Esther J. Cepeda


 Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group. She was previously a a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. 
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(Advance for Thursday, April 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Wednesday, April 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cepeda clients only)


CHICAGO -- Whenever I see a viral video of a racist person harassing a Spanish speaker with brown skin because they seem "illegal," I comfort myself with the vivid image of millions of Latinos watching the spectacle with bafflement as they fan themselves with a stack of $100 bills.

It's not silly.

People act like unauthorized immigrants are the biggest pox upon the Great American Experiment, but the fact is that immigrants pour billions of dollars into the tax coffers of local and state governments every year. In fact, they paid an estimated $11.7 billion just in 2014, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. This includes an estimated $1.1 billion in state income taxes and $3.6 billion in property taxes.

Federal taxes can be added on top: The IRS estimated in 2015 that 4.4 million income-tax returns came from workers with no Social Security numbers, resulting in $23.6 billion in income taxes. This, of course, doesn't include payroll taxes or the taxes paid by immigrants who work on someone else's Social Security number.

For years, it's been an open secret that unauthorized immigrant workers are propping up the Social Security retirement trust fund and Medicare systems -- even though they can't access benefits from either of those programs.

Most people don't know that there's been a system in place for unauthorized immigrants and other foreign-born people to get Taxpayer Identification Numbers with which to file income taxes since 1996.

Moreover, schemes to legalize immigrants have often hinged on requiring them to prove they have a track record of paying their taxes. This has, at least in part, resulted in a windfall for the government.

You also have to stop to consider that unauthorized immigrants represent but a small percentage of all the Latinos in our country -- as a whole, all immigrants represent only about a third of all Hispanics.

And make no mistake: Latinos have money. They also have property.

"Over the past decade, Hispanics have accounted for 62.7% of net U.S. homeownership gains, growing from 6,303,000 homeowners to 7,877,000, a total increase of 1,574,000 Hispanic homeowners," according to the 2018 State of Hispanic Home Ownership report from the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.

This same report calculated that the median household income for Hispanics rose to $50,486 in 2017, accounting for the largest increase in income (3.7%) among all racial or ethnic population groups.

As if this weren't enough, we're just sunnier about our finances than almost anyone else. In a recent analysis of national survey results, Florida Atlantic University found that 67% of Hispanics said they are financially better off today than a year ago, and 74% said they'd be better off over the next year. Meanwhile, 59% said they expected the country as a whole to experience good business conditions in the upcoming year.

Only people with a vested interest in a business would forecast economic conditions for the year ahead, folks.

None of these numbers fits with the impoverished, downtrodden and marginalized people you might imagine if your only exposure to immigrants is what you see on cable TV.

But, alas, well-to-do Hispanics who are the third or fourth generation in a family to attend a good college -- or who are simply successful in life without having been traumatized at the border or otherwise harmed -- are not of great interest to lots of people in the mainstream media who have the power to tell stories about middle- and upper-class Latinos.

To borrow the tortured cliché about how Hispanic voting power is a "Sleeping Giant," many Latinos are unaware of the strength they wield in the marketplace as well. And, alas, so far they are unable or unwilling to transform their considerable economic clout into the kind of political power that stops prejudiced people from attacking those who "look" or "sound" like an unauthorized immigrant.

Don't let ignorance get you down, though.

Remember: There are way more Latinos who have the capacity to use fistfuls of hundred-dollar bills to cool themselves than there are close-minded bigots who think they're entitled to harass someone just based on the color of their skin or their ability to speak a second language.

Esther Cepeda's email address is, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group


(Advance for Sunday, April 14, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, April 13, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cepeda clients only)


CHICAGO -- By all accounts, the Trump administration is on an anti-immigrant tear that threatens to obliterate the already-broken immigration system in this country.

President Trump has ousted top officials, saying they weren't as tough as he thought they should be, and elevated the anti-immigrant hardliner Stephen Miller.

At a Texas fundraiser on Wednesday, Trump made the border out to be an apocalyptic battlefield on which Central American gang members are threatening American ranchers. Trump even suggested that the military is hamstrung by political correctness and can't adequately mistreat migrants.

"Our military, don't forget, can't act like a military would act. Because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy," Trump said.

The rumors coming out of the White House are astounding, everything from new policies making it harder for asylum seekers to pass their initial screenings (not passing triggers immediate deportation) to making it easier to deny green cards and possibly even reinstating last summer's disastrous family-separation policy.

Observers of Trump's Faustian appetite for gaining favor with his radical base at the expense of people looking for a lifeline in this country say he's not likely to find some heart on this issue.

"This is an administration that by many reports appears willing to implement policies with questionable legal justifications because, regardless of whether the policy is inhumane or is struck down by a court in the future, they still see the public fight against immigrants and immigration as a win for Trump politically," said Ur Jaddou, director of DHS Watch, the watchdog arm of the advocacy organization America's Voice, at a recent press conference.

What to do?

A few weeks back I spoke to Adam Estle, field director and director of constituencies for the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based advocacy organization. He told me that regular Americans have a lot of sway when it comes to whether policy proposals become reality -- just by making their thoughts known to their elected officials.

Estle said social media, email, phone calls and even faxes can help make a difference.

"Offices keep track of phone calls on an issue and a personal letter -- not a form letter that you just stick your name on, but a personally written letter about why this issue matters to you -- is usually held in high regard, because it's something that takes time," Estle said. "But studies have shown that the very best way to get the attention of a member of Congress is in person. You can fairly easily access district offices and request someone who works on immigration to talk to."

