politics

In New York, Queer Latina Tiffany Cabán Wants To Bring ‘Genuine Justice’ To The Queens District Attorney’s Office

She’s Running is a FIERCE series highlighting Latinas running for office in local, state and federal elections.

For Tiffany Cabán, putting her community first feels like it’s a part of her DNA. As a public defender, it’s become an intrinsic component of her identity, just like being a queer Latina New Yorker, and it’s one of the reasons why she’s running for district attorney in Queens, New York.

“In the public defense world, there’s a code that we live by, the idea that we put people first. Our highest duty is to our clients, then our colleagues, then our bosses. That people-centered, holistic approach, that connection to community that defines being a public defender, is what I’m excited about bringing and is what’s needed in the DA office,” the Astoria-based Puerto Rican candidate told FIERCE.

A career public defender, Cabán practiced for four years at New York County Defender Services and three years at the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice, using the law to help thousands of the city’s vulnerable communities that did not have the resources to defend themselves against what she calls a “brutal system of mass incarceration.”

As a millennial Boricua running a grassroots, people-powered campaign that has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), she has fielded several comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But in Queens, she’s hoping to tackle a different system and problem than the congressional freshman. As Queens County DA, a soon-to-be vacant seat as District Attorney Richard Brown announced he would not seek re-election when he finishes his 27th term at the end of 2019, she’s proposing “genuine justice for all” by transforming the office through a series of progressive and restorative reforms that’ll work toward ending mass incarceration and the war on drugs, decriminalizing poverty, resisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), tackling corporate crimes and centering community solutions.

We chatted with Cabán, who will face candidates like Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council Member Rory Lancman and retired state Supreme Court Justice Greg Lasak in the June 25 Democratic primary, about her run for Queens District Attorney, how she intends on bringing “genuine justice” to her borough, challenging the establishment and more.

FIERCE: Why did you decide to run for the Queens District Attorney’s office?

Tiffany Cabán: Gosh, it was not an easy decision. I had to do a lot of reconciling on my own values, but, in large part, it feels like the natural progression of advocacy for my clients. I’ve been a public defender my entire career. I’ve seen the way the system doesn’t work. I’ve seen the impact it has on my clients, their families and their communities. Also, considering what’s happening right now, where we are seeing progressive policies roll out but not necessarily with intended impacts on our community, this feels like a way to combat that, a way to make real, transformative change. We see that it’s possible around the country. We’ve seen strives made and know there are ways to improve upon what’s being done. This is a moment in history, including for Queens, so I’m aware and activated. This is the moment.

FIERCE: I know that among your priorities are fighting the mass incarceration of communities of color, ending cash bail, prosecuting misconduct by police and federal immigration agents and ending routine pretrial detention. Why are these issues particularly important to the people of Queens County?

Tiffany Cabán: It’s important to folk across the board in the US, but especially people from Queens. We’re talking about a borough, one of the most diverse places in the world, home to one of the largest immigrant populations in the country, home to so many middle-class and low-income communities, the very folk targeted and marginalized by the criminal justice system for generations. Queens is also a place that’s had that same DA, who was not elected, in office since 1991 and has been opposed all those years, someone who doesn’t consider collateral consequence in the way they prosecute.

FIERCE: Your campaign slogan is “Genuine Justice for Queens.” Explain that to me. What is “genuine justice?”

Tiffany Cabán: For me, it is this idea that we are making sure the things we say and do come from trauma-informed perspectives and that the people are the ones informing the policy. It’s a real genuineness and commitment in achieving real racial and economic justice.

FIERCE: When announcing your run, you stated, “It’s time for people-powered reform.” What does this look like for you?

Tiffany Cabán: First, it starts with changing the culture in the DA office and changing the metric of success, because this is harming our communities. Currently, you are successful if you are prosecuting, getting convictions and getting sentences, when we should focus on how to make sure people don’t commit these crimes again and that our communities are safer. You should be awarded for reducing recidivism, for applying the law equally across race and class lines. This will shift who we prosecute and why and what approach you take. Currently, we are being awarded for closing cases that go after low-hanging fruit. An example I like to give is I once had a client who stole a cellphone from someone. Their behavior was triggered by opioid abuse. They had an accident and the doctor over-prescribed him and, because of that, he became addicted and found himself in the criminal justice system. Here, we asked for help for him. We could help by going after the doctor that was harming the community, but the DA didn’t do that. The client served a jail sentence, and no one followed up on my lead at all. There are also cases of people being caught stealing from their employer, but when you dig, when you take the time and do the work, you learn the employer has been behaving in illegal practices, but they weren’t being prosecuted as they should have been. By going after the low-hanging fruit, you are, a lot of the times, prosecuting people who have themselves been harmed and fracturing trust, so the people you need to go against, the bad landowner or employers, don’t have a reason to trust you.

