#ThxBirthControl. There I Said It.

I remember asking my mom about birth control when I was seventeen. We were in the kitchen and I was helping to set the table--edging out Lil' Sis so that I wouldn't have to clean up after our meal. I was brave and daring. After all, she was chopping our salad ingredients with a ginsu knife likely bought after watching an infomercial. The knife froze. Even a window was open, the room started to feel warm.

No: where do you hear THAT?

No: Virgen Santísima, have you disgraced this familia by going behind the bushes before you're married?

Instead, Mami looked up and said, we'll talk about this when you're eighteen.

I turned eighteen and was off to college. I turned twenty three and I enrolled in a masters program. I moved to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of my professional dream as a correspondent firstly for Al Jazeera English then ABC News.

The conversation never came.

(The only one that approximated the ol' birds and the bees talk came from Papi who warned me that my Colombian boyfriend when I was earning a Ph.D. was after one thing and one thing only--my American citizenship!)

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Let's make one thing clear: Mami is a woman of her world--an immigrant from Colombia, one of the most conservative and Catholic countries in Latin America. She met my father at the pristine age of fifteen. At a debutante ball, my mom was chaperoned by none other than my fierce, watchful abuela who literally controlled Mami's dance card. Una mujer brava, she multi-tasked to protected the family's reputation while hunting for worthy suitors who were husband material for her daughter. Papi persisted--for four years--and my mom married at 19 and had my brother at 20. Fifty-two years and three kids later, they're still married.

This background is important because it explains all the cultural and religious hocus pocus that kept any conversation about birth control as under lock and key as her daughters. My mom has always wanted the best for her daughters and under duress and sacrifice, made sure we had everything to succeed in life. Private School? Check. Year abroad? Check. Her idea that we were born in America and spoke, if not the Queen's, Yale English meant we had a leg up in life she didn't have.

We could do and be anyone we wanted to be.

Except have sex before marriage. As her dreams and modern life's influence on us in the U.S. clashed with her values, the silence around birth control became more severe.

Unfortunately, the silence is not exclusive to my family. 99 percent of adult women report using birth control, according to Bedsider.org--an online birth control support network for women 18-29 operated by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Yet in 2014, many young women don't have their facts straight. I believe this is largely attributed to the veil of secrecy around birth control. The results of this misterio? Chew on this fact: over half (59%) of all pregnancies to unmarried 20-29 year old Latinas are unplanned.

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Raising awareness about and having access to birth control does not mean promoting promiscuity. Rather, it allows women and their partners to be in the driver's seat of when they're going to have a family. This is revolutionary, not just for young women who can opt to stay in school, pursue a career, launch a business, or pay off loans. It can change a family and a community's destiny--from pregnancy being accidental due to lack of information to being intentional with the ensuing benefits that planning affords. Access to birth control leads to stronger and healthier families and communities.

So how did I learn about birth control? Besides what I read in Cosmo, I learned from the nurse at my masters program. I still don't have children. But I have a BA from Cal, a masters from Stanford, and a Ph.D. from Yale. I've traveled extensively for work and pleasure. I became a national television reporter and now own a business that is creating jobs. My success and having a family is not an either/or situation. But I doubt I could have accomplished what and when I did, if I had had kids before I was ready and before having in place the unwavering support of a husband and a boss.

My mother would never say it but I know she doesn't dispute what's next:

#ThxBirthControl.

There. I said it. Now I'm going to tweet and post it on my social media and I invite you to do the same.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. All opinions and stories are my own.

VIDEO: My Latino Midterm Election: At the National Press Club

My_Latino_Midterm_National_Press_Club_Viviana_Hurtado-TheWiseLatinaClub I had the opportunity to speak at the prestigious National Press Club on the "Races to Watch" panel about the Latino vote and candidates' impact on Election 2014. Hosted by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), I joined Daniel Garza from the right of center and Koch brothers funded the LIBRE Initiative and Cristóbal Alex, from the Latino Victory Project which was co-founded by Democratic National Committee finance chief Henry Muñoz and actor Eva Longoria. Click here to read our Q & A with Eva Longoria when she was in Washington, D.C. for her organization's launch.

Whether as a journalist or now as a so-called Latina influencer, I have for more than a decade reported and observed the political process. I've learned to not trust candidates, politicians, or political parties--not because they're bad, but because special interests and power often times preclude doing the right thing or standing up for the little guy. From judicial appointments to legislation such as gun control, getting anything done in Washington, D.C. (note that in state houses and towns across the nation, agendas are moving forward) is an act of God. And when something is achieved, no one is happy because everyone gave too much and gained so little. Always the overachieving scholarship student, it's been hard for me to accept a government that seems to strive to earn a perennial C-.

