How can law and policy contribute to the flourishing and equality of Latinos through a “virtuous circle?”
Cecilia Abundis, Assistant Attorney General in Consumer Fraud Bureau, Illinois Attorney General’s Office
There have been some measures at the state level to enact or strengthen consumer protection laws regarding the unauthorized of immigration law. For example, in 2002, the state legislature amended the Consumer Fraud Act and enacted the immigration services regulations that regulate immigration services providers. Furthermore, a person found guilty of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law can be held in contempt of court. However there are very few, if any, remedies available for victims of the unauthorized practice of immigration law, where the perpetrator jeopardized the victim’s immigration status or immigration proceeding. Similarly, there have been some measures, both at the state and federal level, to strengthen consumer debt and consumer finance regulations. For example, in Illinois, the Payday Loan Reform Act (“PLRA”) was enacted in 2005 that set caps on fees and loan amounts on loans with terms up to 120 days. The PLRA was then amended in 2010, which created a new type of loan and established other protections, such as a $15.50 per $100 rate cap and prohibiting balloon payments. Furthermore, the Mortgage Rescue Fraud Act was enacted in 2006 to protect homeowners from foreclosure “rescuers” by prohibiting upfront fees and requiring certain disclosures.At the federal level, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is set to issue new rules regarding payday lending within the next couple of weeks and issued Regulation O in 2011 to curb predatory practices in mortgage relief. It is imperative that these regulations, are not only maintained, but strengthened to curtail scams perpetrated against the Latino community.
 815 ILCS 505/2AA
 14 IL ADC 485.10 et seq.
 705 ILCS 205/1
 Victims of fraud are generally not eligible for a U visa. See https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/victims-human-trafficking-other-crimes/victims-criminal-activity-u-nonimmigrant-status/victims-criminal-activity-u-nonimmigrant-status. Furthermore, they may not be able to reopen their case based on the ineffective assistance of counsel because the perpetrator is a non-attorney. See Hernandez v. Mukasey, 524 F.3d 1014 (9th Cir. 2008)
 815 ILCS 122/1, et. seq.
 765 ILCS 940/1, et. seq.
 12 C.F.R. § 1015.1
Education at every level is key to economic security. Policies that provide for equitable financing for schools will aid Latino educational achievement. Literacy and English classes for adults will allow parents to more fully participate in the education of their children (as well as contribute to the family’s economic stability). Equity in school funding will allow children to receive the services they need to learn and progress in grade and graduate. Colleges and Universities can provide equal access to financial aid and support systems for first generation college students.
It is imperative that law and policy become a response of real fact and figures. When congress is willing to consider the potential benefits of regularizing the status of those who live without papers, they will realize that it is a win-win situation for the country. There is evidence that demonstrate that legalization will bring better employment opportunities and higher income taxes to fund the necessary programs to educate children of immigrants and increase contributions to social security funding. There are many baby boomers that will be retiring in the next decade and there is no guarantee that the fertility rates will be able to replace all those retiring workers without allowing immigrants from Latin America to participate in the U.S. economy with equal opportunities for employment. Adequate immigration reform and sound policy solutions to incorporate all Latinos to the social fabric of the U.S. will produce the virtuous circle of offering equal opportunity to all that will result in a more competitive nation in a global and highly interdependent economy.
Consequently, greater inclusion of Latinos across all aspects of civic society is desperately needed – from grass-roots organizing to increased voter turn-out and representation in political offices. Of course this is nothing new, but the current political climate highlights even more saliently the need for political reform, and the important role that Latinos can play. There are, for example, efforts underway to re-draw legislative districts and policies proposed for tax reform, among others, that we should be at the table discussing. Given our numbers in Illinois, it would be really great to have a Latino voice in Springfield and in local politics that matches our presence. I would especially like to see much more collaboration among Latino and African American constituencies to advance a common social and political agenda that will benefit a great number of people.
- 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.
