The Latino Action Network is a grassroots organization composed of individuals and organizations that are committed to engaging in collective action at the local, state and national levels in order to advance the equitable inclusion of the diverse Latino communities in all aspects of United States society.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Is New Jersey Racist?

[The article below features the executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network (APN), Renee Koubiadis, who we are proud to have as a member of the Steering Committee of the Latino Action Network. Please take a moment to read the article and the related report issued by the APN "The Unconfortable Truth: Racism, Injustice and Poverty", which will serve as a guiding document in the policy discussions we must have in our state in the months and years to come if we are to close the gaps that divide the people of New Jersey.  Pa'lante! - Christian Estevez, President, Latino Action Network]

The Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey recently released “The Uncomfortable Truth: Racism, Injustice and Poverty,” a report that details the effects of structural racism that has long tainted many of our public institutions, and offers a wide range of recommendations on how to combat those effects. What the report makes clear is that the threads of structural racism extend to virtually all aspects of our lives, and untangling those threads will be a long and complex process. We asked the executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network, Renee Koubiadis, to explain more about the findings in the report and her organization’s goals with its release.

The Uncomfortable Truth report focuses on what is referred to as “structural racism.” What does that mean, exactly?

Renee Koubiadis

File photo

Structural racism refers to disparate access to opportunity that is imbedded in the social structures. It is not a direct expression of overt discrimination or prejudice; but it is the residue of the more direct, open racist policies of the past.

What’s to blame for this type of pervasive racism that affects so many of our institutions? Are we talking about actively racist policies, or a kind of underlying racist instinct that impacts our lives in ways difficult to see and identify?

Structural racism is the result of historical conscious and unintentional policies, decisions and programs that have become deeply embedded in today’s culture and institutions. It operates as a perpetuating force and serves as a resistance to change in the historic distribution of wealth. Structural racism can be seen in the results it produces with deep inequities for people of color.

We tend to equate racism with offensive stereotyping and abusive treatment. But is it fair to say that many of us — or most of us — are affected by a more benign racism that maybe causes us to, for example, accept certain stereotypes without condemning them? Perhaps that kind of racism isn’t as harmless as we might like to think?

Systemic racism can operate whether or not the individuals involved hold explicit or subliminal racist attitudes. In its most common form, it is simply the perpetuation of a “status quo” that was shaped by the virulent, overt, intentional racism of the past. It can operate through apparently race-blind policies and purportedly merit-based systems of consequence and reward. It can be worsened by personal prejudice, certainly, but it does not require conscious prejudice. It requires only complacency with a system that produces racist results, as demonstrated by racial and ethnic disparities that have economic and social consequences. As recognized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his leadership to address structural as well as explicit racism, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

So if we’re focusing on a broad cultural racism as opposed to individual biases, how does that affect people of color in practice? Are we talking about impacts in every facet of their lives, or do they tend to manifest themselves in specific areas?

The report covers in detail the way that structural racism impacts people of color in housing, access to economic opportunity, the criminal justice system, legal and civil protections, health care, and access to adequate nutrition. With each chapter on these topics, there are a number of policy recommendations for how our state can move forward to ending structural racism.

Let’s zero in one area to highlight. Structural racism has a significant impact on economic opportunities and success and is a driving force behind poverty. What statistics out there best quantify that?

The recent United Way of Northern New Jersey ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed) report shows that 14 percent of people of color are below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) in New Jersey, while 33 percent are ALICE. It means that 47 percent of people of color in New Jersey have income insufficient to meet all of their basic necessities. This compares to 7 percent of white households who live below the FPL level and 24 percent who are ALICE. Further, a 2012 study found that African American women spent seven more months on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) assistance than white women. However, they were no more likely to pass the five-year lifetime limit for TANF that was imposed in 1996. The same study found that when these women found employment, it was mostly low-wage. In addition, a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies showed that wealth of the median black household declined 75 percent between 1983 and 2013. The median wealth of Latino households declined 50 percent during the same time. It is estimated by the year 2024 whites will own 99 and 75 times the wealth of blacks and Latinos respectively. These income and wealth disparities are the result of job discrimination, discriminatory zoning policies that excluded African Americans from following the good jobs to the suburbs, and educational disadvantages generated by our “apartheid” school system.

