Diaz Appointed to Commission to Redraw City’s Electoral Map

Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, has been appointed to the commission that will redraw Los Angeles City Council district boundaries to ensure that constituents are fairly represented. “As a fourth-generation Eastsider, I am humbled to serve the city as we seek to uphold diverse communities’ fundamental right to elect their candidates of choice,” said Diaz, a civil rights attorney with extensive experience in voter protection efforts. “I’ve focused my career on advancing equitable policy solutions, and redistricting is a critical component to ensuring front-line communities have leaders that will fight to keep them safe, housed and visible in the new decade.” As part of the redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census is completed, commissioners closely analyze demographic data and offer members of the public opportunities to weigh in. Their proposal for a new electoral map for Los Angeles must be submitted to the City Council by June 2021. Diaz was appointed to the commission by Councilman Kevin de León. “Sonja has long been an advocate for equity in Los Angeles, using her voice to protect the civil rights of countless Angelenos,” de León said. “As we redraw the invisible lines that unite our diverse districts into a cohesive city, Sonja’s leadership and deep knowledge of the Voting Rights Act will be critical to ensuring more equal and reflective representation … for the entire city of L.A.”


As Election Results Roll In, UCLA Luskin Experts Offer Insights

As the vote count from the 2020 election stretched into days, media outlets called on experts from UCLA Luskin to offer context and expertise. Public Policy Professor Mark Peterson spoke to Elite Daily for a story on President Trump’s swift declaration of victory, which he called “the most serious assault on our democratic institutions of any president, at least in modern times.” Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, offered insights on KTLA5 News, Peacock TV and radio programs including KPCC’s Air Talk (beginning at minute 19:30). Diaz spoke about a wide range of topics, including the Latino electorate’s impact in Florida and Arizona as well as on local ballot measures. Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky told KCAL9 News (beginning at minute 3:00) that the close presidential race vote signals a deep tribalism in the nation. “However it ends,” he said, “it’s going to be a very difficult road ahead for the country.” Yaroslavsky also told the Los Angeles Times that challenger Nithya Raman’s lead in a Los Angeles City Council race is “a political earthquake.”


Voting Rights Project Helps Protect 127,000 Texas Ballots

Texas voters and the UCLA Voting Rights Project scored a legal victory with a federal judge’s dismissal of a suit to invalidate more than 127,000 ballots in the state’s most populous county. Chad Dunn, the project’s director of litigation, has been leading the legal effort to protect voting rights in Texas and was part of the legal team defending the drive-through voting option in largely Democratic Harris County. This option permitted voters to cast their ballots from their cars, similar to drive-through banking. The drive-through voting plans had been in place since July and had been approved by the Texas secretary of state. The plaintiffs, members of the state’s Republican Party, filed two motions to the Texas Supreme Court seeking to throw out the drive-through votes; both were denied. The plaintiffs then turned to the federal courts, where a judge ruled Monday that they did not have standing to sue. Hours after the decision was handed down, the Republican plaintiffs filed an appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied the motion early Tuesday — Election Day. “It was obvious that this method of voting was approved by the state of Texas and this late attempt to strip voters of their rights was rightfully denied,” Dunn said. “Every vote from a qualified voter should be counted.” — Sonni Waknin


Top Issues Driving the Latino Vote

A new UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative report reveals that the economy, health care, COVID-19 and racial justice – not immigration – will drive the 2020 Latino vote in four key swing states. News outlets have shared the report, which is intended to dispel a common misconception that immigration policy is a top-of-mind issue for Latino voters. Candidates for federal, state and local offices who want to capture the Latino vote should talk about how they will address Latinos’ concerns about economic and health issues, the report concludes. The study, which focused on voters in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Texas, recommends establishing a national minimum wage of at least $15 and eliminating exclusions for domestic, farm and tipped workers; increasing Latino representation and graduation in institutions of higher education; ensuring access to health care for all regardless of immigration or employment status; and expanding workplace health and safety regulations to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19.


Diaz Weighs In on the 2020 Race

As the  2020 presidential campaign enters its final stretch, several media outlets have sought out the expertise of Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin. News broadcasts on KTLA and Al Jazeera featured Diaz’s analysis of the debate between Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, which she said was really about driving voter turnout since “we have so many barriers at the ballot box, particularly for Black, Latino and Asian American voters.” Diaz told NBC News that neither major party is doing enough to connect with Latino voters, and she weighed in on voter suppression, both overt and indirect, in an Elite Daily article. “Absentee voting and the use of mail-in ballots has now been weaponized by conservatives in the Republican Party to be the new vehicle for ‘voter fraud,’ ” she said, calling this a deliberate attempt to suppress minority voters in the midst of COVID-19.

