This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending Jan. 30

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Week Ending January 30

This week in immigration reform: Attorney General nominee defends presidential authority on immigration; Senate to vote on DHS funding bill; and cities intervene to support administrative relief in state lawsuit.

Loretta Lynch, nominated to be the next Attorney General, speaks up for Executive Action: This week the Senate Judiciary Committee began the confirmation hearing of Loretta Lynch. In response to questions about President Obama’s executive action regarding immigration, she defended the legal justification of the President’s action. Additionally, she echoed the Administration’s reasoning that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is unable to deport every undocumented individual, and thus prioritizing removals “seemed to be a reasonable way to marshal limited resources,” Lynch said.

Senate Majority Leader to bring House DHS funding bill to a vote, Democrats offer alternative: Next week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to bring the House-passed DHS funding bill to the floor. The bill contains amendments that would rollback not only the recently announced deferred action initiatives, but would also end the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. However, Senate Democrats are urging that the bill not even coming up for debate. A Politico article notes that the funding bill doesn’t have the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster and thus is already slated to fail. As funding for DHS expires February 27, Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Majority Leader, urging him to remove the harmful amendments from the House bill to create a realistic and passable version. At a retreat with Democratic lawmakers this week, President Obama reiterated that he would veto legislation that would repeal administrative relief.

USCIS will begin accepting applications for expanded DACA on Feb. 18:  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will begin accepting requests for expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on February 18. Remember that all USCIS materials, including forms, are free and will be available at uscis.gov. NCLR will continue to share information about the new eligibility criteria for DACA and the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) when that process begins in May. Share our Spanish language infographic on DACA expansion and help get accurate information out in our community!

Diverse cities across the country support administrative relief: On Monday, 33 cities filed a legal brief in support of administrative relief for millions of families. The lawsuit was filed by 26 states seeking to block implementation of President Obama’s deferred action initiatives. A National Journal article offers an interesting perspective on the lawsuit: “In a telling comparison, the cities backing Obama in the federal case actually house a larger population of undocumented immigrants than the states opposing him, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.”

Additionally, “except for Texas, every state suing to block Obama has fewer undocumented immigrants potentially eligible for the executive action than Los Angeles alone; Florida is the only other state in the suit that has more potentially eligible than New York City. ‘Many of our cities are larger than those states that are even suing,’ Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti pointedly said recently.” The cities most affected by administrative relief are the ones voicing the strongest support, telling of the benefits of executive action.

NCLR Affiliates Meet in Philadelphia for 2014 Peer Exchange

This week, members of the NCLR Affiliate Network gathered in Philadelphia for the 2014 NCLR Affiliate Peer Exchange. For two days, Affiliates reconnected with others from around the country and re-discovered the array of skills to be found within our network of 300 community-based organizations.

This year, participants focused on how to grow and nurture a data-driven culture in their organizations. Case studies were presented and they heard from experts in the field, all in the name of growing the impact of Latino nonprofits.

The two-day meeting ended today. Below are some highlights from the event.

The Peer Exchange began with a tour of Philadelphia’s famed mural arts scene.The focus was on Latino mural arts.

Philadelphia Mural Tour #NCLRPX @NCLR @Congreso1977 A photo posted by @groman28 on

After the Mural Arts tour, it was time to get down to business.

After a long day of art and talk of data-driven culture, NCLRPX attendees ended with a community reception, courtesy of Comcast.

Vanguard Principal Alba Martinez and Comcast VP Maria Arias join #NCLRPX Community Reception.

A photo posted by Congreso de Latinos Unidos (@congreso1977) on

¡Liderazgo Latino! Johnny Irizarry, Casa Latina @ Penn and Maria Gonzalez, President of HACE. #NCLRPX #Congreso1977 A photo posted by Congreso de Latinos Unidos (@congreso1977) on

#PHL #Latino Legacy: Pedro Ramos, Alba Martinez, Dr. Carmen Febo, and Romy Diaz. #NCLRPX #Congreso1977

A photo posted by Congreso de Latinos Unidos (@congreso1977) on

Day two of the Peer Exchange began with a tour of North Philly neighborhoods.

Edwin Desamour of MIMIC helping #NCLRPX put community in perspective.

