Florida Politicians Court Puerto Ricans, But Will They Vote?

Nearly a year ago, Hurricane Maria plowed through the Island of Puerto Rico causing $139 billion in damage and killing over 1,400 people. In the storm’s aftermath, it is estimated that as many as 300,000 Puerto Ricans moved to Florida. Less than three weeks after the storm the Times had already run an article headlined “An Exodus From Puerto Could Remake Florida Politics.”

Realizing there was an opportunity to be had, Politicians began their courtship with the Puerto Rican community.

Senate incumbent Bill Nelson (D) has traveled to the Island at least three times since the storm, and he has released at least one video ad in Spanish. His challenger, Rick Scott (R) has gone at least five times, and Scott has also released a number of video ads in Spanish appealing to Puerto Rican voters. Both candidates’ websites have a Spanish translation option and press releases written in Spanish.

Scott has secured an endorsement from Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Jenniffer González-Colón (R). However, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico is a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Not to be outdone, Nelson has been endorsed by former governors of Puerto Rico Pedro Rosselló and Alejandro Garcia Pedro Rosselló, and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

In a state where a lot of elections are decided by 1% or less, it’s no surprise that Florida Politicians have reached out to the Puerto Rican community ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Although Politicians are paying considerable attention to the Puerto Rican community, there have been reports that fewer Puerto Ricans are registering to vote than predicted.

Jose Luis Rivera, co-founder and former President of the Puerto Rican Student Association at the University of Central Florida, doesn’t think the influx in Puerto Ricans will have much of an impact on the midterm elections. “The election system in Puerto Rico is different than here. They won’t want to spend the time learning about elections,” he said. “Right now people are worried about getting housing, getting a job, getting settled.”

In the nine months before the storm, about 62,000 Hispanics registered to vote in Florida. In the 9 months after Maria, almost 69,000 Hispanics have registered to vote. The State of Florida’s voting statistics do not break down Hispanics into subgroups, so it is unknown how many of the additional 7,000 voters were Puerto Ricans. According to the Pew Research Center, Puerto Ricans accounted for 27% of the Hispanic voters in Florida during the 2016 election.

Jimmy Torres, coordinator for  Boricua Vota in Central Florida, an organization devoted to increasing Puerto Rican participation in the U.S. political process, questions those statistics. “There’s a tendency to exaggerate numbers,” he said. “If you say 200,000 Puerto Ricans came to Florida after Maria, which is non-scientific proof … but if you go and establish the real number and you subtract the people that cannot vote, the number is pretty good.”

Mr. Torres has a point. Some estimate the number of Puerto Ricans that moved to Florida in the storm’s wake at 50,000 instead of 300,000.

Nevertheless, it is unclear what Mr. Torres meant by “pretty good.” When pressed he told me, “I heard from some people that over 200,000 Latinos have registered (since the last election) and out of the 200,000 Latinos, there are probably 80% of them are Puerto Ricans.” He qualified his answer by indicating he was not the best person to ask.

It’s also unclear how Puerto Ricans will vote come November. A recent study of Puerto Ricans living in Florida, conducted by Eduardo A. Gamarra and Jorge Dunay, in conjunction with Florida International University, showed that 57% were registered as Democrats, 17% as independents, 13% as don’t know, and only 10.7% of respondents said they registered as Republicans.

In the same study, however, in response to the question “What is your opinion of Rick Scott,” roughly 80% said they have a good opinion or a very good opinion of him, whereas only 56% said they have a good opinion or a very good opinion of Senator Nelson.

Making things even more complicated, one of Puerto Rico’s two major political parties, The New Progressive Party, was formerly called the Puerto Rican Republican Party. “I think in a lot of sense both parties are considered leaning toward the Democratic part,” said Torres, but “when they come here, they register as Republicans, and then they find out that the reason for them to be stakeholders is completely different from what Republicans stand for in the United States.”

Torres continued, “People in Puerto Rico think that people in need should have food stamps, but when they come here and they find out that Republicans in the United States don’t believe in none of that, they are in shock.”

Gamarra’s study revealed 90% of respondents said they have received some sort of aid or assistance from the government, the majority of which was food assistance, social security and healthcare related.

