NDN Blog

Hispanic Lawyers' Conference Brings Big Names and Uncovers Even Bigger Challenges

Albuquerque, NM - Reflecting on the 2009 Hispanic National Bar Association's (HNBA), it is of note that public policy and social justice issues (primarily immigration) were such prevalent topics during this conference, aptly themed, "Opening Doors."  And open doors we have, with the first Latina to sit on the Supreme Court soon to hear arguments in that chamber.  However, a report released this week by the HNBA based on a nine month study of Latinas in the profession uncovered some disturbing facts that show how far we still have to go.

During the opening day of the conference Governor Bill Richardson reflected on how Latino lawyers have opened doors for so many to come, and on the importance of this demographic as a group and as an electorate.  In the same fashion, he touched on the responsibility of Latinos to influence younger generations to be involved, to do more.

For his part, Attorney General Eric Holder recognized the role of Hispanics as he addressed the conference: 

The founders of the HNBA used the law to change lives for the better.  For in the final analysis, the law serves as the great equalizer of our society – and it is still our job to make it so.  As we gather for your 34th annual conference, your membership rolls are larger – and your influence is greater – than ever before.

In light of some of the most shocking displays of racism in a generation against Hispanics in the context of the immigration debate, health care debate, etc. and given the dramatic increase in hate crimes against Latinos (which are not always punished or adequately persecuted),  Attorney General Holder highlighted the importance of DOJ and particularly the "crown jewel" of the Civil Rights division:

We seek diversity not just for its own sake, but because our nation is stronger when people from all backgrounds participate in the administration of justice.  When I was confirmed as Attorney General, I made it clear that during my tenure, we would restore luster to the Justice Department’s “crown jewel” -- our Civil Rights Division.  I promised that the Civil Rights Division would fight discrimination as fiercely as the Criminal Division fights crime -- and that we would once again honor the spirit of the movement that inspired its creation.

Let me say this very clearly:  The Civil Rights Division is once again open for business.

Senator Bob Menendez also spoke as eloquently and passionately as always at the Conference, but I should highlight his less-known contribution - of all the panels occurring during Friday afternoon (all important topics) he quietly stepped into the panel on the findings of a report just released by the HNBA "The State of Latinas in the Legal Profession."  Dressed down in kakis, with no staff and no fuss, he quietly stepped in through the back of the room, sat down and listened intently to the panel as they revealed the findings of the HNBA Commission on Latina Lawyers.  As a Latina and as a woman lawyer, it meant a heck of a lot to me that the Senator 1) made time to attend the conference and, 2) chose to spend his time in that panel of all panels.

This report was 100% a labor of love by these Latina lawyers and other collaborators, as the HNBA did not have a grant to cover costs.  At the end of the presentation, as questions surfaced and discussion ensued, Sen. Menendez raised his hand, inquired as to whether the government had supported this important endeavor.  It did not, and so he pledged his help to this group of Latina lawyers to guide and support this Commission as they seek to obtain grants and assistance from the federal government.  

And we need all the help that we can get.  This report uncovered a drastic situation; despite the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor (who sent a moving videotaped message to the HNBA) and the nation’s growing Hispanic population, Hispanic women make up only 1.3% of all lawyers in the United States.  That is the lowest representation of any racial or ethnic group (overall and within their own gender) as compared to their overall presence in the nation - Latinas make up over 7% of the country's population.  Justice Sotomayor shines as a beacon of light to the Judges who served on the bench with her, and/or lawyers who argued before her and can now clearly envision new possibilities in their profession and in themselves, but the reality of today is that Latina lawyers are only a few hundred of the over 1 million lawyers currently in the U.S. 

Immigrant Rights: Presenting Issues of Enforcement, Public Policy and Views from the Bench at the HNBA

Albuquerque, NM - At the Hispanic National Bar Association's 34th Annual Convention, I just presented on the issue of "Immigrant Rights."  So I was going to just show a blank screen since immigrants don't enjoy the most basic due process rights in immigration proceedings.  Actually, I provided an overview of the latest actions taken in this area by all three branches of government and and I made the case for passage of immigration reform this year.  My first impression: very encouraged by the fact that the decent size room we were provided was completely full, not one empty seat.  Now, keep in mind that most HNBA members are in private practice and "public interest" law is not exactly part of the day to day work of the pool of mostly corporate litigation, corporate transactional, and criminal lawyers.  So I was encouraged at the sight of a full room, and at hearing our topic discussed over and over at breakfast plenaries, during lunch key note speeches, and even in the corridors of the convention hall.  This tells me that the violations of basic due process and human rights under the guise of immigration law have so permeated our society - particularly our demographic - that even "unusual" suspects, corporate lawyers who have not had immigrants in their families for centuries, are in tune and outraged at some of the most shocking violations of the Constitution in the name of "enforcing immigration law."  

