SCLPC From the Editor

From the Editor

Could Attacks on DACA Finally Lead to Immigration Reform?

By:  Victor Abalos

We try to keep things local here but often lately news from Washington DC dominates local conversations. Now it’s DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – the meager but vital attempt at immigration reform.

We posted the letter CA Attorney General Javier Becerra and 19 other Attorneys General sent the president before he took action to overturn it. The July letter, only 3 pages, outlines the legal, moral and constitutional argments to support DACA. But it also includes the economic argument, which is probably intended to appeal to the businessman in the White House.

Some have argued the President’s action to repeal DACA may at last force Congress to do what former President Obama could not get out of Congress – real immigration reform. If that does start to happen, I would argue the most effective strategy may rely on those economic arguments.

Moral arguments don’t seem to carry much weight these days and with a possible 4-4 outcome from the Supreme Court, Congress is actually where this issue should end up. Before immigration reform fell off the radar, activists were making some headway using economics to support their case. Calling them “undocumented taxpayers” and relying on solid economic data made a much more compelling case than the arguments we’ve heard for decades. It would be satisfying to win an argument based on the high ideals our country represents but history teaches us to be more strategic.

Some other good reads about DACA and Dreamers:

  • Maribel Hastings in LatinoCalifornia
  • UC President Janet Napolitano (who actually sued the WH first)
  • Ruth Umoh provides the business argument on CNBC
  • This letter to the editor of a small town in Washington was intriguing. Written by a Dreamer, it tells a typical story but the reaction it generated was what drew my attention. Responses were reasonable and devoid of hate – even those against DACA.


Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

From the Editor

Sanctuary – An Issue That’s Not Going Away

By Victor Abalos

As if there isn’t enough a local policymaker has to manage – now add federal immigration policy.

While city councils or school districts and college trustees do not have jurisdiction to create immigration policy, nevertheless they have been thrust into the front lines of an increasingly rancorous debate.

And while Congress, which does have this responsibility, seems to be avoiding immigration reform, a bill that would extend “sanctuary city” protections for immigrants is moving through the CA Legislature.

This month we’re focusing exclusively on this issue – hopefully providing local policymakers with some policy and legal insight. It appears that many local jurisdictions believe they don’t have a choice but to take action. And this month, we are asking for your opinion through Survey Monkey. The questionnaire only take a couple of minutes and your anonymous responses could be very helpful to your colleagues.

The anxiety level in many communities and school districts is high. Students are afraid their parents might get deported so school boards are scrambling to respond. In the Southeast Cities, a group of activists armed with anti-immigrant rhetoric, have been disrupting city council meetings. Some of them are just armed.

Writer/Reporter Abelardo de la Peña has been working on a story for several months. And our Ethics Advisor, Ruben Duran, approaches the issue from a legal perspective. We are also featuring an Opinion Video Blog from Cudahy Council Member Cristian Markovich, who, along with his colleagues, has been dealing with the fallout of their sanctuary status for more than a year.

The state’s sanctuary bill may not make it through the legislature but the number of cities and education boards passing their own versions of it is increasing setting up what is sure to be a showdown between the locals and federal government.


Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

From the Editor

A Summit of (True) Possibilities

PBI Executive Director Dr. Raphael Sonenshein facilitates panel at the Summit.

By Victor Abalos

Last October, in a crowded conference room in Downey, a group of community leaders, policymakers and other interested folks, gathered for free coffee and pastries and a peek at the future – or at least a look into a world of possibilities.

Aptly called the “Summit of Possibilities” – the gathering was organized by the California Community Foundation, CCF, and the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, PBI. The goal was to share the results of an ambitious, and long overdue, survey of a part of Southern California known as the “710 Corridor.”

Parts of it are also known as the Southeast Cities or the Alameda Corridor. It’s gotten considerable attention over the years by various state and regional governing organizations because of its huge transportation significance. What often gets overlooked is the fact the region is home to hundreds of thousands of people – most of them working-class and Latino although there are considerable communities of African-American, Asian and Pacific Islanders.

