When People Work Together, the Possibilities Are Endless

By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR

The 2013 Creating Change conference concluded a few days ago and the attendees are back in their communities, hopefully spreading the word about what transpired over the four-day confab.

This was my first time at the conference, and I couldn’t be happier to have represented the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). There were many great moments, but I was most struck by the enthusiastic embrace of immigration reform. If attendees didn’t receive the message that immigration reform is an LGBT issue as well , then they just weren’t listening. From the first-ever Latino Institute to the myriad sessions to the Saturday plenary, the subject of immigration reform was a hot topic that had everyone buzzing.

Union=Fuerza Latino Institute

A packed house at the first-ever Creating Change Latino Institute.

At the Latino Institute in particular, which is where my Creating Change experience started, I was especially surprised by just how many Hispanics were in attendance. In fact, there were more folks who participated than the organizers had expected! Seeing so many LGBT Latinos in one place was really a beautiful sight to behold.

“We were very pleased with the turnout of Hispanics who joined us for the first-ever Latino Institute,” said Latino GLBT History Project President, David Perez, the head organizer. “I think our presence at Creating Change was certainly felt, which enabled us to truly elevate the importance of Hispanic issues.”

The Latino Institute even made it on to CNN!

Immigration was one of the most popular topics at the institute. During the several break-out sessions on the issue, attendees had the chance to talk about what kinds of solutions our leaders should be considering as the country dives deeper into the debate.

Rea Carey

Rea Carey at Creating Change 2013. Photo: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Once the conference was in full swing, I didn’t need to look far to find folks rallying behind immigration reform. Indeed, the support has come from the highest levels in the LGBT community. I had the opportunity to chat with Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, about it. Carey was very enthusiastic and optimistic that this is the year for immigration reform. She also made it a point to tell us that the task force is solidly behind the fight. This was certainly proven at the Saturday plenary session, which featured the prize-winning undocumented journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas. He accepted an award for his leadership and also led a panel of undocumented activists. It was a spirited discussion, but what stood out the most was the fact that this conversation was being held in front of 3,000+ LGBT people. It occurred to me that Latinos truly have arrived. It was an inspiring moment and also was indicative of the collective power we have to cause change. You can watch the entire plenary below.

During the several sessions I attended, from those on school safety to marriage equality to how to do outreach to Hispanics, we were able to provide the Latino perspective for a community that has not always necessarily supported our causes. Going forward, I’m confident that our two communities will continue to work together toward the shared goal of creating change.

Austerity Isn’t the Solution, Economic Growth Is

By Janis Bowdler, Director of Economic Policy, NCLR

It has been three weeks since Congress managed to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff by the narrowest of margins.  The deal brokered at the eleventh hour prevented burdensome tax hikes on working- and middle-class families and generated new revenue.  This is good news for Latino families.  However, like all compromises, the deal leaves something to be desired.  The fight to protect the interest of Hispanic workers, students, and households is not over.  On the contrary, now is a critical time for Latino leaders to tell elected officials that Latino voters are not solely paying attention to the issue of immigration.

After weeks of tough negotiations, the Senate and White House were able to agree on a tax-only solution, and the issue of deep automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, has been delayed another two months.  The upsides are clear—tax savings for most Americans while generating revenue from the top 1%—but the risks are just as stark.  First, Congress and the White House still have to grapple with the sequestration—the across-the-board automatic cuts to discretionary spending that are scheduled to take place on March 1, 2013, if they fail to act.

Another concern is permanence of the deal.  We all expect compromise to be part of getting a bill through Congress.  While it was not unexpected that the senior Democrats gave ground on their original demand for a 45% estate tax on inheritance over $3.2 million (final negotiation was 40% on estates over $5.2 million for an individual), it is a surprise that they made these rates permanent.  On the other hand, the expansions of the working family tax credits that keep many Latinos and other Americans out of poverty such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit were temporarily extended for five years.  The extension is an important victory for Hispanic families, but we must continue to press Congress to treat working families the same as the wealthy by making their tax relief permanent.

A final concern says much about where we need to go from here.  The deal produced roughly $600 billion in revenue, which is less than one-quarter of the $3.7 trillion that experts say is necessary to stabilize the national debt.  Meanwhile, working- and middle-class families that rely heavily on federal spending on education, job creation, and infrastructure will absorb $1.7 trillion in cuts that were put in place last year.  That’s nearly halfway (45%) to the deficit reduction target figure and exceeds the recommendations of the Simpson Bowles Commission.  In this next round of negotiations, Congress and the White House will be looking for an additional $1.3 trillion in savings.  Republicans are insisting all of the savings come from spending cuts while the White House is only slightly better positioned, angling for a 50/50 split of revenue and cuts.  If negotiations continue in this direction, the lion’s share of deficit reduction will be shouldered by working- and middle-class families.