Pushing economic issues aside, who speaks better Spanish, Rick Scott or Bill Nelson? Torres laughs, ” I commend both of them for trying to speak Spanish. Every American that tries to learn a second language is a hero.” But what’s more important, he explained, is what they’ve done for the people of Puerto Rico.

Why We Should Care About Adoption Rehoming

“A sick thing”. “Human trafficking in children”. “A gaping loophole with life threatening outcomes”. These are just few of the ways experts, legislators and judges have named unregulated private transfers of child custody, a practice referred to as re-homing.

Private re-homing occurs when adoptive parents transfer the custody of a child bypassing official channels. In such cases, parental authority is transferred with a simple Power of Attorney to non-family members.

Very often these people are perfect strangers whose parenting abilities have not been screened by child welfare authorities or, worse, have been judged so poor that their biological children have been taken away by child protection services.

According to an investigation published by Reuters in 2013, hundreds of children are victims of re-homing in the USA every year. 70 percent of them are children adopted from abroad.

“Rehoming can be an appropriate change of placement for a child if it is done with court approval and with home study that look at the needs of the child and the child’s best interests,” said Stephen Pennypacker, a senior child welfare expert and current President of the Partnership for Strong Families, in an interview.

However, the problem with private rehoming is that it is not done with that oversight and the necessary background screening on the prospective placement. “This can lead to some pretty horrific consequences for children that are moved under those circumstances,” Pennypacker said.

One such case happened in Arkansas in 2014, when a six-year-old girl was sexually abused by a man who had obtained her custody via a private re-homing procedure. The case received intense scrutiny only last February as the media reported that the adoptive father who gave the little girl away was a state legislator, Justin Harris.

Arkansas has since then passed two laws to prevent this practice, becoming the fifth state to have regulated it. A few other states are slowly discussing bills to this effect, while no federal law regulates it.

In a court decision in the State of New York last December, Judge Edward W. McCarty III defined the practice “unmistakably trafficking in children” and called on the Legislature to amend domestic law to prohibit this “unsavory and unsupervised practice”.

This judgment came to no surprise to Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth. “Rehoming sounds like a positive experience that is looking at the best interests of the child, but actually it simply transfers a child to another person without any required review by child welfare, family judges, or other officials. So it could be easily a cover for trafficking in children.”

Other child experts echo the concerns about the risks that unregulated re-homing poses to a child’s wellbeing, although they do not consider re-homing as trafficking because parents do not move children to exploit them, but to get rid of them. “All under the table dealing on children’s matters entails risks of exploitation,” said Michael Moran, INTERPOL Assistant Director, Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation, in a phone interview. “Unregulated re-homing creates opportunities for sex offenders. If loopholes exist, sex offenders will use them.”

Reasons that push parents to resort to private re-homing vary from case to case. The most common explanation given by parents engaging in such a practice is that they feel overwhelmed by the behavioral problems of their adopted children. They also claim that the support they receive from child welfare authorities to deal with difficult adoption cases is inadequate. In another case, parents may fear to be charged with child abandonment if they seek to transfer custody to the state. Financial considerations may also play a role because certain states accept taking a child under their custody only on the condition that parents pay for the child’s care until a new adoption takes place.

Some state and federal authorities have acknowledged these problems and are trying to address them. State legislation has been adopted in Arkansas to strengthen post-adoption services and allow parents to give children back to the state’s care if they have exhausted the available resources – although no definition of what these resources are is provided. At the federal level, the US President’s 2016 budget contains a proposal that would guarantee federal funding for prevention and post-placement services.

Whether such initiatives will suffice to prevent rehoming is an open question, though, in particular as the practice remains largely lawless in the USA. So far, only five states – Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, and Wisconsin – have adopted legislation to prevent re-homing. Five other states – Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, and North Carolina – are discussing bills to this effect.

“This kind of regulatory void is enormously concerning,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, professor of the practice of health and human rights at Harvard School of Public Health. “Clearly, we need much tighter regulation and more supervising and support to families.”

Response to Social Worker Doesn’t Mean Liberal

How does conservatism factor into social work policy and practice? Justin Nutt, a conservative staff writer for Social Justice Solution, wrote an article entitled “Social Worker Doesn’t Mean Liberal”. When I started Social Work Helper a couple of years ago, I made a conscious decision that I would use this platform to challenge conservative and right-wing fallacies that often cause people living in the margins to vote against their own interest.

donkey-vs-elephantI was often told that it was inappropriate for a social worker to discuss politics or party affiliation in the scope of social work practice.  However, I was born, raised, and have lived my entire life in the Jim Crow South, and my almost 40 years of living on this earth tells me that our belief systems is the filter in which we process information and determines how we interact with the world.