As Election Nears, LPPI Hosts Roundtable With Philanthropic Leaders About Latino Agenda

Working with Hispanics in Philanthropy, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, or LPPI, hosted a virtual conversation Oct. 1 with 29 philanthropic leaders about shaping a political agenda for Black and brown people. Titled “Juntos Ganamos,” or “Together We Win,” the discussion centered on “Shaping a 21st Century Latino Agenda,” a blueprint recently created by UCLA LPPI for policy reforms on issues that include climate change, health, economic opportunity and voting rights. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened existing inequities, and the agenda seeks to address systemic racial injustices and chart a path forward. The roundtable was the first in a series in which Latinx foundation presidents, CEOs and trustees will examine the role of philanthropy amid a global pandemic, ongoing economic inequality and a renewed focus on violence involving police. “There is importance in building unity and coalition among all communities of color, while recognizing the efforts, lives and leadership of our Black peers,” said María Morales MPP ’20, who helped put together the roundtable. Speakers included Sonja Diaz, founding director of the initiative, who said Latino workers often experience “invisibility” in the workplace. “Essential should not be interchangeable with disposable,” Diaz said. Roundtable attendees also learned about research that demonstrates that Black, brown, Asian and Indigenous people combine to make up America’s new majority, potentially influencing policy for years to come. Mobilizing such voters is essential for both parties in the November elections, presenters noted, and philanthropy can play a key role in helping to build solidarity among ethnic communities. — Eliza Moreno

Diaz on Need for Latino Representation in Redistricting Process

Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke with Spectrum News’ Inside the Issues about the importance of Latino representation on the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. The 14-member commission is tasked with redrawing district lines for state and federal offices based on 2020 Census data. Diaz said that California’s distinctive geographic contours mean that Latinos in rural or urban communities may have different political priorities. “Making sure that you have voices that know the needs of Fresno or the Imperial Valley is really important when you’re drawing political lines around what interests communities and who they want to elect to represent them,” she said. Diaz also commented on the state’s arduous process for selecting citizens to sit on the commission, which is “not centered to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of diverse Californians.” She concluded, “Sometimes when people want to make government better, they make it harder for communities of color.”

Millions of Latinos at Risk of Job Displacement by Automation

The potential acceleration of job automation spurred by COVID-19 will disproportionately affect Latinos in U.S. service sector jobs, according to a new report from the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin. The report calls on state and local officials to start planning now to implement programs to support and retrain these workers. Researchers looked at occupational data from the six states with the largest Latino populations and found an overrepresentation of Latinos in industries where jobs are more susceptible to automation, including construction, leisure and hospitality, agriculture, and wholesale or retail trade. More than 7.1 million Latinos, representing almost 40% of the Latino workforce in those six states — Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas — are at high risk of being displaced by automation, the report shows. “As Latinos take a disproportionate financial hit from the COVID-19 crisis, now is a good time to focus on increasing training opportunities and to strengthen the social safety net to catch workers who are left behind,” said Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, the report’s author and director of research at the policy initiative. A failure to prepare Latinos for jobs in the digital economy and other growing sectors will come with economic repercussions to the U.S. by creating a shortage of skilled workers in an aging and shrinking labor force, the report says. The research will be used as a baseline for discussion at a convening this month of policymakers, industry leaders, training organizations and higher education administrators organized by the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program. — Eliza Moreno


Majority of Americans Oppose Criminalizing Humanitarian Aid Along Mexican Border

An overwhelming majority of Americans oppose the Trump administration’s practice of threatening people who provide humanitarian aid to undocumented immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border with arrest and a possible 20-year prison sentence, according to a new UCLA policy brief. The brief, published by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), cites a 2019 survey of 1,505 Americans that asked participants, “Do you agree or disagree that it should be a crime for people to offer humanitarian aid, such as water or first aid, to undocumented immigrants crossing the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border?” Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed said they disagreed — including 71% of Republicans — highlighting the unpopularity of the policy. “Our survey showed that an overwhelming number of Americans across political parties agree that no one should face jail time for being a good Samaritan,” said LPPI member Chris Zepeda-Millán, an associate professor of public policy who conducted the survey with Sophia Wallace of the University of Washington. The policy brief, authored by Zepeda-Millán and Olivia Marti, a Ph.D. student in UCLA’s political science department, recommends legislation that would halt current efforts to criminalize border relief and calls for an end to the destruction of humanitarian supplies by U.S. Border Patrol agents. Currently, the agency only counts fatalities discovered by its own agents; the UCLA report suggests that the fatality count also include bodies identified by local government officials, medical examiners and nongovernmental organizations. — Eliza Moreno


Study Calls for Permanent Residence for Immigrants With Temporary Protected Status

UCLA Luskin’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) has published a policy brief on the benefits of Temporary Protected Status, an immigration status that permits people from specified countries to remain temporarily in the United States if they cannot safely return to their homes because of a catastrophic event. Of the approximately 400,000 people living in the U.S. under the program, over 88% are in the labor force, over 70% have lived here for more than 20 years, and about two-thirds have U.S.-born children. This suggests the significant destabilizing effect that could be caused by changes that the Trump administration proposed in 2018, which would have removed protections for people from Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador. In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security extended the protections through January 2021 following injunctions arising from a series of lawsuits. To improve the long-term integration of immigrants, the LPPI study recommended granting permanent resident status to those currently living under Temporary Protected Status. It also called for renewing Temporary Protected Status designations for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan — the home nations for 98% of all participants in the program — beyond the January 2021 deadline. “As we have seen with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, there are benefits with taking people out of the shadows,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of LPPI. “At a time when immigrants have played a key role in maintaining the economy as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to understand what is at stake when protections for immigrants like Temporary Protected Status are taken away.” — Eliza Moreno