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Now or Never for Immigration Reform? Congressman from Texas opens LPPI webinar by expressing optimism that progress can be achieved with Democrats in power in Washington — if they act quickly

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

 

Gilens Publishes Research on Campaign Finance Regulations

Public Policy Chair Martin Gilens‘ research into the impact of campaign finance regulations was published in American Political Science Review. Many scholars have expressed concern about the dominance of moneyed interests in American politics, and studies have shown that lobbying group interests and federal policies primarily reflect the desires of well-off citizens and well-funded interest groups, not ordinary citizens. While previous reports have faced difficulties drawing causal inferences from observational data, Gilens and his co-authors were able to analyze the effects of an exogenous change in state campaign finance law. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision held that corporations and unions have the same speech rights as individuals, and that corporate spending to influence elections does not give rise to corruption, as long as it is not coordinated with a political campaign. Gilens and his co-authors analyzed the impact of the ruling, which affected 23 states that had bans on independent expenditures by unions or corporations. After the bans were lifted under Citizens United, the states adopted more “corporate-friendly” policies on issues with broad effects on corporations’ welfare, they found. The authors concluded that “even relatively narrow changes in campaign finance regulations can have a substantively meaningful influence on government policy making.” The article, “Campaign Finance Regulations and Public Policy,” was written by Gilens, a professor of public policy, political science and social welfare; Professor Shawn Patterson Jr. of Southern Oregon University; and Professor Pavielle Haines of Rollins College. — Zoe Day


 

Yaroslavsky on Fallout From Assault on U.S. Capitol

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KCAL9 News after a mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol. “What happened today did not happen by accident,” said Yaroslavsky, noting that Trump had for weeks called on his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6, the day Congress was scheduled to certify  President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Yaroslavsky said invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from power could have a calming effect on the nation. “It’s been four years of this tension, of this instability, of this constant drone of craziness,” he said. “In the next 14 days, if you have an unstable president, there’s a lot of damage he can do.” Yaroslavsky, who has served as an overseas election observer for three decades, lamented the damage done to the United States’ reputation as a beacon of democracy. “Imagine people all over the world watching the spectacle that we were all watching.” 

Katz on California’s Spotty Voting Rights History

Alisa Belinkoff Katz, associate director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that laid out California’s spotty history when it comes to free access to the ballot box. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the state systematically discriminated against groups including Chinese immigrants and the working poor, she wrote. By 1960, the state had veered away from tactics such as arduous registration requirements, literacy tests and voter roll purges and entered a more inclusive era. While California now offers early voting, vote by mail, internet registration, same-day registration, a “motor voter” program and other policies designed to encourage voting, “the California electorate remains older, whiter and wealthier than the population at large,” wrote Katz, lead author of a recent study on the evolution of voter access in the state. “Until our democracy gives voice to all segments of society, we still have work to do.”

Report Analyzes Asian American, Latino Votes in 2020 Primaries

Asian American and Latino voters in three key states — California, Virginia and Texas — had lower engagement in the 2020 primaries compared to four years before, according to a new analysis from the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, or UCLA LPPI. The report analyzed precinct-level data from 10 states in the Democratic primary’s early nominating contests through March 17, when former Vice President Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee, to ascertain the candidate preference of Latino and Asian American voters. The report also found:

  • Bernie Sanders did well with Latino voters in states like California, Iowa and Nevada where he had significant field operations and voter outreach.
  • Sanders won at higher rates in the high-density minority precincts he carried compared to Joe Biden.
  • Biden won the plurality of Latino votes in high-density Latino precincts in Virginia, Florida and some counties in Texas, demonstrating the malleability of the Latino vote, as well as the potential impact of voter outreach efforts at the local level.
  • In Los Angeles County and Orange County, fewer Californians in high-density Latino precincts cast ballots than in 2016. As advocacy for vote-by-mail grows amid the COVID-19 pandemic, these results highlight a need for robust education and outreach efforts surrounding election procedures.

“The time is now for campaigns to maximize the potential of America’s diverse electorate, and that starts with the Latino and Asian American vote,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director at UCLA LPPI.

UCLA Voting Rights Co-Founder Wins Texas Vote-by-Mail Case

Texas voters will have access to vote-by-mail ballots during the global pandemic as a result of efforts by UCLA faculty member Chad Dunn, director of litigation for the Voting Rights Project. Dunn, an attorney, brought suit on behalf of the Democratic Party in Austin, Texas, seeking to clarify election law in the state regarding eligibility for a mail-in ballot. Texas is among just 17 states that require voters to provide an excuse to receive a mail-in ballot, one of the strictest absentee ballot policies in the country. The Texas effort was among several recent initiatives advocating wider access to vote-by-mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic that have been initiated by Dunn along with colleagues at UCLA affiliated with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI). Representing Texas plaintiffs who fear contracting the novel coronavirus during in-person voting, Dunn successfully argued that social distancing or being confined at home falls under the disability exception for a mail-in ballot in Texas. A judge agreed, saying he will issue a temporary injunction allowing such voters to cast mail-in ballots in upcoming elections. “The right to vote is fundamental, and the judge’s ruling shows that public health must be at the forefront,” Dunn said after the hearing. “If the judge’s ruling holds, we will have ensured that all 16 million eligible Texans are able to safely vote in the July runoff elections and in November if they so choose.”