Especially in the South, I believe it’s extremely naive to believe that a person’s belief systems does not influence their decision-making in practice. No social worker is immune from having prejudices, but it is when we lack the ability to acknowledge our deficiencies that those we serve suffer.

I have personally been affected by the racial animus of the Christian conservative right were their barbaric hatred allowed them to feel entitled to kill African-Americans at will.

My great-grandfather was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, and it happened approximately four miles from my parents’ current home where there is a street the locals refer to as Nigger Head Road. This is where they would hang black people who got out of line. My parents grew up in a segregated South, and America is not as far removed from the oppressive beliefs, policies, and politics that has perpetuated this stain on America’s history as many want to believe.

On social issues which consist of any public policy issue affecting individuals and/or society at large, I identify as a liberal. I made the decision long ago to advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations, and I believe democratic values happen to align more closely with those beliefs and principles.

When it comes to government spending, I would say my beliefs align as a fiscal conservative. If the government wants to eliminate loop holes to reduce fraud and abuse in governmental programs, I believe the other side of the equation should include elimination of tax loop holes to prevent tax avoidance by the 1 percent. I believe way to much is focused on the small percentage of federal dollars funding governmental assistance programs versus the lack of outrage for the tax-free status of the NFL while tax dollars are being used to build stadiums. 

But, when I hear Republicans talk, there is a familiar oppressive undertone that resonates which appears to be reflective of their value system. As social workers, our primary purpose is to serve the oppressed, vulnerable, addicted, and marginalized. However, It causes me great concern when helping professionals in positions of power to make policy, determinations of benefits, eligibility of services, prevention programs, and treatment hold the conservative values articulated in Mr. Nutt’s article.  

A relatively new social worker, named Amanda, wrote a response to Mr. Nutt’s article in the comments section that I wanted to share with you. She went point by point to address various statements within his article from her point of view, and here is her comment in full:

As a relatively new/young social worker who looks to experienced social workers as leaders in this profession, I must admit I am disheartened by this article.

My critique is not a slight to you personally, Mr. Nutt. I wholeheartedly support your right to form your own opinions. However, I am concerned that appearing within the context of this website frames these opinions as “social justice.” Furthermore, it suggests that stereotypical descriptions of “Liberal” and “Conservative” are evaluative social justice frameworks when in fact, they are not.

In my personal life, I am neither Liberal nor Conservative. In my professional life, I am a social worker. And as such, I use a strengths based approach to my clients’ needs, data from both research and practice, and social justice frameworks to collaborate with clients to create, assess, implement, and evaluate policy. Strictly adhering to traditional political silos because of my own personal partisan identification is not an intervention I have or will ever use.

Furthermore, as this is a social justice site, I am confused as to how the following conclusions were made through the lens of social work values or social justice evaluative frameworks:

“insurance is a personal responsibility”

Many of our clients do not have access to employment that provides insurance and cannot afford their own plan. Wouldn’t social workers acknowledge that the systems that set the price and accessibility to insurance are *also* responsible for making it something everyone *can* actually obtain? Why take a personal-deficit approach to being uninsured? Where is the macro-level assessment of this issue?

“if you are here illegally you should be deported and not giving services”

Many undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. fleeing political violence and hostility, risking death to do so. A growing number of these immigrants are very young, unaccompanied children. I was taught that social workers are to globalize their community identification with other human beings, meaning that national borders do not determine whether or not someone is entitled to life, freedom, and human rights–and the services necessary to secure those things. In other words: social justice.

“damn right you need an ID to vote,”

In the state where I reside, the voter ID law stood to disenfranchise an estimated half-million citizens in favor of eliminating “illegal voting”–something no one could even agree as to whether it even existed or was statistically significant. How is this research-informed policy making?