Last fall, Hispanic voters cast their ballot with a different objective in mind.  A number of polls show that Latino voters favor a fair and balanced approach to deficit reduction as well as smart investments that grow our economy.  In fact, Latinos arguably have the most at stake in the budget battles.  Deep cuts to programs and services will come just as Hispanic students and workers are becoming a growing share of the population.  Latino children now make up nearly one in four students enrolled in America’s public schools.  Hispanics will account for 80% of the growth in the workforce between now and 2050.  Moreover, it will be our children disproportionately affected decades from now if Congress bargains away the safety nets they should be able to rely on as they age.

The voices of Hispanic voters will only be heard if the prominent leaders from our community stand up for this issue.  Many are asking whether the timing and politics of the debt debate will jeopardize our shared agenda on comprehensive immigration reform.  This is a good question and a real concern.  However, we cannot give Congress or the administration a pass on issues of economic security.  Latinos make up 16% of the population but 25% of those that are poor.  Investing in the upward mobility of Latinos is not only a community imperative, but a national necessity.

Rather than austerity, Congress should be focused on growing the economy and facilitating job creation.  Economists and business leaders alike have warned that cutting the deficit too much too soon could stymie our fledgling recovery.  This isn’t just a short-term problem.  Bankrupting programs that invest in future growth, such as skills training, education, and health care, will undermine our long-term competitiveness.  We cannot turn our back on the social compact that has existed between generations just as the nation’s fastest-growing populations need it the most.  Doing so would be mutually harmful.  Hispanic families would miss the opportunity to maximize their potential as workers, taxpayers, and contributors to the economy.  Such a blow would come at the same time as those moving into retirement would need to rely on the earnings of Latinos to support Social Security and Medicare.

Now is the time to advance policy that fosters a fair economy where hard work is rewarded and prosperity is broadly shared.  We can do this by focusing on raising revenue to make strategic investments that lead to economic mobility and growth.  The formula doesn’t have to be as complicated as Washington makes it.  Double down on education by ensuring all children who need it can access quality early childhood education.  Invest in infrastructure and clean energy jobs, and make sure local workers have access to skills training so they are able to compete.  Maintain economic ladders that lift people out of poverty, move families into the middle class, and support their retirement, such as working family tax credits and business and homeownership opportunities.  Finally, protect the vulnerable among us by ensuring kids do not go hungry and the sick are cared for.

The Immigration Reform Train Is Moving. Are You On Board?

Today the president unveiled his much-anticipated proposal for immigration reform.  It comes on the heels of a Senate blueprint outlined yesterday by a bipartisan group of eight senators.  In each, the principle of citizenship is at the core, a very encouraging development in this debate.

Together, both proposals also underscore the fact that 2013 is the year to get immigration reform passed.  The American people want a solution, and it behooves us to take advantage of the energy and leadership that has emerged since the November election.

“Immigration reform was central in the president’s conversations with the Latino community throughout his 2012 campaign, and it is certainly heartening to see him push firmly to fulfill that promise,” said our President and CEO, Janet Murguía, in a statement.  “His announcement today, coupled with yesterday’s Senate blueprint, has turned the corner on this issue, building momentum and motivating lawmakers to put politics aside and get this important work done.”

Let’s be clear, though:  this is just the first step.  The most critical time in our struggle is now upon us as both Congress and the White House begin hashing out actual legislation.  We’re committed to working with both branches on crafting a bill which has at its centerpiece a pathway to citizenship and is inclusive of all Americans, including our LGBT brothers and sisters.  To do this effectively, though, we’re going to need to your help.

JM_Inauguration_PPT Slide_FINAL-02-01

It is absolutely crucial that Congress and the White House hear your support for immigration reform.  You can start by clicking here to demand that your senators support this push for reform.  You can also tell them to support reform by calling (877) 746-2575.  You’ll be patched through to your senator’s office.  In fact, why don’t you do both?

The immigration reform train has left the station folks, and now it’s time for action!  Let’s show our leaders that this is a priority for our community—indeed, for our country.  Join the fight!

