By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

However you feel about the immigration issue, the sight of angry protesters in Murrieta, California screaming “go back to where you come from” and shouting other invectives to a busload of children and their moms has to make you queasy. It sickened me. But what also made me angry was that the protestors, to justify taunting a group of defenseless kids, grotesquely cloaked their hatred in “patriotism” by chanting “USA!, USA! USA!” over and over again. I remember one of the first times I proudly joined with my fellow Americans in that chant when the U.S. Hockey Team pulled off its improbable win over the Soviets at the 1980 Olympics. So on this Fourth of July, I want to reclaim “USA! USA! USA!” on behalf of the vast majority of Americans and the values we hold dear back from that mob of hate in Murrieta.

There is nothing more un-American than showing not even one shred of sympathy, compassion, or even decency towards a group of desperate young children who showed up on our doorstep after having spent weeks on a treacherous journey. There is nothing more un-American than deliberately frightening an already traumatized group of kids, some still in diapers. There is nothing more un-American than a mob taking the law into their own hands and preventing authorities from doing the work of processing these refugees. What we saw was not patriotism –— it was ugly, divisive, and yet another low for a debate that I thought could not get much lower.

But I reserved my greatest scorn for the Mayor of Murrieta, Alan Long. It was he who incited his constituents to protest and let law enforcement look the other way. It was he who recklessly demagogued the issue to spare himself a political problem and is now crying crocodile tears about the “black eye” media coverage has given his town. He took an epic, immensely complicated humanitarian situation that involves broken policymaking both in Central America and in the U.S. and pointed the finger of blame at a bus full of little kids and babies.

What is so craven about Long’s “blame the victim” strategy is that he and the anti-immigrant extremists he unleashed not only blocked a couple of buses, they continue to block every single attempt at a humane and effective solution by reasonable policymakers on both sides of the aisle. Egged on by shameless demagogues like Long at the local level and lawmakers like Rep. Steve King (R-–IA) at the national level, the small but loud anti-immigrant movement like the one on display in Murrieta is the single biggest reason we do not yet have comprehensive immigration reform.

This week we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law that helped America finally live up to its values when it came to all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or creed. That legislation was also unconscionably delayed by another small but powerful group of people who were on the wrong side of history. The leaders of the civil rights movement had to fight hard and but also long to overcome them, but they did. And they were joined in that struggle by a dedicated and tireless group of bipartisan Senators and Congressmen and a courageous President. Fifty years later, there is no doubt in my mind that in the America I know and love we can do it again.

This Week in Immigration Reform – Week Ending July 4, 2014


Week Ending July 4, 2014

This week in immigration reform: President Obama announces that Speaker of the House John Boehner has told him that the House will not vote on immigration reform legislation this year, forcing the President to use his executive authority to fix our immigration system; NCLR’s Janet Murguía calls on President Obama to act to fix our broken immigration policies at an AFL-CIO panel; Darrell Issa and 33 other House Republicans sign a letter calling for the DACA program to be ended and for DREAMers to be deported; and thousands of new Americans across the country choose to become citizens on this 4th of July holiday.  NCLR kept the community informed in a number of media appearances this week, with staff quoted in the Associated Press, The Hill, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and MSNBC.

–President Obama says that Speaker Boehner has told him no vote on reform this year, announces intent to use executive authority to fix immigration system.  On Monday, June 30 President Obama said that Speaker of the House John Boehner has told him that he won’t be permitting any votes on immigration reform legislation in the House this year.  Therefore, the President announced, he will use his executive authority to fix our broken immigration policies and to provide some relief to the millions of aspiring Americans facing the constant threat of deportation.

With House Republican leadership continuing to obstruct progress on this issue, NCLR welcomes executive actions from the White House to ease the pain that our community is forced to endure every day. We will also encourage the administration to build on the successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by offering work authorization and temporary relief from deportation to those who can demonstrate family connections to U.S. citizens and others lawfully present, as well as to those with long-term residence in and ties to their communities.

