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.
Greg Pierce, co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to ProPublica about the climate gap, which refers to the disproportionate and unequal impacts of the climate crisis. Across the United States, people of color, the poor and the undocumented are more likely to live in hotter places and less likely to have access to potable water. In Thermal, California, the population is 99% Latino, and many residents live in mobile trailer homes without clean running water or air conditioning. How mobile homes are going to fare in the climate crisis is, “quite frankly, not the sexiest to academics,” said Pierce, noting that residents of older manufactured housing are at great risk. In California, mobile homes are disproportionately located in the hottest census tracts, and poor insulation can drive up cooling costs. Furthermore, mobile homes built before 1976 are not up to date with new building and safety standards, creating additional safety hazards.
Research by Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, is highlighted in a Los Angeles Times article focusing on COVID-19’s impact on Korean families involved in the dry cleaning businesses, which has struggled amid the pandemic. In 2015, Ong co-authored a paper that investigated ethnic mobilization among Korean dry cleaners in the United States. Starting in the 1970s, Korean immigrants welcomed one another into the dry cleaning business with loans, moral support and training. “The children are quite often at the business … it’s a way of supervising them in terms of their education,” the researchers wrote. During the pandemic, dry cleaners lost revenue because many customers moved to virtual work, and at least a quarter of these family-oriented businesses have closed because of the pandemic, according to a representative of the Korean Dry Cleaners & Laundry Assn. of Southern California.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán was featured in an Independent article discussing the deadly consequences of U.S. border policy. A recent photo of a Border Patrol agent carrying a migrant to safety in the Rio Grande Valley highlights the dangers of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, especially in the excessive heat of summer. As of May, the Border Patrol has rescued more than 7,000 people this fiscal year, more than the same period in previous years. By tightening security at more common points of entry, U.S. border policy is explicitly designed to push migrants into dangerous, remote areas to deter further crossings. “The most devastating effect will undoubtedly be the increasing number of migrant deaths as they get pushed further and further into dangerous deserts and isolated mountain areas,” Zepeda-Millán said. “That’s literally our stated policy.” Most adult migrants who make it across the border are immediately deported without a chance to seek asylum.
By Zoe Day
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinas went from being one of the fastest-growing groups in the labor force to one that was hit hardest by unemployment, with 2.4 million Latinas out of work in April 2020.
This finding from the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) at UCLA Luskin is part of a broad body of research on the pandemic’s impact on Latino populations — research that is now being shared with a wider audience through a partnership with Spanish-language news station Telemundo 52.
LPPI research analyst Kassandra Hernández BA ’17, MPP ’20 sees the collaboration as an opportunity to uplift Latina voices and make relevant research more accessible to Latino populations.
“The reports we produce are nothing if no one reads them,” she explained. “We’re studying the impact [of the pandemic] on Latinas, and we would like to reach the people who are being impacted.”
A Telemundo newscast featuring Hernández focused on Latina participation in the labor market, which had been projected to experience substantial growth until the pandemic forced many Latinas to choose child-care duties over paid work. LPPI Director of Research Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas also appeared in the segment, underscoring that “Latinas are overrepresented in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.”
As a native Spanish speaker, Hernández welcomed the chance to connect with the populations that her research focuses on, in their own language.
“Different media outlets are accessible in different languages, but English doesn’t reach Latinas in the same way,” she said.
Two other Telemundo reports featured LPPI-affiliated scholars who shared their expertise on COVID-19’s impact on Latino populations. In one segment, Melissa Chinchilla, a research scientist who studies the intersection of housing, health and community development, explained how unemployment caused by the pandemic led many to move in with friends and family, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission within households.
“Affordable housing and the capacity to accommodate multigenerational families are issues that will require long-term investment,” Chinchilla said.
In another report, Yohualli Balderas-Medina Anaya, a medical doctor on the faculty of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, discussed the long-term symptoms experienced by some COVID-19 patients even after the infection has passed. Anaya expressed concern that some side effects will continue to affect patients for years.
Telemundo reporter Enrique Chiabra, a UCLA alumnus, presented the three-part series aimed at making information about the COVID-19 pandemic accessible for Spanish-speaking populations. That is a key priority for Hernández, who has worked with LPPI faculty experts including Executive Director Sonja Diaz to interpret research and push it into the public sphere.
“Academic research is often not as accessible to the communities it focuses on,” she said. “I want to analyze inequities and share knowledge; I don’t want to stay in the ivory tower.”
Hernández is a double Bruin who earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and labor and workplace studies. After graduation, she worked with AmeriCorps on food insecurity before going back to school to develop her skills in quantitative analysis.
“As a Latina, I have lived what I find in numbers,” said Hernández, a first-generation college graduate and the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She spoke about her own mother’s challenges balancing responsibilities as a domestic worker and the demands of being a parent and caretaker.
“I realized not everyone has those same experiences, but I can use numbers as evidence to validate my own story.”
Hernández said she chose the master of public policy program at UCLA Luskin because of the supportive faculty and the opportunity to engage with real-world issues. The experience “opened up my eyes to what I could do and how to analyze policy,” she said.
