Cultural Whitewashing

Displacing Latinos Through Economic Manipulation Of Public Policy

As we explored in our previous article, philanthropy is used to manage the public policy agenda. Individuals who donate to non-profits tend to be wealthy and White. Their donations are often used for their individual causes, thus setting the community’s agenda via their philanthropy. A poignant example is the Glass Beach Study paid for by the City of El Paso and encouraged by the local philanthropy community of El Paso. The Glass Beach Study argued the case that to make El Paso a vibrant city, the majority Mexican-American culture needed to be eradicated. One vehicle used to manage the local economy is via “enterprise institutions” through research projects.

Enterprise institutions are public policy thinktanks organized to offer research on topics like economic development or government services ranging from the military to social welfare. In essence, enterprise institutions create the research that is used to create public policy. Mostly funded through philanthropy and often associated to universities, the enterprise institutions create the research used to argue public policy.

Immigration is an example of this. There is no central government source determining how many undocumented immigrants live in America, yet the news media uses numbers like “10,977,000” is America’s “unauthorized population.” [1] That number is produced by the Migration Policy Institute, a non-profit seeking “to improve immigration and integration through authoritative research and analysis.” The institute says it arrived at the number of undocumented immigrants by analyzing “U.S. Census Bureau data from the pooled 2014-2018 American Community Survey.” It teamed up with Pennsylvania State University to analyze the Census data.

The problem is that the census does not track the number of undocumented immigrants in America. Thus, the data about the number of undocumented immigrants is a best guess at best. Is it accurate? No one really knows. The Pew Research Center also publishes a similar number of undocumented immigrants as 10.5 million. It also uses Census data to arrive at their number. [3]

Another non-profit, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) argues that the undocumented population stands at 14.3 million. FAIR also uses Census data to arrive at their number but they “corrected for” an “undercount” by assuming that undocumented immigrants “do not respond to surveys about their immigration status.” [3]

As the reader can observe, no one can quantify the number of undocumented immigrants living in America today and researchers using the same data source arrive at different totals.

Both Pew and the Migration Policy Institute argue that they are non-partisan non-profits. FAIR is also non-profit. FAIR “seeks to reduce overall immigration to a more normal level,” according to its website. (accessed on August 6, 2021.)

What about the government? What data does it use to arrive at data that is used to set public policy?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) publishes official estimates of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. It’s January 2021 report estimated the undocumented immigrant population at 11.4 million in 2018. DHS also uses Census sampling to arrive at their estimate. [4]

As the reader will observe, the estimates of the undocumented population in America ranges between 10.5 million and 14.3 million with the “official” number at 11.4 million. Yet none of the numbers are an accurate representation and all are used to set the national narrative for immigration reform with special interest groups each using research data that best suits their public policy agenda.

Immigration numbers are useful to understanding how non-profit “research” is used to make public policy based on non-existing facts. All research based on incomplete data has an inherent bias. It is this bias that displaces Latino voices in the public policy agendas of their communities.

Politically Motivated Guesstimating

Using research funded by wealthy and often White benefactors is the basis for gentrification in the name of economic development. In other words, the displacement of poor neighborhoods to make way for businesses and or wealthier residents under the guise of making a community more vibrant.

A 2018 research paper into the use of tax-exempt lobbying found that charities are deployed “as a form of tax-exempt influence seeking.” [5] In our previous article we demonstrated how non-profits “primarily benefit the rich.”

The Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness and the Latinos & Society held in June El Paso Accelerate +, a workshop sharing research they had compiled about El Paso’s economy. The June workshop was labeled “Phase I – Content and Baseline.” The thinktanks clearly laid out their agenda, to set the “content” and the “baseline” for the discussion on how make El Paso’s economy stronger. [7]

Among the six “takeaways” pointed out by the handout includes that “Hispanics drive the population growth in El Paso, and, more poignantly, that Covid-19 has le to “supporting the adaptation to new forms of work”. [7]

Although the workshop focuses on El Paso, it makes the case that El Paso can be the experiment for Hispanic businesses across the nation, as Latinos “are projected to make 26% of the US population by 2050,” while Latinos are “experiencing larger declines in wealth” caused by the Covid-19 recession. [7]

The thinktanks’ research argues that “if Hispanics in El Paso could create businesses at the same rate than Non-Hispanics, they could produce an additional $3.4B in revenue and 31K jobs.” [7]

Few readers would argue against the sentiment of that argument, or the research presented. However, before accepting the research as such, it must be weighed against the bias that drives it. Who benefits from a larger revenue in the city? Keep this question in mind as we go through the rest of the workshop material.

The researchers argue that “we need to leverage the small business ecosystem for HOBs”. [7] HOBs, are Hispanic owned businesses. On the surface it looks like the research wants to encourage Latino business growth to close the wealth gap. “The goal is helping different ecosystem elements work in tandem.” Among them are “supplier diversity,” “capital access,” and improving “commercial corridors”. [7]

The workshop papers go on to explain the “deep national disparities” and “deep local disparities” among Hispanic owned business and those owned by Whites. It also argues that El Paso Hispanic owned businesses “underperform compared to” other cities. [7] This is the argument used historically when El Paso’s public policy agenda is discussed and the basis for the argument of displacing Latinos from El Paso argued by the Glass Beach Study.