That’s why CCF and PBI are focusing their attention on this region and why we’re committing the first in a series of articles in this newsletter to this effort. CCF and PBI commissioned Beacon Economics to study the eleven cities and four unincorporated communities in the area and provide an asset-based analysis – a tool they hope community leaders and especially policymakers would use to develop policies to benefit those communities.

Some highlights:

  • The region is 88% Latino
  • And compared to the rest of LA County very, very young – 43% are under the age of 25
  • It contains one of the highest concentrations of immigrants – many undocumented – in the country
  • The median income is about $40K a year compared with almost $60K for the rest of LA County

They make less, drive too far to work every day, live in highly dense areas with higher than average exposure to many environmental hazards and higher than average crime rates.  Sound familiar?

But it wasn’t all bad news. The Survey also identified many opportunities. The region contains a committed workforce eager to embrace cleaner industry. Residents are also eager consumers of many products and services with growing tax sales in the region.

It is a region with many challenges and many opportunities and a place that, quite honestly, cries for leadership.

That’s where you come in as policymakers. This is just a start – the survey doesn’t drill far enough into many areas – but it does provide an important starting point for local policymakers to work in concert to address those many challenges and take advantage of those opportunities.

Writer Nadine Ono provides our first installment.


Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

From The Editor

The LA Riots – 25 Years Later

by Gary Leonard

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks talking a lot about the LA Riots as we commemorate the 25th anniversary. I remember them clearly and I can’t help seeing a connection between what happened then and what we’re experiencing now.

As a TV journalist working in Los Angeles back in 1992, I saw plenty of signs that trouble was ahead. But I don’t think anybody can honestly say that they predicted what would happen on the afternoon of April 29.

At first, I was a TV witness like everybody else. I watched as Reginald Denny was pulled from his car and beaten. I couldn’t move. I was angry, confused and scared. I kept asking out loud, “what’s happening? Isn’t anybody going to stop this?” – questions that still hang in the air for me.

Two hours later I was in an unmarked news van with a freelance news crew headed down La Brea Blvd. to cover the biggest story of my life for CBS News.

I had spent several months in El Salvador in 1986 covering the civil war as a freelance journalist so I thought I was prepared. But this wasn’t war. What I witnessed during the first 36 hours of what has been called The L.A. Riots, The Uprising or The Civil Unrest depending on who’s telling the story, has gnawed at me for 25 years.

I tried to cover it, teach it and during the next couple of years afterwards, I worked on two documentaries trying to explain it. But 25 years later, so many of the so-called lessons of those events that are filling the “news space” now continue to elude me.

I remember the face of the boy – he couldn’t have been older than 12 – who pointed a shotgun at my video crew and me, instructing us very calmly to put our camera down as we tried to videotape the looting of an electronics store on Western Ave.

I remember interviewing a Salvadoran woman who hid several terrified L.A. firefighters in her tiny apartment that crazy first night. A group of heavily armed men forced them to abandon their trucks and equipment at a shopping center fire. The gunmen made it clear that they wanted the entire center to burn to the ground. The next day, the woman’s apartment building was torched, leaving her and her nine-year-old daughter homeless.

I remember the choir of singers from a Central Ave. storefront church. I wish I could remember what song they were singing as we all stood on the sidewalk watching a group of buildings across the street burn out of control.

Our city was caught in the grip of a temporary insanity, although no one I talked to in the midst of the worse violence seemed confused by what fueled it. The “insanity” lasted about a day and a half until the National Guard and Marines from Camp Pendleton arrived and restored order with a show of force, but the curfew didn’t do much to calm anyone’s nerves.

I know L.A. is different now because of those three days. How could that kind of violence and destruction not affect us? We formed committees and organizations. We committed to change. As a city, we never wanted this to happen again.