Democracy is messy. But it's the one we've got. And it belongs not to the Koch Brothers or Barack Obama, but us. A mistaken belief is that my vote can change the system. Not quite and those who peddle in the currency of change need to watch it because the opposite of hope is desencanto or disillusionment. That's a powerful force. But stronger is the agency that derives from our consistent, collective action which over time can shape and influence the politics and policy of our day.

Yet Latinos, despite their mammoth demographic and economic might are yet to translate this into political and social power. Why? That's a question I've attempted to answer in the original series “My Latino Midterm Election” which examines federal data and local interpretations of it (for example, nonpartisan research centers or universities) to quantify voter engagement. Countless nonprofit community organizations and millions of foundation dollars later, Hispanic voting patterns quantify a disappointing return on investment. While the vote has increased and shattered records, about half eligible Latinos don't cast ballots or register. This was the case during Election 2012 when 12 million voted but 11 million did not. And if we drill down at the increases, are the numbers more a reflection of demographic destiny or civic participation born from the realization that I have skin, bruises, sweat, and tears in the game called American democracy and society?

The #fail is epic with blame to go around: political parties and candidates don't grasp a new America that is young and diverse, requiring an outreach and engagement strategy of these "new voters" at the heart of a campaign's DNA and media budget (and not an "add on" in the weeks leading up to the election). It's shameful that before Election 2014, in many races, a large portion of Latinos haven't been micro-targeted and contacted by candidates from both parties. It's a disgrace that more Hispanics aren't registering and participating at the local level such as school boards and town councils. School budgets and public safety are just some of the issues that affect people's lives decided at the local level.

Back to the briefing, the last question was what would be the "story" the day after the election. My answer: the same as the day after Election 2012:

Wow! The Latino Vote!

Forever optimistic, I hope the current round-the-clock last minute efforts to mobilize voters will include more Hispanics than what political pundits and the media predict. And with many races close, a win may come down to a relatively small number of votes. Just a few thousand Latinos votes could change the balance of power in Washington and have big repercussions going into the Presidential election of 2016.

Indeed, our vote is our voice. For Latinos, many come from mixed-status families and neighborhoods which magnifies the power and significance of our ballot because our vote contains the hopes, frustrations, and desencanto of our collective familia.

Vote for yourself.

But remember, you're also voting for them.

Click below to watch the video of the press briefing at the National Press Club:

To learn more about how the Hispanic demographic growth and voter registration are playing out in close 2014 midterm races, click here to read the original series “My Latino Midterm Election.”

Like (or didn't) what you read? Leave me a comment and don't forget to share using the easy peasy social share buttons below.

My Latino Midterm Election: Georgia

he_votado-TheWiseLatinaClub If you travel along main street Buford Highway which cuts through a main portion of the metro-Atlanta area, blocks of strip malls bustle with Latino businesses. That's certainly the case in Doraville where for more than fifteen years, my family and I have been regular patrons at Colombian restaurants, Mexican bakeries and bodegas. The beginnings of Georgia's Hispanic demographic boom predates the 2010 census. Between 2000 and 2010, the population nearly doubled by growing from 435,227 to 853,689.

The question becomes what will it take for the civic and political might of Latinos to match their demographic and economic strength, thus becoming a political king maker? More appropriately with the current Election 2014 race, can Hispanics become a "Governor-maker" or in the case with the tight U.S. Senate race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn, a "U.S. Senator-maker?"

As with previous posts in the original series "My Latino Midterm Election," I look at data from the U.S. Census and nonpartisan research centers to quantify voter engagement. According to the Census, the Latino population has increased from less than 1% of Georgia's 4.6 million residents in 1970 to 9.2% of the state's nearly 10 million residents today.

But residents don't equate registered voters who actually show up on election day. This gap is significant. According to the Georgia Secretary of State Elections Division, 92,000 Hispanic voters are registered to vote, representing a paltry 1.8 percent of the state’s 5.1 million total registered voters. Controlling for non-citizenship and the voting age of 18, 274,000 Georgia Latinos are eligible to vote and didn't register by October 1, 2014 when this data was collected. Given these numbers, it is no surprise that both White and Black eligible voters outnumber Hispanic eligible voters, respectively, nearly 16 to 1 and 8 to 1.

These statistics are not just shameful but not new if you consider that during the record-breaking Election 2012, 11.2 million Latinos cast ballots but 12.1 million eligibles did not. Furthermore as I write in My Latino Midterm Election: North Carolina and My Latino Midterm Election: Arkansas, this civic participation lag continues and is a pattern observed in state after state. Indeed, future scrutiny must uncover why voter registration drives such as the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO)'s Latino Vote (registering voters according to their website since 2003) are failing to register Hispanics in droves? Why do campaigns, candidates, and parties add Latino outreach and engagement, including presence at community meetings and TV/radio ads, just before voter registration deadlines or election day? Then there's the role of the mainstream media, which doesn't cover Latinos as an integral part of an election and in egregious cases as happened in this midterm, reports "wildly incorrect" results. All these fails have significant repercussions on civic participation and its impact on political representation and democracy.