The handout goes on to argue that “El Paso’s economy shapes the opportunities” for Hispanic business because of its “strategic location, declining productivity,” and “significant economic slowdown.” The workpaper also states that “El Paso exhibits the lowest average” wages in almost all sectors. [7]

This is information that is well known and has been documented by other sources. For example, the City of El Paso produced Accelerate/EP, Moving Small Business Forward, in January 2020. Like the Hunt-funded workshops, it argues for assisting minority-owned businesses to grow in El Paso. The City’s paper was produced with the help of the University of Texas at El Paso’s Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce.

Whereas the City’s report says that 61% of the El Paso businesses are Latino owned, the Hunt funded report says that it is 74%. The city’s report quantifies employment, revenues and access to capital, like the Hunt report. But, unlike the City’s report, the Hunt-funded report sets the “context and baseline” of the raw data to argue that increasing Hispanic owner participation will lead to more jobs.

The important element is jobs. It is hidden as a supporting data in the workshop paper but it does not explain the significance, instead using it to support the paper’s arguments. It is that El Paso’s workforce is made up of “84%” Latinos.

The original question, who benefits from more Hispanic businesses in El Paso goes beyond closing the wage or wealth disparities when the discussion turns to community taxes. A larger workforce creates more community taxes. Taxes that fund quality of life projects like the Chihuahua’s stadium.

Covid-19 has been detrimental to the tax base of El Paso. It is also clear that Max Grossman’s activism against the building of a multi-purpose arena in the Duranguito area has delayed the plan to build it with taxpayer funds. Covid-19 has made it even more difficult to use taxpayer funds for it in the coming years.

To overcome the impediments to the use of taxpayer funds, it is important to not only control the upcoming political cycles via campaign donations but also frame the public policy debate. To do so, supportive data needs to be created to further jobs growth to fund public policy initiatives.

Who Benefits?

To understand how manipulating research information one need not look further than who is funding the reports that drive public policy. As we demonstrated in our previous report on El Paso’s economy, the Latinos and Society program is funded by Hunt and Ricardo Salinas, who was barred by the U.S. Securities Commission from serving on public boards after it found that Salinas made money illegally from his purchase of Advance America, the nation’s largest payday lender. Not only is Woody Hunt funding the research through Latinos & Society, a name that insinuates a Latino friendly face to the project but Hunt also funded the report through the Hunt Institute.

Woody Hunt benefits from a friendly tax-laden public policy for his downtown projects while Salinas benefits from keeping poor Latinos dependent on his loan businesses that charge exorbitant interest rates.

Philanthropy Provides Covers For Exploitation

Philanthropy, in addition to manipulating public policy, allows the wealthy the ability to distract away from their business practices under the guise of “returning” charity to the people who made the wealth possible.

Take, for example, John D. Rockefeller. Today most Americans would label Rockefeller as a business magnate and a great philanthropist. Lost in the Rockefeller myth is the truth of how John D. Rockefeller’ father pretended to be deaf, blind or both or how he pretended to be a doctor hawking dubious medical remedies. Even at Standard Oil, Rockefeller was exposed in 1905 by Ida Tarbell for cutting secret deals to hurt his competitors and other corrupt business practices. In 1911, the United States Supreme Court found Standard Oil to be an illegal monopoly and ordered it divided into 34 companies.

When tax exemption was being created in America, “there was enormous skepticism that creating a philanthropy entity was either a way to cleanse your hands of the dirty way you’d made your money.” Both Teddy Roosevelt and the AFL-CIO opposed the creation of the Rockefeller Foundation. [6]

As Stanford professor Rob Reich has argued, “Big Philanthropy is definitely a plutocratic voice in our democracy.” Reich added that philanthropy is “an exercise of power by the wealthy that is unaccountable, non-transparent, donor-directed, perpetual, and tax-subsidized.” [6]

The question for readers remains, who speaks for Latinos? Is it the philanthropists via their donations to non-profits and thinks tanks? We will explore this further by focusing on how a publication has suddenly “benefited” from a one million donation and what it means to El Paso.

Footnotes:

  1. “Profile of the Unauthorized Population: United States,” Migration Policy Institute, Website accessed on August 6, 2021. (https://www.migrationpolicy.org/data/unauthorized-immigrant-population/state/US)
  2. Abby Budiman, “Key findings about U.S. immigrants,” Pew Research Center, August 20, 2020.
  3. Matt O’Brien, Spencer Raley and Casey Ryan, “How Many Illegal Aliens Live in the United States,” Federation for American Immigration Reform, Fact Sheet, September 2019.
  4. Bryan Baker, “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2015, January 2018,” Department of Homeland Security, January 2021.
  5. Marianne Bertrand, Matilde Bombardini and et al, “Tax-exempt Lobbying: Corporate Philanthropy As A Tool For Political Influence,” National Bureau of Economic Research, March 2018.
  6. Alexis C. Madrigal, “Against Big Philanthropy,” The Atlantic, June 27, 2018.
  7. “El Paso Accelerate, Phase I, Context and Baseline,” Hunt Institute For Global Competitiveness, Latinos & Society, Aspen Institute and Nowak Metro Finance Lab, Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation workshop handout, June 2021. (the handout was mailed anonymously to El Paso Politics)

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