* Spent ten years working in various capacities for the community organization ACORN
* Served as president & executive director of the Center for Community Change, 2002-18
* Advocate of socialist economic policies and big government
* Has written extensively on issues of poverty, racial justice, immigration reform, community organizing, and economic justice
* Served as a board member for George Soros’s Open Society Institute & numerous other leftist organizations
* Strong supporter of former President Barack Obama
Born in 1968 in Bangalore, India, Deepak Bhargava immigrated to the United States with his family when he was a child. He was raised in New York City and graduated from Harvard University in 1990 with a degree in Social Studies.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Bhargava spent ten years working in various capacities — including those of legislative director and government affairs official — for the community organization ACORN. Most notably he agitated on behalf of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), testifying before Congress on CRA-related issues on 20 separate occasions. He also authored several widely publicized studies on redlining and discrimination by banks and insurance companies in the early 1990s.
Upon leaving ACORN in 1994, Bhargava joined the Center for Community Change (CCC), where he directed the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support (NCJIS). Launched at a 2000 event attended by then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama, NCJIS describes itself as “a collaboration of grassroots organizations, advocates and think tanks working together to promote jobs and income security at the national level.” Its foremost priority is to promote the passage of federal laws that will result in ever-increasing benefits for welfare recipients.
Bhargava spearheaded the creation of Generation Change, a CCC program that “recruits, trains and places the next generation of community organizers.” Moreover, he helped establish CCC’s Community Voting Project, which aims to increase the participation of low-income voters in the electoral process.
In September 2002, Bhargava was a keynote speaker, along with Frances Fox Piven and Holly Sklar, at a Washington, D.C. event titled “Confronting the Low-Wage Economy,” organized by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). In his speech, Bhargava made positive reference to the work of DSA founder Michael Harrington.
In October 2002 Bhargava became CCC’s president/executive director, a position he would hold for the next 16 years.
On November 29, 2006, Bhargava participated in a roundtable discussion—moderated by Bill Moyers and entitled “How Do Progressives Connect Ideas to Action?” — at George Soros‘s Open Society Institute. Other participants included such notables as Robert Borosage, Anna Burger, Eric Foner, John Podesta, Joel Rogers, and Katrina vanden Heuvel.
At a December 1, 2007 national forum for “community organizers,” Bhargava, a strong backer of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, introduced the latter to an enthusiastic crowd of political supporters. In his introductory remarks, Bhargava characterized America as “a society that is still deeply structured by racism and sexism.” He then elicited from Obama a pledge that if he were to be elected to the White House in 2008, he would allow CCC and other community-organizing groups to help the new administration formulate and implement its policy priorities. “During the transition, we are going to call all of you in to help shape the agenda,” said Obama. “We’re going to be having meetings all across the country with community organizations so that you have input into the agenda for the next presidency of the United States of America.”
Asserting that “health care access and outcomes in America are radically unfair and unequal,” Bhargava advocates a government-run system of universal health care. Toward that end, he has long supported the activities of the Health Care for America Now coalition, which counts CCC as a member organization.
In December 2008, Bhargava expressed his hope of “building a new economy for shared prosperity.”
In February 2009, Bhargava was a guest speaker at an event titled “Advancing Change in the Age of Obama,” sponsored by the Liberty Hill Foundation (LHF). In his speech, Bhargava cited the Reagan era as a low point in American history, where “we had a cultural kind of revolution in this country—the idea that greed is good, that suspicion of our neighbors at home and abroad is just and justified.”
At that same event, Bhargava described President Obama as a figure capable of bringing “structural changes” of “enormous” magnitude to American life. Referring to Obama as “the country’s first Community-Organizer-in-Chief,” the CCC leader said: “I feel really lucky to be alive at a time when I think transformational progressive change is possible, because those moments in American history are very rare.” Bhargava then identified “three ingredients” that would be required in order to allow such change to occur: (a) “visionary leadership that is capable of building durable coalitions”; (b) “big crises—economic, foreign policy and otherwise that force the breakdown of old paradigms and old ways of seeing the world”; and (c) “independent social movements that create public will, that generate ideas that deliver votes.”