It changed our police department – for the better I’m sure. I used to cover the LAPD under Chief Daryl Gates and that police department is not the LAPD you know now.

And it forced us to talk to each other – at least for a few months in the immediate aftermath. There were gatherings, some organized and some organic, that sprang up to bring us together –to grieve for those who died as well as to help us process the fear, apprehension and mistrust the violence triggered.

But someone once remarked that L.A. is a universe of orbiting galaxies that never intersect: The Westside, the Valley, Hollywood, the South Bay. We are little clusters that when taken in aggregate, make up a city. We spend hours every day on freeways that intersect all of these worlds, but how well do we know the communities that flash past our car windows?

The riots pitted African-Americans against Koreans and while much has been done to heal those wounds, our leaders seem oblivious of the current tensions, particularly in South L.A. between African-Americans and Latinos.

I remember asking the mayor of L.A. in 1991, before the riots, about the tensions between cultures in our city and he denied they existed. Do our leaders today even acknowledge these conflicts?

I wonder where that 12 year-old boy is now and what he’s doing. I tried to find the Salvadoran woman and her daughter but learned they had returned to El Salvador. I want to ask them how they think our city changed and how what happened those three days 25 years ago changed them. I know it changed us.

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

From the Editor

Where do you get your news from?

By:  Victor Abalos

Policymakers need to rely on accurate and timely information to make good policy. Whether or not that policy addresses the challenge, creates the opportunity or does whatever it is intended to do rests heavily on the quality of that information.

So where do you, as an elected official, get your news and information? Now that we know all about fake news, how carefully do you screen your news sources?

It’s challenging, but not impossible, to find out whether you can trust what you read online. We all know the NY & LA Times but what about CalMatters, EdSource or The Hechinger Report? Do you use Huff Post news articles to back up your policy decisions? These are all news sources that I read regularly but only after I screened them. I went on their websites and looked for their Board members, staff and funders. These are all nonprofit news sites that regularly cover important policy issues.

To be honest, I still read their articles and posts with a skeptical eye. As as former journalist I’m not a believer that news is unbiased or objective. Human beings write these articles and while they may try to be fair and balanced everyone has a perspective – a slant. These news sites claim they want to “explain how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.” Or to “uncover the real problems facing our education system.” But someone there decides not only what to cover, or uncover, and they also decide how they’re going to do it. And they choose what to ignore.

Who are they? When I look at their websites and read about their staff or their boards – I don’t often see the California I live in.  That matters to me and it should matter to you. Where did they grow up? Where did they go to school? Where do they live? I’m going to guess that not many of them live in the Southeast Cities or Boyle Heights or Pacoima or El Monte or any of your cities.

So as you do your Google research or read the article someone emailed you today – check out who wrote it, who they work for and who funds their effort. There can be something worse than fake news and that’s news that’s “legitimate” but still makes us and what we care about invisible.

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

From the Editor

“What else are we supposed to do?”

By Victor Abalos

As we have noted here before, it’s simple (but not easy) to be in the opposition. Combating policies and programs you don’t agree with is the duty of any policymaker. Standing up for those under attack or in the crosshairs of dogmatic extremism is righteous regardless of which end of the spectrum we find ourselves.

But policymakers need to do more than oppose. They must offer solutions. They should have a vision.

That has many of our readers in a quandary particularly when it comes to the issue of immigration.  Our organization focuses on supporting local elected officials around local policy and immigration is a federal issue. But even federal policy has local implications, particularly when it impacts the day-to-day lives of thousands of families. While we as an organization will remain focused on supporting policy research and development that creates a path for our families into the middle class, we cannot avoid the current debate. And though we will not take any position regarding immigration policy, we hope to offer our policymakers some insight and support.

