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Opinion

To Close Achievement Gap, Give Legal Status to Undocumented Parents of Citizen Children


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(Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Latino Americans now number close to 60 million and a significant share of the 18 million children therein have persistent achievement shortcomings. Unfortunately, Latinos are seen primarily through the lens of competing immigration narratives.

Conservatives claim that they threaten American society: criminal activities, overuse of social services, and adverse effects on native-born workers, particularly less-educated black men. By contrast, pro–immigration activists point to positive examples, particularly successful young people in the DACA program. They also downplay social service costs as simply a first-generation experience and adverse employment effects as isolated to a small group of workers.

Each of these narratives has some truth but neither looks seriously at the academic obstacles Latino youth face.

Latino-white fourth-grade achievement gaps are substantial. Latino children are twice as likely as white children to be below basic achievement levels and less than half as likely to attain the proficiency level or better. Moreover, these gaps are unchanged as children age and some studies find that it is just as large for second- and third-generation Latino children.

There are a host of factors that influence this achievement gap. One is the impact of illegal immigration. Piecing together two data sources (here and here), I estimate that among Mexican- and Central-American U.S. immigrants, 45 percent of children are either undocumented or citizens but living in a household with at least one undocumented family member; and they represented 34 percent of all Latino children in the country.  

Given these mixed family situations, threats of deportation influence the Latino-white achievement gap. Researchers estimate that Latino school attendance declines by 10 percent when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has partnerships with local police, and these declines are concentrated among elementary school students. This may explain the high chronic absentee rates of elementary school children in the Bronx.

By contrast, as a result of President Obama’s DACA program, high school graduation rates increased by 15 percent and college attendance by 25 percent.

Undocumented parents are also in some instances less able to advocate for their children’s educational needs. Given the problems with the traditional public schools in many poor communities, black parents successfully shift their children to the charter school sector to a much greater degree than Latino parents. Whereas there are 78 percent more Latino than black students in New York City public schools, there are 40 percent more black than Latino students in its charter schools. This and other similar issues may explain why children with undocumented parents score lower on assessment exams that those with authorized parents, even after controlling for a number of variables; and children gained more than one year of schooling when their parents were able to obtained legal status.

There are of course other factors that influence the achievement gap. In 2017, the Latino poverty rate was 16 percent, double the white rate and only slightly below the black rate. In addition, English language deficiencies hinder educational achievement. An additional explanation is that despite their own limited economic circumstances, many Latinos focus on giving aid to their more impoverished family members in their home countries.

As a result, remittances from the U.S. to Mexico and Central America dwarf those to other countries. In 2016, they were at record levels. This focus puts added pressure on Latino youth, particularly boys, to gain employment as soon as possible, constraining educational attainment.

In 2017, among those 25 and older, only 19.8 percent of Latino men compared to 43.2 percent of white men had at least an associate degree. Not surprisingly, the average hourly wage of Latino men was 32.5 percent below white men’s wage rate. Economic Policy Institute researchers Maria Mora and Alberto Davila reported that including adjustments for differences in educational attainment and age, the wage gap declined to 14.9 percent. This remaining gap is virtually eliminated if we then adjust for lower Latino academic test scores that are linked to weaker schools attended and low-earning occupations entered.

What can be done? Certainly we should seriously consider legalizing undocumented parents of citizen children.

In addition, providing more occupational programs may be effective in responding to the employment goals of young men in Latino communities. As Kenneth Adams, the director of workforce development at Bronx Community College has documented, given the high failure rate in Bronx community college academic programs, this may be an effective strategy.

We must move efforts to reduce the Latino-white achievement gap to the forefront of policy discussions regardless of any fear that it would strengthen anti-immigrant forces.

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Robert Cherry is Stern Professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center.

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My Vision for the Role of Public Advocate: David Eisenbach


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(photo: Eisenbach for Public Advocate Campaign)


Right now, as communities across the city are organizing against displacement, we need a New York City Public Advocate who unifies and advocates for them in the struggle to save their homes and small businesses. I am not a politician who serves real estate developers and makes deals with corporations like Amazon that displace hard-working New Yorkers. I teach American history at Columbia University and running for Public Advocate on the platform to Fight Big Real Estate and Save Our Small Businesses.

I will be a real Public Advocate, and I hope to have your vote on February 26.

I have a long record of fighting for communities against Mayor-of-the-1% Bill de Blasio and the big developers he represents, like the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). In Chinatown and the Lower East Side, I joined the fight to keep the residents of 83-85 Bowery in their homes. I pledged to stop the mega-towers in the Lower East Side waterfront. I have joined the battle to save Elizabeth Street Garden from being turned into a tower.

In Inwood and East Harlem, I fought against de Blasio’s pro-developer rezoning plans. In Queens, I support organizations opposing the Amazon deal in Long Island City and bike lanes on Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside. In Brooklyn, I am working with Crown Heights community groups to stop the rezoning to build towers that could cast shadows over the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I marched with working people, tenants, small business owners and grassroots organizations from the Lower East Side to City Hall, demanding de Blasio:

1. Stop city agencies from evicting tenants on behalf of landlords to deny the tenants’ rights of due process.

2. Stop selling public land (including NYCHA) and end the 421-a tax exemption.

3. End the city’s pro-developer rezonings, and instead pass community-led rezoning plans that put people first and protect workers, tenants, small businesses, and schools -- like the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) plan.

