How can law and policy contribute to a “vicious cycle” that leaves Latinos trailing behind the rest of the nation?
Cecilia Abundis, Assistant Attorney General in Consumer Fraud Bureau, Illinois Attorney General’s Office
A survey by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) found that Latinos were 1.5 times more likely to be victims of fraud then were Whites. The FTC’s survey also found that Latinos were 2.5 times more likely to be victims of a debt-related scam. In Illinois, the top types of complaints received by the Illinois Attorney General’s consumer fraud bureau in 2015 were related to consumer debt. Lax consumer protection laws, especially in consumer finance, can create an endless cycle of debt, hindering the upward mobility of Latinos. For example, a victim of the unauthorized practice of immigration law, not only suffers monetary losses, but can also suffer legal consequences, such as deportation. Equally devastating are the consumer debt-related and consumer finance scams affecting Latinos; such as mortgage relief scams that can result in foreclosure and possible homelessness; and payday lending, that traps borrowers in perpetual debt. Even more vulnerable to payday lenders are the unbanked, which, according to an FDIC report, 41.5% of low-income Latino households are unbanked.
 Debt-related fraud in the FTC’s survey includes credit repair, debt relief, mortgage relief, and advance fee loans.
 http://www.ag.state.il.us/pressroom/2016_03/20160307.html. It should be noted that the consumer fraud bureau does not inquire into, nor track the racial or ethnic background of a complainant.
Law contributes to the downward economic mobility of Latinos in several ways. One example is the failure to enforce employment and labor laws, including wage and hour laws (such as the Fair Labor Standards Act), anti-discrimination laws and labor laws. The enforcement of these laws is especially important for Latinos who may be working lower-paying jobs where employers. This is especially true for people without work authorization. The failure to enforce employment and labor laws for people without work authorization likely affects other workers as well.
Considering the demographic shifts that will happen by 2025, the future of Latinos is very concerning because the inability of congress to pass a Comprehensive Immigration Reform since 1986, has left Latinos in the very vulnerable state that has been worsening since president Obama took office. The only possibilities for improving the current anti-immigrant climate during the past two terms have been DACA and DAPA and both seem to be at grave danger in the current electoral cycle. If Comprehensive Immigration Reform is further delayed, Latinos will be trailing behind the rest of the nation because few policies will be enacted to improve the socioeconomic and educational status of those who are already here, specially the children of immigrants. Most of the discussion around Latinos is unfairly sequestered through the immigration policy reform, leaving little room to enact appropriate legislation to guarantee adequate access to educational opportunities and workforce development for all law-abiding Latinos in the United States, regardless of their immigration status.
In philanthropy, one of the biggest issues I’m currently seeing is not necessarily related to a specific law or policy as much as it’s related to politics. The state budget impasse in Illinois is severely limiting the ability to provide much-needed social services to many communities across the state. Through our grant-making at the McCormick Foundation, we work with many organizations who are making huge sacrifices and being forced to make difficult decisions in order to keep programs running. Even so, many programs have had to shut their doors because they simply do not have the funds to stay in operation. Unsurprisingly, the consequences are dire for Latino families, which already face a shortage of culturally-competent, bilingual service providers. We see this in many areas, such as in mental health, domestic violence, education, etc. The budget impasse is adding additional strain to a system that has historically failed to meet the needs of Latino families, and it threatens to undo many years of hard-fought progress.
- Political disenfranchisement is an ongoing phenomenon that disproportionately affects Latino voters. The recent dilution of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013 has given state legislatures the green light to enact restrictive voter id laws that serve to further marginalize and dilute the Latino vote. Given existing formal barriers such as age and legal status, these measures will not only exacerbate efforts to further engage the Latino electorate but more importantly, will make it even more incumbent to support recruiting and mobilization efforts as a way to connect young Latinos to the ballot apparatus.
