Maribel Flores graduated from UT-Arlington with a degree in Public Relations and Advertising. She cares about women’s reproductive rights which pushed her to be active in the upcoming midterm elections. She joined the Jolt team as a canvasser to be able to get out in her community and talk to voters and make a difference.
Flores hopes to network and gain experience canvassing for Jolt that she will be able to use for her next dream or working in public relations.
“I’ve always been interested in seeing how political campaigns are run from the ground up, and while not advocating for a particular candidate [canvassing], it’s closely related as it involves getting people out to polls,” says Flores. It is also important to Flores that Jolt serves to empower the Latino community in the Dallas area as a whole.
“I just want to learn and grow,” says Maribel Flores.
Flores is excited about her newest project working as a creative director for a friend’s t-shirt business. She will be in charge of the branding and social media marketing for the startup. She hopes that with her the experience she will gain canvassing for Jolt she will be able to grow her network while making a difference in her community.
Garcia says he joined Jolt because he agrees with its platform and how the organization fights and mobilizes Latino youth in Texas.
“My hope is to be able to convince people that were not thinking about voting and even aware of the elections to go out and exercise their [voting] rights,” says Garcia.
Garcia was born in Monterrey, Mexico and was raised there until he immigrated to the United States at the age of thirteen in 2008. He is passionate about politics and loves soccer. Garcia is also passionate about learning more about finance and investing. “My goal in life is to be able to make a living out of the stock market and being able to open a charitable trust holding.”
He is hopeful about his future and open to opportunities that will arise after he is done canvassing for Jolt. “I’m just going keep working hard and try to do good in life,” says Garcia.
Karla Quiñones did not mince words as she asked the first question to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez.
“Ms. Valdez, you were sheriff of Dallas County for many years, and it seems that your legacy was one of supporting anti-immigrant policies that actually expanded ICE enforcement,” said Quiñones, a Dallas high school student, posing a series of pointed questions about Valdez’s cooperation with the federal agency and her intentions if elected governor. “Why should we trust you today?”
The less-than-direct answer that followed from Valdez did not appear to satisfy Quiñones and the group she represents — Jolt Texas, which was created last year to mobilize young Latinos in turning the state blue. And before the end of the afternoon, Valdez had lost another endorsement to her runoff rival, Democrat Andrew White, after coming across as ill-prepared or -informed.
Jolt had convened four Democratic statewide candidates for a town hall Sunday morning in Austin, and Valdez was not the only one who faced tough questions about his or her record. White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, was asked twice about a “border security company” he owns, and U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke was pressed on his commitment to LGBT rights.
But it was Valdez’s appearance that raised the most eyebrows, prompting Jolt to endorse White and deliver a blow to a candidate whom many Democrats have hoped would galvanize the Latino vote in November.
In her answer to Quiñones’ question, Valdez insisted she would fight for the immigrant community but partially skirted the specific issues the student had raised with her tenure as Dallas County sheriff.
“Of course — look at me,” Valdez said. “I’m going to fight for as much immigration as I can, but immigration is a federal issue and there are certain things that we have to do. Unfortunately what she was discussing were several things that were quite misunderstood.”
Valdez went on to tout her opposition to the state’s “sanctuary cities” ban last year as well as her support for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally. At the end of her answer, she addressed something mentioned by Quiñones — a community walkout at a meeting she held with federal immigration authorities — downplaying it as a “couple people that were upset because I couldn’t explain to them what was going on.”
Jolt seemed almost instantly dissatisfied with Valdez’s overall answer, tweeting minutes later that it would have liked to see Valdez “go more in detail on her Dallas county record.” White, who is running against Valdez to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, also voiced disappointment with Valdez’s answer, telling reporters afterward that she “needs to answer those questions and today she didn’t really answers those questions — she put it off.”
“The young lady who asked that question deserves a real answer,” White said of Quiñones. “We haven’t gotten an answer.”
