Research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park was cited in a Vice article about Biden administration plans to establish a federal standard to protect workers from extreme heat. Park led a study that analyzed worker compensation records and found that hotter temperatures are associated with an estimated 20,000 additional injuries per year in California. Workers are prone to poorer cognition and decision-making on hotter days, and days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit come with a 6% to 9% increase in the risk of worker injury, the study found. Park shared his data at a congressional hearing in July. In announcing the new federal safety standards, the Biden administration noted that essential jobs with high exposure levels to heat are disproportionately held by Black and brown workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is now leading a multi-agency effort designed to limit heat illness, injury and death in the workplace.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Amada Armenta spoke to the Los Angeles Times about increasing pressure to reform the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which has for years been criticized for its treatment of immigrants in detention. The implementation of any changes will fall under the responsibilities of the new director, nominated by President Joe Biden. Some advocates have demanded improved conditions in detention centers as well as the scaling back of programs such as 287(g), which allows for collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement. While ICE says the local collaboration programs are meant to promote public safety, the result is that many undocumented immigrants are reluctant to report crimes to law enforcement out of fear that they will be expelled from the country. Armenta argued for doing away with the collaboration programs altogether. When immigrants are afraid to engage with law enforcement, “that’s bad for all of us,” she said.
Sonja Diaz, executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, was featured in a Spectrum News 1 interview about the recent ruling by a Texas federal judge that deemed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to be unlawful. According to Diaz, the central question is “can we provide a pathway towards work, towards opportunity for people who have known no other country but the United States?” There are currently 800,000 DACA recipients in the United States, and about one quarter reside in California. “When immigrants don’t trust the government, they are likely to stay in the shadows, not report crimes that are committed against them and not deal with substandard working conditions,” Diaz warned. The ruling could have important implications for Latino voters in the 2022 midterm elections. “It’s certainly an issue that should drive Latino turnout in upcoming elections if the stakes are made clear with active outreach and dedicated engagement,” she said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Michael Lens was featured in a Washington Monthly article about the complexities and limitations of the Fair Housing Act. The Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which sought to promote residential desegregation, was repealed during the Trump administration. The rule went further than the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which outlawed racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing but did not take any affirmative steps to dismantle segregation. Now, President Joe Biden has announced his plans to revive the AFFH rule, prompting discussion about how to make it more effective and equitable. According to Lens, “a new AFFH rule should go further and include measures of access to safe neighborhoods.” He pointed to extensive data suggesting that access to low-crime neighborhoods is a primary motivator for low-income families who move and that escaping high-crime neighborhoods increases educational outcomes for students.
By Kassandra Hernandez and Les Dunseith
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas sees Democrats in power in Washington, D.C., and thinks the time may finally have arrived for comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy.
“It’s not very often that Democrats have control of the presidency and both chambers of the Congress,” Castro said during a May 4 webinar hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “There’s a real opportunity here to pass comprehensive immigration reform and put 11 million undocumented folks — many of whom are ‘Dreamers’ or others, like their parents, who have been here for generations — on a path to citizenship.”
Castro, who introduced one of four immigration-related bills currently making their way through the political process in Washington, knows it won’t be easy, given the narrow Democratic majorities in both houses and longstanding GOP opposition to immigration reform that includes citizenship. Still, waiting too long could doom the effort.
As the 2022 midterm elections draw closer, elected officials will become “very cautious about the votes that they take,” Castro noted. “So, there’s got to be a lot of momentum and a big push to get immigration reform done this year.”
Castro’s comments came during a 10-minute live interview with webinar moderator Russell Contreras, a justice and race reporter at Axios, that set the tone for a panel discussion with scholars and political experts focusing on the challenges and opportunities for U.S. immigration reform.
During the interview, Castro spoke about why immigration policy reform is so important to him. He represents a district in the San Antonio area that is home to many Mexican Americans like himself.
“In our community, there’s an incredible sense of fairness, there’s obviously an incredible sense of family,” said Castro, whose mother is a renowned community activist and whose twin brother is former presidential candidate Julian Castro.
“There is a permanent class of conservative politicians … who want to use the immigration issue as a way to scare Americans and make them think that there is a lot of brown people who are going to come into the country and harm them,” Castro said. “But you see Mexican American communities being very favorable toward giving immigrants a path to citizenship because they understand that experience. To them, [an immigrant] was their parent or their grandparent. So, when they hear all of the fear-mongering, most of the time, they don’t buy into that.”
Castro said he hopes an umbrella bill that includes comprehensive immigration reform can be passed during this session of Congress, although it has not yet come to a vote. He noted that two other immigration bills have already made it through the House, however, and he urged the U.S. Senate to move forward with that legislation.