A photo posted by Congreso de Latinos Unidos (@congreso1977) on

#NCLRPX tours the reality of Latino Philly…the beautiful murals, the amazing organizations…and the distress.

A photo posted by Congreso de Latinos Unidos (@congreso1977) on

After the neighborhood tour, attendees prepared for their meeting with some Harambe!

Great energy after the Harambe at #NCLRPX this morning! @congreso1977 A video posted by NCLR (@nclr) on

After a tour of Philadelphia Affiliate Congreso and the Pan American Academy Charter school, it was time to close the event.

We thank all of our great Affiliates who were able to join us in Philadelphia. To find out more about our Affiliate Network and the amazing work they do, visit the NCLR website.

Measuring Latino Poverty

By Daniel Salgado, NCLR Legal Fellow

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Photo: Ernesto Cruz

We are hearing a lot of good news about the economy these days. In 2014, the U.S. economy recorded the largest job growth since 1999, while gas prices declined for a record four consecutive months. The Latino poverty rate is also steadily declining. In fact, Latinos are the only racial or ethnic group to show a significant drop in poverty rates over the past few years— from 25.6 percent in 2012 to 23.5 percent in 2013.

This decrease in poverty could be a sign that the economic recovery is finally reaching Latino communities, though it should be noted that the poverty rate for Latinos remains above its pre-recession level of 20.6 percent. In order to accurately track how far Latinos have to go to make up for the damage of the Great Recession, it is important to take a closer look at how poverty is measured. That requires examining the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which provides a more comprehensive measure of poverty taking into account the effects that government programs and tax credits, for example, have on a family’s income. Unfortunately, the SPM shows that the Latino poverty rate has actually remained relatively stagnant at 26 percent, significantly higher than the rates of poverty in White and Black communities.

Two Ways of Measuring Poverty

The Official Poverty Measure (OPM), which is the source used for determining eligibility for federal government programs, is calculated by comparing cash income before taxes to the poverty line, which was $23,834 for a family of four in 2013. Since the Census Bureau began tracking the OPM, the Latino rate has been the second-highest in the United States, only slightly lower than the Black poverty rate (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1. The OPM Rates by Race/Ethnicity since 2000. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, “Historical Poverty Tables.” Current Population Survey. Washington DC, 2014,http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/historical/people.html (accessed January 2015), Table 2.

However, in recent years, the Census Bureau acknowledged that the OPM does not paint a complete picture of poverty. By counting only cash income before taxes such as salary, workers compensation, Social Security, and public assistance, the OPM fails to consider noncash government programs such as nutrition assistance and housing subsidies. Also, the OPM overlooks the impact of refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

That’s where the SPM comes in. The SPM calculation includes noncash government benefits and tax credits. It also considers tax payments and work expenses (see Figure 2). As a result, the SPM provides a better understanding of the impact of government programs on reducing poverty. Using the SPM, the census finds that Latinos actually have the highest poverty rate, 26 percent (see Figure 3). This has been the case ever since the census first started measuring the SPM in 2011.

The SPM paints a less rosy, albeit more complete, picture of Latino poverty, but it is a critical alternative measure to understand if we are to interpret the economic progress of the Latino community.

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Figure 2. Components of the Supplemental Poverty Measure. Source: Kathleen Short, The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2013 (Washington, DC: The U.S. Census Bureau, 2014).

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Figure 3. The SPM Rates by Race/Ethnicity since 2009. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, “The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2013,” Current Population Survey. Washington, DC, 2014.; U.S. Census Bureau, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2011,” Current Population Survey. Washington, DC, 2012.; and U.S. Census Bureau, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010,” Current Population Survey. Washington, DC, 2011.

Latino Families Benefit from Strong Leadership at FHFA

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FHFA Director Mel Watt

Over the past year, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has taken significant steps to improve America’s housing market for struggling homeowners, prospective homebuyers, and those suffering from foreclosure. Yesterday, FHFA Director Mel Watt testified before the House Financial Services Committee to highlight how the agency’s actions have helped homeowners since his confirmation about a year ago.