Valdez initially declined to discuss the topic at any length with a swarm of reporters who sought to ask her about it as she left the auditorium where the event had been held. When she eventually made herself available to the media in the lobby, Valdez said there was a “misunderstanding” of her record as portrayed by Quiñones. As for why the Latino community should trust her, she again pointed to her opposition to the “sanctuary cities” law — Senate Bill 4 — noting she “went to fight SB 4 before anybody else showed up.”
After fielding questions from reporters for about three minutes, Valdez made clear she was done, flashing some frustration.
“OK, I’ve given you your answers,” Valdez told reporters. “You wanted some answers. I’ve given them to you, OK? Now let us do what we love to do best and [talk to] some of the voters and go on to the other things we have to do, OK?”
To be sure, White did not escape scrutiny at the town hall either. He initially got a multi-part question on immigration that alluded to his “border security business” — a reference to Geovox Security Inc., a company he owns that uses heartbeat-detection technology to find people hiding in vehicles. White did not address the topic in his response to that question, which was from Emily Pinal, president of the Jolt chapter at the University of Texas at Tyler. So the group asked it again later.
White had an answer ready on the second go-around, explaining that Geovox’s technology is put to use on the U.S. border and in other countries “to make sure that sex trafficking is not happening, to make sure that if there are people in the back of that truck, they’re not dying from heat exhaustion or dehydration.” White characterized it as a “smart security” that stands in contrast with Republican efforts to secure the border, which most recently included ratcheting up the National Guard presence there at the direction of President Donald Trump.
“It’s a perfect example, in my opinion, of the type of leadership I want to bring to the border, which is yeah, we need a secure border, for sure, it’s our sovereign right, but we should have a smart border, not a fear-mongering border,” White said. “I’m sure this issue might be used against me — that I have a quote ‘border security business’ — but the reality is it’s used to protect people’s lives, and frankly I’m very proud of the fact that in the 20-something-year history that we’ve had, we have saved thousands of lives with this technology.”
O’Rourke — who is challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — also felt some heat when it was his turn to be questioned. Marco Mejia, president of Jolt’s chapter at the University of Texas at El Paso, asked O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, how he plans to fight for the LGBT community, noting that many politicians hold themselves out as allies of the community but “do little to prove it.”
O’Rourke seemed well aware of the skepticism.
“You kind of issued a challenge there — you said, ‘It’s one thing to talk the talk, but can you walk it as well?'” O’Rourke replied before going on to list numerous pro-LGBT proposals he has been involved in, dating back to his days on El Paso’s city council, when he led a fight for same-sex benefits for city employees.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at El Paso has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
By James Barragan [This piece was originally published in Dallas News on 4/30/2018]
AUSTIN — Gubernatorial hopeful Lupe Valdez has apologized for failing to address questions about her immigration track record Sunday during a candidate forum aimed at young Latino voters.
“This weekend, I fell short,” the former Dallas County sheriff said Monday in a prepared statement. “A young woman asked me a question at a forum over the weekend regarding my track record, and she did not get the answer she deserved. I am sorry, and I understand why people are disappointed.”
The nearly 700-word statement comes as potential voters and left-leaning advocates have pressured Valdez to explain why she cooperated with immigration authorities’ requests to hold people in her office’s custody.
Karla Quiñones, the W.T. White student from Dallas who questioned Valdez, released a statement Tuesday on behalf of Jolt, a group focused on mobilizing Latinos to vote that organized the forum Sunday.
“We appreciate Lupe Valdez’ statement, but there are still many questions that need to be answered about the policies that she implemented as Dallas County sheriff,” Quiñones said. “The policies that Valdez adopted allowed ICE to have access to jails she oversaw, and led to the deportation and separation of immigrant families across Dallas.”
During the exchange with Quiñones, Valdez said she supported immigration reform and a path to citizenship but did not address questions about her office’s compliance with ICE detention orders.
After representatives from Jolt expressed dissatisfaction with her response, they endorsed her opponent in the May 22 Democratic runoff, Andrew White, who criticized Valdez for not directly answering the question.
