away from the Ku Klux Klan’s east Texas headquarters, they felt welcome. My grandfather described how he and his Cuban friends were the only Latinos in the Houston suburb of Pasadena where they settled.

Why would hardcore Texas conservatives welcome immigrant Latinos like my family and the Cruzes?

The answer is similar ideologies. Our families were both cartoonishly anti-Communist. Their disillusionment with Castro led them to react against anything  even remotely progressive.

During the revolution, Castro promised to establish a democratic republic with free elections modeled on the American system. That sounded pretty good to the 98 percent of Cubans that supported him, including my family and probably the Cruz family too. Pretty quickly after his victory it became apparent that he was allying himself with the Soviet Union and was setting up a Communist dictatorship. For a lot of Cubans not only was this an ideological betrayal but a personal one. My grandmother fell into a deep depression when her friend General Huber Matos was imprisoned and he revealed to her that Castro was a Communist. It was like a break-up for a lot of them, and often just like in a break-up you hate the “other woman.” For many Cubans Communism was the other woman.

I suspect that in the Cruz household, as in my own house growing up, the words “Democrat” and “Communist” were synonymous. My grandmother had a picture of Ronald Reagan next to a picture of Jesus by the family Bible. True story.

Like a lot of old-school Cubans, they blamed the Democratic Party for the failures of the Bay of Pigs invasion which led to my grandfather’s imprisonment by Castro for his involvement. My grandparents also thought that Democrats wanted to have too much of a hand in their lives.

My abuelo lived through 3 dictatorships in his lifetime (Machado, Batista, and Castro) only to come to the U.S. in time for Watergate. He simply didn’t trust governments and wanted to have as little interaction with them as possible. He always told me that all politicians, even guys like Reagan, were all “hijo de puta mentirosos (son of a bitch liars).” In ultra-conservative Texas circles, these ideas are as ingrained in the culture as bar-b-que and cowboys.

Today I am considered a heretic in my “Cu-Tex” family. My cousins mostly still think the way we were brought up to think. I simply cannot discuss politics with most of my older relatives. They tell me they’re glad my grandparents didn’t live to see what I’ve become.

When I look at Ted Cruz, I reflect on how easily I could have been him ideologically. If I hadn’t drifted to the left in my teenage years, perhaps like Cruz, I too would want to abolish the commerce, education, energy, and TSA departments as well as the IRS. Maybe I would also say things like, “I’ll throw my body in front of a train to stop anything short of its complete and total repeal” in reference to “Obamacare.”

Maybe if I had read more Ayn Rand?

There but for the grace of God go I, my friends.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr.

Jack Tomas is a writer, filmmaker, and editor working in New York. He’s originally from Houston, TX where he earned a BA in Theater and Communication from The University of St. Thomas. Later, he received an MA in Media Studies at The New School. Jack has worked several years as a professional filmmaker and his films have appeared in several film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival, The LA Comedy Shorts Festival, and The New York Independent Film Festival. He has also worked as a professional blogger since 2009 writing for Guanabee.com, Tuvez.com, Egotastic.com, and Directorslive.com. He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife Marybec and two cats.

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