This elite group of Hispanics could all report having clients who have suffered due to the broken immigration system, people who through no fault of their own have been discriminated against as "illegals" merely for the color of their skin, and some reported even being the object of this persecution themselves.  It is clear that the toxicicity of the issue of immigration has spilled over even into our judicial system.  There was a great deal of consensus among judges that the sharp rise in Hispanic defendants sentenced before them is largely due to Hispanic legal residents and undocumented immigrants that are caught in immigration enforcement efforts.  

Judge Martha Vazquez, Chief Judge for the U.S. Circuit Court of New Mexico, called the current immigration broekn system a "system of de facto immigrant criminalization," and highlighted the excessive penalization of immigrants in sentencing because illegal entry is an offense that calls for sentencing enhancement for past offenses.  And U.S. citizens might be guilty of illegal entry - she highlighted the case of a U.S. citizen who travelled to Mexico and while there was robbed of all his documents and wallet.

This defendant decided to just walk back into the U.S., but upon crossing back, he failed to go through customs inspection, which constitutes illegal entry.  Over a decade earlier he had been sentenced for assault and had served his time.  He committed a subsequent offense years later, and because of his "illegal entry," record of prior sentences must be taken into account to enhance a subsequent sentence by several years.  Judge Vazquez's point is that this person was essentially doing time twice for the same offense - he had already been judged for the original offense and carried out his sentence.  But the second sentence forces the judge to have this person serve time again for the prior offense.  

Shapiro discusses Immigration and Health Care Reform on CNBC

Last week I wrote about how Immigration Reform is NOT Health Care Reform.  Yesterday, NDN fellow Dr. Rob Shapiro was on CNBC discussing undocumented immigrants and health care reform, and set Mark Krikorian from CIS straight:


Edward Kennedy: "A man who saw wrong, and tried to right it"

It was in this way that Edward Kennedy eulogized his brother Robert F. Kennedy, and I find the description just as fitting for the Lion of the Senate.  On this day, our condolences to his family, and to the millions of supporters and followers that admired and were impacted by his work. 

Of the many legacies Senator Kennedy leaves behind, one legacy that touched millions of lives is his fight for justice in our immigration system and immigration reform.  No human being was ever "illegal" in the eyes of this powerhouse.  In the Kennedy tradition, even though he was a man of privilege, he fought for the powerless.  He reminded America of its immigrant tradition:

"A century and a half ago all eight of our Irish great grandparents successfully crossed the Atlantic in the famous vessels that were known as 'coffin ships' because so many failed to survive the ardous voyage...immigration is in our blood."

"There is no question that the immigration system needs to be reformed to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.  The urgent issue before us is about the future of America.  It is about being proud of our immigrant past and our immigrant future.  Immigration reform is an opportunity to be true to our ideals as a nation."

                     - Edward Kennedy, Introduction "A Nation of Immigrants"

He understood that his story was no different than that of today's Asian, Middle-Eastern, or Hispanic immigrants:

"The urgent issue before us is about the future of America.  It is about being proud of our immigrant past, and our immigrant future.  We know the high price of continuing inaction." 

One of the last acts as president of his brother, John F. Kennedy, was to propose a major series of immigration reforms to end the ugly race-based national origins quota system.  Sen. Kennedy understood the injustice being suffered under such a system and in 1965, he took on the job of pushing a bill to eliminate the quota system that had made it virtually impossible for anyone from anywhere but western Europe to immigrate to the USA.

Immigration also became one of the top issues on which Kennedy stood at the forefront, and a cause that he came to see as a personal crusade.

Among the immigration measures that Kennedy helped shape:

• A 1980 bill that established a system for refugee resettlement in the USA and nearly tripled the number of people who would qualify for admission.

• A 1986 bill that granted amnesty to an estimated 2.7 million people living illegally in the USA and established penalties against employers who hired illegal immigrants.

• A 1990 bill that revised the legal immigration system to allow for more immigrants and more high-skilled workers.