–NCLR’s Janet Murguía calls on President Obama to act on immigration at AFL-CIO panel.  NCLR’s Janet Murguía spoke at a panel discussion this Tuesday, July 1 on immigration reform policy and workers’ rights, joining the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), the AFL-CIO, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). Murguía argued that President Obama must act immediately to fix our broken immigration system, since House Republicans have refused to act. Click here to watch the full program.

Murguía also joined a press call on Tuesday, July 1 to discuss a new report by the Center for American Progress that details the steps that the president can take, under his broad discretionary authority, to begin fixing our misguided immigration enforcement practices. ImmReformUpdate_7_4_2014

Janet Murguía speaking at the AFL-CIO panel on immigration reform (photo courtesy of LCLAA).

Darrell Issa, 33 other Republicans sign letter calling for DACA to end and for DREAMers to be deported.  Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) found 33 other House Republicans this week to join him in  sending a letter demanding that President Obama end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, thereby effectively resuming the indiscriminate deportation of DREAMers.

As we have noted, in the two years since its inception DACA has been overwhelmingly successful in allowing hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people to pursue their career and educational ambitions, free from the constant fear of being deported. Proposing to end a program that allows young people to fully integrate into our society and economy isn’t just spiteful and cruel – it’s counterproductive and nonsensical. Rep. Issa and his co-signers ought to be ashamed to see their names on this letter.

–This 4th of July thousands of new Americans across the country choose to naturalize.  This 4th of July thousands of individuals will choose to become American citizens in naturalization ceremonies held across the country.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, for one, will be naturalizing around 9,000 new citizens in more than 100 ceremonies between June 30 and July 4.  You can find a full list of these naturalization ceremonies, by date and location, here.

Un Verano En Nueva York

By Rafael Collazo, Director of Political Campaigns, NCLR

40x504_commoncore_72aThe seminal Puerto Rican salsa band El Gran Combo sang it best: there is nothing quite like “Un Verano En Nueva York.”Even a hardscrabble Philly guy like me has to admit that a unique energy permeates the Manhattan streets during the summer.

So it was with great pleasure that I visited Spanish Harlem in New York City to document the opinions of leaders who are on the frontlines of preparing our young people for higher education and the future job market.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is heavily engaged in the ongoing national debate on the benefits of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). For many that are still unclear about what the Common Core are, skepticism is spreading amongst parents and some educators due to a lack of information, and even misinformation. They wonder if the CCSS are another fad that is steering national public education off course and disrupting the progress of Latino and minority students.

GraduationWhile NCLR understands these concerns and is working to advocate for improved implementation, NCLR firmly believes that Latino students can only achieve education equity when all schools and school districts are held to the same standards of achievement, instruction, and assessment that the CCSS demand. In fact, NCLR has already discovered Latino educators committed to the Common Core State Standards for the benefit of students.

Amber Charter School, an NCLR Affiliate, is a K–5 school located in the heart of “El Barrio” in New York City. Since 2011, Principal Dr. Vashti Acosta has been preparing to align her school with the new rigorous standards of achievement that are now in 43 states and the District of Columbia. With careful planning from administrators, teachers, and parents, Amber Charter School is a model of how Latino and minority children can Step Up and Step In to higher achievement.

When NCLR spoke to Dr. Acosta about our New York Campaign to make Latinos more aware of what the CCSS entail and how they will benefit Latino youth, Dr. Acosta immediately recommended that we connect with students and teachers to hear their stories of how the CCSS have impacted their school year.

So NCLR staff paid a visit to Amber Charter School to tape video interviews (watch below) with Dr. Acosta, her teachers, and her kids to hear about their year with the CCSS. From the moment we started filming, it was clear how integral these standards have been in helping the entire school “Step Up.” Seasoned educators raved about how these standards accelerated learning, thinking, and communication for all students. The students themselves said it best: “My favorite word this year was ‘whimsical,’” said Nina, a fourth grader at Amber. Another student, Anthony, stated how what he is learning will help him “mature into the adult” he wants to be.

