Tag Archives: migration

Draw The Lines That Shape Your Future

In 2018, Stephanie Hofeller, the estranged daughter of Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller, released files from her deceased father’s disk drives that eventually led to the Supreme Court decision to remove the controversial citizenship question from the Census.

The Hofeller files had a significant impact– they confirmed that politicians and political operatives were creating strategies to disenfranchise minority communities and manipulating redistricting laws to favor one race and one party.

Thomas Hofeller was credited with masterminding the 2001 and 2011 redistricting process for the Republican Party. He travelled the country wherever Republicans controlled the legislature and redistricting process, and rigged political maps to give Republicans an unfair advantage in winning elections and holding on to legislatures.

The citizenship question was born from Hofeller’s tactics to gerrymander voting districts in favor of the Republican party.

In Texas, Hofeller discovered that thousands of Latinos and minorities could be eliminated from the decennial by adding a citizenship question to the Census. In an unpublished study  he concluded that adding the citizenship question to the census would be ‘”advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” when voting districts were redrawn.

Stephanie Hofeller shared this information with watchdog group Common Cause who added it to their legal fight challenging legislative maps her father had drawn for North Carolina. The information then made its way into lawsuits challenging the citizenship question at the Supreme Court, which eventually decided to axe the question from the Census altogether.

Political and gerrymandering schemes like these deter vulnerable minority communities from participating in the census, warned Kathy Feng of Common Cause in a briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services. She emphasized that politicians could exploit redistricting to skew power in their favor, making it increasingly important to ‘advocate vociferously’ for everyone to be counted in the census.

Feng urged communities to get involved in the redistricting process to increase their voting power and ability to elect a candidate of their choice.

As the nation grows more diverse, the changing face of America has to be reflected at every political level. Elected officials must voice the needs and concerns of the neighborhoods and communities they represent, instead of serving their own political interests.

When this does not happen, communities suffer.

What Redistricting Does

Voting districts are redrawn every ten years to reflect population shifts in communities across the country and ensure equal representation for all residents.

By law, once the Census is complete by December 31, the Census Bureau must release data on how many people live in each state and determine how many representatives will be allocated to each state in Congress.

Redistricting is an attempt to set the balance straight.

But when redistricting gets distorted, the imbalance can devastate communities.

Gerrymandering Hurts Communities

In 2012, Koreatown, the densely populated Korean American community in LA, was carved into four different districts along a valuable piece of real estate on the Wilshire Corridor that local politicians coveted for its donors, businesses and development prospects.

Koreatown is a largely immigrant, non-English speaking community that fell prey to politicians who illegally gerrymandered district boundaries, and formed voter blocks based on race, to give themselves the advantage in future council elections.

Despite appeals challenging the division, recounts Feng, during the 9/11 media blackout, the legislature split the community “into four different pieces behind a cloak of secrecy,” denying Koreatown residents a chance for more balanced and greater political power.

In another example of unfair redistricting, Watts, a predominantly African American and Latino community in SoCal was hit by a freak snowstorm in 2003, and appealed to congressional, assembly and senate offices for emergency aid. At the time Watts was split into three different districts and residents were told, “We don’t really represent you.” Feng described how residents “were essentially ping-ponged from one office to another and it took more than a week for the state to finally declare an emergency.”

If the communities in Watts were combined into a single district, they would have had enough voice to demand the state and federal help they deserved.

“The districting process not only can determine which candidates will win in specific districts, but also can determine which party ultimately controls our local, state, and federal legislatures,” writes Douglas J. Amy,  a leading expert on electoral voting systems at Mount Holyoke College. “In a very real way, then, the political manipulation of district lines devalues the vote and undermines the democratic process.”

Census Challenges Impacting the Redistricting Process

Redistricting can be complicated by populations shifting across district and state lines over a ten year timeframe, but this year operations have been hobbled by the unprecedented restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

People remain hard to count due to COVID-19

The Census Bureau faces a challenging task counting everyone with quarantines keeping people isolated and out of reach. If enumerators cannot gather data from hard to count, quarantined households, an accurate census count may be impossible. The decennial could exclude people who don’t self-respond because they have no computer or broadband access, and  “others may not even be sure about responding,” said Feng.

The Census Bureau has extended the timeline for data gathering through October, and redistricting could begin by July 31, 2021.

But it’s unlikely that lines can be redrawn in time before the next primary elections for federal and state candidates. 

The US population is on the move

Last year, the Census Bureau released data showing that the US population was moving southwards.  UC Berkeley reported that  the California housing crisis created an exodus from the Golden State as a shortage of affordable homes and low rents forced middle and low income people inland and to the south.