Also at the LHF conference, Bhargava stated that the 2008 presidential and congressional elections signified “not just the rejection of a political party [Republicans], but also of an ideology built on market fundamentalism and culture-war politics.” “The arc of history,” he said, “is maybe beginning once again, after 40 long, hard, dark years, to bend towards justice.” Further, Bhargava expressed his hope that “permanent progressive change” could be brought to the United States by coalitions of “African Americans and Latinos, and Asian Americans, and lesbian and gay people, and women and young people, and so forth”—in large measure by “expanding the electorate” to include more members of those demographics and persuading them to support leftist candidates and causes.
Bhargava praised President Obama’s “economic recovery proposal” as a plan that would provide “far more money than we’ve spent on the very poorest people in the country than at any time since the 1960s.” He said that as a result of the plan, “2.5 million people will be lifted out of poverty” via the expansion of such programs as food stamps and unemployment insurance.
At the 2009 LHF event as well, Bhargava advocated “a more robust role for government” in the lives of Americans—by way of such policies as “greater regulation, public investment, [and] universal healthcare” that “could restore confidence in the role of government.” In addition, he called for the creation of an economic system that “values our collective quality of life more than the private accumulation of wealth.”
While the first National Tea Party Convention was in progress in Nashville, Tennessee in February 2010, Bhargava declared that there “should be no place in America for this type of racial and ethnic hate-mongering.”
In June 2012, Bhargava enthusiastically endorsed President Obama’s decision to use an executive order — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — to suspend deportation of, and grant work permits to, hundreds of thousands of young-adult illegal aliens who had first come to the U.S. as minors.
In a June 2012 television appearance on Washington Journal, Bhargava incorrectly stated that illegal aliens “can’t pay taxes because they are not legal.” But in fact, they are indeed obligated by U.S. law to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and pay taxes on their income. As the Center for Immigration Studies pointed out at the time, “many immigrant-rights advocates urge their clients to get right with the IRS in anticipation of a future amnesty program that would require them to demonstrate an effort to comply with the tax law.”
Bhargava coordinated with FIRM to hold a pro-immigration rally in Washington, D.C. in August 2013, an event that culminated with protesters staging a sit-in directly in front of the U.S. Capitol Building. “We have marched, we have rallied, we have prayed, we have written, we have called, and now it is time to take it up another notch,” Bhargava told the attendees before he was arrested later that day.
In October 2013, BillMoyers.com listed Bhargava among its “19 Activists Changing America” – i.e., “activists [who] know that the radical ideas of one generation are often the common-sense ideas of the next.” Bhargava in particular was lauded for having been “recently arrested as part of a civil disobedience action in Washington, D.C., for immigration rights.”
Bhargava was among a plethora of liberal activists, donors, and officials committed to defeating the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump in 2016. Articulating his intent to spur voter turnout in support of the Democratic nominee (Hillary Clinton) and comprehensive immigration reform, Bhargava stated: “It seems to us that Trump’s nativism has infected nearly the whole Republican Party, and we need to exact an electoral toll.”
Following Trump’s electoral victory, Bhargava was highly critical of the new administration’s efforts to reduce illegal immigration. Reflecting with pride on the fact that “after eight years of struggle, we ended up with a very substantial decline in deportations under the Obama administration,” in July 2017 Bhargava condemned Trump for having reversed course and “empowered the worst rogue ICE agents, who can act as they want.”
In January 2018, Bhargava and a large slate of leftwing activists co-authored a letter addressed to congressional leaders. Accusing the Trump administration of pursuing a “sustained and unprecedented assault on our core values and on American communities all across the country,” the letter ultimately called for the enactment of wide-ranging leftist policy initiatives, most notably “permanent protection for Dreamers” by January 19, 2018. Other co-signers of the document included officials from such organizations as: the Center for American Progress, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Alliance for Justice, America’s Voice, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Constitution Society, the American Federation of Teachers, the Coalition on Human Needs, the Human Rights Campaign, Indivisible, the Latino Victory Project, Faith in Public Life, the League of Conservation Voters, MomsRising, MoveOn, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Education Association, United We Dream, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, People For the American Way, and the NAACP.