The buzz in Spanish Harlem a few days before the National Puerto Rican Day Parade made our visit even more inspiring. NCLR staff also interviewed Latino immigrant parents at the Annual English Language Learner Parent Conference held at the nearby Museo Del Barrio. The parents, primarily Mexican, shared the importance of education for their children and all Latinos, with the backdrop of some amazing artwork by top Latino artists from all over the world.

Commitment, inspiration, creativity, hope, warmth… all words I can use to describe our time in New York. After all these years, Un Verano En Nueva York is still something special.

NCLR President: Extremists in Murrieta, Calif. Don’t Represent Majority of Americans

Yesterday, NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía joined MSNBC’s “Now with Alex Wagner” to talk about the humanitarian crisis happening on the border and about immigration reform in general. Watch the ten minute segment below.

The President Must Act in the Face of GOP Inaction on Immigration


On immigration reform, the president will act on his own if he has to. The president made these comments in a Rose Garden speech yesterday in response to House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement that the House would not be taking any votes on immigration reform this year. President Obama said he will use whatever executive authority he has to fix our broken immigration system and provide some relief the millions of aspring Americans facing deportation. Watch the president’s remarks below:

Janet Murguía, NCLR’s President and CEO, responded to the president’s remarks in a statment in which she welcomed this latest move.

“By refusing to act on immigration reform, House Republication leadership has given the president no other choice but to take administrative action,” said Murguía. “They have the ability to restore the rule of law by passing a permanent legislative solution on immigration reform, and have instead chosen to perpetuate a broken system that causes enormous and unnecessary human suffering for the Latino community. They willfully disregard that passing immigration reform is in the nation’s best economic interests and that the majority of Americans across a broad political spectrum overwhelmingly support immigration reform. With House Republican leadership continuing to obstruct progress on this issue, NCLR welcomes executive actions from the White House to ease the pain that our community is forced to endure every day.”

With two million deportations that have occurred and more than 277,000 deportations of parents of U.S. citizen chilren, Murguia made clear that our community can no longer wait. We will work with the Obama administration to develop and implement executive actions that will limit deportations to those responsible for serious crimes or to those who pose threats to our national security. We also call on the president to build upon the successes of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by offering work authorization and relief from deportation to those who can show family connections to U.S. citizens and others who are in the United States lawfully.

“We urge Speaker Boehner to reconsider his decision,” Murguía said. “And if he does, we stand ready to work with Congress and the administration to fashion a bipartisan solution. However, our community cannot continue to wait on legislation while our families are ripped apart.”

A National Homeowner Bill of Rights Would Defend the American Dream

Family in front of houseWith mortgage servicers paying out settlements for discriminatory foreclosure practices and unnecessary foreclosures still occurring nationwide, Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) of New Mexico has introduced a bill (H.R. 4963) to establish a comprehensive National Homeowner Bill of Rights designed to curb dishonest practices in the housing sector.

Homeowner bills of rights have been successfully implemented in states such as California, but Lujan Grisham’s proposal would be the first time such measures were enacted on a national scale. A national law in place means homeowners would gain essential protections against arbitrary abuses and discriminatory conduct from mortgage servicers, which occur in every state.

For homeowners in default, the bill would add a number of critical protections for those facing the threat of foreclosure. It sets limits on when the foreclosure process can be initiated and spells out when it is required to stop.

Under the new bill, mortgage servicers would be required to halt the foreclosure process upon receiving a loan modification request from a homeowner. Once the request is received, the servicer would have to immediately evaluate whether the homeowner is eligible for a loan modification. If the borrower is found to be ineligible, the servicer would be required to first present alternatives to foreclosure, such as short sales and forbearances.

Photo: Jeffrey Turner

Photo: Jeffrey Turner

If the borrower is found to be eligible for a modification and in default, underwater homeowners—those who owe more than their home is worth—would be allowed to readjust the value of their mortgages to a level closer to what their home is actually worth today. This principal reduction would represent a major victory for struggling homeowners who received mortgages during the housing bubble. Under the proposed bill, they would no longer be required to make payments tied to highly inflated home values.