Unity: The Solution We Are Searching For

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

Marlene Sept. 7 Rally (3)

 “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”

Standing in front of hundreds of thousands of people, with millions more watching throughout the country and across the globe, President Obama once again reminded us that there will be no more stalling, that the time to pass comprehensive immigration reform is now. The journey so far has had its ups and downs. As a community, Latinos were unquestionably frustrated when the promise of immigration reform slipped through the president’s fingers in his first term. At the same time, Mr. Obama has proven himself an ally, fighting against anti-immigrant state laws and granting deferred action to thousands of hopeful dreamers.

But with a second term comes a renewed faith that we will see this through. In his inaugural address, it was no mistake that the president mentioned the word “together” not once, not twice, but seven times. If there has been one thing lacking in Washington over the past four years, it has been a willingness to work together—and both parties share in the blame.

It would be wise for our elected officials to remember that solutions are found in bipartisanship and compromise, and the only way for our nation to move forward is to work together.

Our leaders have a lot on their plates in the coming months, and immigration reform is the main course. But thanks in part to the strong Hispanic turnout in the 2012 elections, it looks as if both parties are finally ready to come to the table and deliver meaningful reform that will once and for all address the deep problems with our immigration system.

We cannot let this momentum die. It’s not going to be easy, and it would be naïve for either side to think that they are going to walk away 100% satisfied. But this is a real opportunity for Congress and the Obama administration to show the American people that they can work together and deliver the solutions that this country needs to get back on track.

The saying may be cliché, but it’s wholly appropriate in this case—united we stand, divided we fall. There will be tough legislative battles ahead on everything from the federal budget to gun violence, and they will test whether our elected officials truly plan to put partisan politics aside and do what’s best for the economy and the American people.

How I Came to Support Marriage…for Myself

By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR

Being at Creative Change this week put the issue of marriage equality at the forefront of my mind. Our partners at Familia es Familia hosted a session aimed at educating attendees on the Latino community’s attitudes and thoughts on LGBT issues. They’re positive attitudes, to be sure, but when you think about the top three reasons why Latinos support marriage equality and LGBT rights, they’re not so surprising. Respect, family, and opposition to discrimination are at the core of the Latino community’s values, so it makes sense that our community feels this way toward LGBT people. Like the rest of America, Hispanic views on the LGBT community have evolved toward greater and greater acceptance.

During the session, I started to reflect on the evolution of my own views, though it might not be the evolution you’d expect to hear from an out and proud gay man. Mine has been an evolution toward the acceptance of marriage as an institution I want to be a part of. Don’t get the wrong idea—I certainly recognize the marriage equality fight as one that we need to have. But the truth is that I haven’t always looked at marriage as something that suited me.

The reasons why I opposed marriage for myself are pretty juvenile when I think about them, but I can’t deny the fact that I held steadfast to them well into my twenties. They were mostly rooted in a fear of commitment, though I did my best to justify those views as anything but that.

As with so many things in life, however, my beliefs changed when I fell in love. Despite my best efforts, I was swept away during graduate school by a fellow student named Jim. This attractive, funny, and intelligent young man would eventually become my boyfriend and then my domestic partner. And, certainly to the surprise of my mother, father and even myself, I plan to one day make him my husband.

Being with Jim has helped me understand love and the power that marriage holds for those who opt for it. The federal government certainly believes in this power. One only need look at the myriad tax perks and benefits that the government confers on married couples. But not all marriages are recognized by the government. Not all people are given the opportunity to participate in this legal tradition. Not all people are recognized as equal. My relationship with Jim is not valid in the eyes of the federal government.

In a country dedicated to and founded on the principle of equality, any kind of discrimination leveled at a group of people, especially on the scale of marriage inequality, simply cannot stand. It is, without question, in nonaccordance with the ideals that are so eloquently prescribed in the Constitution.

But I have hope that change is coming. We have helped create this change and I don’t see our community giving up this fight anytime soon. In 2012, four states said no to attempts to codify discrimination into their constitutions. NCLR itself came out and stated strongly that we support marriage equality, and President Obama furthered solidified his commitment to the fight in his second inaugural speech. I firmly believe that marriage equality will be a reality. It’s only a matter of time.

But it won’t happen by itself. Achieving equality will continue to take passionate and tireless advocacy. I’m proud to work for an organization that believes in this endeavor. Every day more people and organizations join this fight, but we need even more allies in order to really be effective. So, if you believe in this cause and the overarching quest for social justice, join us and declare your support for marriage equality. We’ll both be better for it when you do.