Many cities, school and college districts and other local bodies are responding to the immigration debate by declaring themselves a “sanctuary” or adopting policies that direct their staff to be non-compliant with any immigration policies that lead to arrest and deportation. Whether those declarations have any impact is unclear but many say they are compelled to take some kind of action. “What else are we supposed to do?” one frustrated policymaker asked me. Clearly, there is a desire to respond to growing anxiety in many communities. But how?

We are working on an upcoming report examining some of these efforts and identifying policy experts who offer local policymakers more options. A city council or school board member cannot create federal immigration policy. But perhaps they can develop local solutions that can allay some of the fear and anxiety that is only growing in many of our communities. The truth of the matter is, that when it comes to immigration and the policies that determine the rights and terms of families and individuals,  we as an organization will support policies that create a safe path for our families.

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

From the Editor

Who Will Lead?

By: Victor Abalos

We salute those marching in the streets and protesting at airports. We also commend those of you busy organizing “The Resistence.” Political expression and engagement in this time of our history is vital.

But as an organization dedicated to supporting elected officials, we want to pay particular attention to those who have chosen to channel their anger/outrage/anxiety into public service.

There are dozens of political candidates lined up for the March 7 primary election – as well the growing list of candidates jumping into the CD34 special election. Many are first timers. We wanted to get their take on this election – what motivated them to run and find out whether the results from last November impacted their decision.

If we have indeed entered a new political era – what will define it? We have been following with considerable interest, particularly on social media, what many of you are against. But what are we for? “The Resistence” may become an important political force in this country and in California, but as that force works to oppose the new president’s policies, what agenda will it advance?

Our interviews with the candidates just started – we will share them in our March 1 edition of the Latino Policy Connection newsletter. If you know of (or are) a political newcomer running for office and want to share your thoughts, please contact me. My email is below.

This month we feature an exclusive preview of gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa’s economic proposals – a plan he will be outlining in a speech in Sacramento today (Feb. 1).

Villaraigosa has made no secret of his position – shared strongly by the SCLPC – that our state’s economic future is closely tied to our ability to get more Latinos into the middle class. He expands on that idea in his latest address:

“At precisely the moment Latinos have become the largest ethnic group in California, the promise of a better life is growing farther and farther out of reach for a growing segment of our society… California must lead. And because Latinos will soon to be the majority of this state, we must lead.”

We agree with Villaraigosa. We as Latino advocates must work to ensure Latinos have access to – and are ready for – 21st Century jobs. We need to lead the way to make sure our families have access to affordable housing.

It is a new day. What’s not new is what we need to get done.


Victor Abalos: Editor's BlogVictor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

From the Editor

Change is Inevitable

By: Victor Abalos

Everything has changed.

That much is as obvious as it is inevitable. What generates the anxiety that pervades is the uncertainty about what precisely this change will bring. We predict critical sometimes dramatic changes in how the work will get done. But what hasn’t changed – what cannot change – is what has to be done.

We will continue to support efforts to improve education outcomes for our students. They must truly be prepared for 21st Century jobs and careers. We continue to believe the development of a strong Latino middle-class is vital to California’s economic stability.

That’s why we are working with the Pat Brown Institute and their collaboration with the California Community Foundation to provide the leaders of the Southeast Cites and other so-called “710 Corridor” communities with vital data. If good data drives good policy then policymakers there have been given the tools to do nothing less than transform an entire region and the communities and families that live there.

We also strongly support efforts by policymakers to develop regional solutions. It’s why we’re endorsing the Local Government Association’s Yosemite Policymakers Conference this coming March.  Regional gatherings designed to help policymakers delve into policy issues is critical. The LGA has even provided our readers with a 10% discount on registration!

But the Southern California Latino Policy Center also recognizes that like strategies institutions must also adapt to change in order to remain relevant and effective.

We are working on a plan for 2017 and beyond to ensure our organization continues to be a useful force advancing change. Because everything must change.