If the borrower were not underwater but still in default, the servicer would be required to offer affordable monthly payments to avert needless foreclosures.

In a major win for language access in the housing industry, the proposed bill would require mortgage servicers to translate all documents and provide language interpretation services. Currently, too many Latinos are locked out of adequate customer service due to a lack of language access in the housing sector. By requiring translation services, mortgage servicers could help close the gap between English- and Spanish-speaking homeowners.

Additionally, the bill would add a number of other protections designed to improve the lives of homeowners who have long been forced to deal with the often-opaque mortgage servicing industry. When mortgages are bought and sold from one servicer to another, the homeowner would gain added protections. The dangerous practice of “robo-signing” would be subject to legal penalties, and homeowners would gain tools to learn their rights.

Lastly, the bill would create a new office for a Mortgage Service Ombudsman tasked with assisting low-income homeowners.

While much of Congress remains stalled in partisan gridlock, a National Homeowner Bill of Rights is a commonsense proposal bringing together a set of protections from unscrupulous behavior by dishonest mortgage servicers. Far too many Latino families have already lost their homes—it’s time for practical solutions to protect our nation’s struggling homeowners. The National Homeowner Bill of Rights is the kind of legislation we need to defend the American Dream.

Weekly Washington Outlook – June 30, 2014

U.S. Capitol

What to Watch This Week:


The House:

The House is in recess, returning Tuesday, July 8.

The Senate:

The Senate is in recess, returning Monday, July 7.

White House:

On Monday, the president will welcome back to the White House, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The two leaders will discuss ways to advance peace and global security, social inclusion, and free trade. Other agenda items include UN Security Council matters, other multilateral and regional issues, and ongoing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as expanding educational exchanges and deepening collaborations in the areas of energy, science, and technology. The vice president will also participate. In the afternoon, President Obama will host a reception at the White House in recognition of LGBT Pride Month; the first lady will also attend.  On Tuesday, the President will hold a Cabinet meeting; Vice President Biden will also attend. In the afternoon President Obama will deliver remarks on the economy at the Georgetown Waterfront Park in Washington. On Wednesday, the president will host top economists for lunch to discuss ways to accelerate economic growth, expand opportunity, and improve the competitiveness of the American economy. The vice president will also attend. On Thursday, President Obama will attend unspecified meetings at the White House. On Friday, the president and the first lady will celebrate the Fourth of July by hosting military heroes and their families for an Independence Day celebration with a barbecue, concert and a view of fireworks on the South Lawn. Staff and their families from throughout the Administration will also attend this event for the concert and fireworks viewing.

Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court ends its session for the year with the announcement of a 5-4 decision to narrow the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. In the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Court decided that closely-held private companies are exempted on religious grounds from a requirement that employer-provided health plans include a range of contraception options at no additional cost to the individual.  Additional details available.

Also this week and beyond:

Unaccompanied Children – The working group appointed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to address the situation with unaccompanied children held its first meeting last week. By all accounts, this was productive and positive and members framed the issue as a humanitarian crisis. In the coming weeks, they are likely to make at least one trip to the Southern border in order to make appropriate recommendations on possible Congressional action. Elsewhere, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will visit Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and CBP facilities this week as part of the Administration’s ongoing response to influx of unaccompanied children. The White House this week also sent a letter to Congressional Leadership, providing additional details of the actions being taken. These include additional enforcement resources, an increase in immigration judges, and a request for emergency supplemental appropriations.

Appropriations – The Senate Appropriations Committee will continue its work on individual spending bills next week, but Senate Leadership is struggling to find a path forward for a stalled “minibus” that includes Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD spending bills. The measure was pulled from the floor earlier in the month over yet another disagreement about the process for considering amendments. Elsewhere, after the Agriculture-FDA bill was pulled from the House floor earlier this month, it appears the process will begin again with the Energy-Water bill in early July. It is likely that Financial Services would follow, in an effort to return again to regular order. At the Committee level in the House, Chairman Rogers indicated that Labor-HHS-Education will be marked-up this month, but Congressional staff has said it is unlikely this would be brought to the floor.