- Political participation and representation is even more pressing given recent efforts to dilute the Latino vote. At a time when state governments are enacting more voter id laws, reducing early voting and slashing the budgets of important agencies that facilitate the franchise (i.e. Secretary of State office’s), it is even more incumbent to support Latino participation and progressive Latino representatives to public office. The hope is that their presence can not only change the narrative of Latino political engagement but, allocate the resources necessary to help with registering more Latino voters. This is even more pressing today given that more than half of Latino voters are millennials.
- The effort to exclude immigrants from civic life is also an issue that needs to be addressed. In locations and jurisdictions where immigrants make up a substantial of residents (i.e. Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, etc.), attempts to demonize and racialized their experiences only hampers efforts to further integrate them into public life. In many ways, the manner in which immigrants are being painted by the current political climate makes it more challenging to highlight their important economic and political contributions. For example, folks don’t realized that immigrants and counted in the decennial census which has important implications for resource distribution, the drawing of electoral and judicial districts and congressional representation.
The first prompt asks us to consider ways that law and policy could potentially lead to the perpetuation of barriers for Latina/o political mobilization and incorporation. For the purposes of my response I will focus on undocumented Latina/o communities. While I acknowledge that not all Latina/os are immigrants or identify as undocumented, within this community there are many Latina/os who find themselves to be part of mixed status families and among mainstream discourse there is a high level of association between Latina/o and immigrant issues. In terms of immigrant marginalization and exclusion, an area that my own research considers, I see the conflation of immigrant and criminal law or “crimmigration” and the heightened levels of deportation to be significant barriers facing the Latina/o community in the United States today (see the work of those such as Jennifer Chacón, Cristina Rodriguez, Adam Cox, Daniel Kanstroom, Cecilia Menjívar and Tanya Golash-Boza). Such draconian forms of exclusion in turn, I posit, would lead to greater discouragement from participation in politics as evidenced by Irei Unzueta Carrasco’s recent denial of her DACA re-approval due to her participation in an act of civil disobedience a few years prior. This brings into question the federal government’s ability to target undocumented immigrant communities for deportation resulting from political participation, an issue that legal scholar Michael Kagan has begun to address in his piece, “When Immigrant Speak: The Precarious Nature of Non-Citizen Speech Under the First Amendment” published in the Boston College Law Review. This will also have important implications for educational access given the uneven legal landscape nationally regarding undocumented immigrant youth’s access to pursuing higher education. Some states have denied undocumented students access to public colleges/universities, others have granted them access to in-state tuition but not state based aid and California has passed a bill granting in-state tuition and access to state financial aid (see the work of Michael Olivas, Alejandra Rincón and Kevin Doughery on this topic). With the current state of marginalization and subjugation that Latina/os face in the United States today, especially those who are undocumented, we will continue to reproduce what Cecilia Menjívar has referred to as a state of liminal legality and what Nicholas DeGenova has called “migrant illegality.” A thorough, comprehensive understanding of these policies and laws contributing to this vicious cycle will enable scholars and community members to actively contest the very structures leading to its disenfranchisement and to avoid the production of such a cycle in the first place.
Law and policy can contribute to a “vicious cycle” that leaves Latinos trailing behind the rest of the nation by reinforcing the social, political, and economic marginalization of Latinos/as and recent immigrants. In terms of immigration policy, yearly numerical quotas and the tremendously lengthy and arduous process that most Latin American immigrants face in trying to obtain visas or permanent resident alien status present the most pressing issue. Because of current immigration policies, an overwhelming number of migrants from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Dominican Republic are “out of status” or undocumented in the United States. Thus, undocumented immigrants begin life in the U.S. from an extremely marginalized, vulnerable, and economically precarious position. Restrictive voter registration laws disenfranchise many Latino/a voters. In particular, the disenfranchisement of the growing Latino youth vote can have severe effects on how well Latinos/as make their voices heard in local and national elections. For U.S. citizen Latinos/as or those with legal status, the lack of quality public education, affordable employment and training opportunities, as well as the failure to increase the federal minimum wage, especially for workers in the service sector, makes economic advancement extremely difficult. For undocumented immigrants, the lack of regulation and oversight of immigrant worker rights and conditions often results in exploitation, wage theft, and unfair labor practices for those workers.