“We had the same thought Karla had, which is, she still hasn’t answered the question,” Desi Canela, a spokeswoman for White’s campaign said in an email. “That’s what’s led Texas immigration activists to ask: Whose side is she on? She voluntarily complied with ICE, and voters like Karla want to know why, and rightfully so. Maybe this is why Lupe won’t debate.”
White has repeatedly pushed for a debate with Valdez, who has said she is open to it but her staff will handle the details.
Quiñones, a member of the group’s endorsement committee, added: “We think that one of the best ways for her to address all outstanding questions is by debating her opponent Andrew White. Texans deserve to hear from both of them.”
In her statement Monday, Valdez said the country has a “broken immigration system” that too often results in immigrants and other vulnerable communities being used as bargaining chips. The divide between immigration hawks at the federal and state level, she said, puts local officials in a no-win situation.
“Federal and state officials are pressuring local law enforcement to follow policies that rip families apart. Local law enforcement is often torn between repairing trust with communities they serve and jeopardizing public safety funding that state and federal officials hold hostage to get their way,” Valdez said. “That’s not how government should work.”
Noting that she remained “steadfast” in her call for immigration reform and building trust with immigrant communities, Valdez touted her opposition to the state’s sanctuary cities ban and said she had been on the front lines in opposing the law.
Valdez said she would continue outreach to immigrant communities as governor and fight “cruel policies like SB 4 [the sanctuary cities ban] — a policy based on fear that only serves to tear our communities apart.”
John Wittman, a spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign, said in a statement Tuesday: “This is not the first time Sheriff Valdez has made clear her intention to eviscerate Texas’ ban on sanctuary cities and it won’t be the last. This November, voters will have a choice over whether they want to turn Texas into a sanctuary state in the mold of California or uphold the Rule of Law and keep Texas the model for the rest of the nation.”
Valdez said in her statement that Abbott had “directly threatened” to cut her department’s funding because she had proposed changes to how the sheriff’s office complied with requests from immigration authorities.
“While I was sheriff of Dallas County, I complied with detainers or else we could have risked funding for a range of resources, including drug courts, juvenile justice programs, and body cameras,” Valdez said. “I didn’t have the ability to change federal or state policy, and Governor Abbott got his way.
“I wish we could have done more, and that is why I am such an outspoken advocate for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” she continued. “I have stood side-by-side with immigrant communities and fought against cruel and shameful policies. I have done what I believed to be possible. I have been fighting for years, and I am not stopping now.”
As a daughter of immigrants, Valdez said she understands the distrust between the community and law enforcement. She added that during her law enforcement career, she’s proved to be “tough, but compassionate.” She said standing up for immigrant communities and ensuring they did not suffer the “cruel and inhumane” treatment her family had experienced was a staple of her life.
“I have lived it, and it is my goal to make sure that young Texans don’t face that same treatment I witnessed years ago,” she said.
Defending her record as sheriff, Valdez said she pushed for policies to ease detentions for minor offenses. She said she declined to designate local officers as immigration authorities under federal partnerships, known as 287(g) programs, and encouraged law enforcement officials to end nonessential collaboration with immigration authorities.
By Max Gorden [This piece was originally published in Spectrum News on 12/20/2017]
WASHINGTON — As the year nears its end in Washington, a major issue remains for Congress: what do with DACA recipients.
Top lawmakers are now saying a bipartisan bill providing relief for so-called DREAMERS could get a vote in January. Immigrant advocates once again took to the streets in Asutin on Wednesday, demanding lawmakers protect DACA recipients.
One of the protesters was Samuel Cervantes: a UT student and DACA recipient whose parents brought him to the US illegally when he was five.
“I had no concept of the immigration system, so for me it just felt like a trip,” Cervantes said.
DACA allowed Cervantes and other undocumented immigrants like him to come out of the shadows. The program allows undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally as children protection from deportation.
But President Trump canceled the program this year, throwing Cervantes’ life into chaos.
“Every day that I live not knowing what my future’s going to look like is a life of peril, is a life of anxiety,” Cervantes said.
So Cervantes and others marched to Sen. John Cornyn’s office Wednesday, demanding he help pass legislation to help the roughly 124,000 other Texans whose temporary legal status will end in March.
