Blog: Wiener’s Downfall is An Unexpected Opportunity For Racial Justice

Posted on 07/20/2011 @ 03:50 PM

By Juan Cartagena
LatinoJustice President and General Counsel

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Anthony Wiener’s resignation plays right into the demographic reality that New York’s congressional delegation will be two people short in next year’s Congress and the demographic boon that Latinos are the prime engine for New York City’s unprecedented growth in the last decade.

Now New York has a rare opportunity to redraw the boundaries of the state’s delegation to both better reflect the interests of the different neighborhoods in the metropolitan region and strengthen the ability of racial minorities to elect candidates of their choice. New York state begins hearings on redistricting tomorrow (July 19) in Syracuse

The mechanics of redistricting this year are not simple. New York State has to lose two Congressional seats because the State’s population did not keep up with the growth in other states. Following the pattern of decades past the Republican controlled State Senate and the Democratic controlled State Assembly typically share the pain and this will likely result in the Democrats giving up a downstate seat and the Republicans an upstate seat.

Also, each Congressional District has to add an average of 50,000 residents to meet the mandated increase in population size for each District due to the loss of two seats. Unsurprisingly, no Congressional member has volunteered to give up a seat, but since protecting Weiner’s incumbency is no longer necessary, there is enough flexibility to reconfigure the entire metropolitan region so that the various communities of interest, especially Latinos can be better served than they are now under the current lines.

If District 9 is eliminated, minority neighborhoods can be aligned in such a way that their strength at the ballot box is not just preserved but strengthened. The distribution of populations should help strengthen several minority districts throughout the city.

For example, District 12, represented by Nydia Velasquez, needs to grow by 45,000 people. Largely Latino Woodhaven, which is now in District 9, could easily be assigned to Velasquez’s district.

Similarly, the district lines can be reconfigured so as to ensure that the communities of interest between minority neighborhoods can be better aligned and served. African Americans in Caroline McCarthy’s Fourth District in Elmont could be aligned with African American communities in Gregory Meek’s Sixth District, for example.

As tempting as it is to keep the City’s delegation at the same size, maintaining all the current districts will by definition force them to elongate north and east well beyond the City’s borders. It will also jeopardize the Latino community’s current ability to elect candidates of choice in four congressional seats – still way below their proportion of the City’s population.

Instead the proper distribution of these populations with Weiner’s elimination could compensate them for the past deprivations of their voting rights. New York City was found to have violated the voting rights of Latinos and African-Americans not that long ago. Race has always been a major driving force in the electoral process of this country since its founding.

Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, and other racial minorities have been discriminated against at the voting booth in numerous ways. Language and literacy tests, intimidation at polling places, broken or confusing voting machines, and especially the drawing of district lines that minimize their chances to elect candidates of their choice are all schemes that have been used to deny them equal voting opportunities.

The state leaders who draw the lines should take advantage of this unique opportunity in congressional redistricting to give justice especially to the City’s Latino communities that have spurred the growth of the City’s population. Given the track record of previous exclusion, Latino communities deserve no less.

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Civil Rights Groups Fight to end Prison-based Gerrymandering in NY

Posted on 05/25/2011 @ 03:50 PM

Last week, LatinoJustice PRLDEF was one of a group of top civil rights organizations that filed a motion in New York Supreme Court asking to intervene to help defend New York’s new law allocating people in prison to their home communities for redistricting and reapportionment.

The motion asks that the court uphold a law passed last year that would end the practice known as "prison-based gerrymandering," in which prison inmates were counted as residents in the communities where they were serving time, instead of their home communities.

It gives extra influence to voters who live in districts with the most prisons, and dilutes votes in districts with fewer prisons. The Defenders Online gives a good example of a City Council Ward in Rome, NY, where half of the constituents are incarcerated in the nearby prison, giving the other half of the residents basically double the power of political influence.

The new law dictates that prisoners be counted for census and redistricting purposes as members of the communities where they actually reside, and assures that all communities in New York have equal representation in our government.

But a group of NY state senators have sued to overturn the new law. The senators say the law violates the state Constitution, which says the federal Census record of the inhabitants of an area should be used for redistricting. You can read more about the lawsuit in this news story.

LatinoJustice filed the motion to dismiss this lawsuit along with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice, Dmos, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative.

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Blog: Census Critical for Latinos

Posted on 01/13/2011 @ 02:50 PM

By Julia Gonzales
Coordinator of the LatinoJustice Youth Civic Engagement Network

When my friends and I think about the challenges facing our Latino community, we come up with a list of reasons why we can’t stand idly by: a climate of hate and violence against Latinos, the disappointing halt on comprehensive immigration reform, disparate educational opportunities for young people, and forced separations of friends and family.

For Latinos, it is a lot to contend with, and a 10 question US Census survey appears tedious and relatively low on our list of priorities. But we should place it at the top.

One of the best ways for us to confront these injustices and better our communities is to ensure that we are represented in government, that we get all of the services we are entitled to and that our voice is heard. The 2010 US Census in an opportunity to ensure these things.

Experts predict that less than half of Latinos will definitely participate in this year’s census. As a young Latina, I am very concerned for the future of my community should prediction turn to fact.

But concern gets us nowhere. Action, on the other hand, begets change. And as a community we have to make Census participation our personal mission.

Many of us come from large families – my father had 51 first cousins. If I call every member of my family to ensure their participation I have already made an impact. And I will. Between family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, people in the grocery line, or the people who work at our favorite deli we can – and must – ensure an accurate count of our communities.

My friends and I are telling everyone we know and even some people we don’t know that they have to fill out their census forms. Through letters, social networking and even talking to strangers on the subway, we are making it our personal mission to make sure that Latinos are accurately counted.

For every 100 people that go uncounted in the census, a community stands to lose $1.2 million dollars in federal funding over the next decade. Census data supports the creation of public sector jobs, it funds the schools and programs for early childhood education, it funds hospitals and Medicaid, and it documents discrimination and enforces civil rights laws.

One of the most important things to note is that the Census survey does not ask about legal status, and Census representatives are prohibited by law from inquiring about it. The actions of Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona, and in towns whose police are allowed to work as immigration agents have made it difficult to differentiate between federal immigration agents, the police, and the Census Bureau. In this instance, the future of our communities depends on our ability to make that differentiation.

Some in our community are calling for a boycott of the 2010 Census. They claim their boycott is a rallying tool to demand immigration reform. But a lack of participation in the Census renders our communities politically irrelevant and voiceless.

The boycott also sends the wrong message to the Latino community about participation in civic life. As the number of Latinos increase respective to the rest of the population, so must the number of representative seats in our districts. When we have the power and the motivation to elect officials charged with the task of representing our needs in Congress, we will begin to see the improvements our communities crave.

The Census is a survey, and I know that surveys don’t make for sexy action items when it comes to social justice movements. But for a young aspiring lawyer who hopes to be an agent of change in my community, there is nothing more relevant to social justice. We must all fill out our Census surveys and ensure that everyone we know and love do the same.

Read more about the Census 2010 Latino Outreach and Civic Participation Project

Julia Gonzales, originally from Oakland, CA, is a senior at Columbia University. She is currently the Coordinator of the LatinoJustice Youth Civic Engagement Network.

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