“In a recession or when times are hard, people move,” commented Feng.

Migration has an impact on how many seats are apportioned to each state for congressional representatives, because district lines have to be redrawn to reflect revised population counts.

As long as California’s population remains static, the state will retain its current quota of 53 representatives. But if the census count reveals a decline in population as people move to other states, CA will lose congressional seats. Projections from Election Data Services indicate that Texas and Florida are on track to gain congressional seats as more people move south. Between 2010 to 2019, cities in Texas –  Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth and Dallas – added the most people.

However, redistricting lines were drawn ten years ago and do not accurately reflect the current numbers of residents – populations shrink or increase as people move, are born or immigrate in each district.

“Ultimately you want to make sure that each district has an equal number of residents.” confirmed Kathy Feng. Essentially each district must have the same voice when it comes to electing their representatives, not just in Congress, “but all the way down to the state legislature, city council, and school board.”

The term ‘resident’, Feng clarified, means every citizen, immigrant, and undocumented person in the district, not “just the number of voters.”

Reform Redistriction

Traditionally, legislators were responsible for redrawing district lines, a practice that Feng called “self-serving” because legislators were influenced by partisan interests or preserving their own ability to rerun for office.

California led redistricting reform by selecting 14 independent commissioners from diverse communities, to inform the redistricting process by gathering input from public forums around the state. Citizen commissions offer communities an opportunity to share information and form districts based on where they reside.

In Culver City, “People lined up as if they were going to a rock concert rather than a public hearing” about their community,” recalls Feng.

California’s award winning initiative has set the national standard for independent redistricting through public engagement. Nine states have followed its lead. Michigan is giving power back to communities by adopting new rules to allow for the creation of a citizen’s commission to redraw lines.

By standing up to be counted, people could eliminate partisan gerrymandering in their districts and shape the future of their communities.  Equal representation from redistricting will empower minority communities if they choose to participate more actively in the census.

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents


Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

 

image: Elkanah Tisdale, Wikimedia

images: Kathy Feng, Common Cause

Developing World Reels From Pandemic Fallout

More than 265 million around the world currently face food insecurity in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and several million have lost their life-line of remittances, according to experts speaking at an ethnic media conference May 8 on the pandemic’s impact on the developing world.  

“COVID-19 is expected to double the number of people facing food insecurity. The world has never seen a pandemic like this,” said Dulce Gamboa, associate for Latino relations at Bread for the World.

Remittances — money sent from people working abroad to their families back home — have taken a huge hit, said Demetrios Papademetriou, who co-founded the Migration Policy Institute and is currently a Distinguished Transatlantic Fellow at the Washington DC-based think tank. The World Bank has estimated that $142 billion has been lost in remittances, as foreign workers lose their jobs to the coronavirus crisis.

“Remittances are an essential lifeline for people who receive that money. They will be thinner and more precarious,” said Papademetriou.

He equated the COVID-19 crisis to the decade-long Great Depression in the U.S. in the 1930s, and characterized it as an “economic abyss.” 

Daniel Nepstad, President and Founder of Earth Innovation Institute, discussed the impact of the pandemic on the Amazon rainforest, the largest tropical rainforest in the world. The summer months are typically burning season in the forest, as villagers burn patches to use for agricultural purposes.

In a normal year, thousands of people would get respiratory illnesses as forests burn. This year, however, Nepstad predicted an increased number of deaths as the COVID-19 virus attacks people whose immune systems are already compromised.

In Manaus, Brazil, deep in the Amazon rainforest, Nepstad reported that mass graves have been erected for those succumbing to the virus. In Loreto, Peru, a lack of oxygen bottles has contributed to a high mortality rate from COVID. 

The biggest threat to the rain forest comes from people fleeing there as a last resort, Nepstad said. Farmers can no longer bring their products to markets, which have shuttered in the wake of the pandemic. More than 200,000 migrants have left Lima, Peru by foot, walking through deserts and up into the highlands and from there to the rainforest for some measure of food security.

Nepstad urged the global community to support farmers in the Amazon — providing them with seed capital to grow tree crops which have a longer life-span — and also advocated for the formalizing of supply chains and for fair price support. 

“Now is the time for solidarity, listening to local leaders and understanding what they need,” said Nepstad. “We tend to demonize the people that are clearing forests, but I think it’s important to have more nuance there.”

“Lots of people are extracting food by clearing the rain forests. We eat that food around the world.”