After a 16-year tenure, Bhargava left the Center for Community Change in November 2018. In August 2019, he was hired as a Distinguished Lecturer of Urban Studies at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies in New York City.
In 2019, Bhargava became a distinguished lecturer of urban studies at the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies.
In a September 2020 article which he wrote for The Nation, Bhargava underscored the “need to radically reimagine this country’s safety net” amid the ongoing COVID-19 “pandemic recession” – a recession that “has exposed the nation’s deep-seated economic inequality and systemic racism already too well-known and widely experienced by the poor.” He claimed that the existing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program had been been “built on racist and sexist stereotypes,” and he denounced former Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush for their past efforts to “destroy the safety net” through welfare reform initiatives. Advocating the cultivation of a “strong safety net that will ensure economic security for all,” Bhargava argued for more ambitious, redistributive government programs that would ultimately “ring in a Third Reconstruction that replaces our racial and gender caste system with a just and equitable one.”
In an October 2021 article published by Vox.com, Bhargava said he was “very skeptical of the argument that migration policy should be based principally on skills,” suggesting instead that the U.S. “ought to open all four channels of migration — humanitarian, economic, family and diversity” — in order to reap maximum “benefits” as a nation. In the same piece, Bhargava called for a “rewrite of the country’s immigrations laws that sets a much larger target for admissions under all the categories and probably adds a fifth category for climate migrants, which is going to be an increasingly large part of the flow that we see from the Southern Hemisphere in the coming decade.”
In May 2022, Bhargava and Democrat Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal co-authored a CNN.com opinion piece advocating for the repeal of Title 42 — a 1944 legal measure that the Trump administration had invoked during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Title 42 states:
“Whenever the Surgeon General determines that by reason of the existence of any communicable disease in a foreign country there is serious danger of the introduction of such disease into the United States, and that this danger is so increased by the introduction of persons or property from such country that a suspension of the right to introduce such persons and property is required in the interest of the public health, the Surgeon General, in accordance with regulations approved by the President, shall have the power to prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places as he shall designate in order to avert such danger, and for such period of time as he may deem necessary for such purpose.”
Bhargava and Jayapal characterized Title 42 as a “xenophobic policy masquerading as a public health measure that has blocked people from seeking asylum in the United States since March 2020.” “It was wrong when it was first implemented, and it is wrong now,” they claimed, adding: “Immigration policy is not just about immigrants – it defines our character and identity as a multiracial, inclusive democracy.”
As record numbers of illegal migrants continued crossing the U.S. southern border during September 2022, Bhargava argued in an article for The Guardian that under President Joe Biden, the United States was “admitting too few immigrants, not too many.” Along with co-author and Roosevelt Institute fellow Rich Stolz, Bhargava called for “a ‘Statue of Liberty Plan’ for the 21st century that would set a goal for the U.S. to become the most welcoming country on Earth for migrants and refugees and bring order and humanity to a dysfunctional system.” “The future of multiracial democracy depends on a new immigration paradigm,” the authors asserted.
Over the years, Bhargava has served on the boards of a host of organizations in addition to those already named in this profile. Those additional organizations include the National Neighborhood Coalition, the Center on Law and Social Policy, the Applied Research Center, the Center for Policy Alternatives, the Poverty and Race Research and Action Center, the Discount Foundation, the League of Education Voters, The Nation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (advisory board), Democracia Ahora, 350.org, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus Foundation. Bhargava is also a Fellow with the Roosevelt Institute.
Additionally, Bhargava has been the recipient of awards and grants from CASA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the National Korean Education and Service Consortium, US Action, the Campaign for America’s Future, and Make the Road New York.
Bhargava has written extensively on issues of poverty, racial justice, immigration reform, community organizing, and economic justice. His work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The American Prospect, and the Huffington Post.
Bhargava lives in Washington, DC with his partner Harry Hanbury, a documentary filmmaker.