FIERCE: As a queer Nuyorican woman, what do you think these identities, and the perspectives and experiences that come with them, can bring to the district attorney’s office that we haven’t seen before?

Tiffany Cabán: It’s so important. I’m not just a Latina native New Yorker but a queer Latina native New Yorker. That’s not identity politics. It matters because it’s understanding intersectionality and being familiar with generational trauma and being open to hearing and seeing other folk and recognizing across the board different communities have different experiences and these are all things that have to be taken into account to solve problems. Certain communities experience certain things at different levels. For example, low-income and Black and brown communities experience and sustain trauma at higher and more frequent rates but don’t have access to services that others do. That’s important to know and understand.

FIERCE: Of course, you are much more than your identities. You’re a career public defender, working as an attorney at the Legal Aid Society for three years before joining the New York County Defender Services, where you’ve been an attorney for four years. How do you think these experiences and the skills you’ve gained through them prepared you for this office?

Tiffany Cabán: I think it’s not just my professional experience but my lived experience, my identities and also being a public defender. I’ve so internalized that public defender identity. I say, I’m a queer Latina public defender. That’s how embedded that identity is. In the public defense world, there’s a code that we live by, the idea that we put people first. Our highest duty is to our clients, then our colleagues, then our bosses. That people-centered, holistic approach, that connection to community that defines being a public defender, is what I’m excited about bringing and is what’s needed in the DA office.

FIERCE: The Queens County Democratic Party, which has endorsed Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for this seat, said of you: “[Cabán] doesn’t have enough years of experience to be nominated for a judgeship.” How do you respond to that?

Tiffany Cabán: To start, I’m not asking to be nominated to a judgeship. But I think I do have what it takes and I have represented that. I’ve tried cases and done things in court. I don’t think Melinda Katz has even stepped foot in a criminal courtroom. I also think this is a lot of what we hear from the establishment in our country. It’s a way to keep working-class folk out of these positions. We’ve seen very recently that that’s their opinion, but it’s not necessarily our community’s opinion. It’s about values, having a vision and having a plan to get there, and I firmly believe I have and embody this. I think I am not just qualified for the position but will thrive in it because it’s so important to me. It feels personal and urgent.

FIERCE: Your run, as a DSA-backed millennial Boricua running against established elected officials, is being compared to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s in 2018. What do you think about this comparison? Have you found it reassuring, inspiring, frustrating?

Tiffany Cabán: Listen, being mentioned in the same sentence as her is flattering, and I’m in awe of everything she is doing. It’s amazing. With that said, I think it’s very different. We come from different experiences. She’s perfect for what she’s doing. I’ve been following her closely and it makes me really excited to see someone who looks like me doing something pure, so I am flattered. But I think folk are making the comparison because we are two young Latinas backed by the DSA, so I encourage these people to learn more about this race and what we are trying to do, because both are powerful on their own.

FIERCE: Finally, as a first-time candidate, I think you can offer a lot to young Latinas who aspire to run for office. Do you have a message for Latinas with political dreams but perhaps see those as unfeasible?

Tiffany Cabán: First of all, don’t let anyone tell you that you haven’t been around long enough or don’t have the right experience. For us, it’s not just our professional experience that matters. Our lived experiences, our family history and our culture are all valuable assets to bring to any conversation in local, state or national positions. Also, support is out there. What I love about our community is we come together and support one another. I’m amazed by the folk who came on board, and our team is overwhelmingly intersectional, with people of color, queer folk, females and a large contingent of folk who are Latina women, including two campaign managers. It’s a really incredible thing. I say you bring value as you are, so be bold.

Read: When Susana Mendoza Sees Barriers, She’s Driven To Break Them. Next Challenge: Chicago Mayor

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The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

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The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

There’s no denying that the world looks a lot different now than it did in 1947. And while the list of all of the positive changes that the decades stretching between now and then have done for the world and minorities, a recent campaign is also highlighting the ways in which our current president could take some notes on certain values the United States held dear during this time. Particularly ones that had been pressed for by one of our former presidents.