Let’s talk a little about the many recommendations included in the report. They cover a lot of ground on how to combat structural racism, but can you summarize the overall goals? Do you hope in time to reduce racism in our society, or is the focus more on better adapting to the presence of that racism?

APN set about developing this report to call for a statewide committed, coordinated action to dismantle structural racism. Utilizing education, mobilization and advocacy, community members, government officials, religious institutions, organizations, businesses and legislators can work together to help eradicate the harsh outcomes of structural racism on people living in poverty in New Jersey. We intend to generate a public response that will lead to the implementation of policies and legislation reflective of the findings and recommendations in the report.

“The Uncomfortable Truth: Racism, Injustice and Poverty,” a report that details the effects of ...more

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Among the recommendations is the restoration of the Office of the Public Advocate. Why is that so important in this context?

A restored independent Office of the Public Advocate, having the power and resources to audit public agencies, would have as a priority mandate the charge to evaluate policies or programs that perpetuate racial and gender disparity in our state. The Public Advocate would be the voice of aggrieved, disadvantaged residents of our state, those affected by public policies and actions that are unjust, inequitable, discriminatory or contrary to the public good.

A major point of emphasis in the report is the need to prioritize the problem. Yet it feels like as a society we’re moving in the wrong direction on discrimination. Do you believe that’s truly the case, or is that perception unduly influenced by what we’re seeing in Washington?

As a nation we were built upon racism, with slave labor propelling us forward in our growth. Individual, overt racism is not something that we studied for this report. There is certainly national attention currently focusing on people who both espouse racially charged speech and those who seek peace and justice. The fact that structural racism exists is undeniable. That is why it is so important to begin a concerted effort to educate the public and examine the ways in which structural racism perpetuates poverty and keeps a large portion of our residents from being able to fully participate in our state’s economy. Moreover, including people of color with lived experience of poverty in the work ahead is critical to moving forward towards meaningful, lasting change.

How does New Jersey compare to other states in terms of its structural racism? Are there lessons to be learned from other locales that will help here?

New Jersey is the third most segregated state in the nation in terms of housing and education. People of color have consistently been denied access to opportunity in terms of where they live, access to jobs and education, and barriers in the form of a discriminatory criminal justice system. APN and the John Watson Institute of Public Policy at Thomas Edison State University released “The Cost of Poverty,” in May 2016, which outlines how we have pushed poverty into all of our urban areas big and small over the last few decades. These municipalities are left without a business and corporate tax base and other resources to deal with this great need. While people of color are disproportionately pushed into poverty across the nation, segregation from opportunity in New Jersey is what sets us apart.

Structural racism is by its nature embedded in our culture; some examples we don’t even recognize because we’ve never seen the alternative. Doesn’t that mean that any meaningful progress is destined to be slow at best?

The speed with which structural racism is addressed is directly related to express, unequivocal, aggressive recognition that it exists and is embodied in any given policy or practice. Once the public comes to understand and accept this judgment, failure to act is intentional racism. Remedial actions can be as swift as the rapid, nearly unanimous acceptance of same-sex marriage. We need to be prepared for the long haul, but open to the possibility of more expeditious responses when the opportunity arises. We have already received positive response from New Jersey’s leaders on some of the recommendations in the report. Indeed, recommendations like increasing the TANF benefit level and eliminating the family cap have been passed by our legislature with bipartisan support twice in the current legislative session, but were vetoed by our governor. So there are solutions we know that our leaders, advocates and residents agree upon that can be achieved more quickly.