Hernández’s research with LPPI has helped shed light on the gender norms and expectations that often push Latina women aside or confine them to the household. The partnership between LPPI and Telemundo, she said, helped break down stereotypes and recognize that Latinas should not be grouped together as a monolith.
As Hernández’s time with LPPI draws to a close, she is excited to meet the next cohort of fellows to continue advancing research and policy work to support Latinas. In the fall, she will pursue her Ph.D. in economics at UC Berkeley, building on her skills from UCLA Luskin to address inequality through policy research focusing on labor, income inequality, immigration, education, food access and environmental economics.
“Everything is connected,” Hernández said. “Inequality dictates access and quality of life.”
In a Sacramento Bee article on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget priorities, Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, discussed the possibility of expanding Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented adults and seniors. Newsom is expected to release a revised state budget proposal this week with a huge budget surplus, which could be used to fund a variety of proposals to help Californians, including more stimulus checks, school funding and expanded health care coverage for undocumented adults. California recently expanded Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children and adults up to 25 years old; expanding coverage to undocumented adults over 65 is estimated to cost the state about $250 million. “We’re in an unprecedented situation where we actually have resources to find robust and bold ideas that can correct failed systems,” Diaz said. “This includes expanding health care coverage to people irrespective of their immigration status and irrespective of their age.”
Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to KCRW about the website Translate COVID, which provides information about COVID-19 in over 60 languages. Launched in May 2020, the site has been updated over the past few months with vital information about vaccination rules and eligibility. “We noticed that there was a lot of translated material beginning to come out from the CDC and local health departments across the country, but there was no central or easy-to-use site that consolidated all of that information,” Umemoto explained. “There’s so much misinformation on social media and especially within immigrant networks.” Umemoto, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, worked with the Fielding School of Public Health to aggregate information from vetted sources and organized it on the website. “More recently, we noticed that there was a lot of misinformation about the vaccines that would likely cause some vaccine resistance, so we put together an FAQ that will soon be in 20 languages,” she said.
Research Professor Paul Ong spoke to NBC News about President Biden’s immigration policies and rhetoric, which are being closely watched by much of the nation’s foreign-born population. Some immigrants who are grappling with scarcity and insecurity in the United States were particularly susceptible to Trump administration characterizations of “good immigrants” and “bad immigrants,” the article noted. It added that limited access to unbiased information in a native language contributes to the level of vulnerability to such rhetoric. Ong offered the example of Vietnamese Americans, who have been closely allied with the Republican Party. Many come from refugee families shaped by unique experiences with the Vietnam War and strong opposition to communism. This background makes the group more likely to buy into an American nationalistic narrative, Ong said.
Research Professor Paul Ong was featured in on NPR’s Morning Edition discussing the disproportionate rise in unemployment among Asian Americans. The jobless rate of Asian Americans was lower than that of whites, Blacks or Latinos last year at 2.8%, but it rose above the rate of whites and Latinos to 15% in May. Ong explained that “people are avoiding [areas like Chinatown] because of this myth that somehow Asian Americans are tied in with the spread of coronavirus,” leading to an earlier and deeper drop in foot and vehicle traffic in Chinatown compared to the city’s other commercial neighborhoods. While immigrant communities can provide support and opportunities in ordinary times, Ong said that over-reliance on those networks can be a trap during a crisis like the pandemic. “Certainly that is untrue and unfair, but there’s no question that it gets reflected in the impact on the ethnic economy,” he said.
A CNN report on the high stakes of an inaccurate census called on Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, to provide analysis and expertise. A significant census undercount could have a sweeping impact: States could lose representatives in Congress. Children might miss out on needed funding for schools and other programs. Communities of color could get less funding for health care. Money for roads, bridges and transportation might fall short. Businesses might be stuck using flawed data for important decisions. The article cited an analysis, co-authored by Ong, that warned of a serious undercount of immigrants, low-income people and people of color. This could imperil funding for hospitals and health care clinics that serve these populations, as well as programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, Ong said. He added that census data also could be used to determine where to set up COVID-19 testing sites or how to prioritize vaccine distribution.
Join the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative for a conversation with congressional leaders and migration policy experts focusing on the challenges and opportunities ahead with implementing comprehensive immigration reform.
From the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to standalone bills in Congress, conversations about immigration cannot be divorced from the essential role of immigrants in COVID-19 relief and recovery. Undocumented immigrants are central to the success of the nation, yet they are excluded from critical economic, political and civic opportunities. This not only impacts their lives but hinders progress for the country as we seek to overcome a global pandemic.
LPPI will convene a diverse set of voices to address two fundamental questions: What should 21st century immigration reform look like and what are the challenges and opportunities to pass a package that doesn’t leave anyone behind?
The webinar will be moderated by Russell Conteras, Axios race and justice reporter, and feature these panelists:
- Joaquin Castro, United States Representative, TX-20
- Andrew Selee, President of the Migration Policy Institute
- Dr. Cecilia Menjívar, Dorothy Meier Chair in Social Equities and Professor of Sociology at UCLA
- Angélica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles
- Linda Sánchez, United States Representative, CA-38 (Invited)
- Rob Bonta, California Attorney General (Invited)