In considering how law and policy can create a “virtuous circle” expanding opportunities, upward mobility and democratic voice for Latina/o communities, there are multiple law and policy levers that could assist in this process. A key legal and policy lever I would argue is a clearer understanding of the legal status of undocumented immigrant communities, which will hopefully be decided in favor of the federal government’s increased protections in the pending case, United States v. Texas, __ U.S. __ (2016). This will help in gaining some further understanding of Plyler’s undocumented children’s legal treatment that will have important ramifications for the political, educational and economic realms. For me, what is also relevant is how Latina/o issues are intersectional and multi-faceted. Thus, how can we understand the experiences of this community such a manner that takes into consideration the need to build coalitions and alliances with members of similarly situated communities? Securing further legal protections for Latina/os, in particular undocumented Latina/os is vital, as well as understanding how such progress can be done in solidarity with other communities. To secure an intersectional frame policy-wise, I would suggest the need to be cognizant of in the policy-making process the intersectional subjectivity of the Latina/o person and the implications it may have for an individual’s ability to make rights claims/assertions. Historically work by the Combahee River Collective, Patricia Hill Collins, Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga have laid the foundation for a theorization of intersectional identities and experiences. Taking the lead from Crenshaw and others, this framework has been adapted within the law as in the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Harris, Catherine MacKinnon, Kenji Yoshino. This work has also been applied in the international legal context in the writings of Gaye Macdonald, Rachel Osborne and Charles C. Smith, Aisha Nicole Davis, Margaret Sattherwhite, Andrea Krizsan and Emily Grabham. Taking the cue from the work of Sally Engle Merry and Lucie White, I would hope a question we can consider is the role of intersectional identities of those communities whom we seek to advocate for legal victories and the role of the domestic/international. What can we learn from the international application of intersectional legal frameworks and human rights frameworks that might be useful for intervening in domestic U.S. issues? Relatedly, how does this affect the fact that when we understand Latina/o communities, it is intersectional and also a transnational issue?
Law and policy can create a “virtuous circle” through which Latinos enjoy equal opportunity, upward mobility, and democratic voice by promoting equity, protection of rights, and proactive reforms. For immigrants, especially the undocumented, immigration reform is perhaps the most urgent law and policy matter. Revising the numerical limits (quotas) and cumbersome immigration process for those from Latin America would reduce dramatically the number of migrants who enter the U.S. without papers. This would mean that these migrants would not be starting from a legally disadvantaged position in U.S. society. In terms of political participation and representation, reducing barriers to voter participation would ensure that Latinos/as have a voice in our democracy. Eliminating the tremendous influence of corporate and private funding in elections also would make political candidates less beholden to wealthy donors and more attune to their constituents, including Latinos/as. In terms of educational opportunity and attainment, restoring the status of public schools and funding for them would ensure the most equitable and universal access to education for Latino/a children. The current shift to publicly funded but privately operated charter schools produces an inequitable system in which English language learners, students with disabilities, and others with special needs are denied access to charter schools and are relegated to increasingly inferior and substandard public schools, thus reproducing decades of segregation. For those who seek access to higher education, keeping costs affordable would put a college degree or other types of training within reach for many. Regulating more closely or even eliminating “for-profit” colleges would benefit many Latino/a students who become burdened with student loan debt from such institutions. Finally, opening up entrepreneurship possibilities for women would improve the economic status of many Latino/a communities. The reinforcement of the social safety net (social security, unemployment compensation, etc.) and access to affordable housing also would help ensure ongoing economic opportunity for Latinos/as in the United States.
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 younger median age of Latinos, growth in the second and third generations, and high expectations of upward mobility among immigrants, makes these communities ideally positioned to receive strategic investment through public policy. The demographic reality of continued Latino population growth places Latino communities as critical contributors to the growth, enrichment, and security of the entire nation. It is therefore not just out of a sense of social justice that public policies regarding immigration, education, economic opportunity, political participation, and civic engagement should be enacted that serve to further empower Latino communities; it is in the public interest of the entire nation that it understand itself to have a linked fate and common destiny with Latinos. The public policy decisions made today can establish that linked fate and common destiny for future generations of the nation’s citizens and residents. Legalization of residents who are out of status will serve to strengthen families, both adults and children, whose futures are undoubtedly in the U.S. Major investments made in educational institutions at both PreK-12 and postsecondary levels that largely serve Latino communities will further facilitate their upward mobility. Special emphasis must be placed on investing in community colleges and other access institutions where most Latinos continue their educations. Relatedly, policies should be enacted that limit the acquisition of high levels of college loan debt. Further facilitating home ownership can, in a similar way, improve the opportunities for wealth acquisition by Latino families. The family and community stability provided by home ownership can serve to solidify a foundation for generational upward mobility. The above-described gains can only occur and, more importantly, can only be sustained, if a broad series of measures are taken to increase Latino political participation and civic engagement. Policies of automatic voter registration, teaching of active civics in middle and high schools, English acquisition classes for adults, and direct mobilization of Latino communities by candidates and political parties will all serve to build a culture of participation and engagement among Latinos. Such a culture of participation and engagement is fully consistent with the highest of American ideals and will directly serve to further solidify the position of Latinos as empowered Americans who accept the responsibilities of full citizenship. Through Latinos, the entire country will be enriched. Linked fate and common destiny become ever more possible to realize.