I am the founder and president of Friends of Small Business Job Survival Act (SBJSA) a citywide coalition of small business activists dedicated to passing the historic bill. I have worked with business leaders and chambers of commerce who serve communities across the city to fight to pass this act. If passed, this act will give small business owners the right to 10-year leases and an arbitration process to negotiate lease renewal. SBJSA will stop the extortion of small business owners by landlords.

The fight for our small businesses is a fight for our communities, and real affordability and diversity of New York. For 33 years REBNY successfully stopped the SBJSA but this year thanks to my leadership we are about to pass it. Passing SBJSA and defeating REBNY is the greatest David and Goliath story since Jane Jacobs stopped Robert Moses. Seeing communities standing up against big real estate, I believe that we can win this fight.

It’s not a coincidence that New York City has record homelessness and displacement under a mayor mired in pay-to-play corruption scandals. De Blasio is a puppet of his real estate donors who have launched a ‘displacement-replacement‘ agenda: displace long-time residents and replace them with high-income individuals employed by big corporations like Amazon.

In this special election on February 26, New Yorkers have an opportunity to elect a Public Advocate who will stand up to the mayor’s corruption and big real estate’s displacement agenda and fight for our communities. I am the candidate to do just that.

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David Eisenbach is a history professor at Columbia University and a candidate for New York City Public Advocate. On Twitter @Eisenbach4NY.

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How New York Can Become a Real Democracy: Re-Center Race as Legislative Progress Continues


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(photo: Governor's Office)


For decades, the phrase “three men in a room” has been used to capture how the leadership of New York state government (the governor, the state Assembly speaker and the state Senate majority leader) in Albany decides in back-room negotiations what legislation lives or dies. Finally, this year, state government can remake itself much closer to the image of true democracy. Leaders in the Assembly and Senate, Carl Heastie and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, are for the first time both African-American, and one is a woman.

This is an undeniably exciting moment, but it is also a moment fraught with uncertainty and real questions about what it means to have a truly inclusive democracy, one that reflects a multiracial society and advances solutions to benefit all, not just a select few.

While it is Democrats who are leading the charge on voting and campaign finance reforms – issues at the very heart of democracy – both parties have participated in, and benefited from, a system run on corporate money and machine politics. That system consists of a very small, very wealthy, and very white donor class that occupies the place that democracy should.

Recently passed reforms such as early voting and changes to the “LLC loophole,” which limits the amount of money powerful individuals and companies can contribute to candidates, are game-changers for New York. Still, much of the hard work of disentangling the deep, white roots of money from politics remains, work that must be done in order to have a true democracy in New York. In particular, automatic voter registration and public financing of elections are essential to achieving this goal. But there’s more.

In the public discourse on many issues, the flag of economic equality flies high. What has been less talked about is the systematic exclusion and oppression of communities of color as a direct result of our current system. Democracy reforms are not just about good governance, they are about giving people of color access to the political power from which they are all too often excluded. Race has become a footnote in a discussion when it should be the headline, for the simple reason that we cannot achieve a truly inclusive democracy if we do not start by acknowledging who has been excluded and why.

A recent column on the housing crisis by State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, centers the impact of money on the most basic and essential of goods – shelter.  

“For the real estate industry, these donations [to candidates] are a calculated investment to protect and expand their soaring profits,” they wrote in The Daily News. “Albany returns the favor by granting favorable tax breaks for developers and blocking meaningful action on the rent laws, which protect millions of tenants and families.”

At Community Voices Heard, a member-led, multiracial organization working to secure racial, social, and economic justice for all New Yorkers, we know the consequences of this relationship are far too real. In 2018, we organized tenants in Ossining, New York, to enact the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA). ETPA provided tenant protections for more than 2,000 residents. Just a year later, the mayor and village council have proposed repealing ETPA without offering an alternative proposal, a troubling development for the residents fighting against a profit-driven industry to stay in their homes. Without strong leadership in Albany to protect tenants, battles like these will become an endless war.

Legislation to mitigate climate change tells a similar story. As is well known, the fossil fuel industry ranks among the top political campaign contributors and spends enormously on lobbying as well. The impact of a toxic environment is not being borne equally. According to The Nation, studies show that the majority of people living near hazardous waste sites are people of color. According to the same article, in cases where communities filed complaints with the Environmental Protection Agency alleging a violation of their civil rights, 95 percent of the claims were denied. In New York, one can see similar trends in the decades of negligence and mismanagement of public housing under the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) or the city’s response to Hurricane Sandy.

In recognition of this, the Climate and Community Protection Act, re-introduced this session by Assemblymember Steven Englebright and Senator Todd Kaminsky, contains provisions aimed specifically at ensuring an equitable transition to renewable energy, including allocating 40 percent of funding to frontline and historically disadvantaged communities. This approach, which both acknowledges racial inequity and ensures that it informs policy-making, is an important step in the fight for an inclusive democracy and should serve as an example for advocates and lawmakers alike.

Business as usual in Albany has often meant that lawmakers, lobbyists, experts, and advocates are quick to embrace a “race-neutral” dialogue when talking about the momentous issues at stake: voting, climate, housing, healthcare, jobs, and more. But it is worth remembering that these issues were core tenets of the Civil Rights Movement. The weeks ahead present both a challenge and an opportunity: to disrupt the normal discourse, to be explicit about racial inequities, and to fight for policies that can build a truly inclusive democracy.

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Afua Atta-Mensah is Executive Director of Community Voices Heard. On Twitter @AfuaAttaMensah & @CVHaction.

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