San Diego ACLU's Emphasis On Latino Civil Rights Growing
ALLISON ST. JOHN: The results of the recent election demonstrated loud and clear that the Latino population is a growing force in our community. The San Diego chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has taken a step to recognize this trend and the growing importance of Latino civil rights by promoting a Latina to a top post. Our guest here is Norma Chavez Peterson who is now the ACLU associate director. Thank you so much for joining us NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Thank you for having me. ALLISON ST. JOHN: This is a completely new post is that that did not exist before. NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: It is a new role within the organization and a new position. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Start by telling us how much is the ACLU focused on Latino issues for the past 25 years here in San Diego. NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Our local ACLU has done a lot of work around Latino issues in earlier years did a lot of foreground farmworker rights and in the most recent years actually that was my first collaboration with the ACLU was during the wildfires that happened here in San Diego. And really responding to the need of not just the Latino community, but communities that might speak different languages and really address the issues around language access when it comes to disaster preparedness. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Because they were not getting the same help that other people were? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Exactly and making sure that entities have you know, receive the alerts and messages in order for them to evacuate their homes. Definitely there was work around that and a stream simply I think that every ACLU has been really focused around issues around the border. Around, you know, immigrant rights especially around the city of Escondido. And really keeping an eye on issues around the traffic checkpoints and some of the things that are happening. Escondido since 2006 the anti-immigrant rental ordinance. So what has really been a broad group of issues. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Right and of course the ACLU is representing a large number of people, all kinds of different populations but the Latino one is one of the largest ones in this community that really is not up to scratch really with it civil rights, right? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Read I think a lot of folks compare some of the issues facing the immigrant committee is kind of the civil rights movement of our present day. And so we've seen what's been happening not just to undocumented immigrants but issues around kind of local law enforcement and their collaboration with tomato, ICE and immigration officials in terms of racial profiling and things like that and so definitely the Latino community is growing not just in our region but across the country. ALLISON ST. JOHN: So now one of the reasons we are paying attention to it now is because of the rise in some kind of political power that has always been a bit surprising how the Latino vote has not really fulfilled its promise until really this year it feels like it's beginning to start showing its power and you headed a major get out the vote campaign in Escondido, didn't you? Tell us about that. NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Yes we launched a campaign in Escondido. Like I said we've been doing work in is Candida for a really long time but as we begin to look at the numbers and Escondido recognizing that Latinos make up 49% of the population but only about 14% of the electorate and then those that are registered to vote, voter participation is fairly low. So we launched a campaign that we named our vote our future it was an imaging campaign, really the purpose was to identify local Latino leaders in Escondido and train them and build capacity in terms of talking to their friends and neighbors. About the importance of the election, the impact that local races, local candidates, local elected offices have in their day to day lives and so it was an amazing campaign. We engaged a lot of people and made a really big difference. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Apparently the primary only about 10% of the Latinos registered to vote overqualified to vote showed up at the polls. How did that change in November? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: We are still analyzing some of the data because even though the County registrar of voters release the numbers we will be doing some analysis over the next couple of weeks but I know that we have thousands and thousands of conversations with people at the door and on the phone and I think the number one thing is, voters need to make the connection between wife voting matters and how does it impact my day to day life and so I think for voters in Escondido, Latino voters to understand me know, what was at stake with proposition 30 for example with most of their children in public education was really important, also education around what was on the ballot locally in their city, you know we did voter education so it was telling people how to vote, but educating them for example on issues like whether or not the city of Escondido should be a charter city. ALLISON ST. JOHN: And that was an issue that actually got defeated unlike in a couple of other most of the other cities that put a charter initiative on the ballot when sailing through, but this one got defeated and I think a lot of people wondered why. Maybe your campaign have something to do with it. Why was that one so important? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: It was important because I think important for Escondido residents to understand what that meant and again we did not take an official position on telling voters to vote. For or against that measure. Though we did do the education that was necessary for them to understand here is what those who supported say, and here is what those who oppose it, so we went to an education process to make sure that voters are well-informed. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Why did you choose Escondido over Chula Vista or any other city. NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Number one we've been doing work in Escondido for a long time and it's a city that everybody kind of recognizes especially if you walk around the town. I'm Latina, you can see me, right, you feel the polarization and you feel the tension and I think from our perspective as ACLU we really felt that we can continue to litigate for justice right, litigate and keep an eye on civil rights and civil liberties, but really it is about how we engage the people that live in Escondido and how do we build some people power and at the end of the day it is through voting and turning out on election day the residents have the opportunity to really make a difference. So for us it is just the beginning of a long-term effort to make sure that we are providing the tools and resources for Latinos to get organized and to build their own capacity there in that city and help shape a better city for everybody. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Do want to just to find some of the issues that we were litigating. That may not be changed by this selection but could be in the future? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: One of them for example you know in 2006 severity one that and litigated that but it was the issue with the city of Escondido past a rental ordinance that would allow landlords to ask for people immigration status based on them looking suspicious, or whatever. So that was one issue. I think most recently we've been at the forefront. We did a really great report around traffic checkpoints and whether or not it was really a way to try to get unlicensed drivers, which tend to be undocumented. And also most recently and we actually just settled with the city of Escondido was around protecting the rights of into traffic checkpoint activists to have the right to videotape and document some of those activities by the local police department and Highway Patrol. