Latino Public Policy

Latino Public Policy is a strategic research partnership between the Latino Center for Leadership Development and the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies. America is in the midst of a fundamental, Latino-driven, demographic shift. Latinos will represent more than 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050 and will represent 70 percent of the workforce growth between 2010 and 2020. This partnership aims to increase the study of public policy issues that are faced by Latino communities within the U.S. and to generate thoughtful solutions. 

For general inquiries, please email us at


The SMU Tower Center-LCLD Research Partnership is an exciting and ambitious initiative with the objective of employing rigorous social science research to understand the growing challenges and opportunities the Latina/o population faces in the United States. The partnership provides an avenue for the linking of research to practice, an opportunity rarely given to scholars. As postdoctoral fellows, Danielle Casarez Lemi and Jennifer Cook's involvement with the LCLD specifically situates them within a community of Latina/o local, state, and federal elected and appointed officials. Moreover, as public academics, they have the unique opportunity to engage in important conversations and collaborations with policy practitioners who are in a position to drive change and tackle important issues for Latinas/os.

Danielle Casarez Lemi studies race and ethnic politics, political behavior, and identity politics within legislative institutions. She is especially interested in how skin tone, racial ambiguity, and racial identification all impact how voters evaluate minority candidates and how legislators understand their work. Her work has been published in Politics, Groups, and Identities.

Jennifer Cook is a cultural anthropologist and an ethnographer by trade, but she considers herself an interdisciplinary scholar. Her research program focuses on gender, labor, and transnational migration. Specifically, her dissertation uses multi-sited ethnographic methods to examine the relationship between legal migration and social mobility as it plays out in a transnational community of Mexican migrant farmworkers in Connecticut. It aims to develop a nuanced picture of migrant agency in the face of restrictive immigration policies, by examining the ways migrant families deploy legal U.S. immigration status and citizenship as instruments of intergenerational social mobility.

About the LCLD

The Latino Center for Leadership and Development was formed in order to bring light to Latino thought about today's state of affairs and to develop innovative solutions to the issues Latinos and the broader community face. Under the leadership of Miguel Solis, president, the Center strives to develop the next generation of leaders driven by thoughts, values, and experiences that will improve the Latino community. For more information, visit the Center's website.


Dallas Morning News reports on Tower Center-LCLD healthcare policy forum

The Tower Center-Latino Center for Leadership and Development held a policy forum Oct. 10 discussing the health implications of the threat of deportation on immigrants and U.S. Citizens. The Dallas Morning News reported on the panel. Read more>>


Conference Recap | The State of Latino Education

The Tower Center and Latino Center for Leadership and Development (LCLD) held a conference with SMU Simmons School of Education and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute June 21 to discuss the current state of Latino education in the U.S. and Texas. Read more>>

Investigadores reciben becas de Tower Center de SMU y Latino CLD en Dallas

Al Día Dallas wrote a story on the first round of grants from the Tower Center-Latino Center for Leadership and Development research partnership. Read more>> 


Adam Levine | How Political Rhetoric Engages and Demobilizes Citizens

Adam Seth Levine, professor of government from Cornell University, gave his talk “How Political Rhetoric Engages and Demobilizes Citizens”  at the Tower Center- Latino Center for Leadership and Development joint policy forum Oct. 28. "Levine argues that political rhetoric is self-undermining. While it leads to increased concern about problems, it also inflames them and decreases political activism." Read more>>


Latino Catholics more likely to vote Democratic than Protestants

Latino Public Policy postdoc Alicia Reyes-Barrientez presented on her dissertation, "Divided by Faith? An Examination of Religious Affiliation as a Determinant of Group Consciousness Among Latinxs" at the Tower Center Oct. 26. "The more connected Latinos feel to each other, the more likely they are to vote Democratic." Read more>>


Event Recap | The Latino Vote in the 2016 Election

The Tower Center and the Latino Leadership Center for Development cohosted an event, “The Latino Vote in the 2016 Election,” at Jones Day Law Office Sept. 20 featuring Matt Barreto, professor of political science at UCLA, and Texas Representative Cesar Blanco. "The Latino population in the U.S. is significantly younger than the white population. As of November 18, 1.7 million Latinos will be 18 and eligible to vote, according to Barreto." Read more>>

Are Asian Americans Who Have Interracial Relationships Politically Distinct?

Danielle Casarez Lemi, SMU, and Augustine Kposowa, University of California, Riverside

Key finding: People with interracial partners are more likely to care about racial issues, less likely to favor co-ethnic candidates and to belong to ethnically concentrated civic groups, and are no more likely to be concerned about immigration or favor a pathway to citizenship.

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The Politics of Latina/o Faith: Examining Religion as a Political Cleavage Among Latinas/os

Alicia Reyes-Barrientez

Key takeaways from Dr. Reyes-Barrientez's research:

  • A majority of Latinas/os self-identify as conservative and yet affiliate with and vote for candidates of the Democratic Party.
  • Latina/o evangelical Catholics and Latina/o evangelical Protestants maintain similar religious beliefs and behaviors.
  • Latina/o Catholics are more likely to express a strong sense of group consciousness and more likely to vote for the Democratic Party than Latina/o Protestants.
  • Latina/o evangelical Catholics are more likely to express a strong sense of group consciousness and more likely to identify with the Democratic Party than Latina/o evangelical Protestants.