“This is not a political issue,” Cervantes said. “This is a human issue.”
But on Capitol Hill lawmakers are optimistic. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) Tweeted: “Bipartisan DACA bill will be on the Senate floor in January.”
Top Democrats are also now moving away from previous threats to withhold support from a government spending bill over DACA. Democrats are expected to go along with border security provisions in return for protections for young migrants.
But for Cervantes and others who gathered Wednesday, January isn’t soon enough.
“We’re getting closer to a world in which these DACA recipients are going to be deported,” Cervantes said.
A call to act quickly as time ticks down for the Dreamers.
By Mary Tuma [This piece was originally published on the Austin Chronicle on 9/1/2017]
g Latina women chose an unlikely spot to hold their quinceañera – a significant tradition marking a Latina’s transition to adulthood. For them, the point wasn’t to revel in the festivities, but to send a serious message to lawmakers: Texas is our home, and we’re not going to back down, no matter how hard you try to push us away.
“We are here to take a stand against Senate Bill 4, the most discriminatory and hateful law in recent history,” said 17-year-old Magdalena Juarez, to cheers and applause. “When Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on May 7, he disrespected my community. He put a lot of Texans in danger. SB 4 is not only an attack on immigrant communities, it threatens the lives of all people of color. It makes simply being brown illegal.”
The law punishing so-called “sanctuary cities” allows police officers to inquire about the citizenship status of anyone they pull over, and forces local law enforcement to comply with (currently voluntary) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. Barring a court injunction in the next two days, the “papers please”-style law will go into effect on Friday, Sept. 1.* (SB 4 was blocked in courts late Wednesday; see update at end of article.) But while SB 4 has instilled fear and anxiety in the local immigrant community (“Into the Shadows,” July 21), it’s also served as a rallying cry to galvanize Latinos and prompt creative acts of resistance. The latest radical act, the quince protest – which drew national attention and attracted millions of online viewers – is the brainchild of Jolt, a scrappy new organization with big ambition.
Working out of a compact office in East Austin, Jolt seeks to mobilize the Latino vote, build community and cultural pride, and drive an issue-based agenda. It wasn’t yet ready for prime time when it launched in November (the group didn’t even have an office until February), but the election of Donald Trump – and his demonization of immigrant Mexicans as criminals and rapists and his calls for a border wall – forced the group into early action. In fact, Jolt planned to slowly roll out with a completely different priority agenda focused first on educational issues, with the assumption their chance for immigration reform would be feasible with a Hillary Clinton presidency. But the surprise election results swung the focal point to racial justice and immigration. Women lead the small staff, comprised of two full-time and three part-time workers, with Cristina Tzintzún at the helm.
Growing up in Ohio as the daughter of a darker-skinned Mexican immigrant mother and a white “American hippie” father, Tzintzún saw the striking differences between how she and her siblings were treated when they’d go out with her mother vs. her father. “The privilege of growing up in the U.S. also came with great responsibility of addressing the inequities we saw,” she said.
Tzintzún moved to Austin when she was 21. Three years later, she co-founded the Workers Defense Project, and grew the immigrant rights organization from a modest operation to a nationally recognized institution within 12 years. It was at WDP that she learned how to take victories in a state deeply hostile to her cause. Among helping pass numerous city ordinances and state laws to better protect immigrant workers, in 2006 Tzintzún spearheaded one of the largest marches in Austin history at the time. “A bunch of people told me I was crazy and was not going to achieve anything,” said Tzintzún. “And now [WDP] has become one of the most pronounced social justice organizations in the state.”
Toward the end of her tenure there, Tzintzún had developed a few important takeaways: that “to really win immigration reform, to win full equality for Latinos, we also need to build and consolidate our power electorally if we want to actually enact change long-term.” She left WDP in 2015 for a brief stint at the Service Employees International Union in D.C. to figure out how to do just that. Missing Texas “desperately” and realizing power comes from the states, she soon after returned to Austin, energized to begin her next venture.