Most recently, Kennedy helped lay the groundwork for a 21st century immigration system through the immigration reform legislation known as the "McCain-Kennedy bill," which would have put an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship and plugged holes in the employer sanctions system.   I only wish he could have stayed with us long enough to see the fruit of his work enacted.  On the day the immigration reform legislation failed in 2007, Kennedy predicted its backers would be vindicated. "We will be back and we will prevail," he said.  The Liberal Lion's thunderous voice, the strength of his resolve, and ever generous smile will be missing as we work with President Obama and Congress to move on an immigration overhaul that would not be so far along were it not for the decades he spent laying the groundwork.

Republicans Not Getting It (Translation of "Patadas de Ahogados")

Today a series of articles highlight what we have long written about: having no agenda, no proposals for how to solve our vexing national problems, the Republican party has decided to rally based on fear and misinformation - thus thinning out their base and making their party an outdated, small, party that exploits the divides of the 20th century.  

The Dallas Morning News highlights how in Texas, if Kay Bailey Hutchinson intends to win the Gubernatorial primary race in March, she will need to grow the Republican party.  Her opponent, Gov.Rick Perry, has secured a greater deal of the Republican base than her, so she is being forced to win over unusual suspects.  The Hispanic community is a prime target.  Too bad she spent an entire year in 2007 demonizing this community, introducing poison-pill amendments against immigration reform, and did not vote for cloture, much less for immigration reform - an issue that matters a great deal to U.S. citizens in Texas with immigrant family members. 

In OK, Ponca City News writes, "Florida Sen. Mel Martinez's resignation closes the latest chapter in the Republican Party's tumultuous, decade-long effort to woo the nation's Hispanic voters."  In other words, the party even failed one of its own. This leaves the GOP with no Hispanic Senator, and only three Cuban-American Representatives in the U.S. Congress. Simon wrote more about this in Sotomayor, Hispanics, and the Martinez Resignation.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal talks today about the Census - and we're given a brief preview of the race baiting to come as the GOP feels its very existence increasingly threatened...yet they continue the behavior that made them so toxic and got them into this mess in the first place.

Patadas de Ahogados - Los Republicanos Ven la Tempestad y No Se Hincan


Hoy surgió una serie de artículos que resaltan la condición tan peligrosa en la que se encuentra el partido Republicano.  El partido se encuentra sin una agenda de políticas públicas clara, sin propuestas específicas para resolver los problemas más agravantes, mientras que al mismo tiempo ahuyenta cada vez más sectores de la población con su retórica alarmante y a menudo ofensiva.  En Tejas, el Dallas Morning News comenta sobre la elección a Gobernador del estado y estipula que si Kay Bailey-Hutchinson piensa tener alguna probabilidad de ganar la elección, tendrá que ampliar el partido.  Siendo que Rick Perry disfruta de mayor apoyo entre la base Republicana, Kay Bailey tendrá que acudir a los grupos y demográficas que se encuentran fuera de su base – principalmente los Hispanos/Latinos.  Lástima que se paso casi un año entero en el 2007 presentando enmiendas que lograron derrumbar un acuerdo para reforma migratoria – tema que le importa a muchos Tejanos ciudadanos con familia inmigrante. 

En Oklahoma, Ponca City News escribe, “La renuncia del Senador Mel Martínez de Florida cierra el último capítulo en el esfuerzo de la última década por parte del partido Republicano para ganarse a más votantes Hispanos.” Es decir, el partido falló, y hasta le falló a uno de los suyos.  Martínez se va, desilusionado con el comportamiento y la retórica de su partido, dejando a los Republicanos sin un solo Senador Hispano, y con sólo tres cubano-americanos en la Cámara Baja.  Simon también ha escrito sobre lo que la renuncia de Martínez y la llegada de Sotomayor significa en términos del voto Hispano para los Republicanos.

Por último, un artículo en el Wall Street Journal sobre el Censo (y lo que implicará a la hora de redistribuir escaños en el Congreso en base al conteo de personas) alude al tipo de campaña anti-inmigrante y anti-Hispana que podemos esperar de los xenofóbicos y conservadores en el 2010.  Por ejemplo, conforme a cálculos del Censo, se espera que Tejas obtenga 4 escaños más de representación en la Cámara baja.  Este crecimiento se debe en gran parte a los hispanos, ya que aproximadamente 60% del crecimiento en el estado ocurrió en la comunidad Hispana.  Siendo que en estos momentos la mayoría de hispanos se alinean con el partido Demócrata, los Republicanos le temen a que esta demografía sea contada en el Censo.  Asi que a ambos partidos: OJO, mucho ojo, para ser un partido viable en el siglo 21, ya no se vale insultar y distanciarse de la “minoría” más grande en este país. 


