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.

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

By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR

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.