Fighting Hate through Humor: NCLR Affiliate Latin American Coalition

Bananas While the Latin America Coalition, an NCLR Affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina, is no stranger to threats and extreme xenophobic opposition, its response to a nativist Neo-Nazi/KKK rally creatively fought hate with humor.

Supporters of the Latin American Coalition and other pro-immigration organizations dressed as clowns, wore giant banana suits, and honked horns at the racist rally, easily outnumbering the KKK protesters by five to one.

Their message?  Racism is ridiculous.

For a little pick-me-up, check out this wonderful blog post by the Coalition’s Executive Director, Jess George, on how her organization deals with hate mail and the negativity they receive on a daily basis.  Sometimes you’ve just got to “Laugh to Keep from Crying.”

Laugh to Keep From Crying

By Jess George, Executive Director, Latin American Coalition (Charlotte, North Carolina)

Last Friday was an exciting day. We got two hate mail letters. Continue reading

Comprehensive Immigration Reform a Priority as Republicans and Democrats Alike Heed Mounting Calls for Solutions

Marlene Sept. 7 Rally (20)After Latino leaders gathered in December and called for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, a rapidly growing number of individuals and groups across America echoed their calls for reforms that will help families, workers, and the economy.  Politicians from both parties—heeding the critical role of the powerful Latino electorate in reelecting President Obama and noting Hispanics’ wholesale rejection of Governor Romney and his adoption of the “self-deportation” ideas of the fringe right—have recognized that the time to pass comprehensive immigration reform is now.  The American public long ago came to this realization, and in poll after poll they support the president and Congress moving to fix our broken immigration system by providing the 11 million Americans-in-waiting with a road to become legal residents and eventually earn citizenship.

Republicans and Democrats alike are finally acknowledging the public’s demands.  Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and John Boehner are leading the GOP in advancing comprehensive immigration reform.  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa traveled to Washington, DC to press for reform, and Republican Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen hosted immigration reform forums in South Florida, with Mr. Diaz-Balart promising to work hard to get solutions from Congress this year.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has identified immigration reform as a top priority.  At the state level, where only two years ago anti-immigration bills were a dime a dozen, Republican legislators have resisted passing immigration legislation by arguing that comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level is needed.  Latino voters announced in November that immigration reform cannot wait, and the political powers are now not only listening, but acting rapidly.

Hispanics are front and center in the national push for Congress to finally pass long-needed solutions to fix a system that serves no one well.  As we push for enactment of an immigration reform bill, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is joining with its network of nearly 300 Affiliates across the county to gather the strength of the Latino community by conducting voter registration and citizenship programs, informing Hispanics of congressional action on immigration reform, and uniting to educate our legislators on the issues most urgent to Latino voters.

Latino Graduation Rates Surge to Three-decade High

Bell Multicultural StudentsFor the first time in over three decades, a new study found that the Latino on-time graduation rate in 2010 surged to over 70% in a major ten-point jump from four years before.

The increase in Hispanic high school graduation, combined with an increase among other groups, has led the national dropout rate to fall to just 3% of all American high school students.

Although Latinos are still dropping out of high school in unsustainably high numbers, at more than double the rate of their non-Hispanic counterparts, these findings may represent a welcome turn in the right direction. Far more than before, young Hispanic students are making the decision to stay in school until graduation day.

“While we are excited about this new increase in high school graduation rates, our ultimate challenge remains to ensure that more Hispanic students are prepared to be accepted and succeed in our colleges and universities. We must see more Latinos enroll in college each year with the skills they need to graduate and obtain a degree,” said Delia Pompa, Senior Vice President of Programs at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

What does this change mean for a growing Latino community during a time when many states are cutting school resources in the name of fiscal austerity?

Despite both cultural and linguistic setbacks, we know that Latino children can achieve educational goals whether in preschool or in high school and should not be written off at any point along the educational pipeline. Every day, talented and hardworking Hispanic students overcome stereotypes and personal adversity and succeed in realizing dreams of both high school and college graduation.

“NCLR works with school administrators, teachers, and parents to ensure that they not only graduate from high school but are prepared to face rigorous college coursework. Through programs like “What If?” and the Escalera Program, NCLR supports student-focused programs that provide tools for Latino students to be better prepared for acceptance to postsecondary institutions and thrive in a college environment,” said Pompa.