Just last month, NCLR applauded Director Watt’s decision to fund two essential affordable housing programs: the National Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund. In the wake of a housing crisis that cost more than one million Latino families their homes due to foreclosure, our nation is in desperate need of increased affordable housing stock. Funded with just one-twentieth of a percentage point of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s business purchases, at least $400 million is expected to become available for these programs annually.

In addition, the FHFA’s actions in promoting the Home Affordable Refinance Program has allowed thousands of qualified underwater homeowners—who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are currently worth—to refinance their mortgages, enabling savings on mortgage payments and preventing needless foreclosure.

Access to affordable mortgage credit continues to be a real barrier to homeownership; in response, the FHFA has recently introduced mortgage products with 3 percent down payments. These products are an important step in helping Latino families whose savings were wiped out by the financial crisis enter the home purchase market. By expanding mortgage eligibility to a greater section of prospective buyers, the FHFA is working to ensure all demographics are fairly served by our housing system. Low down payment products will be offset by proven housing counseling, private mortgage insurance, and other compensating measures of creditworthiness.

While the FHFA has taken great strides in improving the housing sector for families, the agency can still do more to improve mortgage access for the Latino community. We encourage the FHFA to strengthen its commitment to all Americans by issuing a strong duty to serve rule, requiring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to fulfill their statutory responsibility to serve all creditworthy borrowers. The FHFA should also continue to promote housing counseling in new ways, and should move beyond traditional FICO scores and toward alternative scoring options such as Vantage and FICO-9.

To truly make a difference in the lives of America’s millions of underwater borrowers, the FHFA should also direct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to implement principal reduction, adjusting mortgages to what underwater borrowers’ homes are currently worth.

As Director Watt approaches his one-year anniversary at the FHFA, the agency is on track to continue making a difference in the lives of American homeowners, prospective homebuyers, and renters. We urge Director Watt to continue the FHFA’s efforts to make housing more affordable and to take new and significant action to expand mortgage access to serve all creditworthy borrowers.

Watch the entire hearing below:

Immigration Status Adds Layer of Complexity to ACA Enrollment

One NCLR Affiliate is working to reach eligible immigrants in families with mixed statuses

The promise of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can only be met once everyone who is eligible and in need of health coverage receives it. This is especially true for the Latino community, which stands to benefit the most from the new health care law, but only if more of us enroll.

For millions of Americans navigating the Health Insurance Marketplace, there are myriad questions ranging from what plans make the best fit to how much coverage is needed. These are basic questions anyone might have, but for many families, questions about immigration status can complicate the process, especially for those in mixed-status families who are eligible for coverage under the ACA.

A CPLC staffer assists a Tucson resident in signing up for health coverage.

A CPLC staffer assists a Tucson resident in signing up for health coverage.

Mixed-status families, defined as those with members who have different immigration statuses in the same household, often face some of the biggest obstacles to getting coverage for their eligible members. It is a population that requires special consideration for their family dynamics and their cultural sensitivities. One group that has been working closely with this population is Chicanos Por la Causa (CPLC), an NCLR Affiliate based in Phoenix.

As brokers for insurance company Blue Cross/Blue Shield, CPLC is involved in going into the community to answer questions, address concerns, and get people signed up for health coverage. CPLC Insurance President Alicia Nuñez and Lead Sales Representative Rosa Castillo have a lot of experience working with mixed-status families and spoke with us about the challenges they encounter in enrolling folks.

“The overwhelming concern people have is about enforcement of immigration laws,” said Nuñez. “Most of the questions we get are ‘will this affect my status?’”

Nuñez and Castillo drive home the point that information is not collected for immigration enforcement purposes. It’s one they have to stress often. Both credit the anti-immigration attitudes and policies that have become synonymous with Arizona as part of the problem. “They are often scared to even ask about health care,” said Nuñez.

Another of the concerns parents raise is related to the eligibility of their children. Undocumented parents are often unsure whether their kids even qualify. “They don’t believe the subsidies would apply to them because they [the parents] don’t have legal status,” said Nuñez.

CPLC has also done a lot of work in providing the community with a base level of understanding of what health insurance is and how it works.

“Regardless of mixed-status or not, if they’ve never had health insurance, explaining it and how it works… takes up the most time,” said Castillo. CPLC has made it a top priority to educate the community so folks have a general understanding of the ACA.