The answers to these dismal Latino civic engagement questions are long overdue. And while it doesn't seem that less than 2% of the electorate can wield much power, there's this scenario:

  • if the Nunn-Perdue race remains as razor thin close as it is
  • if Hispanics who are registered turn out and cluster around a candidate
  • if  a candidate does not receive 50% or more of the vote, there's a run off, and Hispanic eligible voters stick together

This unique set of circumstances could make Latino voters influencers in Georgia’s Senate and gubernatorial races. However, in order to truly be a force, Hispanics can't turn political conventional wisdom on its head by a series of "what ifs". This emerging political force must engage in the process before an election or before any party, campaign, or candidates begin their courtship.

What awaits is political respect born not from mercurial numbers, but real and consistent civic participation.

Although Georgia's voter registration deadline to participate on November 4 passed, eligible voters can still register and vote in future elections. Check the Secretary of State's website for information, including voter ID requirements which include how to obtain a free voter ID card.

To learn more about how the Hispanic demographic growth and voter registration are playing out in close 2014 midterm races, click here to read the original series "My Latino Midterm Election."

 

My Latino Midterm Election: Arkansas

My_Latino_Midterm_Election_Arkansas_Viviana_Hurtado-TheWiseLatinaClub When most people think of Arkansas, they don't automatically blurt out the word "Latino," the way some may when thinking of historic Hispanic states such as California, Texas, and Florida. But let's examine the Razorback State where incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor is facing a formidable challenge from Republican U.S. Congressman Tom Cotton. It is one of a dozen states concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast that experienced triple digit Latino growth between 2000 and 2010. This fact is significant because controlling for unauthorized immigrants, legal residents, and children under the voting age of 18, thousands of new eligible voters could impact the results of one of the most competitive midterm races--one that could affect the U.S. Senate's balance of power.

Following the methodology I established in the first post in this series My Latino Midterm Election: North Carolina, I examine local findings after deep dives into the U.S. Census numbers, as well as examining local data. After thorough searches, however, I am surprised at the paucity of local research on the federal data. Why? It is only by drilling down that local governments, universities, and community groups are able to get a more accurate snapshot to better serve their constituencies, for example, in the areas of education and economic development.

The most thorough report is by the University of Arkansas' Division of Agriculture. A key point will blow your mind:

"Between 1990 and 2006, the Hispanic population in the state has increased by over 600 percent. In the Ozark District, the percentage increase is even more dramatic at over 1,000 percent."

It's important to put these numbers into perspective, examining data carefully and its corresponding ranges. If a state has 1 Latino and in one decade, one more Hispanic is counted, then the population doubled but totals only 2 Latinos. In the case of the Arkansas data, the increase is approximately 121,000 more Hispanics. Although dwarfed by the size of the national Hispanic population, pollsters, pundits, and political parties should not balk at this number. The Pryor-Cotton race is close and as is the case with tight contests, every vote counts and not just that of conservative Democrats whose numbers dropped since 2008 while the number of conservative Republicans has increased.

At 6.9% of the state population, Latino immigrants are pulling more than their weight, contributing significantly to the local economy because of two important factors: population flight from towns and a native Arkansas population that is aging--both these at accelerated rates. Yet, in the Razorback State, as is the case nationwide, Hispanics' demographic and economic power isn't matched by this group's civic participation and political power. White and black eligible voters outnumber Hispanic eligible voters, respectively 34 to 1 and 6 to 1.

Still, a closer examination reveals significant opportunities to bring these voters into the system.

Why are these potential voters not being engaged? Answers range from the Republican party spurning and antagonizing these groups. Some in the Latino leadership are accusing the White House of not engaging the Hispanic congressional caucus and grassroots groups. Within the grassroots, some have asked voters not to cast ballots with the intention of hurting Democrats as punishment for the White House stalling on immigration executive action. I have even heard pathetic excuses whining that these voters aren't being courted. Well honey, I've never waited for an opportunity to come to me. I've had to seize or create one.

To mark Hispanic Heritage Month which runs before the midterms from September 15 to October 15, a host of Latino organizations are partnering to push voter registration. Arkansas law states that voters must register at least 30 days prior to an election which means that if you didn't by now, you can't vote in the November midterms. But you can participate in other ways:

  • help a senior or disabled person get to her polling station
  • offer to babysit so that a parent can cast his vote
  • volunteer for a candidate or issue that may have a measure on the ballot at phone banks or knocking on doors
  • register so that you can participate in the next election

Click here for the website of the Arkansas Secretary of State for voter registration information and requirements, including valid voter identification.