There are a few ways we can start to move the dial in philanthropy, namely promoting diversity and inclusion at the executive and trustee levels, promoting identity- based funding, and advancing a new strengths based philanthropic narrative of the Latino community. First, a 2015 Foundation Center report revealed that just 6-8% of foundation trustees and only 2% of CEOs at grant making institutions today are Latino. This is a critical opportunity given the level of influence this group possesses in terms of institutional direction, policy and program rules. In the meanwhile, Latino communities are growing in assets. Latinos are giving at increasing rates and levels. Sixty-three percent of Latino households now make charitable donations. A movement of identity based philanthropy has arisen to empower communities to tap into their own traditions of giving and harness that generosity as collective, community philanthropy, another critical opportunity. Finally, Latinos possess valuable personal, community and national assets. Changing the dominant philanthropic narrative about Latinos as disadvantaged is critical to changing giving patterns amongst mainstream philanthropy. In sum: Leadership matters. Investing with and for our community matters. And naming our advantage matters.
Equitable enforcement of the law in regard to access to education, housing, protection against employment discrimination and criminal justice is important for the flourishing of any community. If society does not have the highest expectations in these areas for the Latino community, it will result in the marginalization of the community members and adversely affect their quality of life. Avoiding dysfunctional schools, dilapidated housing and shrinkage of municipal police and fire protection services for example can ensure a “virtuous circle” of life for the community.
Sergio Lemus, Task Force Member, Center for Operational Excellence, City Colleges of Chicago
It is a time that we see immigration and the law as an integral part of the construction of an American national project. It is commonly known that Mexicans want to work; it is partly a central reason why we come to the United States. However, in the process, they also learn of the great opportunities that are acquiring proper documentation offers, and they strive to be documented under the law. DACA is a perfect example that has tremendously helped undocumented students reach their dreams of education. Given the tremendous underpaid work that undocumented immigrants perform; it is time that we sincerely look at who we are as a nation and whether we will continue allow this to take place. Mexican immigrants and Latinos are not too far from the experiences of African Americans, and retribution should be a serious discussion, and it will touch the heart of the issue: to continue the exploitation of thousands of undocumented laborers or we look at their positive contributions and acknowledge their help to build a better American nation.
Contrasting with the above, the first query obligates revising immigration regulations to ease entry into the nation and consistently ensure their intent and purposes. Second, enhancing political participation includes promoting voter registration drives, ensuring the federal rebuilding of community infrastructures, promoting Latino candidates and eliminating voter identification “laws.” Challenging federal exclusions from farm programs with community needs could further enhance participatory democracy. The third opportunity rejecting strict privatization executive models across educational institutions would restore decision-making authority on parents and guardians. The fourth query encompassing economic discrimination would reject strict adoption of neo-liberalism models that privilege the one percent at the expense of those at the bottom. Michigan for example aggressively adheres to neo-liberalism but presently is in a free fall with its communities mirroring abandoned company towns. Scenario II would encourage restoring the War against Poverty programs that existed prior to the adoption of neo-liberalism models. The emphasis here would be on community building as opposed to building the wealth of executives at the expense of communities. Attendant to the above scenarios would include an emphasis on accountability with strong ethical codes and policies.
The virtuous circle identifies and fosters existing energy and effort by harnessing law and policy processes to frames that identify inclusion with mutually beneficial opportunity. Mutual advantage accepts incremental changes in law and policy, searching for intersections across domains. For instance, in Chicago, The Resurrection Project helped change City regulations to allow the organization to build and sell multi-unit homes, inclusive of extended families, instead of building only for nuclear families. This Latino-led/serving organization initiated this policy change based on its understanding of the context and needs of immigrant Latinos. TRP mobilized and leveraged the community to make possible policy change leading to home ownership, asset building and capital accumulation useful to meet other family-determined economic goals. Additionally, participants experienced political engagement and understood the role of organizing in producing positive social change. Virtuous interactions follow from legal/policy environments that connect to existing initiative and participation. This future leverages the reasons for demographic change, anchoring Latinos to economic opportunity among majority populations. It also shows how law/policy reproduces existing economic opportunities and makes possible new opportunity, e.g. immigrant visas supporting the dairy industry in Wisconsin has sustained that industry and made new products available while helping enliven rural communities. Voters perceive these immigration-economic connections and begin to recognize the need for educational opportunities that grasp and leverage demographic difference and connect it to comprehensive educational practices preparing students to engage diversity. They will demand from politicians the funding that realizes the many functions schools can play, and makes those functions readily available crafting opportunities for interaction across difference. By multiple processes inclusive social relationships are constructed from economic achievements. Over time, federal policy and funding embraces these intersections and more inter-agency agreements foster funding and subsequent policy/rulemaking to foster achievement and resilience in different populations (e.g. people in public housing). The growing appreciation for the importance of family support in education and the connection between families and economic activity is part of a reframing that locates Latinos as partners in local politics and local economic development where success is as much a matter of policy releasing the energy of human potential as it is a celebration of individual achievement. More frequently Latinos seek redress from workplace and wage discrimination, slowly this is perceived as in keeping with majority population goals and shaming replaces implicit support of businesses (including Latino-owned) that exploit labor. Self-employment becomes entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs scale-up more frequently as a result of organizational intermediaries and alliances that become (temporary) conduits of capital and technical assistance. The reconstruction of revenue-generating policies proceeds haphazardly, but gains traction as existing models of revenue sharing across regions (e.g. Minneapolis/St Paul) become more acceptable. The parallel processes motivate increased political participation and identification of Latino interests with shared interests and these begin to supplement ethnic identity, and focuses policy debate on understanding common features of social life instead of demographic distinctions.
Jocelyn Munguía Chávez, Co-Founder Fearless Undocumented Alliance, University of Illinois of Chicago-Illinois
Law and policy can contribute to the flourishing and equality of Latinos through a “virtuous circle” by funding and implementing accurate and effective research that reflects the diversity within the vast Latino communities. Reflecting different experiences and understanding that Latina/os are not a monolithic group, law and policy can move forward to address root causes to the issues mentioned above.
Systematic, grass-tops and grass roots combined efforts at political education and mobilization through collaborative work on shared campaigns (Access Bill being one example) ; pressure from elites to educational institutions at all levels towards accountabilities to educational institutions, network of creation of opportunities for student/inteship job opportunities at every level of practice; decriminalization of immigration and reversal of main provisions of 1996 Immigration bill.
Addressing this issue will ensure that more/all Latino children have access to quality education. This will lead to Latinos continuing to be an economic engine in the State of Illinois. As examples, Latinos are responsible for 2/3 of labor market growth in Illinois since 2000 and all of homeownership growth.
Not addressing this issue will result in a continuous spiral of high school drop outs, youth who are not engaged in either school or the labor market, and detrimental implications on Illinois economic future.
Law and policy has to be adapted to encourage the full citizenship (documented or not) of all Latinxs. Policies that are reflective of the cultural norms of Latinxs, that encourage community-level webs of communication, support and influence, must be fostered at all levels of government, including the provision of culturally competent and fully-funded social services. Deportations must be ceased immediately so that Latinxs can begin to fully and fearlessly demand the recognition and expansion of all of their rights as residents of this country. Schools that teach culturally relevant and empowering curricula should be funded and allowed to flourish. Reparations should be made to Latinxs who were sold sub-prime mortgages and lost their wealth in the housing crisis. These are policies that only begin to scratch the surface, but will be key to dissolving barriers that Latinxs currently face to fully participating in all aspects of society.
Rafael Robles, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services and Ranquist Development Group in Chicago
Although in the current political environment of the United States there are many difficulties Latinos face, we also see glimpses of systems that are working to promote equality. In many universities today, we see a bigger effort to understand undocumented students, their needs and how to help them graduate. We see organizations like the National Immigration Justice Center, who educates people of their rights and encourages them to become politically active. Groups like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, promotes businesses in the Latino community. These types of organizations provide us with validation for the results that promoting the Latino community can create. Laws like DACA have proven that undocumented students, when given an opportunity to achieve a college degree, and obtain work authorization, are able to pursue their goals and contribute to their communities. Students have better access to scholarships opportunities through their universities which helps families financially. The cycle of providing opportunities to under-represented people is virtuous in the sense that these people are likely to give back to their family and community. Because of this, communities are strengthened in social and economic ways and doing so allows more members of the community to pursue better opportunities. Laws that promote better opportunities and a better way to give back to communities, are likely to serve us to grow a better future.
