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.

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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!

To the Proposed Gun Violence Prevention Measures, We Say Yes

Children's Mariachi
Photo by: Kate Gardiner

In a statement yesterday, NCLR praised President Obama’s bold actions to stem gun-related violence in America through 23 executive orders and renewed calls to Congress to stop the pipeline of guns that contribute to the carnage of innocent people.  We were especially pleased to see that the issue was being addressed from a broader lens than solely mass shootings, as tragic and heartbreaking as they are.  We need a holistic approach to this complex issue which also addresses the violence that communities of color face on a daily basis.

“We praise the president’s swift, thoughtful action as well as his challenge to Congress to enact new measures and broaden this long-overdue national conversation,” said our President and CEO, Janet Murguía.  “There are many promising first steps in his announcement, including measures aimed at getting guns out of the hands of the wrong individuals.”

Action on the president’s proposal couldn’t come soon enough.  Today in America, every three hours a young person is killed by firearm violence.  Every 14 hours, that teen or child is Latino.  These rates do not reflect an environment where all Americans are free to worship, assemble, and live as they please.  They are simply unacceptable.

Because we know our children disproportionately suffer from policing in schools and a punitive educational atmosphere, putting even more armed guards in our children’s schools cannot be the solution to reducing this kind of violence.

Instead, we applaud the president’s responsiveness to a concerned civil rights community with a pronouncement of efforts to break the “school-to-prison pipeline” in poor majority-minority schools, as well as his efforts to reinstate access to mental health services for disadvantaged students.  For the first time in years, resources are proposed to allow more flexibility for mental health and social resources to be directed toward behavioral problems.

“We are hopeful that local, state, and federal lawmakers will work with the White House on policies that do not just address the accessibility of guns,” said Murguía, “but also ensure that we are providing the kind of support, guidance, counseling and mental health services that can help children—especially youth routinely exposed to violence—learn to cope with issues without resorting to violence.”  We hope to work with them in the next year to flesh out proposals.

We Can Avoid the “Fiscal Cliff” Without Turning Our Backs on Our Most Vulnerable

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

Janet_MurguiaLike most voters, Latinos cited jobs and the economy as their greatest concern in the days leading up to the election .  The pressing importance of these issues led to an historic turnout of Hispanic voters in the 2012 election and overwhelming support for President Obama’s reelection.  In the post-election period, Latinos are looking to our nation’s leadership to pursue policies that spur economic growth and keep us on the path to recovery.  That progress, however, will be in jeopardy if our nation falls off the dreaded fiscal cliff on January 2, 2013, the day that deep spending cuts automatically go into effect and middle-class tax cuts expire.  Most economists agree that if a compromise is not reached before then, we are more than likely to experience a double-dip recession, slower growth, and rising unemployment.

Latinos have a great deal at stake in the debate over the fiscal cliff.  Not only are Hispanics a growing share of the electorate that will continue to amplify its voice in the political process, they are an increasingly vital force in our economy.  Latino children make up almost one out of four students enrolled in America’s public schools.  And Hispanics will account for 80% of the growth in the workforce between now and 2050.   This means that investing in those future workers today will have an indelible impact on the strength and competiveness of our nation’s economy.

I recently attended a meeting with President Obama and my fellow national civil rights leaders to discuss the fiscal cliff.  We presented a unified message on behalf of those who work for minority communities:  we need to protect the most vulnerable among us in this process, and we should not raise taxes on working and middle-class families.  Balancing the budget on the backs of these people will only widen the opportunity gap that already exists.

Recent surveys show that Latinos support a balanced, fair, and shared approach to deficit reduction.  In an impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll , nearly half of Hispanic voters supported both revenue generation and targeted spending cuts.

The impact of the fiscal cliff would be felt immediately.  It is estimated that over two million Americans will lose unemployment benefits and the average middle-class family would see an increase of approximately $2,000 in taxes.  For Latinos, who face a higher unemployment rate (10%) than the national average, suffered disproportionately from the foreclosure crisis , and are especially vulnerable to the effects of the fiscal cliff, the struggle to stay afloat will become unbearable.

Latinos want the president to keep his commitment to fostering a fair economy.  That means we do not turn our backs on the sick and the hungry.  Rather, we must continue to nurture the social contract that has existed through the generations by making long-term investments that will shape a stable and growing economy.  Cutting those investments is near-sighted and will shortchange not only our community but the long-term prosperity of our entire nation.

Our nation has a long and proud history of fostering opportunities to join and maintain the ranks of the middle class.  We must maintain this tradition if we want to honor those core values that have helped pave opportunities for America’s Latinos.