If you were to prioritize the report’s own recommendations, where do you believe is the best place to start?

Two of the over-arching recommendations in the report: to reestablish the Office of the Public Advocate and strengthen the Division of Civil Rights would go a long way toward providing a voice and protections for people of color who face significant barriers to economic opportunity. These offices would be helpful to residents who are victims of wrongful evictions, car repossessions, and discrimination in employment and housing.

So look ahead for us — five years, 20 years, whatever time frame you think is appropriate. What do you believe would represent a successful outcome from The Uncomfortable Truth report?

Over the next 10 years, APN hopes that this report will spark meaningful discussion across the state about structural racism and the way it manifests in people’s lives. We believe that more research and data collection must be done to truly understand all of the issues. Further, the intent of the report is to build consensus among community members, government officials, religious institutions, organizations, businesses, legislators, and people with lived experience of poverty to not only change the conversation, but to enact a number of the policy solutions in the report so that structural racism would be eliminated in New Jersey. If nothing else, we would hope that in 10 years New Jersey has moved well down the list of most segregated states. That would speak to meaningful progress in a profound way.

About the contributor

Renee Koubiadis is executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey. She is a licensed social worker who serves as secretary/treasurer on the Board of the Affordable Homes Group Inc. in Burlington County and on the Board of Trustees for the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness (NJCEH). Previously, she was advocacy coordinator for the National Association of Social Workers – New Jersey chapter, and assistant state director for the Citizens’ Campaign.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Unidos Por Puerto Rico

The Latin American Coalition is collecting relief supplies for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico this weekend (Saturday, October 7 and Sunday, October 8) in the rear parking lot of Plainfield City Hall. See announcement below for details. 

LUPE PAC Annual Awards Reception

LUPE PAC Annual Awards Reception honors outstanding leaders who are shaping politics and policy in the state of New Jersey. The honorees are leaders who have a record of supporting LUPE PAC's mission to increase the number of Latinas in NJ elected and non-elected office. Join LUPE in honoring their service to New Jersey.

Individual tickets $125

For more information, contact Cristina Pinzon at 908-447-3964 or via email at 

New Jersey DACA and Immigrant Youth Assembly

Join DACA and a Immigrant Youth from throughout the state and fight for a clean DREAM Act!

Friday, September 29, 2017

GRAN FIESTA JÍBARA - this Saturday @ The Newark Public Library

Come celebrate the music and the people of Puerto Rico this Saturday at the Newark Public Library and learn how you can support relief efforts on the island.

Saturday, September 30, 2017     
2:00 – 3:30 pm
Centennial Hall
Newark Public Library

Jíbaro music has its roots in the musical forms that came to the island from Spain during the time of colonization and settlement. In it you can hear the influence of eight centuries of Arab domination in Spain, as well as the legacy of the Taíno, the island’s native people. Rubén Figueroa and Conjunto Ritmo Tropical bring an  orquesta jíbara  to the Library this Saturday.  Bring your family, your maracas, güiros, and bongos, and enjoy a gran fiesta jíbara.

*This event is free and open to the public *
Need more information?   Contact  or  call 973-733-7772

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Ending DACA harms N.J.'s economy, wastes future of Americanized immigrants | Opinion

By Erika J. Nava 

Ending the common-sense 2012 immigration initiative that has allowed more than 20,000 young New Jerseyans realize the promise of the American Dream and contribute to the state's economy would waste the potential of these young striving immigrants -- and cause serious harm to the Garden State's economy. 

In fact, New Jersey would be one of the hardest hit states -- with the fifth largest economic loss -- if this successful program is ended.  

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows some undocumented young residents who were brought to the United States as minors to stay in the country and work legally. Since its inception, it has given 800,000 young people across the nation a better shot at success. And its recipients have capitalized on the opportunity, getting better jobs, earning higher wages, increasing their participation in the consumer economy and paying taxes. 