Law and policy could help improve the life chances of Latina/os populations in a number of ways, although more fundamental changes would require more than these tools. At the very least, we can imagine the introduction of social policies that deal with the specific structural barriers that preclude Latinas/os from social, economic, political equity, but also policies that upend decades of neoliberal social policy, which have adversely but not uniquely impacted Latinas/os. Struggles for greater equality across U.S. society would be assisted by the development of policies and laws that encourage collaboration rather than competition between non-dominant ethnoracial populations. Can new laws and policies help create better conditions for political movements to develop, grow political capacity, and intervene in social and political life?
Thanks to the rights gained through hard fought legal victories, and other policy changes, coupled with population growth, Latino influence has undoubtedly grown in the United States. Through cases such as Plyler v. Doe, we have seen undocumented students gain the right to a public education in the United States. In states like Illinois, Plyler has been codified into state law. Illinois has also seen all the growth of its P-12 student population comprised of Latino students, and the third largest school district in America, Chicago Public Schools, has a plurality of Latino students, at 46%. Nationally we also see growing number of preschool students in America are Latinos. Through growing Latino enrollment in school, and steady growth in graduation rates and college enrollment, the Latino population will grow the future highly educated workforce that will be equipped to capitalize on opportunities in the knowledge economy.
Latino parents prepare their children for a healthy life beginning in the womb and access to pre-school is abundant. Children become ready for kindergarten and achieve third grade aptitude scores well above national averages. These children progress through high school capable of successfully completing dual credit college courses in their junior and senior year. All students graduate high school with at least one semester of college credit. The cost of higher education and income supports to pay for higher education are sufficiently abundant and available for students to enter a wide range of colleges where they complete careers, trade schools, and college degrees at extraordinarily high rates. All students enter a national year of service where they gain experience and exposure in their chosen carrier. This knowledge and skills is developed among a wide segment of students coming from all segments of society and especially from the lowest income communities. Large increases in productivity across America are realized making our cities and regions more competitive, creating more opportunities for financial well-being and human growth.
A virtuous cycle will arise from building and strengthening coalitions, alliances, and networks that span ethnic and racial divides, and bring together workers from various sectors to overcome divide-and-conquer strategies that would scapegoat people of color and immigrants for the failings of the overall socio-economic system. Key to the success of this virtuous cycle will be to build bridges of understanding and mutual sympathy by making inroads into the consciousness of suburban and rural white working-class populations, particularly through outreach to faith communities. A post-election de-escalation of anti-immigrant rhetoric may make it possible to achieve compromise immigration reform legislation, thereby improving prospects for full participation in the American economy and society by immigrant communities, and diminishing the political salience of one of the country’s most contentious policy areas. Pre-election voter education and registration drives among Latinos may be essential to achieving this outcome.
Several state/federal policies and laws ensure educational opportunities and safeguards for Latino students. Federal law stipulates that students who are not yet proficient in English have equal access to a quality education and must receive specialized language instruction (Lau v Nichols Supreme Court ruling). IL is the first, and so far the only state to pass legislation requiring that school districts provide specialized language services for PK ELs, that follows the same criteria established for K-12 ELs in IL. In Plyler v Doe the Supreme Court ruled that undocumented children have the right to a free public K-12 education. In addition, several states have passed legislation allowing undocumented youth greater access to higher education through in-state tuition, student loans and private scholarships. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) brought to the forefront school accountability in regards to the education of minority groups, especially ELs, providing focused support for improving their academic achievement. The new reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) extends NCLB provisions for underserved populations and adds improvements such as increased funding for ELs, monitoring former ELs’ progress, and family-school partnerships. ESSA also includes a few areas that fall short in addressing the needs of Latinos and ELs: decentralization can lead to diverting funds from students with low SES; no mention of bilingual programming or biliteracy as a valuable education goal; no set expectations for states to provide supports for struggling minoritized students.
Genuine political equality is the key. We need to think more broadly about the right to vote which, properly conceived, consists of three dimensions. Most of us think of it as involving the right to participate in elections, to vote and cast a ballot that will count. That’s a start – and it’s an area in which there’s room for improvement for Latinos, especially through affirmative outreach to people who aren’t yet registered – but participation is only one dimension of the right to vote. A second dimension is political representation, an area where there’s been significant improvement for Latinos over the decades, but it hasn’t been sufficient. Representation can’t just mean getting Latinos elected to office. It must also mean having people in elected office, from the President on down to the local school board member, who are responsive to concerns from Latinos. This implicates the third dimension of the right to vote, the one in which Latinos lag furthest behind: political influence. While increased participation and representation will increase influence, that won’t be enough. We have to confront the ways in which economic power translates into political power, especially through our campaign finance and lobbying systems. Only then will Latinos be able to participate as equals in the conversations of democracy.