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Have easy do you think it will be to duplicate what successes you had in Escondido in other communities? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Well I think one is that it's not just us one of the things we saw this November is that we saw a bunch of other partners. Many other organizations community-based organizations also looking to engage their constituency in the electoral process. So one of the reasons we focus on Escondido is we have some other allies and partners that were doing amazing work in other parts of the region and so I think we will duplicate this if we continue to invest in organizing and organizing to continue to invest in leadership development in local communities and we sustain it in between election cycles. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Right, what would you say, which elected officials shall I say, do you think should continue to pay more attention to the concerns of the Latino community? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: I think all of them. I think obviously we are hearing at the national level now that the tone has changed a little bit about whether or not comprehensive immigration reform is going to be picked up. I think all of the elected officials need to pay attention to the growing Latino electoral base and power. I mean obviously Mayor Bob Filner campaigned around an agenda that would invest in equity in our neighborhoods and he's suddenly return communities. So I think all of the elected officials across the county whether they were reelected or elected this November I didn't need to continue to pay attention to the Latino community. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Have you taken a stand on the issue and whether law enforcement should be sharing information around undocumented detainees? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: I'm not really sure. I should have to double check with the legal department. I'm not sure if it is a specific protocol or process. But I know that privacy issues, sharing of information is really really important issue for us and for everybody, so we will continue to monitor and be engaged in that. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Tell us about some of the other issues. There's impending case involving mentally ill immigrant detainees. NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: There is a case that we've been working on for a while and actually it would really be, have especially with some of the incidents that just happened on Friday, it was really basically creative process for how immigrant detainees that might have a mental illness are processed in the immigration system. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Are they processed differently? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: They are not processed differently and that is a concern. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Because of language problems? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Also somebody has a mental illness do they have access to medical care and to their medication etc. So it is very early on and I know we've been working on this case 40 well, I would be happy to bring our expert attorney to talk about the exciting case, but I think really the gist of that is to make sure that we protect folks that might have mental illness that are going through the immigration system to make sure that we protect their ability to access medical care. ALLISON ST. JOHN: So now the initiative that you took in Escondido is that something that the ACLU will be pursuing coming elections in different communities? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Definitely want to continue to invest in Escondido. I think we will be discussing. I've only been with this new role for about a week, so I think we are beginning kind of the longer-term planning. But I think we are definitely committed to figuring out how we duplicate this model, but we are also interested in working with other partners to make sure that we are being strategic in terms of where we invest our resources. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Apart from educating people so they know the issues so they can vote effectively do you see the Latino community maturing and taking leadership community positions in another race? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: I think so definitely something that happened in the city of Escondido after the election they had to fill a vacancy in the city Council and some of the people actually most of them are volunteers with our campaign are people under 25 years old, so some of these folks also participated in the last couple city Council meetings and just to see them ask questions and just to see them begin to understand the process more is really exciting and at the end of the day these are our future leaders, these are future leaders in college that are graduating and will hopefully come back and serve on the city Council ALLISON ST. JOHN: So this is promotion and the new position that's created the ACLU is this part of the national policy shift at the ACLU or specific to San Diego? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: It's specific to San Diego but I think organizationally we are shifting we are shifting in terms of thinking of new models for how we advance civil rights and civil liberties that we want to continue to do well we do well which is obviously litigated and do what we have to do through legal advocacy, but we also want to continue to strengthen and coordinate our policy work in Sacramento and then with the organizing piece and part of the new post I was the organizing director which is really about how do we grow our ACLU membership, how do we diversify the membership, but how do we activate the membership. We have about 110,000 ACLU members in California. How the reflects the people power muscle to make sure that we advance. ALLISON ST. JOHN: That is a good question when you talk to people what are the issues that you pinpoint to encourage them that the ACLU is for becoming a member of? NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: There is many. Obviously the immigrant issues are important things like that trust and at the state level. But I think there are other issues that are important to everyone in our community as a woman the issue of reproductive rights and access. To reproductive choice. A really important especially as we look at the affordable healthcare and beginning to roll itself out. So, women issues are really important, LGBT issues. Issues of marriage equality and you've seen the most recent research that shows that the Latino committee, we are not a socially conservative as some folks might think. So I think the ACLU works on reproductive rights, LGBT issues, on voting rights and increasing access to the electoral process. As well as criminal justice reform. We just talked as part of a statewide bronco elation to have a conversation at the state about the death penalty. And that is something that is important to the entire state ALLISON ST. JOHN: Second remains to be seen what happens to the position but it's a gift I devices part of the community I'd like to thank you very much for coming and Norma Chavez Peterson is now the associate director of the ACLU here in San Diego think you Norma. NORMA CHAVEZ-PETERSON: Thank you
The coming year will be a big one for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. It will not only celebrate its 25th year, but given the shifting demographics, it also plans to increase its emphasis on Latino issues.
To set the organization's local priorities, it has hired a Latina to a top post. Norma Chavez-Peterson has been named the San Diego ACLU's associate director.
Chavez-Peterson, a Mexican immigrant, says she’ll focus on Latino political empowerment, equal access to education for Latinos and immigrant rights.
Most recently, she led the ACLU's effort to register Latino voters in Escondido.