Luis Ricardo Fraga, Co-Director Institute for Latino Studies, Arthur Foundation Endowed Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership, Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
The U.S. cannot continue to marginalize Latino immigrants and their children, both those born outside the U.S. and those born in the U.S., by maintaining immigration policies and practices that marginalize and dehumanize Latino families. Policies of deportation focused solely on status, visa distribution that is uninformed by labor demand, and a national discourse that targets Latino immigrants only serves to reinforce the view of Latinos as “perpetual foreigners” in the U.S. In a related way, the increasing class and racialized segregation of Latinos in American schools further reinforces the marginalized status of the working class Latinos. Although education gains are apparent, such as in the high rates of postsecondary enrollment among Latino high school graduates, these gains coexist with a lack of opportunity for the next generation through underinvestment in American schools. When one combines immigration challenges with very uneven educational opportunities, one should expect the further segmentation of many Latinos into the lower levels of employment and related economic opportunity. Low income due to participation in lower levels of a segmented labor market makes wealth acquisition, home ownership, and access to community-based social capital unlikely and directly works against generational upward mobility. The challenges of immigration, education, and economic opportunity become impossible to address in a democratic polity when levels of political participation and civic engagement are kept low though case law regarding voting rights, active voter identification laws directly limiting enfranchisement, and provide incentives to both candidates and parties to effectively ignore Latinos as critical voters. Low levels of political participation and civic engagement will lead to the perpetuation of public policies that underserve, marginalize, and alienate many Latinos. The result will be their continued presence as racialized, perpetual foreigners in the U.S., regardless of citizenship.
Philanthropy is a critical driver for equity and social change. Historically, communities of color have been underserved by philanthropic dollars despite disproportionate need. Today, just 1.3 percent of all foundation funding (more than $50 billion dollars are granted annually from approximately 90,000 foundations nationwide) is directed to Latino organizations and activities, a number that has remained virtually flat since 1999. There are many reasons why communities of color receive such a small percentage of mainstream philanthropic resources, contributing to the vicious cycle leaving Latinos trailing behind the rest of the nation including lack of representation at the foundation executive and trustee levels, non-Latino donor intent, narrow, inflexible, risk adverse funding strategies, priorities that functionally exclude most Latino nonprofits, and a persistent narrative defining the community as disadvantaged.
The patchwork approach government has taken to allow undocumented individuals to participate in American society has created a “vicious cycle” with a disparate impact on Latinos. While readily accepting their labor and presence in the country, only certain accommodations have been made to allow these individuals to participate in legal commerce and social activities in the U.S. For example, limited driving privileges, limited banking privileges, the mandate to pay of taxes and allowance to attend certain public schools has been slowly and inconsistently implemented in certain jurisdictions. No political participation has been allowed and college access has been severely restricted. The threat of deportation is always imminent, due the fact that full citizenship has yet to be decoded for this population.
Sergio Lemus, Task Force Member, Center for Operational Excellence, City Colleges of Chicago
The law is critical for the success of immigrants that come to the United States looking for opportunities of economic mobility. In my research, which examines the lives of Mexican gardeners in the City of Chicago, I have seen how a lack of properly documented status dictates their labor path in the city. This lack of papers inevitably leads to political disenfranchisement in effect creating a working class that is structurally included in our economic, political, and cultural lives through their exclusion in the law. The law serves as a mechanism of exclusionary practice. For Mexican gardeners their immediate task as they arrive in the city is to survive, stay out of the path of policing agencies (police, health, human services, and migration agencies) to send what little they can save back to their families in Mexico.