Jolt intentionally began during an off-election year with the intent to grow a base that could mobilize and sustain voters in time for the 2018 election. They’ve set up staff in key metro areas (Jolt is currently expanding into Dallas) and recently launched a digital tool kit; the rollout of high school and college chapters; and a young adult union, allowing participants to aggregate power across the state much more quickly. While finances pose a challenge for the nascent nonprofit, it’s raised $280,000 to date. (Tzintzún is an unpaid volunteer who generates income through consulting work.) Jolt claims more than 200 all-Latino members in Austin and 15,000 statewide, who range from fifth-generation Texans to the undocumented. The organization isn’t just interested in drawing people to politics, but in sharing Latino culture, music, and art – a characteristic that distinguishes it from other groups with similar goals. A Capitol youth rally planned for Sept. 1 will feature “lucha libre” wrestlers who will “fight for justice and equality” while a hairdresser buzzes symbols like a clasped fist of solidarity into folks’ hair, if willing.
Given that Latinos tend to lean Democratic, encouraging party votes is just half of Jolt’s battle. “It’s not enough to say the other side is terrible so come to our side, which is what I think we’ve historically done,” said Tzintzún. “We know Republicans aren’t on our team, but the Democratic Party also needs to do more. They haven’t always been our allies on immigration. So while we do think Texas will change eventually, for us it’s not just a question of which party is in charge; we need to invest in Latino leadership so that they can drive their own issue agenda to address the real inequities we face as a community.”
Jolt is far from the first group to set its sights on turning Texas blue. Most recently, in 2013, the Obama-affiliated Battleground Texas sought to make Texas a competitive swing state by knocking on doors, registering voters, and deputizing volunteers to boost Democratic Party voting among minorities and white women. However, enmeshing itself with Wendy Davis’ 2014 bid for governor, which suffered defeat to Gov. Greg Abbott by 20 points – seven points worse than previous contender Bill White – led to high-profile criticism and reports of strained relationships with some of the state’s Democratic candidates. Faulty and exaggerated early voting turnout memos, a late-term investment in training Latino leaders, and the out-of-state team’s initial ignorance in navigating Texas’ voter laws didn’t help either.
Without specifically calling out Battleground or any other group, Tzintzún maintains that Jolt’s strategy is unique to previous attempts in that it’s heavily focused on Latino youth, with the belief young citizens are entirely capable of self-organizing throughout the year. Latinos currently comprise nearly 50% of Texans under 19 years old, and one-third of Hispanic eligible voters in Texas are between 18-29 years old: That’s potential for a sizable army. And Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attack on “DREAMers,” or recipients of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals two-year work and study program (of which Tzintzún’s husband counts himself) that protects young undocumented residents, has revved up activism as well. Paxton has taken an even harsher approach to DACA than extremist President Trump – and has threatened to sue the president if he doesn’t rescind the program – a prime example of the state’s harsh anti-immigrant fervor.
Texas demographic trends, generally, are also on their side. Over the next three years, Hispanics are on track to constitute a plurality of the population – at least 43% by 2020 – according to Latino Decisions, a political opinion research firm. In Travis County alone, the Hispanic population jumped 16% from 2010 to 2015, U.S. Census figures show. But it’s not about sheer numbers for Jolt; Tzintzún said demographics alone won’t “determine our destiny. … Real organizing needs to happen. And what better place than Texas, today’s ground zero for the fight for immigrant and Latino rights.”
No Deus Ex Machina
That mobilization starts with voter registration and increasing turnout among the 4.8 million eligible Latino voters, an uphill battle in a state that has sought to block minority voting through redistricting and racist voter ID laws, openly deemed “discriminatory” by a federal judge. (The past few weeks have been busy on that front. See “Voter IDon’t,” Sept. 1.)
Latinos currently make up 38% of the state’s population, but they’ve historically voted at lower rates than non-Latinos and their counterparts in other states. Sylvia Manzano, a Texas-based consultant with Latino Decisions, attributes the struggle to mobilize Latino voters to lopsided and noncompetitive races, as well as the lack of engagement from parties and campaigns. The number of registered Latinos who cast a ballot in Texas increased slightly from 47.2% in the 2012 presidential race to 49.8% in 2016 – still well below the more than 60% of non-Latino voters who went to polls both cycles. “There’s certainly more work to be done, especially just in registering voters, which is a costly endeavor in Texas,” said Manzano. “Since political parties are more focused on winning elections, the job really falls on the shoulders of nonprofits.”