Republican, Democratic, or Latino leadership fails, voters who are waiting for their Political Superman are going to cool their collective heels for a long time. However, if you're an eligible voter, look no further than yourself.

Register.

Now.

To learn more about how the Hispanic demographic growth and voter registration are playing out in close midterm races, click here to read the original series My Latino Midterm Election.

My Latino Midterm Election: North Carolina

latino_vote-TheWiseLatinaClub The conventional wisdom is that midterm elections are low turnout and those who do show up to cast ballots trend older, white, and more conservative. For November 2014, the slim Democratic majority in the Senate is in jeopardy, with key Senate races so tight, pollsters, data wonks, and political scientists such as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight and the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato have whipped out their political crystal balls, sounding the death knell for Democrats. Indeed, powerful factors include turnout as I already mentioned, historical patterns including a president's party historic track record of tanking at the midterms, quality of candidates, and each party's investment at the grassroots level to mobilize the vote.

Absent from most of this debate is the potential influence that so-called new voters such as Latinos can have on a tight race. I can already hear the valid criticism that this group's voting record does not match its numbers. While true and confirmed by the 2012 Presidential election where 11.2 million eligible Hispanic voters cast ballots and 12.1 eligibles did not, voter registration deadlines are looming making it a prime time to revisit the demographic growth of this community and voter mobilization in local settings. This is crucial, especially for the midterms where turnout is low and contests are tight. Truly, every vote counts.

In campaign mano a mano combat, what is the impact of 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000 votes? It may seem like nothing to the media and Washington, D.C. Beltway elite. But this could mean the difference between winning or losing and in every day terms, the difference between receiving--or not--money for infrastructure repairs such as road and classrooms. Poignantly for immigration advocates, it's the difference on one hand, between executive action or even comprehensive immigration reform and on the other hand, an executive delay or congressional standstill that denies millions reprieve from deportation.

My methodology is simple: I examine voter demographics based on the 2010 U.S. Census data from national and local research centers, as well as voter mobilization. This is important given the extraordinary growth of the Hispanic community in states that are not the "Usual Suspect" states of California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New York which have an historic sizable Hispanic population. The demographic explosion is occurring in "Unusual Suspect" states, especially in the Southeast--the location of some hot midterm contests.

North Carolina is where this series "My Latino Midterm Election" starts. Senator Kay Hagan is fighting off a challenge from Republican Thom Tillis. Between 2000 and 2010, the Tar Heel State experienced triple digit---111%--Hispanic growth.

The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute conducted the best research I found on this topic. Culling U.S. Census data, this research confirms not just that North Carolina Hispanics are urban, with notable growth in cities such as Winston-Salem, Raleigh, and Durham. In small cities and town across the state such as Siler City near the Greensboro Research Triangle Park area, the Latino population has dramatically increased. Why Siler City--the town best known as the retirement home and burial place of the actress Frances Bavier who played Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffin show? Like millions of immigrants before them, they go where their personal networks are strongest which cluster in areas like farmlands where they can find work. The ensuing demographic boom not only provides labor but sprouts a secondary economy to service this community in the form of bodegas, restaurants, and money transfer locations. At nearly half the approximate 9,000 residents, these immigrants have both transformed the face of Siler City and reversed its downward economic spiral.

Latinos strengthening a community they call home is a happy story but one that doesn't tell all its sides. Although Hispanic make up 9% of North Carolina's population, only 1.9% of registered voters are Latino. This community is entrepreneurial and contributes to its hometowns as the case study of Siler City proves. Why have candidates, local parties, voter mobilization and community groups not sought to register these North Carolinians to vote and then cast ballots?

An important clue is in the diversity and segmentation of the Hispanic community. The North Carolina Governor's Office of Hispanic/Latino Affairs released a report that dovetails with national data, showing that Mexicans comprise the lion's share of this southern state's Latino population. Therefore it follows that a sizable portion is not eligible to vote because they are not naturalized citizens. However, a couple of data points from the 2010 Census data arise: with native born youth making up the largest part of this subset of North Carolina residents, how many turned or will turn 18 by November 4? Then there's the Puerto Rican population which at 71,800 represents only 9% of North Carolina's Latino population. Still, they have no citizenship issues and therefore are immediately eligible to register to vote. With contests so tight, even a mobilized sliver of voters could determine a race's outcome.

The game changing impact of the sheer demographic growth and potential Latino voter mobilization is not going unnoticed. The 2014 Senate race is the biggest voter mobilization for a Senate contest and includes the aggressive use of Spanish-language media, especially ads, according to the National Journal. With this demographic data available for years, I'm just surprised it has taken Democrats, Hispanic community groups, and the media this long to focus on this crucial element of the ground game, waiting until just weeks before the election.