Even if there is no surge in food prices, the global hunger pandemic will continue, said Gamboa, noting that the situation will deteriorate most rapidly in countries where a large percentage of the labor force works in the informal economy.

Yemen currently faces the worst food insecurity crisis, said Gamboa, with 53 percent of its population — almost 16 million people — facing starvation. 

Sudan and Nigeria are likely to be hit by famines, she said. Zimbabwe, South Africa, the Congo, and the Horn of Africa are also facing massive food insecurity issues due to high inflation, poor harvests and drought. 

“Malnourished people have less effective immune systems,” said Gamboa, adding that a child who is malnourished during his first 1,000 days of life will face a lifetime of stunted growth, both physically and intellectually.

“People are saying ‘we’re going to die of hunger before we die of coronavirus.’”

“The U.S. needs to have strong leadership to help millions of people around the world, including women and children,” stated Gamboa. 

Global migration has ground to a halt as countries close their borders and restrict incoming travel, said Papademetriou. However, there has been a significant amount of labor migration as people in developing countries return home, he said.

“There has been an elite consensus that has allowed migration to continue to be large and to thrive because of the demography of many of the rich countries,” said Papademetriou. “We will have to see if that elite consensus continues to hold as this pandemic continues,” he said, adding that countries will have to reassess afresh the number of immigrant workers they need, especially in the agricultural sector.

Papademetriou said it was too early to assess whether the U.S. would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants, many of whom are now considered essential workers.

“I have spent 14 years of attempting to come up with compromises that legislators on both sides were able to support. We have failed every single time.”

“The last time we failed big was in 2013 under President Obama. So it’s difficult for me to be optimistic,” said Papademetriou.

 

This article was published with permission from the author.

Young Indian Girl Dies While Crossing Border

Did you hear of the death of 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur?

Gurupreet’s body was found by U.S. Border Patrol agents in a remote desert outside the Lukeville, Arizona point of entry on Wednesday, June 12th, just days before her seventh birthday.

She died of heat stroke in the Arizona desert where temperatures were 108 degrees Fahrenheit, according to U.S. Border Patrol and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME).

Gurupreet and her mother were reportedly among a group of five Indian nationals who were dropped off by migrant traffickers in a remote area on the U.S.-Mexico border. Her mother and another woman went in search of water, leaving Gurupreet with two others from the group. Gurupreet’s mother was found by a U.S. Border Patrol agent 22 hours later. Four hours after that, Border Patrol agents found Gurupreet’s body.

Seven migrant children have died in immigration custody since last year. Hundreds more have died close to ports of entry while attempting to make the perilous journey through the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border.

South Asian Americans Leading Together SAALT is sending a letter of inquiry to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, Kevin K. McAleenan this week, demanding an investigation into Gurupreet’s death and information about her mother and the other migrants in their group.

As U.S. Customs and Border Protection has escalated border enforcement and aggressively turned away migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry, deaths have continued to mount. Migrants are forced right back into the dangerous conditions that CBP and other federal agencies often blame on migrant traffickers and smugglers.

Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Co-Executive Director of SAALT said, “U.S. border militarization, forced migration, and rejection of migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry have created an environment where a child like Gurupreet, can die in the desert, alone. Until this system is completely defunded and a new one is created that upholds the dignity of all migrants – we will continue to see unspeakable tragedies, not withstanding the countless deaths that go undocumented. While ICE and CBP have experienced unprecedented surges in their budgets, their treatment of migrants has plunged to new lows. ”

SAALT has been tracking both the rise in the number of South Asians crossing the border over the last 5 years and their treatment in detention facilities. Between October 2014 and April 2018, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested over 17,000 South Asians.

Of the South Asians who end up in detention facilities, SAALT has tracked a pattern of abuse including inadequate language access, lack of religious accommodations, medical neglect, use of solitary confinement, and unacceptably high bond amounts.

We urge our communities to stay engaged and active on this urgent issue.

Stay updated and active by following our updates and action alerts on Twitter (SAALTweets) and Facebook (facebook.com/talktosaalt).

You can also support by donating to these organizations that provide immediate assistance:

  • The Fronterizo Fianza Fund is a community bond (fianza) fund based in El Paso and serving Far West Texas and New Mexico. Many detained migrants have no chance to be released while they wait the months or years until their trial. When someone does receive a bond, they are often way out of reach for most families, ranging anywhere from $1,500-50,000.
  • The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project is the only organization in Arizona that provides free legal and social services to detained men, women, and children under threat of deportation.
  • The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas.