Editorial, Featured

Rollercoaster Year Leaves Latinos at Risk

December 28, 2017

By Art Castañares – La Prensa San Diego Publisher and CEO

Photo by Mani Albrecht

This year of political change has left Latinos at risk of an uncertain future as we welcome a new year, causing angst and fear among our most vulnerable; working families, children, and seniors.

Since taking office in January, Donald Trump immediately signed an executive order to increase immigration enforcement and moved forward with plans for his much-touted border wall, he’s threatened to cut federal funding to cities that refused to engage in immigration enforcement, ended the DACA program for nearly one million Dreamers, and just last week signed into law a huge tax cut bill that will drain nearly $1.5 trillion from programs that help millions of Latinos, including MediCaid, MediCare, and Obamacare, just to name a few.

The tax cut bill – the only significant piece of legislation signed by Trump so far in his presidency – is aimed at giving huge tax cuts to corporations, wealthy individuals, and families that pass on hefty estates to their heirs. The cuts will help some middle class families, but will provide little relief to working families that make up the majority of Latinos in the United States, and will surely hurt millions of at-risk Latinos.

In fact, one of the worst parts of the new tax cut bill for Latinos is that people filing their taxes using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) will not be able to claim the Child Tax Credit. Latinos are the largest group using ITINs, given to resident and non-resident aliens during their immigration process period.

In 2013, 4.4 million ITIN filers claimed over $6 billion in Child Tax Credits. The Child Tax Credit was doubled under the new bill from $1,000 to $2,000 per child, but it will now leave out millions of tax-paying Latinos who have filed immigration applications with the INS and received ITINs from the IRS.

The tax cut bill also eliminates personal deductions on tax forms, meaning that filers will no longer have a $4,050 deduction for themselves, their spouses, and each child. Instead, an increased standard deduction of $24,000 is all that will be excluded from taxation, meaning that larger families will receive less tax protection than they did this year. For Latinos, which on average have larger families than non-Latinos, the new tax cut bill takes another bite out of their wallets.

Another piece of the tax cut bill that will undoubtedly hurt Latinos is that, in order to help pay for the cuts, Republicans ended the individual mandate in Obamacare to help save an estimated $500 million of the $1.5 trillion the bill will cost. The mandate required that everyone have health insurance, or pay a fine each year if they didn’t have coverage. By removing the mandate, Republicans know that millions of people will drop out of insurance program, resulting in savings to Medicaid, and will also reduce federal subsidies to state health insurance programs, including MediCal.

Since the passage of Obamacare, more Latinos gained health insurance coverage than any other group in the country. The rate of uninsured Latinos dropped by 12 percent under Obamacare, and in California, uninsured numbers among working-aged Latinos fell by half to only 17 percent. With the removal of the individual mandate, Latinos are at risk of falling back to the highest uninsured numbers in the country.

The elimination of the individual mandate could also cause so much imbalance in the health insurance markets that the entire Obamacare program could fall apart, leaving even more Latinos at risk of losing their health insurance coverage.

Although it doesn’t make any sense to expose the largest and fastest-growing minority group to greater health risk, Republicans seem to think tax cuts for the rich will result in better health outcomes in the future through some magical trickle-down effect.

On the immigration front, Trump ended the DACA program and left nearly one million Dreamers at risk of deportation if Congress doesn’t come up with a solution by March. Trump expects that Republicans will find a way – and the political will – to solve a problem that will satisfy their right-leaning political base without destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants that were brought here as minors through no fault of their own. Now, after many have graduated from college and have become productive adults, Trump dashed their dreams and left them feeling targeted, vulnerable, and unsure of their futures.

And, lastly, during the past few months, contractors here in San Diego have built prototype designs for a new border wall that Trump continues to peddle. Defying experts that believe the expense of a wall outweighs its practical effectiveness, Trump continues to push for construction of what will be more symbolic than useful, and far more damaging to the relationship between the U.S. and its third largest trading partner and neighbor.

Trump calculates that the political advantage of delivering on his promise of a border wall will propel his reelection campaign, regardless of the human and economic devastation it will cause.

Latinos have been one of Trump’s favorite targets since the first day of his campaign. He’s called Mexicans, rapists, drug dealers, and criminals. He has falsely claimed that millions of undocumented immigrants voted against him in the election. And he has continued to pit America and Americans against Latinos – and Mexicans in particular – as a way to gain votes and promote his brand. Latinos have been a piñata for Trump to beat at will, figuratively.

And now, Trump has found real ways to hurt Latinos, literally. Taking away money in the form of tax credits and deductions, kicking millions off health insurance, and deporting hardworking young adult Dreamers that have followed the rules to stay in this country will all hurt our families.

As we reflect on this year, and look forward to a new one, we must feel for the millions of Latinos that are living in fear during this holiday season.
Our wish is for a more prosperous new year, where their hard work will help elevate their families to reach their dreams of a better life. May the new year bring good health and the prospect of continued insurance coverage.

Most importantly, may the new year bring a renewed sense of bipartisanship among elected officials that will result in practical solutions to the complex issues we face, without scapegoating communities that are most at risk and least able to defend themselves.

If the politics don’t change, we must change the politicians.

It’s been a hard year, but we look forward to a brighter new year.

So long 2017. Welcome 2018.

Prospero año y felicidad.

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