With the persistent gridlock of recent years, I heard among the D.C. media elite that elections, once thought to have consequences, now didn't. In other words, even though the GOP overwhelmingly lost to Barack Obama in 2012, the Republican held House defied the President by shutting down the government and slowing down or blocking legislation. In fact, huge consequences abound perhaps not for politicians but for the millions of Americans who have become the collateral damage of these political showdowns in the form of programs that don't get the funding needed to provide, in many cases, basic services.

Each election represents a chance for a re-do for all the stakeholders--for a candidate and party to reach and engage new voters and for these communities to become involved in a political process that affects their daily lives. That's where becoming informed and participating through voting comes in. In North Carolina, the voter registration deadline is 25 days before the date of an election or Friday, October 10, 2014--postmarked and preferably received by the State Board of Elections. MTV has a cool Voter's Self Defense Guide for 2014 with information for students and voter ID laws. More important for North Carolina residents is clicking here to view the State Board of Elections' requirements including eligibility and where you can register to vote, including libraries, post offices, and the DMV.

Elections--whether it's the Presidential election or the vote for school board--not only have consequences. Citizens have an opportunity to shape contests, candidates, political parties, policy, and how the practice affects their lives. But they must participate with the first step registering to vote.

Look out for more posts in the series "My Latino Midterm Election" where I'll focus on "Unusual Suspect" states that experienced a dramatic increase in their Hispanic population and where key races are too close to call.

VIDEO: Deferred (Immigration Executive) Action. On MSNBC

The distrust in President Obama among Latino voters has roots in a broken promise made when Candidate Obama was first running in 2008. This distrust has been magnified by Mr. Obama's announcement that he would delay executive action on immigration until after the November midterm elections. The repercussions that will be felt by the President and Democrats was my main argument when I appeared this weekend on MSNBC's Alex Witt Show. Mr. Obama promised to make immigration reform a top priority within his first year as I write in Latina Magazine: Election 2012: President Obama’s Stance on Immigration. For a few months after he was first elected, Mr. Obama had a Democratic House and Senate. But he didn't stay true to his word, rightfully focusing his efforts on stabilizing the post-financial crisis economy and choosing to use his political capital to pass his signature landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) legislation.

The President did make an element of immigration a top priority. On his watch, deportations of illegal immigrants hit record highs. Another priority is Deferred Action (DACA)--an executive action that temporarily legalizes DREAMers or young immigrants in school or the military who were brought to the country illegally as children. But let's be clear about one thing: DACA happened because DREAMer advocates broke from the mainstream Latino advocacy community and turned on this President as I witnessed and write about in “Anatomy of an Immigration Debate: Presidential Carne Asada at NCLR.” With chants of  yes, YOU can, they challenged the President to grant some relief and reprieve to a mixed immigration status community, where families are being torn apart by the increased deportations. More grassroots than their urban, specifically Washington, D.C. leaders, the DREAMers gave a face and voice to frustrations in a community where Mr. Obama has been known as El Deportador long before Janet Murguía of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) christened him the Deporter-in-Chief.

Immigration_Executive_Action_Viviana_Hurtado_MSNBC-TheWiseLatinaClub

Today, the anger towards this President is partially misguided. Indeed, he had no business in June swaggering to the podium in the Rose Garden, declaring impatience with an obstructionist Republican House and promising to go at it alone in the form of executive action by summer's end. But President Obama is the messenger. Democratic party operatives pressured him (and he caved)--warning that immigration executive action would hurt vulnerable Democrats locked in tight Senate races including Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, and North Carolina. Their main argument is that a move by the President would enrage conservative, white, older voters who are more reliable, especially during the midterms, than Latinos. Democrats could kiss the Senate goodbye as well as any progressive agenda on education, the economy, and immigration.

Can Hispanic and Asian American voters (for whom immigration matters a great deal) turn to Congressional Republicans?  Let's examine their track record: a bipartisan Senate proposal squeaked by but died in their House. GOP leaders reacted to the executive action delay by accusing the President of engaging in "raw politics." Of course, they made no mention of their own party's politics in the form of obstruction, failure to reign in the xenophobic extreme wing, or refusal to negotiate, compromise, and govern.

Alex Witt asked me when the President would act, which along with when will comprehensive immigration reform happen, is a question I've been asked countless times. After covering immigration for the better part of a decade, after witnessing promises made only to be broken, my answer is always the same: I'll believe it when I see it.

But any person who believes that immigration is not a Latino issue but an American one with repercussions on our economy, global competitiveness, public safety, and national security should mark Wednesday, November 5, 2014. That's the day after the midterm election and the opportunity to hold the President, the Democratic and Republic party accountable. These powerful people hold the fate of millions in their hands. They will act--only if they have to.