It's not tough to reach out to your elected representatives in the House or the Senate, you need only Google the phrases "Who is my representative?" or "Who is my senator?" and you'll usually get a variety of government sites that make searching by ZIP code or by state a breeze.

This pro tip comes from Griffin Anderson, a spokesperson for Marcy Kaptur, a Democratic congresswoman in the 9th district of Ohio: "At the bottom of every house website there is location and contact information for D.C. offices as well as offices in the district, and information for where to get in contact with the office and how find them in the district."

Anderson told me that in-person meetings get more attention.

"We do read every single bit of correspondence -- from social-media direct messages, to our mail, phone calls ... but I think you can't put a price on in-person meetings and being face-to-face when we hear your stories," said Anderson, adding that most congressional offices will do town-hall and Q&A events in the community and people can talk to their representatives even if they don't have public transportation or a car.

If you've never put pen to paper and mailed a physical letter, now is the time to drop a line to your elected officials, letting them know that you think the border is not a war zone and in fact needs humanitarian aid.

Call your representatives and, if necessary, leave voicemails and request call-backs insisting that no more families be penned like animals under bridges at the border, as was occurring just a few weeks ago due to overcrowding in facilities.

If you're better on your feet, walk into an office and politely ask someone to listen -- your voice matters greatly in not letting 2019 be the year the U.S. ceases to be a beacon of light for the world and instead becomes an international shame.

Esther Cepeda's email address is, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group


(Advance for Thursday, April 11, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Wednesday, April 9, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cepeda clients only)


CHICAGO -- It seems pretty obvious that the superhero movie genre is jumping the shark.

I used to get everyone in my family psyched and out the door for the comic-book blockbusters, but the spectacle of superhero movies went stale for me a few years ago.

And I'm not the only one -- even my husband and my teen son have not been able to gin up enough interest in "Aquaman," "Hellboy" or "Shazam!" to actually make it out to a theater.

This is not to say that all the love is gone -- they thoroughly enjoyed "Black Panther," which was such a cultural phenomenon that even I went to see it. More recently, they also watched "Captain Marvel" (without me), and they're looking forward to "Avengers: Endgame."

But there are just sooooo many of these movies out right now.

And there was bound to be some superhero fatigue between yet another "Spider-Man" ("Far From Home") and the drama surrounding the on-again, off-again status of writer/director James Gunn at the helm of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" -- his past social-media posts made light of rape and pedophilia, making him a problematic leader in a Hollywood attempting to gaining its footing in a post-#MeToo world.

In a 2018 New Republic piece -- titled "Is Marvel Killing the Movies?" -- Josephine Livingstone wrote: "I think I felt what the movie wanted me to: overwhelmed. The action of 'Infinity War' keeps it all at such a high pitch that the movie obliterates its own emotional stakes. I think it was intended to engender one long sharp intake of breath."

What it engendered in me was a nap.

I nodded off after "Captain America: The First Avenger" insulted moviegoers' intelligence in 2011 with the terrible CGI job to make Chris Evans look like a 90-pound weakling. And the hollow-chested version of the character Steve Rogers, and the jeers he got from his peers along with the excruciating pain he endures to become a superhero, left a bad taste in the mouth of this mom who, at the time, had two impressionable boys -- 13 and 10. That movie taught them that nothing was more important than being buff, cut, jacked, ripped with muscles, developing a six-pack of abs and bursting out of standard-sized T-shirts.

In the years after, both my sons went on exercise regimens and started eating "clean" protein. One even went on a rendezvous with body-building protein powders that clogged his intestines so badly he nearly had to go to the hospital.

These days, even many superhero costumes for little kids are outfitted with foam "muscles" so the kids can look buff at their Halloween parties.

This may all sound incredibly minor. Silly, even, considering the kinds of overwhelming social, emotional and academic pressures boys deal with these days, but it's not.

The pressure to bulk up has contributed to weight-gain attempts among adolescent boys. According to an article in this month's Journal of Adolescent Health, 29.6% of all adolescent boys attempted to gain weight.

Among boys of normal weight, 39.6% attempted to gain weight, as did 12.8% who were overweight, and 10.6% who were already obese by body mass index (BMI). For comparison, only 6.5% of adolescent girls reported attempts to gain weight.

Another important number to know is that only 3.3% of adolescent males actually are underweight by BMI, yet 19.3% perceive themselves to be underweight. This backs up other studies that say boys are increasingly looking to gain weight to be bigger and more muscular.

Do these statistics demand that we boycott superhero and action movies with our boys?

Not at all.

Enjoy the escapism, celebrate the fantasy and empowerment. Have fun while your kids still want to go to the movies with you!

Just be aware that body-image concerns, body-dysmorphic disorder, anorexia and bulimia are newly rampant among young men and boys in ways far different from our day, when, as kids, we remember old-timey Batman and Superman being average-proportioned guys in tights.

Be ready to talk to kids about the two hours a day, six times a week that, for instance, "Aquaman" star Jason Momoa spent weight and cardio training, and then eating expensive protein as directed by a personal trainer hired by a deep-pocketed movie producer.

Whatever you do, just do something -- despite their bluster, young men are every bit as vulnerable as girls to marketing-driven social pressures surrounding looks and beauty. Use superheroes' strengths (BEG ITAL)and(END ITAL) weaknesses to engage with your boys about real-life concerns.

Esther Cepeda's email address is, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group. She was previously a a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.