The first category, immigrant marginalization and exclusion includes in large part, racial profiling, lack of consistent INA regulations and application; privatization of prisons and lack of due process to adults and children. Second, Latino political disenfranchisement is ignored in both the rural and urban spheres. This extends to voter identification laws, disregarding potential Latino candidates, the over-reliance of Latinos for their votes, with subsequent post-election periods ignoring them and their communities. The third query, inadequate access to education and under-skilling includes the privatization of education. In contrast to the past, Michigan retained strong education programs but is presently in a free fall lagging across the nation while facilitating deficient education policies and segregated communities. This extends to educational institutions challenging Chicana/o Studies programs, deleting diverse histories while promoting the “conquering hero(s)” of the past; rewriting defamatory Latino histories in textbooks, and English-only policies that facilitate high dropout rates. The fourth query encompassing economic discrimination, underemployment and unemployment are causally related to neo-liberalism models that produce irreparable harm such as the Flint lead poisoning cases. This includes the lack of sustainable employment, derailment of affirmative action and industrialization of the nation’s food production. In sum, Latinos are multi-diverse and yet law and policies collapse them into one category with a focus on immigrant urban populations at the expense of Latino citizens and rural groups. This conflation disallows the specificity required that could transform their structurally imposed marginalization.
This vicious cycle ignores or incompletely comprehends Latinos’ energy, effectiveness and ability to participate in society, impeding and eroding it through educational, political, and economic processes that constrain and limit inter-ethnic interaction to historically recognizable stereotypes, with marginal expectations for each other. Non-Latino populations outside of historically Latino geographies are threatened by demographic changes and assuaged by occasional success that is deemed evidence of equal opportunity. Voter discontent combined with shortsighted and self-centered politicians produce law and policy that emphasizes homogenizing educational processes like standardized tests. As a result, economic inequality persists and funding formulas decrease (in real dollars) funding for public schools, further fostering segregation of public schools and an increased reliance on private and charter schools. Various barriers to political participation are erected by local government, including voter identification laws, barriers to citizenship, and threats to households through deportation processes that focus people on political agendas of survival and decrease opportunities for broader collective action. Ongoing lawsuits and redistricting efforts erode the ability to participate in political processes. Engaging in self-employment and entrepreneurial opportunities is ongoing but limited by saturation in niche markets and the absence of financial capital and educational programs that bridge aspirations to larger scale organizations. In short, policy silos persist, politicians fail to connect broad social progress to local familial, economic and political contexts, and society fails to realize the full benefits of including Latinos.
Jocelyn Munguía Chávez, Co-Founder Fearless Undocumented Alliance, University of Illinois of Chicago-Illinois
Law and policy may contribute to a “vicious cycle” that leaves Latinos trailing behind the rest of the nation by theorizing that immigration is the only issue Latina/os care about. While focusing on immigration law as a Latino issue it has been stigmatized and has served to further criminalize communities of color. Policies that negatively affect environmental sustainability, mental and physical health, higher education, housing, lgbtq rights to name a few also impact Latina/os and their future.
We are not sufficiently mobilizing potential Latino voters in a systematic long-term way. There are very few grassroots campaigns or campaigns of any type that enable long-term political education, mobilization and engagement. We can no longer rely solely on a national legislative strategy to change the conditions of undocumented immigrants. We must focus on short-term, piece-meal legislation and executive action at every level. We cannot afford sub-par education, pipeline to prison trends, and low retention of Latinos in higher ed.
While each of the four areas: immigration, education, political participation, and economic opportunity are important, in my mind there is a paramount need to invest in the human capital of the Latino community ie: the education of our youth. Equitable investment in the education of Latino children is a foundation to Latino economic mobility and success. Yet, this equitable investment remains elusive. As examples: historical and systemic underfunding of schools with large and growing Latino populations; the inability to realign resources to enable Latino children to have equitable access to early education; “less qualified” teachers in majority-minority schools; and new education testing standards that continue to ignore the needs of English language learners.
Much of this could be remedied if we had an equitable allocation of fiscal resources, or said another way, budgets reflect priorities. The need to realign resources is a key policy lever. However, this is incredibly difficult, given that the Latino population is in ascendance at the same time that the State of Illinois and its many levels of government are in fiscal crisis.
Please also note that equal does not mean equitable. Among other things, slicing the pie must consider historical underinvestment, resources proportionate to demographic growth, unmet need, different starting points, and language needs.