Which leads us back to how I began this post--the Latino rank and file, as well as the leadership. If you take the political calculus of operatives, policy wonks, and pollsters, executive action and certainly comprehensive immigration reform will likely not happen until after the 2016 election, despite the growth of the Latino population and the electorate, as well as an extraordinary broad coalition that includes Evangelical Christians, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and labor unions. A legislative solution is more permanent than executive action, especially if the Republicans take the House.

This will require civic and political participation to have a say and help shape virtually every public policy issue that affects families. Unfortunately, the Latino advocacy community isn't singularly focused on voter registration and turnout similar to the massive mobilization during the Presidential Election of 2012. Now is also ripe for Hispanics to break open the immigration reform coalition even more--to convince, for example, senior white voters that immigration is as crucial to them as their Social Security checks (and according to some economists, Social Security's survival will be ensured by the Latino workforce).

There's a cynical saying in politics: you must pay to play. Even accounting for the numbers of undocumented, legal residents, and children under the voting age of 18, Latinos, if not money, have numbers on their side.

But in order to be a player, you must participate.

Click below to watch my appearance with fellow panelists Raúl Reyes and host Alex Witt on MSNBC which aired on September 7, 2014.

Click to read more of my posts on politics and immigration.

What's on your mind after reading this post? Please let me know here in comments or on social media by sharing using the social buttons below.

xo ~ Viviana

VIDEO: Unaccompanied Kids Funding. Will Congress Vote Before Their Vacay?

One group of Americans almost has as much vacation as the French--Congress. However unlike many of Le Français, our lawmakers frequently leave for their respective breaks without having finished their work, in this case voting on important legislation. One such vote is the emergency funding--nearly $4 billion dollars--requested by President Obama to help care for the 52,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who are overwhelming our already stretched Border Patrol, immigration courts, detention centers, and local communities. Congress is scheduled to vote on a fraction of this figure--$659 million dollars--which includes mobilizing the National Guard to the border and "speedier" deportation of children back to Central America. Unaccompanied_Kids_Funding_Congress_Vote_MSNBC_Viviana_Hurtado-TheWiseLatinaClub

This is the issue discussed with MSNBC host Craig Melvin, in addition to the takeaway of President Obama's meeting with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to find cooperation and immediate, medium, and long-term solutions to the root causes of this exodus.

I do not criticize the Republican Congress for this reduced funding figure or have concluded they are cold-hearted cheapskates. I do not slam Wild West tactics of deploying the National Guard to the border with no guarantee of proper training on detention and processing of child immigrants. After all, Congress is tasked with the obligation of advising and consenting. Indeed, this does not mean granting the President a blank check. But it means coming together--with members of both sides of the aisle, Mr. Obama, and within their own caucus--to solve problems. And that means negotiating with good Republican ideas--because they exist. For example, border Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake are proposing an annual 5,000 more visas for two years for refugees from Honduras--at least a start although human rights experts say this figure is no where near enough given the U.S.-grown gang and drug-cartel fueled violence giving this Central American country the distinction of having the world's highest homicide rate.

However, some in Congress forget that the primaries are finito and that their districts elected them to help govern a whole country. The part is vital to the whole which is what blows my mind when I read about Republican shenanigan proposals. Case in point: Alabama Representative Mo Brooks' proposal to spend money--$27 million dollars--to buy the unaccompanied children one-way tickets back home. Yes. The same kids the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has baptized refugees which I learned about and write in Why I Attended a Community Meeting about #Immigration. The same children protected by a 2008 anti-trafficking law that gives them due process versus a "speedy" deportation which is a good thing given that a U.N report shows that 40% are fleeing violence and not just poverty.

Common sense--not soundbites that set your base in fire--must rule. Deploying the National Guard is not a bad idea, as long as troops are properly trained, as Border Patrol agents are, to process these children. Same goes for bringing in temporary immigration judges and the support staff needed to accurately evaluate and decide the fate of traumatized children. Conducting due process via video conference? What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Perhaps lawmakers could save the country money by forgoing their regular airplane tickets home and attend town hall meetings, church coffees, and ribbon cutting ceremonies via Skype or Facetime.

These kids need to receive care while they're in our custody and be evaluated--their cases and their psyches-- by properly trained professionals. That means a uniform process that's fair and devoid of politics, for example, adding poison pills that will be rejected by the Senate or vetoed by the President or just plain nonsense like suing the President under the auspices of executive overreach but it-sure-sounds-to-me-like-just-'cuz. These children are indeed testing our immigration system and budgets. They are also testing our moral standing in the world. This issue is forcing a question of leadership--not from behind as the President has been criticized for doing in Syria. Rather, the question casting scrutiny on our standing as a world leader is if are we leading. Of course, if Congress leaves for recess without a vote, we've completely abandoned our leadership post.

