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LPPI Student Fellow Gains Insight at Latinx Criminal Justice Convening Second-year MPP student María Morales represents UCLA Luskin at a Texas gathering to discuss how criminal justice and immigration systems impact U.S. Latinos

Leadership development is a key component of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) at UCLA Luskin, allowing student fellows to gain hands-on policy experience and realize opportunities to develop management skills, as well as champion equity and innovation.

María Morales, a second-year Master of Public Policy student and a 2019-20 LPPI student fellow, became the latest example of this idea in action when she was selected to attend the 5th annual Latinx Criminal Justice Convening in Brownsville, Texas, in June.

Morales is serving as a project manager for an LPPI criminal justice system project that is currently underway, and she saw the conference as a professional development opportunity that allowed her to familiarize herself even further with research and efforts in the field. She also welcomed the opportunity to talk about issues of importance to Latinos in her home state of Texas.

One benefit of the trip for Morales was getting to see how a multilingual approach was incorporated.

“I was impressed by the way that interpreters established a multilingual culture during the gathering, ensuring Spanish and English-only speakers communicated smoothly with each other,” she said.

It was clear to Morales that organizers understood that language barriers often hinder efforts within the justice system to combat injustices. Community-centered, multigenerational sensitivity to interpretation is also beneficial, Morales explained, when formerly incarcerated individuals are welcomed home for the first time.

“It promotes a healing component for all participants,” she said.

The convening was organized by LatinoJustice PRLDEF in partnership with Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network. A variety of local and national organizations came to the U.S.-Mexico border town of Brownsville to engage in conversations about Latinos in the criminal justice and immigration systems.

Organizers said the two-day encuentro was intended to create a space for Latino leaders, activists, academics and impacted community members to explore connections within the criminal justice and immigration systems across the United States. They also discussed strategies to promote an inclusive movement that does not leave anyone behind.

Morales said she found the intersection between immigration, incarceration, criminality and the war on drugs very interesting. The degree of overlap of those issues was new to her.

“I had not realized how all these were intertwined and played a role in the relationship between the Latinx community and the criminal justice system,” she said.

Another impactful experience for Morales related to the general lack of data about the Latinx community in the United States. Based on her research for LPPI, she was able to engage in a “fishbowl conversation” on the topic, bringing a student’s perspective to the discussion.

Morales said she was inspired and motivated by the opportunity to be part of these types of conversations for the first time in such a setting.

“Speaking on the lack of Latinx data in the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems underscored the importance of research and the need to identify these disparities in order to enact meaningful policies based on accurate evidence,” she said.

During the gathering in Brownsville, community members highlighted their work on the ground to end collaboration between state and local police departments with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement efforts in the states of Texas and Georgia.

Another topic of discussion related to a jail closure in Los Angeles and efforts to prevent construction of a replacement. The intersection of criminal law and immigration law — often referred to as “crimmigration” — was the focal point of these conversations, with attorneys explaining the importance of litigation and the need for advocates to be patient during a legal process that often becomes lengthy. A lack of lawyers with expertise in social justice was also mentioned, Morales said.

This topic was of special importance to Morales because she will soon begin working with a group of other MPP candidates on their Applied Policy Project, and “crimmigration is a topic we are interested in exploring for our capstone project,” she said. “Learning more about its impact on the community at this convening has further piqued my interest.”

Morales found the convening enjoyable and insightful. “It was an honor being able to attend this convening and feel such passion and dedication in the room,” she said.

Law Conference Explores Latinos and Criminal Justice Daylong event focuses on impact of bias and stereotyping within the legal system on outcomes for Latinos

By Gabriela Solis

A recent UCLA conference sought to fill a knowledge gap about how Latinos interact with the criminal justice system.

With themes such as policing of Latinx communities, community organizing, adjudication and norms, ethics and constitutional culture, the Feb. 8, 2019, conference held at the UCLA School of Law combined the resources of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), UCLA Law Review and the Bruin X Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Community advocates, scholars, staff, undergraduates and graduate students heard from a variety of experts, including several UCLA faculty members associated with LPPI.

The first panel, moderated by UCLA Law Professor Laura Gómez, sought to establish the context for discussion of Latinos and the criminal justice system.

“Latino-ness is very contingent,” said Victoria Plaut, professor of law and social science at UC Berkeley, referring to common generalizations about their characteristics. “Latinos are hardworking but lazy; family-oriented but not warm.”

Plaut, a clinical psychologist, shared findings from her research of the psychological processes relevant to diversity and inclusion in legal, educational and workplace settings to highlight the beliefs that often frame Latino experiences.

The panel included Matt Barreto, professor of political science and Chicana/o studies, and Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history and African American studies. They spoke about the importance of collecting both qualitative and quantitative data, especially because data from criminal justice entities can be unreliable and inconsistent.

Another panel, moderated by Law Professor Jennifer Chacón, focused on the policing of Latinx communities. During this panel, Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, shared her expertise on this issue, the subject of her award-winning book “Protect, Serve and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement.” Armenta’s ethnographic research in Nashville, Tennessee, studied the role of local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement. She described how the logic and culture of policing negatively affected Latino immigrant neighborhoods. Police were incentivized to make as many stops as possible and pull over as many people as possible, Armenta said.