Nuñez and Castillo have resorted to some creative tactics to achieve this goal.

“A lot of folks come here because they know it’s the law. So, I’ll just draw basic pictures or diagrams that show the White House and Congress and the laws coming from them. It helps give them a basic understanding,” said Nuñez. “I find that people really like that.”

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A CPLC staffer provides a demonstration at a Dia de los Muertos enrollment event.

They also use the car insurance model, which many immigrants are more familiar with, to help draw a clearer picture of how ACA works. “We try to explain it as clearly as possible, but explanations are tailored for each person that comes in. By the time folks leave, they have a good understanding of how insurance works, no matter their understanding when they walk in,” said Castillo.

CPLC’s work to enroll people has certainly paid off. Castillo shared one success story of a woman who in 2008 found herself in the hospital for just a few days. At the end of her stay, she was presented with a $78,000 medical bill.

“It stressed her out and she lost her job. She was afraid of everything,” said Castillo. “She now has affordable insurance. The beauty of having affordable health insurance in her life has enabled her to get out of her house, and has given her freedom and peace of mind.”

With little more than two weeks to go, Nuñez and Castillo know they have their work cut out for them to ensure more ACA success stories become a reality. If you’re in the Phoenix area and still need to sign up for health coverage, visit CPLC any day of the week. The NCLR Affiliate will also be holding enrollment events on February 7–8 and February 14–15, the last weekend to enroll.

We have also put together a quick list of what you need to know about getting covered if you’re in a mixed-status family. For extensive information on the Affordable Care Act, visit us at: nclr.us/hcr.

Congress Must Uphold the Right to Vote

Voting_OVRDay_2014In his State of the Union address, President Obama voiced a deep hope held among Latino and many other American voters: the need for a better politics “where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears…where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles.” That was the preface to a list of issues our country needs to address, and chief among them is protecting the right to vote.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which has been reauthorized four times, including under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and with support from both parties. That spirit of collaboration is now needed once again. The Voting Rights Act requires preclearance of changes to voting laws or practices in certain jurisdictions that have a record of discrimination. In 2006, it was reauthorized for 25 more years. However, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder struck down the formula that determines which jurisdictions are subject to pre-clearance, leaving Congress to design an updated formula. To date a new formula remains absent.

But while Congress has not acted, the same cannot be said of a number of jurisdictions. No longer required to prove that voting practices do not engender racial discrimination, several jurisdictions rushed to change their laws. On the same day the Shelby decision was announced, for example, Texas implemented a voter ID law that had been previously blocked by preclearance requirements.

While only two incidents of voter fraud have been documented in the last 14 years, the state passed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation, in spite of evidence that it could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters. Interestingly, while Texas accepts a concealed handgun license for voting purposes, it rejects student identifications.

Voter integrity has been a hot topic of debate in recent electoral cycles, and it reaches a boil particularly around election time. Here’s the thing: state and local actions for the most part have been about imposing additional restrictions to the franchise, such as requiring certain forms of ID, but not about ensuring that all eligible Americans have easier access to the voting booth. All this even though, as in the case of Texas, voter fraud has been rare or unproven by many of the jurisdictions that enacted these laws. We believe that voter fraud is wrong and should be addressed; it is also rare and does not warrant laws that are likely to deny thousands of legitimate voters their sacred right to vote.

Voter ID laws are but one of many ways that some jurisdictions have belittled the voice of voters. Many voters are being subjected to restrictions on nonpartisan group voter registration, cuts in early voting periods or polling locations, changes from single-member to at-large districts, allowances for larger amounts of undisclosed money to pour into elections, and other measures. We are getting dangerously close to a system in which politicians can choose their voters—not the other way around. That not only devalues voters, it devalues our system of government.

We think it’s time for a serious discussion about voter integrity, and for Congress to continue the bipartisan tradition of upholding the franchise. May the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches serve as the inspiration we need, to remind us that the best way to honor the work and sacrifice of so many is to ensure that equal access to the voting booth remains unhindered.