On a hopeful note, Austin political consultant Steven Rivas said he’s heartened by recent local Latino mobilization, and the induction of Latino representation on the 10-1 City Council. “The result of the 2016 election, with its hints of discrimination, has ramped up organizing,” said Rivas. “What I’m seeing in every neighborhood on the Eastside is unprecedented. I think there’s a wave of Latinos that are ready to take action and not expect the status quo to elicit change.”
With hopes that former San Antonio mayor and HUD secretary Julián Castro would shake things up statewide mostly dashed, eyes are on his brother Joaquín, a sitting U.S. representative who is being encouraged to jump into the 2018 gubernatorial race by Dem leadership. However, there’s an overall lack of enthusiasm from Democrats to get on the statewide ticket. Even if there comes a Castro run, Manzano suggests it’s actually more effective to not attach Latino voters to individual candidates, but rather to lasting agendas. “To think some deus ex machina is going to arrive is really wishful thinking that may or may not ever happen,” she said. “It’s more likely that a more enduring electorate would be one that has specific issues that matter to them and affect their everyday life as opposed to a particular candidate.”
Immigration tops the list, according to Latino Decisions’ polling of Hispanic Texans. Staring in the face of SB 4, a threat to not just the undocumented but to all Latinos who can now be racially profiled and discriminated against because of the color of their skin, Tzintzún believes the issue has reinvigorated Latino activism. “For us, SB 4 is really a call to action to defend our community from a hateful, discriminatory agenda,” said Tzintzún.
Back at the Capitol, the quince girls pumped their fists in the air in a choreographed dance to a “mash-up” version of Hamilton playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” and “Somos Mas Americanos” by Los Tigres del Norte. Instead of dancing the night away with friends and family, the young ladies shuffled into the Capitol to convince lawmakers to put an end to SB 4. Alexandra Lopez, decked out in pink sparkles that belied her somber speech, slammed the law for scaring victims of violence into silence: “To all of these Latinas out there, know this: You are not alone. We are standing with you.”
AUSTIN, Texas — Hundreds of people marched throughout downtown Austin on Saturday in defense of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program ahead of President Donald Trump’s imminent decision.
“It makes me sick to my stomach. Thinking about my friends and family that are sitting in fear waiting whether or not they have this protection continue is really frustrating,” said Leslie Abraham, who participated in the march.
Many at the demonstration that started at the state Capitol were DACA recipients.
“More recently (the president) says he’s going to have a heart and he loves all people. I’m not sure how much I want to be hopeful of his words,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, a DACA recipient.
The 19-year-old is a student at the University of Texas. After an approved application process, DACA allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to legally go to school and work. The program also shields them from deportation.
“Young immigrants do their best to be enough to prove themselves to this country, to prove themselves to this government, to prove themselves to the society, their friends, their family members, their teachers, their classmates that they’re American enough,” Rodriguez said.
“It has given me the opportunity to continue my education past high school and really make my parents’ sacrifices worthwhile,” said Berenice Ramirez, DACA recipient.
Many celebrated a federal judge’s ruling that blocked the state’s sanctuary cities law. Despite the small victory, demonstrators acknowledged that some legislators continue to pressure Trump to dismantle DACA by Tuesday, when he’s expected to announce a decision on the program’s status.
A group of Republicans, including state Attorney General Ken Paxton, have promised to challenge the policy in court.
“I want lawmakers to know that young Latinos across Texas are ready to vote and are ready to change the system and to make a stand for what we believe in,” Abraham said.
The future remains unclear for the estimated 800,000 young immigrants DACA protects, but some say they have found hope in their activism.
“I also have a strong community ready to fight for my freedom and ready to fight for the dignity and respect that my community deserves,” Ramirez said.