Sonja Diaz, executive director of LPPI, moderated a panel that explored successful methods of organizing communities to change laws, with a focus on direct democracy as a vehicle for criminal justice reform.

Panelist Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, shared his successful experiences with Florida’s Proposition 4, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative.  Passage of the initiative restored the right to vote for people in Florida with prior felony convictions.

Cartagena stressed that it is important for individuals with personal experience to participate as leaders in a movement. He also urged organizers to think strategically about how to frame the problem, which he said was essential in the Florida campaign’s victory. The campaign’s focus on second chances resonated well with Florida voters, Cartagena said.

All panels provided a unique perspective on how Latinos fare in the criminal justice system — a sorely under-researched topic, especially by legal scholars.

Learn more about Latinos and the criminal justice system.

Aberbach Weighs In on Trump and the Law


 

Social Workers Come Together for ‘This Incredible Conference’ At student-organized event, professionals and scholars gather at UCLA Luskin to hear experts discuss issues of vital importance to the Latina/o community

By Les Dunseith

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, and the second floor hallway of the Public Affairs Building at UCLA is abuzz with activity as professional social workers join UCLA Luskin students and faculty for a daylong series of lectures and workshops designed to help them do the best work possible for Latina/o populations in Southern California.

“People come from all over for this conference,” said Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Department of Social Welfare, as attendees began to file into a large classroom to begin the 15th annual Social Services in the Latina/o Community Conference on May 13, 2017. “They look forward to it.”

One group, from Ventura County, even arrived two hours early. By the time Dean Gary Segura delivered his keynote address shortly after 9 a.m., a total of about 100 people were on hand. Other participants would continue to arrive as workshops proceeded throughout the day. The student-organized conference has become so successful, in fact, that advance registration had to be capped at 220 this year.

A 1988 graduate of UCLA Luskin’s MSW program, Laviña noted during his opening remarks that such popularity wasn’t always the case. When it began a decade-and-a-half ago, the conference “was struggling, struggling, struggling,” he said. “But now it’s this incredible conference — all for free — because of the hard work that the students have done.”

Christina Hernandez, a second-year Master of Social Welfare student and one of the three co-chairs of the Latina/o Caucus, said the conference is the culmination of a yearlong process that starts with the writing of grant applications soon after the academic year begins. This year, a total of about $7,000 in grant funding was obtained.

The six-member board of the Latino Caucus includes two first-year MSW students whose participation is designed to help them be better prepared to lead the caucus and its annual conference next year. It’s a tradition that Hernandez said benefited her personally, as it did her co-chairs and fellow MSW students, Sandra Cervantes and Corina López.

“In my first year, I saw the time commitment that was required for the conference,” Hernandez explained. “So going into this year, I knew that I had to give it my all in order to make it a successful conference.”

As the date drew nearer, the students worked with Laviña and their other faculty advisers, Sergio Serna and Hector Palencia MSW ’08, to issue a call for proposals from potential speakers on various topics. The number of applicants exceeded the time and space available, which led to a culling process.

“We select proposals that seem most appropriate,” said Hernandez, who also noted that the organizers seek a balanced program of workshops, in part because many professionals earn continuing education credit for licensing purposes by attending. For instance, “two really good candidates” proposed workshops on law-related topics, but only one of them made this year’s agenda.

That session, “Trauma-Informed Immigration Law for Social Workers,” was one of nine workshops that took place during the day, which included a lunch break that featured a performance by Aztec dancers. A sample of other workshop topics included “Critical Race Theory in Social Work Practice: Going Beyond Competency” and “Queer Latinx: Policy & Critical Discourse.”

Although workshop topics were highly varied, one theme that got a lot of attention was the symbolic and practical impact of Trump administration policies on the vital work being done by the social workers who interact on a daily basis with members of the Latino community.

The rhetoric from Washington has left many social welfare students and professionals — not to mention their clients in disadvantaged and immigrant communities — feeling fearful and angry.

In his keynote talk, Segura detailed examples of anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout history, noting that Latinos have often felt like unwelcome outsiders because of America’s prevailing Euro-centric culture and view of history.

“It is a reflection of our lives as being principally valued for our labor rather than our personhood,” Segura said, “persistently marginalized for our phenotype rather than any actual transgressions, and conceived of in the eyes of those who hold power as a community that is less than equal.

“At the Luskin School of Public Affairs, we like to say we create change agents,” Segura said during his talk. “I sure hope so. Because we so badly need change. Fight like our lives depend on it. They just might.”

Serna and Laviña offered similar thoughts during their own remarks.

“This act of being of service is an act of resistance to injustice and oppression,” Serna told the crowd. “We are sending a message of hope and solidarity to the communities we serve, while raising a fist to those that desire to restrict us and remove funding to deter us from our purpose.”

Laviña, his voice sometimes breaking with emotion, talked about the importance of taking the high road, especially amid political and policy uncertainty.

“In this time of anger and standing up, I think we need to rely not just on ‘othering’ people. Because we have all been the ‘other,’” he said. “So I hope that today you leave with tools and knowledge and, most importantly, an increased sense of community. Because we cannot do this work alone.”