But now DACA is under attack and President Trump has only until Sept. 5 to either end the program or fight a lawsuit from 10 state attorneys general; rumors are swirling that he may end the program at any moment. Doing so would disproportionately harm communities across immigrant-rich New Jersey and would be a huge step backward for the country.  

To many undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. as young children, DACA was the first real opportunity to pursue the American Dream and show their potential in ways that had been denied to them solely because of their legal status. DACA permitted many of them to obtain a driver's license, secure a job that matched their skillset, purchase their first car, travel abroad, attend college and - most importantly - feel less fear that they'd be separated from their families and communities via deportation.  

By stifling these young immigrants' opportunities, ending DACA would also harm New Jersey's economy.  

When more people are able to work legally in higher paying jobs that match their skills, they are less vulnerable to wage theft, workplace exploitation, and less likely to suffer from discrimination due to their legal status. All of these factors help the economy of our state and the nation, as they are translated into higher tax revenue and more economic productivity.  

With 22,000 DACA recipients, only eight states have a higher number than New Jersey. Of these young New Jerseyans, 87 percent are working. They contribute $66 million in state and local taxes each year, the seventh highest level of all states. Ending DACA would cause an immediate 32 percent reduction in those tax payments. 

But the potential harm to New Jersey's economy is much broader than the reduction in tax collections. In fact, if DACA is repealed, the Garden State would lose an estimated $1.6 billion each year in state Gross Domestic Product - the fifth largest dollar loss of all states.  

Ending DACA would also create economic uncertainty for many families.

Many of the young DREAMers -- armed with the slightest bit of economic security -- have been able to take out loans to buy a car or a home, to pay for college or to open a small business. If the program ends, many of these young immigrants will either lose their job altogether, or be forced back into the shadowy low-wage underground, seriously limiting their ability to keep up with loan repayments and starting a cycle of economic distress.   

New Jersey's Congressional Republicans -- who played an outsized role in ensuring that the Trump administration failed to strip health care from millions -- must step up again and put the best interests of the state and country ahead of political party.

Menendez: ending program for immigrant children would be 'heartless'

Sitting on the sidelines and watching as the lives of enterprising immigrant youth are turned upside down is not OK. Our state's moderate voices must join their GOP colleagues from both blue and red states who are voicing their support for DACA and urging President Trump to keep the program intact.  

Despite the myths and xenophobic falsehoods spread by some, we know that once young immigrants are given the chance to participate in America's economy and society, they capitalize on the opportunity.

And we all benefit. Lawmakers should be focused on providing these -- and other -- striving immigrants a real shot at the American Dream, not on stealing their economic futures and dimming ours.  

Erika J. Nava is a Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank, which drives policy change to advance economic justice and prosperity for all New Jerseyans.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bail Reform is Working In New Jersey

As members of the New Jersey Integrated Justice Alliance and the New Solitions Campaign, the Latino Action Network has been a strong proponent for bail reform. We are happy to announce that bail reform is working in New Jersey. Below are the five month statistics on bail reform that were recently released by the Administrative Office of the Courts. You can view the full stats here, but below are the main highlights:
  • Since January 1st, the jail population in New Jersey has been declined by 19%. When compared to May of 2015, the statewide jail population by almost 36% percent, with reductions as much as 49% in some counties.
  • Around 13% of individuals are being detained after a preventative detention hearing where they are afforded all of their rights. The remaining 87% of defendants are being released on varying levels of monitoring.
These numbers are impressive and demonstrate the success of the reform. Because of the  advocacy of our members, thousands of individuals are awaiting trial at home with their families instead of locked up behind bars.Help us spread the word by tweeting the following:
#BailReform is working in NJ. @NPR on how the jail population has dropped under the reform while crime is falling.
All eyes are on New Jersey as jurisdictions around the country are looking to us as a leader in pretrial justice. Please see the following news articles that highlight the success and leadership of New Jersey’s bail reform.