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Framing Immigration: An Overview of Persuasive Messaging Strategies for Political Communicators

 Aileen Cardona-Arroyo

Research conclusions:

  • News of immigrant protests increases Latinos/as’ welcoming policy attitudes
  • News of immigrant protests increases non-Latinos/as’ restrictive policy attitudes

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Apply for a 2017 LCLD-Tower Center Latina/o Research Grant

The Latino Center for Leadership Development (LCLD) in partnership with the TOWER CENTER at SMU is now accepting proposals for research grants. The LCLD is committed to understanding the growing challenges and opportunities the Latina/o population faces in the United States. While the LCLD is open to supporting research on any academic topic related to the Latina/o community, the center will prioritize research projects with public policy implications in areas such as immigration, criminal justice, education, poverty, health, economy, infrastructure, urban planning, civil rights, housing, LGBTQ rights, and inequality. Faculty and Ph.D. students in any discipline are welcome to apply. The LCLD will fund proposals for up to $10,000.

Applications are due April 15, 2018


Apply Now!

2016 Grant Recipients

Karyn E. Miller, Assistant Professor, College of Education, Texas A&M International University and Mark A. Menaldo, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Texas A&M International University

Miller and Menaldo's research plan will examine three fundamental questions in regards to immigration and education policy:
  1. What drives child migration from Latin America to the U.S.?
2. How does the educational attainment of transnational students compare both to their destination and home-country peers?
3. What kind of educational socialization process do these young people experience in the United States and to what extent does that process change the farther removed they are from the U.S. Mexico border?

Denisa Gándara, Assistant Professor of Education Policy and Leadership, SMU

Gándara's research will look at college access for English learners in Texas, specifically examining how ELs’ levels of college readiness and college choices differ by student- and school-level characteristics. Findings from her study will illuminate how policies and practices, curricula, language programs, reclassification to English proficiency, and the diversity of the faculty and student bodies promote or hinder educational success for ELs from diverse backgrounds. 

Laurie Cook Heffron, Assistant Professor of Social Work, Behavioral and Social Sciences School, St. Edward's University

Heffron's research will examine Latina immigrant women and children's well-being and access to services after detention. Central American women and children apprehended and detained in family detention centers in the United States are often fleeing from domestic violence, sexual violence and the highest rates of femicide in the world. Many women present themselves at the US/Mexico border seeking safety for themselves and their children yet they may remain detained for months, sometimes longer than a year, as they pursue their asylum claims. This study will
document the experiences of family detention of women and children seeking asylum from gender based violence, the consequences of family detention on survivors of violence (e.g. revictimization), and post-detention service needs.

Esther Reyes, PhD candidate, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin

Reyes' research will look at border enforcement and civil rights along the Texas-Mexico border. Her study seeks to answer two questions:
1.  To what extent are current organizational efforts to increase accountability and curb agent misconduct successful or unsuccessful, and why? How are these processes and mechanisms put into place and executed?

2. How do Border Patrol agents understand their responsibilities and authority, and how do they use this knowledge formally and informally in their day-to-day operations?

Efren Perez, Associate Professor of Political Science and Sociology and Co-Director of the Research on Individuals, Politics, and Society, Vanderbilt University

Perez's research will examine the effects of language on survey responses. Growing evidence suggests people’s opinions are associated with the language they interview in, yet this pattern lacks a theory that explains why and how language shapes survey response. Through three carefully-designed experiments that manipulate the language of interview, Perez looks to reveal language’s impact on the opinions expressed by Latino immigrants and their offspring, including the intensity of their identities as Americans and ethnics; their degree of knowledge about U.S. politics; and their preferences about government activity in their host nation and nation of origin.

Sophia Jordan-Wallace, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Washington and Chris Zepeda, Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley

Jordan-Wallace and Zepeda's research will examine Latino commonality with African Americans and the potential for coalition building. Their goal is to understand how much support there is among the Latino community for activism on issue areas such as immigration, Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights, and the factors that influence their support. The findings will potentially influence the types of coalitions that may emerge between Latinos and other racial and ethnic groups based on mutually shared interests in order to organize and put pressure on political elites to enact policy change.

Edward D. Vargas, Postdoctoral Trainee, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Viridiana L. Benitez, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Waisman Center
University of Wisconsin- Madison

Vargas and Benitez's research will examine the effects of family deportation on children and the effects of teacher evaluations of children.Vargas and Benitez will use an experimental
design to understand teacher’s evaluations of Latina/o children living in single-parent homes. Using quantitative methods, they will look at how deportations are impacting Latina/o children and their families, from the perspective of k-12 school teachers who are at the front line in referring students for mental health screening. The research will provide attorneys and immigrant rights organizations with peer-reviewed evidence regarding the implications of deportations on family disruption and the spillover effects of anti-immigrant legislation.

Chiara Galli, graduate student, University of California at Los Angeles

Galli's research will examine access to legalization for unaccompanied minors (UAMs) who arrive in the United States aged 12-17. 

M. Apolonia Calderon, graduate student of political science, Texas A&M University

Calderon's research will examine how meso-level institutions that interact with a significant portion of the U.S. population help to integrate and provide social citizenship altering the political environment for immigration enforcement and outcomes. For foundations' whose mission or private value is the incorporation of immigrants, does their philanthropic funding have a supplementary, complementary, or adversarial effect on bureaucratic deportation rates? What types of grant-making patterns and strategies maximize the social citizenship for immigrants to protect their lives across the country from the threat of removal?



Melissa Alfaro, Latino Center for Leadership and Development 

Jorge Baldor, Founder of the Latino Center for Leadership and Development  

Caroline Brettell, Ruth Collins Altshuler Professor, Department of Anthropology, SMU

Jennifer Cook, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Tower Center

Eric Cedillo, Cedillo Law

Nathan Cortez, Adelfa Botello Callejo Endowed Professor of Law in Leadership and Latino Studies, SMU

Neil Foley, The Robert H. and Nancy Dedman Chair in History, SMU

James Hollifield, Academic Director of the Tower Center

 Danielle Lemi, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Tower Center

Miguel Solis, President of the Latino Center for Leadership and Development