Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Director Sonja Diaz spoke to KQED about the importance of engaging Latino voters. Many Democratic candidates have come to rely on support from Latino communities, but recent elections have highlighted political shifts among Latino voters, including increased support for former President Donald Trump. “Where the Republican Party did invest, there were some shifts and that included some minority voters,” Diaz said. “That does not necessitate that Latinos … are somehow more Republican than they ever have been, but it provides this really clear and explicit recognition that in order to engage them, you have to actually invest in them.” Diaz said Trump’s increase in popularity among Latinos during the pandemic can be attributed to his pivot from the anti-Latino tenor of his first campaign. Diaz also spoke to KPBS and the Los Angeles Times about increasing voter turnout, especially in Latino communities, to block the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
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
Assistant Professor of Public Policy Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld spoke to Dot.LA about the role of social media platforms leading up to the invasion of the U.S. Capitol. While some mainstream social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram have made efforts to crack down on President Donald Trump’s false rhetoric, alt-right forums including Parler, Gab and theDonald.win have promoted calls for violence and rebellion. There’s been a shift away from mainstream sites like Twitter and Facebook to alt-right platforms as stronger moderation policies have been implemented, Steinert-Threlkeld explained. Over the last two years especially, supporters have turned to far-right online platforms for “tactical coordination,” he added. Steinert-Threlkeld identified similarities between the use of real-time online platforms in the organization of protests in Iran in 2009 and among Trump supporters today. He also said many supporters are probably having private conversations in closed and private groups on Facebook or through encrypted messaging platforms.
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.”
JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, co-authored an article in the Morning Consult about the state of science on the 50th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency. DeShazo wrote that four years of the Trump administration have weakened the rules that protect Americans’ health and environment. The Trump administration removed independent scientific advisors who protected the rulemaking process from political influence and eliminated the EPA’s Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, allowing expertise and technical know-how to fall by the wayside. DeShazo pointed to the COVID-19 crisis as evidence of the “damage caused when politics take precedence over research, science and expertise.” He expressed hope that the “EPA will soon return to robust, science-informed environmental policymaking” under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. “Re-elevating the role of science within the EPA would be the best birthday gift the agency could receive today,” he concluded.
Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky joined UCLA’s “Then & Now” podcast to discuss the aftermath of the presidential election. On the day Joe Biden was declared winner of the election, “I was not euphoric,” Yaroslavsky said. “I was very happy that Biden won. … I was not happy that 72 million people voted for an incumbent president who spent four years trafficking in racism and bigotry.” He argued that Trump’s refusal to accept defeat is “calcifying the divide and inability of either side to come together and work on behalf of the people in this country.” However, this issue should resolve itself as responsible people move forward in a rational transition process, Yaroslavsky said during the podcast produced by the Luskin Center for History and Policy. “Biden won the presidency, but less than 100,000 votes could have swung the election in another direction,” he said. “This should be a wake-up call that there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Professor of Public Policy Mark Peterson spoke to Elite Daily about President Trump’s refusal to concede loss of the 2020 election. The Trump campaign has filed lawsuits in battleground states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, claiming that the Democrats are trying to “steal the election” through fraud. According to Peterson, these suits have been brought without evidence. “Donald Trump as an individual just cannot accept loss, and no one around him wants to take on the force of his personality, internal hurts and capacity to lash out,” Peterson said. He sees the “simulated controversy” as a last-ditch effort to save face and an opportunity to keep money flowing into the Trump campaign to pay off debts and finance the Republican National Committee. He added that the GOP needs the conservative base in Georgia to “remain highly agitated and energized” for the high-stakes Senate runoff elections in January.
Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was featured in an NBC article discussing voting trends among Asian Americans. Early exit polls indicated that Asian American voters heavily favored Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden over President Donald Trump. While Biden performed well, the data suggests that Trump’s level of support among Asian Americans did not decline. During the pandemic, anti-Asian sentiment across the country contributed to hate incidents as well as an increase in Asian American unemployment and business closings, Ong said. He expected Trump’s use of xenophobic and discriminatory language, such as “kung flu” and “China virus,” to decrease support for the president among Asian Americans. Instead, he noted that “changes have only happened marginally, and not a massive shift.” Ong concluded that “the racialized political divide has hardened, and we face a difficult next four years.”
UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura spoke to El Diario about the impact of Latino voters on the outcome of the presidential election. Segura noted that Latino participation was “very strong” in Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado — states that were crucial in Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. According to Latino Decisions, a political opinion research firm co-founded by Segura, Biden had particularly strong support among Mexican and Puerto Rican voters. The pandemic, which disproportionately affects Latinos, and the economy were important factors in mobilizing the Latino vote. “Work has become the most important thing for the community, and not the political parties,” Segura said. El Diario also cited Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, which is researching Latino engagement in the election. “In counties with high Latino density, many of them key in this count, Latino voters opted for Vice President Biden,” Diaz said.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán spoke to the Independent about the state of the U.S.-Mexico border wall as President Trump nears the end of his fourth year in office. Trump had promised to build a wall spanning the entire border; as of mid-October, about 370 miles of border barriers had been erected. At around $15 billion for the total project, it is projected to be the most expensive wall ever built, the article noted. After a decline in migrant apprehensions in late 2016 and 2017, immigration and apprehensions spiked again after the wall was slow to materialize. This contributed to an increase in the number of migrants who died while crossing the border during the first three years of the Trump administration. “The most devastating effect will undoubtedly be the increasing 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.”
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.
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
Presented by the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program and the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative based at UCLA Luskin.