Victor Abalos: Editor's Blog

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

From the Editor

Voting Rights Strategy Makes a Comeback

By Victor Abalos


When MALDEF started suing or threatening to sue cities, school districts and other public entities over possible voting rights act violations back in the 90’s, Latino and other civil rights activists cheered. While redistricting had started to address the severe lack of representation Latinos and other “minorities” were dealing with in Congress, local governments had initially escaped their attention.

And while many cities and school districts fought back, the courts gradually vindicated MALDEF and the other plaintiffs in these kinds of lawsuits. These entities were forced to create districts that slowly created opportunities for Latinos to actually win elections in cities and districts where they had significant populations. There are now hundreds of Latinos representing California cities; school, community college and water districts; and even some (although not nearly enough) counties.

We are still far from adequate representation but we’ve made significant progress.

But a curious thing happened.

ballot_into_machine_maleWhen MALDEF recently decided to resurrect that strategy and send out a round of “demand letters” to local cities and school districts, several of them jumped immediately to change their voting systems from at-large to districts. Some jurisdictions didn’t even wait to get letters and started working on setting up districts. I spoke with a few lawyers who represent public entities who didn’t get letters who told me it was a simple calculation: Why resist when you’re going to lose and end up spending lots of money on legal fees?

But some cities are resisting and interestingly, those cities are currently lead by Latino policymakers. Adriana Maestas’ article in this month’s issue includes interviews with some of those officials.

Their resistance highlights the fundamental changes to our political environment that our region’s ever-changing demographics are creating – changes that are catching too many local policymakers unprepared. This situation also reveals the still unresolved tensions between ethnic and racial communities in this region that have been ignored for too long.

dsc_6985Victorville is one of those cities being challenged – not by MALDEF but by an attorney claiming to represent the African-American community there. Victorville is mostly Latino and white with a sizable African-American community. And while there are two Latinos on the council, there are no African-Americans.

How Victorville resolves this challenge – whether through negotiation or in the courts – provides a window into future voting rights challenges in California, and more importantly, whether Latinos policymakers now in power learn from history and provide ways for under-represented communities to have a voice. Or whether they’ll just wait to get a letter from MALDEF.


Victor Abalos: Editor's Blog

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

From the Editor

Affordable Housing: Our Ticket to the American Dream

By: Victor Abalos

C3X_7257There is no more effective path to the middle class than buying a house. It has always been and continues to be our ticket to the “American Dream.”

Owning a home provides our families with financial stability. It ensures our children will probably go to college if they want. Families that own their homes are healthier. They’re more engaged with their communities especially their children’s schools. The benefits go on and on.

That’s why the housing market bust of 2005 was such a seminal event for the lives of tens of thousands of Latinos in this region. We lost our homes or lost our chance to buy one. We became renters again and too many of us have stayed there – our numbers increasing disproportionately every year.

At the same time the availability of affordable housing has also decreased every year while the number of renters keeps increasing. Housing prices are back on the rise. Many are saying a crisis is ahead. The thousands of families that are homeless or hovering near it in this area will tell you we’re already there.

So what can you do as a local policymaker?

C3X_7270This month in the Latino Policy Connection we examine the ways local elected officials, especially those in city government, can work to create or provide affordable housing – not next year or soon – but now. And we take a look at a specific project in El Monte that provides a case study for other cities.

But this isn’t just a housing issue or a problem for cities.

One medium-sized school district I know of in this region has more than 500 families officially categorized as homeless. You know that impacts those children in the classroom. School board members can and should work with their city counterparts towards solutions. Almost every housing expert says regional solutions have the best chance of working.

I was tempted to Google a bunch of quotes about how important it is for us to work together and how leadership is about taking responsibility and then taking action. I know many others have made this argument far more eloquently than I can. Instead I’ll leave you with a version of a line Marco Firebaugh used to share with his staff, thanks to those who knew him well who shared it with me.

Let’s get “it” done.

Victor Abalos: Editor's Blog

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.