I'm not a gambling woman but if I were, I wouldn't put down a cent on Congress voting to authorize these emergency funds. How about you?

Why I Attended a Community Meeting About #Immigration

Many of you know that I am a cucaracha de iglesia and attend Mass every Sunday. My busy summer schedule shifts going to church to St. Matt's--the majestic cathedral in Washington, D.C. where John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy were married--instead of Dahlgren Chapel in Georgetown. I was really excited to hear in the announcements after Mass about a presentation and Q & A on the Catholic Church's teachings and position on immigration. Bishops_Immigration_Church_Meeting-TheWiseLatinaClub

The room was packed with all kinds of people--older, more conservative folks, immigrants from Africa and the Philippines, young professionals, some clergy, a young baby and mom, plus moi. Someone from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke and listened for two hours, explaining the Church's long history of advocacy rooted in Scripture. A few tense moments filled the conference room when a couple of opponents started lobbing the bombshell words "amnesty" and "open borders."

More than numbers or statistics, what stuck with me is the message that immigration reform will happen but that the effort is going to be hyper local--through meetings in church basements, old folks homes, and PTA meetings. I only wish the Latino advocacy community--who I call the D.C. Latinos who go from conference to White House meetings to conference--stopped talking to and amongst themselves and like-minded peers and went where it's "uncomfortable."

That means our senior centers.

To soccer fields.

To poor neighborhoods where people are scared that those imm'grints are going to take our jobs.

It also means within our community--to our mamis, to high schools where U.S. citizen children study, and the fast food joints where they work. Nothing scares politicians more than voters'--especially Ol' Reliable's--calls demanding action on an issue.

More than half a century ago, the March on Washington succeeded not just because of the heroism and leadership of the African American community. Its success is shared by the quarter of the people who packed into the National Mall--whites, Latinos, disabled, you name it. In effect, they mainstreamed civil rights and equality when they claimed these principles, when they showed up and their presence declared: America belongs to me and in my America, we don't have two classes of people.

It doesn't have to be immigration.

But choose an issue.

Become informed.

And show up.

I did last Saturday morning when I could have slept in. How about you?

UPDATED with VIDEO: Mass Mothers and Children Deportations Discussed with former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. On MSNBC

'merica isn't having a good day when almost three dozen mothers and kids are flown back to a worn-torn country and it doesn't make as much a blip as, for example, José Antonio Vargas--immigrant who carries his passport from the Philippines and a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution--being detained by Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint. Never mind that between 40% and 58% of the kids may qualify for political asylum, special juvenile immigration status, or protections under international conventions the U.S. signed. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson advocated for "speedy" deportations in a Senate hearing as I write about in VIDEO: Unaccompanied Kids, Humanitarian "Crisis" or "Situation"? On MSNBC. There's roughly a 1 in 2 chance that President Obama and his Administration's rush to deport will sentence refugee children with legitimate relief claims to rape, torture, and death upon returned to their home countries. Mothers_Children_Deportations_Senator_Kay_Bailey_Hutchison_Viviana_Hurtado_MSNBC-TheWiseLatinaClub

The unaccompanied children and the humanitarian crisis at our Southwest border is the topic discussed on MSNBC with guest host TJ Holmes, Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston, and former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Immigration judges are overwhelmed, with only 59 courts responsible for 366,758 cases that take an average of 578 days to process. Now add the challenge of ascertaining a child's claim. What if she is a 2 year old who on average possesses a vocabulary of 200 words and in another language--Spanish. How do you extract critical information from a kid suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from violence witnessed or experienced? Or just the brutal journey north? The President and our lawmakers would wilt after 10 minutes without air conditioning in the D.C. summer heat. Imagine making the treacherous journey north, stuffed in trains, stash houses, swimming across the perilous Rio Grande, or walking for days in the scorching desert. How will immigration judges accurately evaluate in a proposed 72 hours and gather enough facts to recommend a stay in deportation or a removal? More than evidence-based, immigration judges will be making life and death situations on little more than a hope and a prayer.

Interestingly, another topic our panel was asked to prepare is Texas Governor Rick Perry's recent Washington Post Op-Ed, not on the border crisis but on the Obama Administration's policy towards Syria which Jon Ralston nailed in his succinct analysis: He's running for President!

America has strongly condemned Syrian strong man Bashar al-Assad's treatment of civilians, especially women and children. We are the first nation to respond to international disasters, sending in aid to help tens of thousands of survivors begin their road to recovery. In fact, if a hurricane or earthquake had decimated parts of these children's Central American countries of origin, we would be among the first ones helping. This crisis brings up many legitimate questions: the powers of our different branches of government, how secure is our border security and does our law enforcement just apprehend or more actively work to deter illegal crossings? How about due process--that tenet of our constitution?