Cecilia Menjívar, a professor of sociology at UCLA who is an expert on immigration issues, argued that such piecemeal reform probably has a greater chance of success. Although the current social and political environment is unlike any in recent history, she said systemic barriers are likely to continue to impede sweeping immigration reform efforts.
Joining Menjívar on the virtual panel were Angélica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. All the speakers agreed that the national stance must recognize the complexities of the issue beyond border security and militarization.
Immigration reform is deeply interconnected with labor rights, access to education, health care and violence in other countries, they noted.
“You can legalize the people in the U.S., but if you don’t deal with the system that keeps us out and kicks us out, then you are not doing service to our community,” Salas said.
The so-called border crisis is actually a regional international policy problem, Selee said. “If you have lots of people coming in an irregular fashion, we need to rethink how we facilitate a legal path to immigration.”
Salas called for an urgent change in enforcement. “The detention system is a for-profit system,” she said. “Too many corporations [make] money off of the detention of our people.”
U.S. immigration policy also needs to account for the economic contributions made by the millions of undocumented workers throughout the country, Selee said.
Menjívar cautioned that immigrants should be recognized in a manner that avoids “reducing them to a dollar sign,” noting the many “social and cultural contributions [immigrants] have made to this country over decades.”
Selee pointed out that almost half of immigrants today have college degrees, representing potential talent that can help catalyze economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19.
“Unlock that potential, [and] it would fit in really well in a moment where we are trying to recover economically,” he said.
View a recording of the webinar
Evelyn Blumenberg, urban planning professor and director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, was cited in a Bloomberg Government article about President Biden’s efforts to promote equity in his administration. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has pledged to consider the needs of minority communities when evaluating old projects or considering new ones, but he has also acknowledged the hurdles that exist — including in the Transportation Department itself. The department’s employees are 74% male and 70% white, and these demographic trends have been consistent for at least 20 years, if not longer. Many transportation projects have negatively impacted lower-income people and communities of color, an issue that has been exacerbated by the lack of diversity in transportation policy officials. Blumenberg commented that the transportation needs of low-income communities have only been “sporadically addressed” on the national level.
Director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Paul Ong spoke to NBC News about his hopes for increasing Asian American representation in the Biden administration. The White House announced the creation of a new position, Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison, to ensure that the community’s voice is further represented and heard. Details of the duties and responsibilities of the position have not yet been announced, but Ong said the liaison will be effective only if given direct access to key decision-makers in the administration. In addition, he said, a staff is needed to ensure coverage of vital issues to the AAPI community, including education, civil rights, the economy and housing. “Appointing an AAPI liaison could be one of the much-needed solutions to ensure fair and adequate AAPI participation in the administration, but it is critical that the role is impactful and not window dressing,” he said.
Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the significance of recent Republican victories in Congress. In November, California Republicans recaptured four of the seven congressional seats that had flipped to Democrats two years earlier. All four winning congressional candidates are from immigrant backgrounds, illustrating that the Republican Party can achieve voter support by avoiding political extremes and appealing to diverse communities. The four congressional districts that flipped back to Republicans still chose Democrat Joe Biden over President Donald Trump, indicating voter desires for moderation instead of extremism. Yaroslavsky expects these districts to be highly competitive for years to come. “For Republicans to be a viable party, they’re going to have to expand their base,” he said. “They can’t just rely on white voters, because that number is dropping. As we’ve seen, the trend is a more purple 50-50 split in these areas.”
Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil co-authored a piece in the San Antonio Express News about the need for a new federal program to aid recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic and ensuing economic recession have exacerbated existing inequalities in the United States. During the Great Depression, New Deal programs and private investment in public enterprises helped promote economic recovery. According to Torres-Gil, President-elect Joe Biden has an “opportunity to create new economic policies for a healthier America and a social compact in which we can all value equity.” Torres-Gil described a “massive federal infrastructure spending bill — akin to a Marshall Plan — that creates more jobs, helps small businesses, emphasizing green industry as well as the hardest hit health and senior care sectors.” He recommended designing a new social contract that assures all Americans basic health care coverage, minimum income in old age, employment and caregiver support.
Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KPCC’s Take Two about California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s nomination as U.S. secretary of health and human services in the Biden administration. Becerra has “the dynamism and also the experience to get us through the pandemic,” Diaz said in an interview beginning at minute 10:30. “As much as health care is a policy, it’s also politics,” she said, noting that Becerra fought to protect the health of his constituents both as the state’s chief law enforcement officer and during his long tenure in Congress. Diaz earlier wrote a Univision opinion piece calling on President-elect Biden to build a Cabinet that reflects the face of America. “In 2020, it’s no longer acceptable to build a senior team or Cabinet without including Latinos in a meaningful way,” she wrote. “The lack of representation at the pinnacle of the country’s leadership … sends a message to the Black, Brown and Native American communities that power the economy as essential workers and serve as the core of the Democratic Party that their contributions are not valued.”