“just because something negative about Obama is said doesn’t mean the person is a racist. Actually saying it is a race issue creates racism,”

Social work values demand cultural competence which includes acknowledging personal racial biases. The idea that racial bias is either “present or not” or that racism can be “created” is concerning to me because racism.is.present. The U.S. is NOT post-racial and racism permeates every corner of U.S. society. Many critiques made about Obama do in fact ooze with racist microaggressions.

“if you need a drug test to get a job then those receiving government assistance should be required to take them, too”

There is a difference between an at-will employee taking a drug test to maintain employment, and the government drug testing someone as a contingency to survival. What is the solution then if someone’s test comes back dirty? Do they and their children deserve to starve because they struggle with addiction? Will that make the addiction better? Is this “social justice?”

The state of Florida spends tens of thousands of dollars per month drug testing welfare recipients and 98% test clean. Not only is this a complete waste of money but it also perpetuates the stigma that lower income folks are presumed drug users. How is this strengths-based? How is this policy position research-informed? Furthermore, social work dictates that the community most affected by a policy help create the policy. Are welfare recipients OK with being drug tested and presumed as drug users?

“I also believe abortion is acceptable, but that the current way it is used is not always the best practice.”

I am not even sure I want to go here, especially if you’re implying that the “abortion is mostly used as birth control” stereotype has any place in policy making.

“If you want equality, it must be equal treatment across the board rather than one set of rules for the majority and a special set to keep the minority from feeling persecuted…..”

I am going to stop here, because I find this just incredibly disrespectful. I am a white, straight, cisgendered, coupled, married, educated, middle-class, able-bodied, free, family-supported, food/housing secure, Christian woman, and I am not about to sit here and cry big privileged tears that some (hardly enough) policies in this country give oppressed (“minority”) groups the opportunities that I automatically have as a person with unearned, unquestioned power and privilege.  ~Amanda Woolsten, BSW, MSW Candidate

I am interested to know what are your thoughts, and does our personal values matter or don’t matter in terms of how we practice social work? Do our personal belief systems affect how we develop and implement policy? I look forward to having this debate with you.

Also view: The great social work debate – conservative or liberal? written by Australian Social Work Professor Dr. Patricia Fronek.

Stand Up and Speak Out: No Bullying Allowed

In recent news, a Florida teen was cleared of a felony charge of third-degree aggravated assault stalking  from bullying that led to the suicide of a 12-year-old girl in September. Rebecca Ann Sedwick had been ‘absolutely terrorized’ by the other girls before she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and hurled herself to her death. The bullying apparently started over a ‘boyfriend issue’ at Crystal Lake Middle School.

Katelyn one of the girls accused stated, “No, I do not feel l did anything wrong.”Katelyn and a 14-year-old girl were charged last month after Polk County (Fla.) Sheriff Grady Judd saw a derogatory post on Facebook that he claims was written by one of them. The Facebook post said, “Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but IDGAF [I don’t give a f—].”

Bullying is becoming a huge problem in today’s society.

  • Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
  • More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats online
  • 1 in 7 students in grades K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying.
  • 56 percent of students have personally witnessed some type of bullying at school.
  • Over two-thirds of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.

What can we do?

No_BullyingTeaching kids and teens that bullying is not cool is one of the first steps we can make in educating our youth. As adults, we should model the behavior we want our children to exhibit as well as encouraging them to report if they see bullying happening. By encouraging them to speak up, it recognizes that not saying anything is just as bad as participating.

Bullies are often victims of abuse themselves or are lashing out because of  low self-esteem and other personal issues in order to make themselves feel better. Bullies can also be the”popular” kids or teens that are liked by many of their peers and teachers. No matter who it is it should not be tolerated. Joking with your friends is one thing, but teasing someone to the point where they’re afraid to attend school, ride the bus etc is unacceptable.

Teachers should also take bullying serious and intervene when possible. Managing their classrooms, investigating and knowing their students, recognizing relationships between their students, creating rules that allow victims to confide in and trust them are all major steps in confronting this epidemic.

As hard as it may be, I think encouraging victims to speak up for themselves and tell someone they trust about the bullying is necessary to begin addressing the root of the problem. One of the most important things a person should demonstrate is respect for themselves and others. Identifying ways to increase self-esteem is the first line of defense against bullying which results into lower self worth and inferiority.

Early years are an important time for parents, teachers and other forces in the child’s life to enlighten them on how to relate with their peers. If we start there, I think we can make a difference.

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