As part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” effort, he worked to promote positive and healthy relations between the United States in Latin American countries.

At the time Rooseveltaimed to ensure that the North, Central and South American countries avoided breaking under the influence of Axis countries during World War II. As part of this campaign, Roosevelt comissioned a Spanish and a Portuguese version of the U.S. national anthem. According to Time Magazine he also “recruited Hollywood to participate in this Good Neighbor Policy; Walt Disney went on goodwill tour of South America, hoping to find a new market for his films, and ended up producing two movies inspired by the trip: Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). The Brazilian star Carmen Miranda also got a boost, and her role in The Gang’s All Here made her even more famous in the U.S. And alongside these cross-cultural exchanges, the U.S. government decided it needed an anthem that could reach Spanish speakers.”

According to NPR, Clotilde Arias, wrote wrote the translation at the end of World War II, was born in the small Peruvian city, Iquitos in 1901 and moved to New York City to become a composer when she was 22-years-old. Her version of the anthem is now part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Now in an effort to support Latino communities affected by the coronavirus, the non-profit We Are All Human Foundation’s Hispanic Star campaign commissioned the a remake of the song.

Hoping to raise awareness of its Hispanic Recovery Plan and efforts to help to connect Hispanic small businesses and workers with resources during the pandemic, the campaign brought the old recording from obscurity.

For the song, the 2019 winner of the singing competition La Voz,  Jeidimar Rijos, performed “El Pendón Estrellado.” Or, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

The song has already received quite a bit of comments and support on Youtube.

Hang in there, fam. We can only get through this together.

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A 9-Year-Old Girl Was Detained By Border Patrol On Her Way To School

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A 9-Year-Old Girl Was Detained By Border Patrol On Her Way To School

A 9-year-old U.S. citizen was separated from her mother for 36 hours after agents at the border accused her of lying about her citizenship.

Like thousands of students in our country, Julia Isabel Amparo Medina’s daily commute requires her to cross the U.S. border.

The fourth-grade student attends Nicoloff Elementary School in San Ysidro, California and was in a carpool to school from her home in Tijuana when she ran into traffic. Medina, was commuting to school in a car driven by her mother’s friend Michelle Cardena, Cardena’s two children and her own older 14-year-old brother, Oscar. When the long line to get into the U.S. seemed to be jampacked upon their 4 a.m arrival, Cardenas instructed the kids in her car to walk to the border. She assured them that when they reached it, she would call them an Uber to get them the rest of the way to their school.

But Medina and her never made it across the border or to school that day.

According to the New York Times who talked to a Customs and Border Protection spokesman, two Amparo and her brother arrived at one of the San Ysidro port of entry facilities for pedestrians at 10:15 a.m. last Monday.

Upon their arrival, Amparo and her brother presented their U.S. passports to a CBP officer who soon accused her of being someone else. Note: Amparo’s passport image which was taken years before so she did not look exactly like herself. They also accused her brother of smuggling.

A CBP spokesperson has said that Amparo “provided inconsistent information during her inspection, and CBP officers took the 9-year-old into custody to perform due diligence in confirming her identity and citizenship.”

After CBP officers the confirmed that her brother was a U.S. citizen, he was permitted to enter the U.S while his sister stayed behind. It wasn’t until 6:30 pm on Tuesday, that Amparo was confirmed to be a U.S. citizen as well and was released and admitted to the U.S. to her mother.

Speaking to NBC7, Amparo said she was “scared” of her detention and that she was “sad because I didn’t have my mom or my brother. I was completely by myself.”

According to Amparo’s mother Thelma Galaxia, her daughter claims that she was told by an officer that she and her brother would be released if she admitted to being her cousin. Galaxia claims that officers also convinced her son Oscar to sign a document that Amparo was his cousin and not his sister.

When Galaxia was alerted that her children had been detained she contacted the Mexican consulate.

After being notified by the consulate that her daughter would be released at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. While the family felt relieved to be grateful to be reunited with their daughter, Galaxia says the separation should never have happened.

Over the weekend, Twitter was swift to express their outrage over the incident.

Some even expressed their dismay of having a similar situation happen to them.

Many are using the incident as an example of the racial issues plaguing so many U.S. citizens like Amparo.

So many of the comments included outside opinions from those who have yet to experience the direct targetting of ICE.

Over all, nearly everyone was quick to point out the saddest aspect of Amparo’s experience.

Read: Preschool Students Are Doing Active Shooter Drills And I Guess This Is The New Normal Now

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