As Latino unemployment still hovers around 10% nationally, many Hispanic teens may be consciously deciding to stay in school, recognizing that without a degree their employment prospects are scant in an already difficult job market.

While an increase in graduation rates is a strong step forward, the study finds that nearly 30% of Hispanic high school students dropped out of school during the 2009–2010 academic year. This is still unacceptably high, and we must work together this year to redouble our efforts to ensure that every Latino student has the opportunity to succeed and earn a high school diploma.

No Cliff, Yet Danger Remains and the Stakes are High

By Eric Rodriguez, Vice President, Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation, NCLR

Two weeks ago, Congress steer us away from the so-called fiscal cliff and many of us thought we were out of danger, yet the threat is greater than ever.  The agreement, which prevented tax hikes on working families, raised taxes on the affluent, and extended unemployment insurance, was a good deal for hardworking, taxpaying Latinos, but lawmakers disagreed on spending cuts and fell well short of the $3.7 trillion needed to stabilize the debt.  Congress and the President now have two months to work out a deal or face automatic cuts in sensitive areas of the budget that will affect both parties—and millions of Americans.

Experts predict that by March the government will run out of cash to pay its bills.  Since we need congressional approval to borrow money, negotiators need to work fast.

The Latino vote flexed its muscle in the presidential election and Congress now has more Latino representatives than ever.  However, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives pledge to withhold support for lifting the debt ceiling unless all of the savings come from spending cuts to programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—programs that many Latinos depend on to survive.  On the other hand, the White House seeks a split between increased tax revenue and cuts to spending.

Once the fiscal cliff was “avoided,” many Hispanic leaders and voters may have understandably turned their attention toward immigration reform, another urgent national priority, but it may be perilous to look past the fiscal debate.  Negotiators should know that Latinos haven’t left the table and our economic, educational, and health interests are not bargaining chips.  A good deal would balance taxes and spending, including through investments that generate economic growth and create jobs.  This will improve Latinos’ financial outlook by maintaining economic ladders that move families out of poverty and into the middle class.  A good deal would do no harm and protect the vulnerable among us.  Hispanic leaders and voters should expect to be heard in this debate, and we must do all we can to ensure that negotiators continue to hear us.

Learn more about NCLR’s position on the federal budget.

Two Communities Finding Common Ground

By David Castillo III, New Media Manager

Union=Fuerza Latino Institute

In 2012, Latinos voted in record numbers and provided decisive victories all over the country. It’s safe to say that we have arrived, politically speaking. In recognition of this power, we have mobilized in myriad ways to make it known to other that our community is a force to be reckoned with. It seems other communities have taken note.

Consider the LGBT rights movement. Like others, the LGBT community has realized the importance and the value of having Latinos on their side in the fight for equality. Outreach has been made to find ways to work together and NCLR is proud to be joining in the fight.

One place where this outreach is evident is at the 2013 Creating Change conference in Atlanta this week. Creating Change is the premier conference on LGBT equality hosted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. This year, for the first time ever, Creating Change is hosting a Latino Institute, dedicated to exploring the intersection of the two communities and to finding ways our communities can work together.

Judging by the standing-room only crowd, it’s clear that LGBT Latinos are also very interested in having these conversations. Topics ranging from marriage to immigration to family acceptance and the transgendered community were discussed at length today. The Latinos present understand the importance of this day-long gathering, but it’s important you understand why, too.

  • The LGBT community has had tremendous success in advocacy. Their efforts have resulted in legislative victories that are changing people’s lives for the better. Working with them and in tandem, our communities can learn from each other which can bolster our ability to be a truly positive force for change.
  • LGBT Latinos live at the intersection of two communities. They deserve the support of an organization that represents more than 300 community based organizations and should ensure that all Latinos, regardless of who they love, are protected from civil rights abuses that demean their existence.
  • Immigration reform. The LGBT rights movement has identified it as an important policy issue that affects not just gay Latinos, but all LGBT people. Presenting a united front with the LGBT community can only enhance our work to finally get immigration reform passed.

Check out Daniel Hernandez, our youngest LGBT elected official, talk about why he thinks it’s so important for the Latino and LGBT communities to work together.

So where do we go from here? That’s what we’re here to find out. At least on the immigration front, we have an idea. Not only is talk of reform a big part of the Latino Institute, but the Task Force has also made it a prominent part of the entire conference in general. This is a very positive move for the Task Force and we intend to continue the conversation with them and anyone else who wants to work together on getting this done. Will you join us to create change?