While there is a continued need for external advocacy to address inequality in each of these areas, it would help if there were decision makers who understood these needs and who had the foresight and courage to proactively construct policy and align resources to address them.
Latinxs, especially undocumented Latinxs, are systematically excluded from full economic opportunity and socio-political participation through laws and policies that are blind to our lived realities. Some of the outstanding problems encountered by Chicago-area Latinxs are minimum wage laws and other worker protections that do not extend to forms of work that Latinxs are likely to perform; housing policies, especially those of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, that do not recognize doubled-up living situations as homelessness; and the systematic underfunding in Illinois of the community organizations and social services that are best suited to outreach to Latinxs and identify their social service needs.
Rafael Robles, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services and Ranquist Development Group in Chicago
Latinos in the United States are in a current state of paradox. There are those who have immigrated into the country, both legally and illegally. There are those who have ties to their country, and those who do not. There are those who are American citizens and those who are not. The point is that it is very difficult to generalize “Latinos” as one marginalized (or unmarginalized ) group in the United States. The difference between a Latino who holds a legal immigration status and one who does not, is great in a political sense. In my case, as an undocumented Latino, I can speak for my experiences growing up without a legal status and later obtaining one temporary relief through DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals). In my opinion, many of the issues that Latinos undertake come from economic discrimination as well as political disenfranchisement. In a Capitalist-Democratic country like the United States, it is impossible for any given person without fair economic opportunities to rise towards equality. Access to education is one of the most important ways through which people can achieve economic balance. By enacting laws that make it accessible for people to obtain an education, we can empower Latino communities and promote Latino leaders. The current vicious cycle is such that Latinos do not have equal access to an education which causes them be underemployed or to work for low wages. Because of this, people do not have the time or knowledge it takes to participate in politics, which promotes disenfranchisement. By not participating in politics, they are not able to have an impact on the laws enacted and cannot make their voice heard in a significant way. For undocumented immigrants, who do not have the right to vote, this separation is even greater.
Historical and contemporary evidence indicate that U.S. law and policy has—more than not—impinged, rather than protected, the civil and human rights of non-dominant ethnoracial populations, including those currently classified as “Latino” or “Hispanic.” One concern, among many, is the role of laws and policies in the political exclusion and disempowerment of Latino populations, both in terms of electoral participation/representation and broader forms of political mobilization and claims-making. Certainly, the emptying of the federal Voting Rights Act, concerted Republican-led efforts to disenfranchise certain voters, and anti-immigrant and Latino rhetoric in political discourse has harmed Latinas/os. The future could very well witness further retreat from civil rights protections and an intensification of anti-Latino policies and discourses. In addition, the continued power of the extremely wealthy in political life and an increasingly constrained space for social mobilization—among other issues—could also contribute to even greater inequity in the future.
While Latino presence in the United States has grown, and we have often heard of past decades being the “Latino Decade,” our time has truly not yet come. Part of what is keeping us from harnessing the full potential of our community are the institutions and policies that are structured to maintain the status quo, or where there has been change, the change is not fully benefitting Latinos. For example, certain laws, programs and policies that have been achieved in order to help disadvantaged and under-represented groups, such as Latinos, have instead been focused on other groups, e.g. MBE/WBE participation requirements in contracts. In our public schools, the unique needs of immigrant and/or ELL students are eclipsed by the needs of students in other subgroups. Until we fully harness, and coalesce/focus, our voting power, and political and economic influence, our agenda will continue on a vicious cyle of taking a secondary role, and our path forward will be arduous and slow.
Latino children are behind academically by the third grade, enter high school substantially below 9th grade academic performance, graduate from high school below 10th grade competency, enter community college in remedial courses, spend education resources on non-credit bearing courses, fail to complete a program of study, use precious one-time Pell grant resources, leave college with debt, enter into occupations with little opportunities for upward mobility, and settle into a life at the margins of the economy with little pay and even less job security. These students eventually have families. As young adult parents they struggle to provide access to high quality schools by sheer virtue of how much they make and where they can afford to live. These families struggle even more than the previous generation as the economy continues to demand more and more education and skills while competition for better paying middle skilled jobs and trades increases. People feel stuck and begin to lose the inspiration and hope for a better life that their parents and grandparents creating an additional barrier to upward mobility.