With Dream of Homeownership Threatened, Candidates’ Silence on Housing Issues Elicits Frustration

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project

How do you convince somebody to fix a problem when they are seemingly blind to the overwhelming evidence that the problem even exists? Today, 11 million Americans owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. Analysts predict that we will see an estimated two million foreclosure filings this year with millions more at risk of losing their homes. As a result, hundreds of thousands of senior citizens are losing their economic security, children and families are being uprooted, and neighborhoods are blighted with vacant properties.

The nation’s housing market is in a precarious position, and despite millions of homeowners across the nation bearing the brunt of the housing crisis, too few of the decision-makers on Capitol Hill are championing the necessary solutions to protect the American Dream of homeownership. And in the midst of a presidential election, the onus falls on the two candidates to carve out serious proposals to navigate homeowners out of this colossal mess. But when political strategy dictates that its best for both candidates to avoid the issue altogether, it becomes incredibly challenging to push for the type of national conversation we need.

Recently the Home for Good campaign—a collaboration of more than 70 civil rights, community, and public interest groups—reached out to homeowners across the country for help. In the end, nearly 40,000 people signed on to our call, asking the presidential candidates to offer real solutions to:

  • Stop needless foreclosures
  • Expand affordable rental housing
  • Revive a sustainable path to homeownership

Along with signatures of tens of thousands of concerned voters and advocates, we have offered a blueprint for restoring home opportunity called the Compact for Home Opportunity. We have made it especially easy for them. The Presidential candidates have our signatures and a plan, now the ball is in their court.

It’s important for both candidates to remember that while they may choose to skirt the issue until Election Day, there will be no hiding from the housing crisis over the next four years. Housing has traditionally led previous recession rebounds, so it is no wonder that our economic recovery has dragged alongside a weak housing market. We must address the crushing mortgage debt overhang, keep families in their homes, and bring new homeowners into the market.

Important housing policy questions are looming. Will the candidates lean on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to stop dual tracking, a practice that moves families through foreclosure before they know if they could qualify for a loan modification? Will they give away resources for housing counseling and low-income renters in the pending “Grand Bargain?” It’s these kinds of details that have been completely absent from both candidates’ platforms.

The financial crisis has decimated neighborhoods, wiped out family wealth, and ruined financial futures, but it has not changed the central role the home plays in our lives. We continue to seek shelter with a few basic amenities—safe streets, good schools, and access to quality jobs. It is time that candidates speak frankly with voters and explain what they plan to do to ensure that families who dream of owning a home can make that dream a reality.

The Chavez National Monument Honors the Man and the Latino Workers He Championed

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

In a moving ceremony this week, President Barack Obama designated the home and final resting place of one of the Latino community’s greatest icons, Cesar Chavez, as both a national monument and a national park.

Members of the NCLR familia—Board members and Affiliates, including the Cesar Chavez Foundation, many of whom have worked for decades with Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—were privileged to be present at the ceremony, acknowledging a man who played such a vital role for the millions of Latinos across the country who still remember and revere his legacy.  The recognition of such an integral part of our history is something that our community will not soon forget.

One of the great things about this monument is that it is so fitting a tribute to Cesar Chavez.  I have talked with Arturo Rodriguez—Chavez’s successor as UFW President and a former, much-revered member of the NCLR Board of Directors—many times about the Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz property.  While the property is modest and humble, much like Chavez himself, it is also, like him, a deeply inspiring and spiritual place.  As the headquarters of the UFW, it is a living testament to what a small group of people—from even the humblest backgrounds—can do to change the world.

Before Chavez and the UFW, those who picked our crops and put food on our tables were invisible.  In an act of unfathomable courage and self-sacrifice—his 25-day fast in 1968—Chavez called attention to the plight of America’s farmworkers, inspiring leaders from all over the country to join him in this struggle.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent a telegram expressing solidarity.  The Kennedy family, led by Robert F. Kennedy, went to his side.

By the end of the fast, Chavez had made great strides in his quest to bring dignity, respect, and humanity to the neglected and mistreated workers in our country’s history.  He put a face and a name to the people who toiled in the fields for pennies a day and without access to basic needs such as clean water and sanitation.  The farmworkers behind the produce on the shelves of America’s grocery stores now had a voice.

Alongside monuments to presidents, generals, and other famous men and women, we now have a monument to those workers whose names we don’t know and who will never be in any history books—a true testament to our nation that we honor all of our heroes.  Because, as Chavez often said during the course of his life:  by honoring me, you are really honoring them.

The greatest way to honor Chavez is by continuing his struggle.  We still have a long way to go to get full equality, respect, and dignity for our farmworkers.  And we are fighting those who refuse to see the humanity of today’s immigrant workers and wish to make them again invisible.

The designation of this new monument does many things:  it cements Chavez’s rightful place in American history, it ensures that that history will not be lost to future generations, and it gives us a much-needed educational tool and powerful symbol in our effort to fulfill Chavez’s legacy.  We are grateful to President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for making this long-held dream a reality.