Weekly Washington Outlook — January 26, 2015

White House at Night
What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

House:

On Monday, the House will meet at meet at 12:00 p.m. for morning hour and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business. Votes on legislation under suspension of the rules will be postponed until 6:30 p.m:

1) H.R. 514 – Human Trafficking Prioritization Act (Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith / Foreign Affairs Committee)

2) H.R. 515 – International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking (Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith / Foreign Affairs Committee)

3) H.R. 357 – Human Trafficking Prevention Act (Sponsored by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney / Foreign Affairs Committee)

4) H.R. 468 – Enhancing Services for Runaway and Homeless Victims for Youth Trafficking Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Joe Heck / Education and Workforce Committee)

5) H.R. 469 – Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass / Education and Workforce Committee)

6) H.R. 246 – To improve the response to victims of child sex trafficking (Sponsored by Rep. Joyce Beatty / Education and Workforce Committee)

On Tuesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business and will consider legislation under suspension of the rules:

1) H.R. 398 – Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Renee Ellmers / Energy and Commerce Committee)

2) H.R. 460 – Human Trafficking Detection Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Mark Walker / Homeland Security Committee)

3) H.R. 350 – Human Trafficking Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem / Judiciary Committee)

4) H.R. 159 – Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen / Judiciary Committee)

5) H.R. 181 – Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe / Judiciary Committee)

6) H.R. 285 – Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner / Judiciary Committee)

The House will also vote on H.R. 351 – LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson / Energy and Commerce Committee)

On Wednesday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business. Last votes expected no later than 3:00 p.m. The House will consider H.R. 399 – Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Michael McCaul / Homeland Security Committee)

House Democrats travel to Philadelphia on Wednesday for the start of their 2 1/2-day, closed-door party legislative retreat. Obama plans to join them on Thursday.

On Thursday and Friday, the House may meet in pro forma session. No votes are expected.

Senate:

The Senate this week will resume consideration of a bill to require the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline (S.1). At 5:30 p.m. the Senate plans a roll-call vote on invoking cloture on the manager’s substitute to S. 1, authorizing construction of the $8 billion pipeline to transport crude from Canada to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast. The White House veto threat cites the need for the State Department to finish its review of the project.

White House:

On Monday, the president is in New Delhi, India.

On Tuesday, President Obama travels to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and other officials to pay respects after the death of King Abdullah.

On Wednesday, the president is slated to participate in the ceremonial send-off for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

On Thursday, President Obama is expected to speak at the House Democrats’ policy retreat in Philadelphia.

Also this Week:

Appropriations – In the next few weeks, the Senate next may turn to another bill under a veto threat: H.R. 240, a House-passed appropriations measure that would bar Obama from implementing his executive order delaying deportation of undocumented immigrants. The underlying bill would fund the Homeland Security Department through Sept. 30. McConnell said he’ll try to clear the House bill despite the president’s veto threat. The legislation is unlikely to garner the required 60 votes needed to end debate and put the bill up for a vote.

Attorney General – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold confirmation hearings Wednesday and Thursday on Obama’s nomination of Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder as U.S. attorney general. Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley (R-Iowa) said Lynch’s confirmation may be a platform for members to press the Administration on immigration. Lynch is widely expected to be confirmed by the committee and the full Senate as early as February.

Budget – The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this afternoon will release its yearly outlook of the national budget and economy as well as budget projections from now through 2025 starting at 2 p.m. CBO Director Douglas W. Elmendorf will give a press briefing at 3 p.m.

Education – The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on teacher and school leader support under No Child Left Behind. On Wednesday, the committee will markup the “Strengthening Education Through Research Act.”

Health – The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday called “Examining Public Health Legislation to Help Patients and Local Communities.” The committee will review a series of bills related to domestic public health. On Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on employer wellness programs.

Housing – The House Financial Services Committee plans a hearing Tuesday on sustainable financing of housing. Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt is scheduled to testify.

Immigration – The House will consider a border security bill on Wednesday.  The legislation sponsored by Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish “operational control” of the entire Southern border by blocking all unlawful entries in five years. The bill passed in the Committee strictly along partisan lines.  The legislation faces opposition from Democrats who would prefer more realistic border security measures and from some conservatives because it does not address the president’s actions on immigration.

Labor – House Democrats will reintroduce the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act at a 1 p.m. press conference Monday. The legislation would provide up to six weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees.

