Weekly Immigration Update; from NCLR

Chicago, IL - The Annual Conference of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) started off with a bang on Saturday.  President Janet Murguia delivered an impassioned speech on the state of Latinos today and called to all of us for action on the various fronts discussed at this conference - Health Care, Education, Civil Rights, Immigration Reform, and Leadership building.  When one advocates for one issue, it is easy to forget that there is a spectrum of other concerns that affect the Latino community in equal measure.  While the Hispanic community at NCLR reminds us of these other issues at the forefront of Hispanic voters' minds, there is a unifying thread - concern for demonization and de-humanization of Hispanics.  That is how immigration is linked to all other issues - in conversations with activists from all areas, immigration remains a threshold issue for everyone.  With this audience, a candidate for public office could have an impeccable tax, health care, or education proposal, but if the idea is that certain people cannot have access because they are "foreign" (even if they are legal immigrants), the buck stops there. 

Sen. Dick Durbin renewed his call for passage of the DREAM Act, that could change the lives of so many young people here in Illinois who have gone to school - high school and often college - only to be kept in waiting of the promise of DREAM.  It is a hopeful sign that Sen. Durbin will similarly serve as a loud voice for comprehensive immigration reform - DREAM and all the other pieces - as legislation hits the Senate floor this Fall.

Valerie Jarret spoke yesterday of the importance of passage of health care reform for this community, in addition to education reform and immigration reform, as well as diversity in our Supreme Court and throughout the government so that "government reflects the population it is governing."  She tied all these issues together as they are all needed to achieve the promise of a level playing-field for all in this new age of Obama.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, delivered a riveting speech that drew a standing ovation from the NCLR attendees.  Herself a woman of many "firsts,"  she focused on the role of Latinas, highlighting the challenges we face in preparing our young women, but also emphasizing how far we have come, for example, as Latinas are now the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs.

Secretary Hilda Solis also spoke at the midday "Latina Brunch," delivering inspiring words on the importance of keeping faith in oneself as women and as workers who provide this country with so many riches - tangible and intangible. 

During the Latina Panel in "The View" format, Maria Cardona, Leslie Sanchez, and Lori Montenegro discussed issues of most importance to our gender and demographic.  Hands-down, the most important concern was that of young Latinas' self-image.  As the group and demographic with the highest rate of high school dropouts and teen-pregnancies, we face a generational crisis with our Latina millenials.  As Lori correctly indicated, the two issues (education/teen-pregnancy) are necessarily correlated with the vision these girls have of themselves.  If they do not envision opportunity, a career, or self-improvement, it will not happen.  I would argue that immigration reform ties directly into this issue because if a young immigrant woman (whether legal or illegal) feels that she is somehow not deserving or simply not eligible to attend the same schools or pursue the same ambitions as her "native" counterparts, she will act accordingly and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Even native born American Latinas can be affected if their own immigrant or first generation family instills these beliefs.  But regardless of whether these Latinas are legal immigrants, undocumented, or first or second generation, the impact of their decisions extends to our entire society.  Particularly at this time of economic crisis, we need our population to be the most prepared, the most educated, the most motivated, and the most innovative.  And the absence of major reforms to our immigration system is one of the most obvious obstacles holding us back as a nation.