Workforce Investment Act – Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a re-authorization to the Workforce Investment Act.  The House is expected to take up the measure in the next work period.

Highway Trust Fund – Lawmakers are expected to devote the beginning of the July work period to finding a short-term “patch” for the Highway Trust Fund, expected to be insolvent by the end of the month. Without an injection of revenue immediately, an estimated 700,000 construction jobs are in jeopardy and 100,000 projects are potentially on-hold. To address the shortfall, the Senate Finance Committee began marking-up an $8 billion bill that would keep the fund afloat for six months to allow time to negotiate a more permanent solution. In the House, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has said that he prefers a fix through at least 2015. House and Senate negotiations are expected to take place this week, with the hope that a compromise could be on the floor of each chamber as soon as possible.     

Nominations – On Monday, the President will nominate former CEO of Procter & Gamble, Bob McDonald to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. Later in the month, the Senate is expected to vote to confirm both Julian Castro as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Shaun Donovan to head the Office of Management and Budget.

José Antonio Vargas film “Documented”: A Riveting Personal Journey

By Patricia Foxen, Ph.D., Deputy Director of Research, NCLR


Jose Antonio Vargas attends a Mitt Romney presidential campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa Photo:

Last month I was invited to attend the New York City premiere of José Antonio Vargas’s documentary “Documented,” which will be airing this Sunday, June 29, on CNN at 9 PM ET. Along with the rest of the audience, I was moved to tears by this beautifully crafted and extraordinarily honest film. In Vargas’s own words, his primary goals in making the film were “to expand the conversation around immigration and citizenship in a demographically changing America.” It is difficult to imagine that anyone — no matter where they stand on the immigration question — would not be transformed by this profoundly human story.

Vargas’s name catapulted onto the national scene back in 2011 when he “outed” himself as an undocumented immigrant in a widely-read New York Times Magazine article. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who had previously worked for the Washington Post, he became a leading voice shaping discussions around Comprehensive Immigration Reform, in particular by working closely with the Dreamers and his own campaign, Define American, always aware that his undocumented status could lead to deportation at any moment, as it has for tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants over the past few years.

In “Documented,” Vargas is both the storyteller and the primary subject of his own film– a balancing act that might have been difficult with a less charismatic and energetic narrator, but which Vargas pulls off well. He takes us through his personal story, in which he migrated from the Philippines to the U.S. at age 12 to live with his grandparents, only to find out as a teenager that he did not have legal status. Vargas brings us into the lives of his family members scattered across borders, including his mother in the Philippines, whom he has not seen for 20 years, and his Lola (grandmother) and other relatives in the States. The different themes of his life — his decision to come out as both gay and as undocumented, his launch into the world of advocacy, and his very personal and complex relationship with his mother — are all revealed and connected seamlessly through Vargas’s admirable storytelling skills.

Jose and his mother. Photo:

Jose and his mother. Photo:

In recounting this personal story, Vargas skillfully sheds light on the broader story of undocumented migrants, and on the pain and vulnerability of the millions whose status is perpetually in limbo and who are physically and emotionally separated from their loved ones.  He makes sure to explore some of the root causes of migration, which compel people to leave home, as well as the elements of our own broken immigration system that simply exclude broad swathes of immigrants from obtaining legal status.

The release of this film this weekend on mainstream television is timely: in the midst of current pessimism over the plight of immigration reform– reinforced by misinformation being spread around the recent increase in unaccompanied minors — this film will re-center audiences on the core human issues behind our broken immigration system, and the increasingly urgent need to fix it, soon.

Define American has teamed up with NCLR and 36 other Watch Partners including GLAAD, MTV, Moms Rising, Anti-Defamation League and others to encourage viewing parties around the broadcast premiere of the film “Documented.” Watch party hosts are registering online and watch parties are also being monitored and mapped at.