Tax – House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested they were open to one part of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union tax pitch: tripling the maximum Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for those with kids under 5. Boehner: “We’ll take a look at this when he sends his budget up, something that could be looked at in the overall context of simplifying our tax code and bringing rates down for everyone.”

The Promise of the Affordable Care Act Must Reach All Communities

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law, more than 15 million Americans have received some type of health coverage. This open enrollment period alone has seen almost 7 million new sign-ups. Still, there are many more to reach, especially in the Latino community, where one in four remains uninsured.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Latino population is a community that is especially vulnerable to disparities. They often require special health care needs, and in some instances the ACA now provides important protections and benefits to ensure LGBT people can access that care.

New civil rights provisions in the ACA expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, class, sex, age, disability, and certain other categories. The provision, known as Section 1557, applies nondiscrimination protections to any and all health programs that receive funding from the federal government. The federal Health Insurance Marketplace and the plans sold through it are all covered under this nondiscrimination provision.

For many LGBT people living with HIV, diabetes, cancer, or other chronic conditions, even obtaining health coverage has long been a challenge. Before the ACA, having a preexisting condition meant that someone could be legally barred from getting insurance. Now companies must adhere to strict rules that disallow companies from refusing health care to anyone with any preexisting condition.

Reaching communities that are especially susceptible to our health system’s disparities is paramount if the promise of the ACA is to be fulfilled. We must communicate what the ACA means and connect eligible individuals to information and resources necessary to understanding their options for enrolling in a plan that meets their budget and needs. Let’s work to make sure the promise and benefits of the ACA reaches our entire community!

The deadline to enroll in coverage through the Marketplace is February 15, 2015. To learn more, head to healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596.

This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending Jan. 23

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Week Ending January 23

This week in immigration reform: President Obama defends executive action in annual speech to the country; House to vote on border security bill; states propose legislation affecting DREAMers; and Elle Magazine profiles the story of Anabel Barron, an immigrant mother and staff member at a NCLR Affiliate.

NCLR kept the community informed on immigration with staff quoted in Las Américas, El País, andMSNBC.

President Promises to Protect Administrative Relief in the State of the Union Address: In his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined a plan to promote the economic vitality of the middle class, to improve access to education and workforce training, and to ensure the progress made over the past six years isn’t reversed by partisan policies. Additionally, the president promised to block any legislation seeking to end administrative relief for millions of families. NCLR issued a press statement responding to the speech, including a statement by President and CEO Janet Murguía: “We are pleased to hear the president reiterate his plans to defend administrative relief regardless of any attempts by Congress to backtrack on this issue. His executive action will make our economy stronger, our country safer, and millions of American families more stable. The new Congress now has a choice to make on immigration—improve the situation, or make it worse. We hope they’ll choose to be agents of progress by finally delivering sensible and effective immigration legislation.”

House Republican Leadership to Bring Enforcement-only bill up for a vote: A border security bill, the “Secure Our Borders First Act,” will come to the floor for a vote next week in the House. The bill, sponsored by Congressman McCaul (R-Texas), would impose penalties for federal agencies that fail to meet certain requirements, like achieving “operational control” of the border in five years. “Operation control” would mean preventing every single illegal border crossing. NCLR opposes this enforcement-only approach which sets up unrealistic measures and wastes taxpayers’ dollars by throwing more money at flawed programs.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard chosen to manage Homeland Security budget bill:  House Democrats tapped Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) to oversee the annual Department of Homeland Security budget bill, the first Latino to serve in that role. APolitico article highlights how critical it is to have a Latino voice in the DHS funding debate, especially one that understands the human aspect of immigration with a dedication to protect the children of immigrants. “I have young Dreamers who because of the president’s policy have been able to go to college and get education and they come back to the community as teachers and attorneys. There’s tremendous value,” Roybal-Allard said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t protect our borders, but I think everything depends on the premise, where we start.”