The future of Latinos, in the Midwest as in the United States as a whole, is intimately bound up with the overall direction of U.S. law, policy, and politics. A vicious cycle will arise from the direct and indirect consequences of policy and politics on both the Latino and non-Latino populations. Continued policies of state-level budget cuts and fiscal crises will result in further cuts to education, social services, and transportation, which will make it harder for Latinos, particularly working-class and immigrant communities, to access quality employment. On the national level, the mobilization of an emboldened anti-Latino and anti-immigrant constituency, as represented by one of the major presidential candidates, will contribute to further demonization, exclusion, and acts of violence perpetrated against the Latino community. Whatever the outcome of the presidential election, if the size of this anti-Latino constituency is further enlarged by the reaction to an economic downturn, this will further weaken the bonds of cross-ethnic solidarity and increase the salience of racist and xenophobic discourse and its corrosive effects on public policy.
A number of state and federal policies and laws have negatively affected the education of Latinos including: public school funding formulas,; native language restriction policies; district/state policies that implement remedial-oriented tracks for Latinos; laws restricting access to higher education for undocumented Latinos; immigration laws that threaten Latino mix-status family stability; and the weakening of desegregation laws;. For example, the decades-old desegregation Consent Decree dictated that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) remedy the effects of segregation of Black and Latino students and addressing the academic needs of ELLs. In 2009 a US District judge terminated the consent decree ending federal oversight of bilingual education and the use of race in selective enrollment and magnet schools, stating that in CPS “the vestiges of discrimination are no longer.” Linguistic, ethnic and economic segregation inhibit Latino students from accessing culturally and linguistic responsive high quality early childhood education, elementary/secondary education, and a pathway for college entrance and completion. School funding disparities are linked to low academic performance affecting high-poverty high-minority areas. School-age Latinos are twice as likely as non-Latino whites to live in poverty and their families experience high rates of unemployment and earn less than most other minority groups. Language restriction policies/laws, such as the ones passed in CA, AZ, and MA banning bilingual education, not only negatively affect Latino students who are not yet proficient in English (ELs) but also Latino English speaking students whose families are not English proficient. Other states’ policies are increasingly favoring English-only instruction and two thirds of states have English as an official language.
Thomas Thornbug and Miguel Keberlein-Gutierrez
- Fears of engaging the system by “mixed-status” Latino families and those who might assist them but for fears of being accused of “harboring”
- Unattainable personal ID requirements for accessing government and non-governmental services and benefits
- Unavailability of Drivers Licenses (and criminalization, fines and vehicle forfeiture for Operating Without a License)
- Unattainable voter ID requirements
- Voter ID requirements (also above)
- Limited access to Driver Licenses (also above)
- Lack of bilingual education and Limited English Proficient (LEP) services in public K-12 schools
- Alien restrictions on funding for post-secondary education
- Displacement of US “domestic” FWs by expanding use of H2 temporary foreign worker visas by agricultural growers and others — see BuzzFeed News series of articles on abuses in the H2A program, especially “All You Americans Are Fired.”
It starts with political power. Latino turnout rates continue to lag well behind those of White Anglos and African Americans, even if we only look at the citizen voting age population. There has been lots of voting rights litigation over the decades, mostly focused on practices that dilute minority votes.
These cases have helped moved us closer to equal representation, but Latinos still don’t enjoy political influence that’s anywhere near proportional to their population. While elected officials are may sometimes pay lip service to Latinos and their political interests, they still aren’t a high priority, especially among Republicans. The results is the persistent economic marginalization and a widening of the disparities that already exist, creating a web of mutually reinforcing inequalities in education, employment, residential segregation, policing, incarceration, and immigration status. Most important, the lower socio-economic status of Latinos means they have less political power. The sad reality of our political system is that those with more money to invest in political campaign and lobbying have greater political influence. So from my perspective, the cycle starts and ends with political power.