Critically, how we deal with these children brings up questions about who we are. Not only is this a nation built by immigrants, we have accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees--including Iraqis, Cubans, Bosnians, Vietnamese, and during the civil strife of the 1980s, Central Americans. If we are to turn our backs when turning away these children, then at least ensure that those being sent back don't have a shred of a legitimate claim to asylum or a youth visa, or a first degree relative. It's simply impossible for an overworked and overburden immigration judge to do this in a few days.

Unfortunately, MSNBC did not post this video which aired on July 12, 2014. If it becomes available, I will update this post.

UPDATE: Click below on video to watch segment.

Few days remain before Congress' month-long summer recess. Do you believe the President and Congress will come to a compromise before the Fall?

VIDEO: Unaccompanied Kids, Humanitarian "Crisis" or "Situation"? On MSNBC

Overheard: for President Obama, the unaccompanied children flooding the border has forced immigration from policy to politics. This assertion reflects a Beltway echo chamber, resulting in a disconnect that fails to capture the desperate reality of millions of immigrants living in Immigration Purgatory, including the newest--the flood of an estimated 52,000 children who have recently arrived, trekking alone from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Unfortunately, our national political culture is as broken as our immigration system. Case in point, the White House switcheroo--from "humanitarian crisis" to "humanitarian situation." Perhaps good, legal grounding exists between the words "crisis" and "situation." But having reported in Washington, D.C. since 2006, I know a thing or two about the political semantics of you-say-potato-and-I-say-poh-tah-toe, particularly when the spin cycle is in overdrive, amped up by the court of public opinion. This is the main topic discussed on MSNBC's The Reid Report with fellow panelist Raúl Reyes and host Joy-Ann Reid, who devoted the full hour to examining this topic from domestic, foreign policy, and humanitarian angles.

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As I write in "Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: Humanitarian Crisis? On MSNBC," the escalating violence in Central America by transnational gangs, human trafficking rings, and drug cartels has prompted this mass exodus. Few people leave behind everything they know--families, language, and culture,

Just 'cuz.

Which is why this crisis leads back to our immigration system with a comprehensive and long view approach that includes our foreign policy towards these Central American nations. The assertion that "the border is secure" is under scrutiny--as it should be. If 52,000 children make it across, the question follows: what else can and is coming through? Perhaps, drugs?

However, largely absent from the debate is attaching strings to our development, humanitarian, and military aid to these countries that nears $2 billion dollars. Benchmarks must force recipient nations to stamp out government corruption, impunity of criminals, and strengthen the judiciary. Our backed up immigration courts--59 of them--are overwhelmed with 366,758 cases that take an average of 578 days to process. Reform must unclog them since a weighed down bureaucracy makes it tempting for immigrants in proceedings to blow them off--of which a majority does.

These domestic and foreign policy points outline long-term solutions. However, the unaccompanied children are here, now, and have forced a basic question:

How do we treat them?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops--not a bastion of liberalism--insists they are refugees fleeing violence. On the other end of the spectrum are extremists, including conservative pundits, Republican lawmakers, and the "internuts" such as those who trolled my Twitter after this appearance:

Unaccompanied_Children_Twitter_Trolls_Viviana_Hurtado-TheWiseLatinaClub

Think liberals are off the hook? Joy kept our panel for half an hour to give live analysis and reaction to a Senate hearing after the President announced a $3.7 billion dollar emergency funding request to handle the surge of unaccompanied kids. I listened with disbelief as the head of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson declared that the Administration's solutions included the "speedy" removals of these children. Never mind a 2008 anti-trafficking law that requires Central American children, unlike those from Canada or Mexico, to receive a court date. Forget that some may qualify for asylum or a special visa. How about we ignore that some may have first degree relatives in the U.S. who can claim them. Or the violence many are fleeing. In six months, will I be reporting and commenting on the number of traffickers rounding up children arriving at the airports in Guatemala City, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa to sell them into sex rings?

This surge is a direct result of our current immigration system, partly because of the misinformation with roots in nefarious Central American elements distorting the DREAMer deportation exemption and the 2008 anti-trafficking law signed by President George W. Bush. Yet also at play is the refusal of our elected officials--led by House Republicans--to fix what's broken, thoroughly exposing our national security, our economy that needs immigrant labor, and our communities where these immigrants live, work, and worship. Opting for heated rhetoric triggered by lobbing the loaded word "amnesty" does little more than create paralysis when what we need are solutions to a complex problem. Lose the Tough Guy posturing Mr. President and Republican lawmakers. It does little more than weaken our borders, neighborhoods, and now with the unaccompanied children who face "speedy" deportations--our moral fabric.

Click below to watch the video of my appearance on The Reid Report which aired on July 10, 2014.

What action will the President and Congress take to address the increase in children coming to America alone?