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© Hispanic Link News Service
Hispanics Submit Agenda For Next Congress And President
by CYNTHIA L. OROSCO
October 29, 2000
As political pundits try to get a fix on the influence an expected 5.5 to 6 million Hispanic voters will have in the Nov. 7 elections, leaders of the nation's leading Latino organizations are planning further into the future.
Check out more coverage at Latino.com's Elections 2000 page.
No matter who wins the White House or controls the Congress, they intend to have their voices heard in Washington after election day.
With this new focus, 400 Latino and Latina leaders from across the country gathered Oct. 18 in Washington, D.C., for the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda's 2000 Hispanic Policy Summit.
Founded in 1991, the NHLA is nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of 31 organizations representing the diverse ethnic groups that make up a U.S. Hispanic community that now numbers 36 million.
The participants' ``textbook,'' used in a series of day-long seminars, was a 71-page document prepared and distributed by the NHLA. It laid out the body's consensus position on five areas it identified as critical to the community's parity goals at the start of the new century: education, civil rights, government accountability, economic development and health.
With only days remaining before the presidential election, NHLA delivered copies of its 2000 Public Policy Agenda to all members of Congress, executive departmental chiefs and countless organizational heads in and beyond the capital.
This was the third -- ``and by far most comprehensive'' -- report it has issued. Included were more than 200 recommendations, ranging from better enforcement of language rights and establishing affordable, universal health care coverage to raising the national minimum wage to ``a living wage'' that allows workers to support their families.
It also encouraged the federal government to be a more active partner in addressing the ongoing failure of public education to meet the needs of culturally different children and parents.
Presently Hispanics, who comprise 26 percent of the nation's 43 million individuals lacking health insurance, face serious disparities in access, affordability and quality of care, it pointed out.
``The purpose of the Hispanic policy agenda is to attract the attention of and educate policymakers on the values, contributions and concerns of the Hispanic community and foster a federal government that is responsive to the Hispanic community,'' said Manuel Mirabal, NHLA chair and president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition.
Although the recommendations compiled in the policy agenda are directed to members of the 107th Congress and the new administration, Mirabal said the time to move on the issues is now. ``We are committed to use this document beginning right after Nov. 7 when we know who the new president is.''
A central discussion topic of the summit was the Latino Immigrant and Fairness Act. The agenda urged that family reunification be reestablished as the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy and that proposals to implement programs to import more agricultural ``guest workers'' be forestalled until U.S. farmworkers' wages and working conditions are improved.
``How many years, how much sweat and toil in this country does it take to earn a chance to be here fully, to be accepted into this society?'' asked summit chair Marisa Demeo, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, during her luncheon address.
Another concern was the failure of Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush to address key Latino issues during their televised debates. Keynote speaker Raúl Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, called it typical.
``Every time there's a presidential election, they say, `We'd love to accept your agenda, but we don't know what it is.' That's poppycock. Our purpose is very clear. We want to say to both candidates that we are totally united on basic issues,'' he said.
Ranking high among these issues was education, including bilingual instruction that values two languages. Although Gore and Bush discussed their plans for education reform during the debates, important Latino issues including bilingual education were not mentioned by either, said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
``Gore seemed to have some concrete ideas about what he is going to do,'' Wilkes said. ``But Bush ... didn't have as strong a program to address educational issues, other than the voucher program, which LULAC and many other Latino organizations oppose.''
While Gore and Bush were invited to address the summit, both were away from the capital. Instead, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) discussed the positions of the two candidates. While Hatch described Bush as a candidate who sets a positive tone of inclusion ready to work with those who have differing policy views, Becerra said Gore's record of working on Latino issues speaks for itself.
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut talked to participants via phone from the campaign airplane. He drew a parallel to high Hispanic immigration rates and his own family's immigrant experiences, saying he has been encouraged by the Latino community's support for his candidacy.
``I have been very touched by the response of groups like the Hispanic community, who are also still working their way up,'' Lieberman said.
(Cynthia L. Orosco is a correspondent with Hispanic Link News)