Nebraska and Virginia take action on policies regarding DREAMers: This week, a bill was introduced in Nebraska to allow DREAMers to obtain driver’s licenses in the only state with a policy barring DACA-recipients from getting a license. According to an Associated Press article, the bill has support from not only immigrant advocates, but business interests as well. The Nebraska Cattlemen Associate and the Nebraska Restaurant Association have both voiced support for the measure, emphasizing the economic benefits of immigrant workers in a state facing a labor shortage. “This is about growing Nebraska and being pro-business,” said Kristen Hassebrook, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Cattlemen Association. “We’re looking for people who want to live in rural Nebraska, who have the requisite skills to work with us, and who want to do the work that we do. And often, the folks at the top end up being from an immigrant background.”

In Virginia, a bill barring DREAMers from receiving in-state tuition failed to pass the Senate, partially as a result of immigrant advocates and protestations by undocumented immigrant students. A Washington Post article notes that, even if the bill passed the Virginia Legislature, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) said he would veto the “counterproductive and mean-spirited” legislation.

NCLR Affiliate staff member and advocate profiled in Elle magazine: Anabel Barron was born in Mexico, but grew up in a large family in San Antonio. She eventually came to live in Lorain, Ohio with her four U.S. citizen children. One day on her way to work, she was stopped for speeding and, unable to provide a driver’s license, was picked up by Border Patrol and placed in deportation proceedings. With help from community based organization, HOLA, support from her local church community and pro bono assistance from a local attorney, Anabel was granted a stay of removal, providing her with work authorization and a temporary Social Security number, enabling her to get a U.S. driver’s license. Anabel now works at NCLR Affiliate, El Centro and is hoping to go back to school for a degree in social work. Her story has a happy ending, but millions of families are still under the threat of deportation. President Obama’s executive action attempts to ease those fears. However, a comprehensive solution to a broken and harmful immigration system is needed to protect families, to grow the economy, and to ensure America stays true to its ideals. Read the entire profile.

Congress Should Not Impede the Nation’s Progress

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(This was originally posted to Huffington Post’s Latino Voices)

The president’s sixth State of the Union address to Congress last night was heavy on the actions our country should take to build on the progress that American families have made over the past two years, thanks to a recovering economy. In a statement today, NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía called on policymakers to continue expanding opportunities for hardworking families and protect programs that have improved the lives of millions of Latinos.

“We implore lawmakers to pursue a legislative agenda that will continue to secure the economic futures of all Americans, including Latinos, by promoting policies that help create quality jobs, ensure our workforce has the necessary training and education available to compete in the 21st-century job market, protect vital tax credits for working families, and open up credit access to qualified home-buyers,” said Murguía.

A number of policy proposals aimed at improving conditions for working families were announced in the days leading up to the State of the Union address. Among them is a plan to extend tax credits to middle- and low-income families. We strongly support this much-needed change in policy that will surely help many more Americans reach their full potential.

Murguía also expressed support for President Obama’s proposal to cut fees on Federal Housing Administration loans, which would enable more first-time homebuyers to purchase a house. On the education front, the president further outlined his plan to make higher education more affordable for millions of hardworking students. This is especially crucial for Latinos. Our community has seen significant increases in high school graduation and college enrollment rates, but more must be done to guarantee that quality higher education remains affordable and accessible for everyone.

“Pursuing policies that open opportunities and provide Americans with the tools to achieve their dreams is not a Republican or Democratic ideal—it is an American ideal,” said Murguía. “We echo the president’s call for both parties to work together so they can find common ground to continue moving this country forward.”

Smiling DoctorPresident Obama also addressed the Affordable Care Act, emphasizing his administration’s success in enrolling more Americans. At NCLR, we have been actively working with our Affiliate Network and other national organizations in mobilizing and enrolling as many Latinos as possible in health insurance. In fact, over the past year, nearly seven million people have signed up for coverage, resulting in a significant drop in uninsured Hispanics.

On administrative relief, one of the most significant policy changes for nearly five million immigrants, the president defended his action and vowed to veto any bill that would undo it.

“We are pleased to hear the president reiterate his plans to defend administrative relief regardless of any attempts by Congress to backtrack on this issue. His executive action will make our economy stronger, our country safer, and millions of American families more stable,” said Murguía. “The new Congress now has a choice to make on immigration—improve the situation, or make it worse. We hope they’ll choose to be agents of progress by finally delivering sensible and effective immigration legislation.”

Find out more about our 2015 legislative agenda in our report, “State of Hispanic America: Striving for Equitable Opportunity.”