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Journal and Courier
GOP Latino Panel Gets Local Voice
By Marc B. Geller and Jeff Parrott
MAY 12, 2002
A Lafayette woman hopes her recent appointment to a congressional advisory panel will, among other things, open new doors in education for Latinos.
Mary Ilu Altman, assistant director for diversity affairs at Ivy Tech State College in Lafayette, spent two days last week in Washington attending the opening session of the Senate Republican Conference Task Force on Hispanic Affairs.
She is one of five individuals from across the state tapped by U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., to serve on the panel.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be of service not only to the senator but also to be of service to the Hispanic community," said Altman.
Established in 1987, the task force serves senators as a source of advice and information concerning Hispanic affairs. In the years since its inception, the task force has helped shape the Republican legislative agenda.
The group discussed a range of education and immigration issues but felt most strongly about lobbying for passage of the Dream Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. It would allow undocumented immigrant children in grades 7-12, who have lived in the country for at least five years, access to in-state tuition at public colleges, which is now prohibited by federal law.
The bill also would let long-term undocumented immigrant children earn permanent resident status if they break no laws and graduate from a qualified institute of higher education.
Children of illegal immigrants should not be penalized for their parents' mistakes, and failure to pass the bill will create a permanent underclass of uneducated Hispanics in years to come, Altman said.
"Many Hispanic students in this area are graduating from high school but because they are undocumented, they are ineligible for financial aid" or in-state tuition at public colleges, Altman said.
The task force also discussed:
The need for teachers to receive more training in Spanish language and culture.
Education for migrant workers and their children.
Urging the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee to schedule confirmation hearings for Miguel Estrada, a Honduran-born Washington lawyer who was nominated a year ago by President Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
Altman criticized Democrats for opposing Estrada's nomination because of his pro-life stance and adherence to Catholic beliefs.
"This is definitely what I would call religious discrimination," she said. "I spoke to him and he said he would follow the law of the land, regardless of his religion."
Other Lugar representatives to the task force include Fran Martinez of South Bend, Judy Jochem-Nino of Huntingburg, Herb Hernandez of Fort Wayne and Esperanza Zendejas of Indianapolis, Lugar spokesman Nick Weber said.
Immigration is one of the major issues of interest to Hispanic communities across Indiana, Weber said.
"Our Indiana offices get a huge volume of calls and letters concerning immigration issues," he said. "It is really one of our highest constituent requests that we deal with back in Indiana.
"Ms. Altman, in working at Ivy Tech, has been sort of on the forefront of a lot of these issues. I'm sure the senator feels that it will help the entire group to have someone associated with higher education, with a community the size of Lafayette."
At the college, Altman conducts multicultural awareness workshops, assists with minority recruitment and serves a bridge between Ivy Tech and the Hispanic community.
Weber said Altman also was picked for her experience serving on Gov. Frank O'Bannon's Indiana Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs, which "gives her some breadth of state knowledge outside of Lafayette."
The task force was scheduled to hold its first meeting of the current 107th Congress on Sept. 13-14, but the meeting was postponed until this week. Altman said she expects to return to Washington sometime this fall.