 

 

 

A Call for a Nationwide Vote-by-Mail Option

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and its marquee advocacy project, the UCLA Voting Rights Project, hosted an April 2 webinar on the importance of vote-by-mail programs in upcoming primaries and the November general election amid the coronavirus pandemic. Leading experts on voting rights joined the conversation, moderated by Sonja Diaz, LPPI’s founding executive director. With Election Day just months away, “it is not a matter of if, or a matter of when — the question is how do we provide the opportunity for people to vote because we must and we will,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan added, “This is not the first time Americans have voted during a crisis.” Matt Barreto, LPPI and Voting Rights Project co-founder, emphasized the importance of outreach to communities of color, and Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley assured that “voters will adapt and are looking for opportunity and expanded access.” The Voting Rights Project has released a report outlining four steps that states can begin implementing now, as well as memos on a House bill to protect voting rights and on safe voting amid the pandemic. The publications address the equitable implementation of a vote-by-mail program to encourage voter participation. As Chad Dunn, director of litigation at the Voting Rights Project, said at the close of the webinar, “It’s on all of us to double our commitment to democracy and find a way to make this work in all 50 states and territories.” — Eliza Moreno

 

 

 

Lawmakers Urged to Launch Universal Vote-by-Mail in Response to Health Crisis

Voting officials should begin planning now to implement a national vote-by-mail program for the remaining primaries and the presidential general election in November, according to a new white paper from the UCLA Voting Rights Project, which is an advocacy project of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin. The paper [download here] represents an early call to action amid concern that the novel coronavirus will negatively impact election turnout. Congress is encouraged to provide funding and guidance for mail balloting as part of measures seeking to mitigate the economic and societal impacts of the current health crisis. “States around the country are pushing back primary and runoff elections in the hope that election procedures can return to normal at a later time,” said Chad Dunn, co-founder of the UCLA Voting Rights Project and co-author of the report. “But hope is not a plan. We must prepare now to protect the fundamental right to vote.” The white paper highlights a number of recommendations, including a universal online registration system, creation of a standardized mail ballot, and security measures to ensure ballot validity. Such measures would encourage widespread voter participation. “The 2020 election could have record turnout for young voters and communities of color, groups that must be engaged in deciding the future of our country and on issues that affect our local communities,” said Matt Barreto, UCLA Voting Rights co-founder and co-author of the paper. “Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and vote-by-mail offers a solution to challenges that range from busy work schedules to global pandemics.”—Eliza Moreno


 

Yaroslavsky Breaks Down Super Tuesday Wins and Losses

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, joined KCAL9 News as nationwide returns from Super Tuesday came in. The evening’s big surprise was the campaign comeback of former Vice President Joe Biden, said Yaroslavsky, a longtime public servant and political analyst. “This sudden change, this reversal of fortune at the presidential candidate level, is unprecedented,” he said, especially since the Biden campaign has been relatively low-budget. “As a politician, I used to dream of being able to win elections without spending a nickel. Biden did it nationally,” he said. But he cautioned, “Let’s not write off Bernie Sanders and consign him to the graveyard. Things, as we’ve seen in the last 72 hours, can change very quickly.” Yaroslavsky also said former President Barack Obama is wise to hold off on endorsing a candidate, as he may need to unite the Democratic Party in the event of a brokered convention. And he said Los Angeles County must overcome problems with its new balloting procedures before November. Otherwise, he said, “Democracy loses, because if people have to stand in line for two, three hours, it’s going to discourage people.”


 

Super Tuesday, Luskin-Style

As Super Tuesday drew to a close after 72 hours of campaign twists and turns, Public Policy students and faculty flocked to a watch party at the Luskin School for pizza and political talk. The contest for the Democratic presidential nomination as a two-man race came into focus as returns came in from across the country. In addition to weighing the merits of Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, students talked about state and local races and the new voting centers rolled out by Los Angeles County for the March 3 primary. Many in the room wore “I Voted” stickers after casting their ballots at Ackerman Union. The crowd also included half a dozen international students who were fascinated by the political process unfolding before them. Professors Martin Gilens and Mark Peterson provided context and commentary as hosts of the event. They were joined by Associate Professor Wesley Yin and Visiting Professor Michael Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic nominee. Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, shared their own unique perspectives with students at the watch party.

View more photos on Flickr.

 

Super Tuesday Watch Party

Events

Crafting a 21st Century Voting Rights Act

Join voting rights practitioners, expert witnesses and legal scholars from around the country for sessions and workshops on procedural pathways to protecting the right to vote during the 21st century.

Keynote speakers include:

  • California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has strengthened voting rights by increasing voter registration and overseeing the transition from the traditional voting model to vote centers through the Voter’s Choice Act.
  • Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who has worked to pass automatic voter registration; during her tenure, there has been a 64% increase in general election turnout among voters 18 to 20.
  • Texas Congressman Marc Veasey, who has represented his state’s 33rd district since 2012 and founded the first Congressional Voting Rights Caucus.

VIEW FULL AGENDA HERE

December 8 sign up link: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/

December 9 sign up link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/

This event is hosted by the UCLA Voting Rights Project, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. 

Analyzing the Latino Vote in the 2020 Elections

America’s largest and diverse non-white voting bloc has made it clear that they are important actors in American politics, from Pennsylvania to Arizona.

Effectively mobilizing the Latino electorate is critical to the success of any campaign, from the White House to down-ballot. As we continue to confront our nation’s intersecting crises on our path to economic recovery, understanding the electoral preferences of Latino voters is essential to highlighting the nation’s policy priorities in a new decade. This conversation will highlight how record levels of Latino turnout impacted the outcome of key races, including in this cycle’s marquee battleground states, and what it means for the coming year.

Join us virtually for a powerful conversation moderated by María Elena Salinas, award winning-journalist.

Panelists:

Matt Barreto, professor, Political Science & Chicana/o Studies, UCLA

Tom Perez, chairman, Democratic National Committee

Mercedes Schlapp, senior advisor, Trump-Pence 2020 Campaign

Rudy Soto, former Democratic nominee for Congress

RSVP today.

Presented by the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program and the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative based at UCLA Luskin.