More on the Health Care Debate and Immigration Reform

Yesterday I wrote a few points drawing clear distinctions between the debate for health care reform and for a fix to our broken immigration system.  To complement the arguments, here is a great piece on "Four Health Care Debate Takeaways For the Immigration Reform Fight."  Essentially: 1) folks won't stick to the issue, 2) you have the same Congressional targets for passage, 3) the Minutement will act as the militia de facto, and 4) we must not waver, we must have courage.  

Weekly Immigration Update: Immigrants are Vital to Economic Recovery

A new study published by the CATO Institute has findings on immigrant productivity and concluded that the focus on repelling immigrants does more harm than good to the U.S. economy; the report was covered by the Wall Street Journal and by Walter Ewing, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  According to WSJ:

"Increased enforcement and reduced low-skilled immigration have a significant negative impact on the income of U.S. households," write Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer, the study's authors. "In contrast, legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would yield significant income gains for American workers and households...a program that allowed more low-skilled foreigners to enter the U.S. workforce lawfully would put smugglers and document-forgers out of business," explain the authors. "It would also allow immigrants to have higher productivity and create more openings for Americans in higher-skilled occupations."

Using a dynamic economic model that weighs the impact of immigrants on government revenues and expenditures, the study seeks to quantify the benefits of comprehensive immigration reform versus the enforcement-only approach. It finds that legalizing the entry of more low-skilled immigrants would result in economic gains of about $180 billion annually to U.S. households. A focus on more enforcement alone would not only result in an annual net economic loss of around $80 billion, say the authors, but fewer jobs, less investment and lower levels of consumption as well. "Modest savings in public expenditures would be more than offset by losses in economic output," says the report. 

In other news, the Asian-American Community flexed more muscle this week in the fight for immigration reform, covered by various news outlets. 

More Advertisers Drop Glenn Beck - More companies came out this week opting out of being associated with his xenophobic dinner theatre.  Hopefully the next step is: Glenn Beck off air.  Join in to "Stop the Race Baiting." Next - we Drop Dobbs and Limbaugh. 

Other headlines this week:

Immigration Reform is NOT Health Care Reform

White House Reiterates Commitment to Fixing the Broken Immigration System - let's keep on it!

White House Meeting on Immigration/NDN Backgrounder on Immigration Reform

Jorge Ramos: La Promesa

Only Three Fifths of a Person - More Deaths in DHS Detention

Enough! Immigration Reform is NOT Health Care Reform

The Philadelphia Inquirer published a fascinating editorial yesterday drawing clear distinctions between immigration reform and health care reform - and arguing as to why immigration reform should have gone first. The inquirer notes: 

The president can't ignore the polls. His success is inextricably tied to his popularity. But even in only his first eight months of office, he should have learned that Americans like a fighter. Immigration reform is something worth fighting for. It's been supported by Republicans and Democrats. It has links to other important issues, including education, employment, and, yes, health care.

Along those linesin 2007, before the Democrats held such a significant majority in both Chambers of Congress, Simon Rosenberg asked,"Can Democrats Seize the Opportunity the Immigration Debate Offers Them?":

...It is simply astonishing that Democrats have not fully grasped the enormity of the opportunity immigration reform presents. Embracing comprehensive immigration reform will allow to draw a bright line distinction with the GOP on an issue where the Democratic position has majority support of the American people; has the support of a deep and broad national coalition that includes prominent religious leaders, labor, business and immigrant rights groups, elected leaders...and [immigration reform] passed a GOP-controlled Senate with 62 votes; shows they can take on the tough ones, and work to solve vexing national problems; drives a deep wedge in the GOP coalition; and makes a major overture to Hispanics, who are the key to a permanent 21st century progressive governing coalition....

Immigration should properly be seen by Democrats as one their greatest political and governing opportunities of this political era, and a true test of whether they have what it takes to lead the emerging America of the 21st century. The Republicans are failing their test. For the good of the country I hope the Democrats pass theirs.

In early January, 2009, Simon Rosenberg wrote "On Congress, SHCIP, and Immigration Reform":

"That the debate over SCHIP has immediately become a debate about immigration should be a clear warning to the Administration and Congress that progress on many important domestic priorities this year may get caught up in the debate on how to best fix our broken immigration system. It is our belief that rather than having a series of tough and contentious proxy fights on immigration, our leaders should recognize that passing comprehensive immigration reform this year will not only help fix our badly broken immigration system - a priority of many Americans - but may also be the key to unlocking bipartisan progress on a whole range of other domestic and security related issues." 

In April, 2009, as one argument  "Making the Case for Immigration Reform," Simon wrote: 

6. The Administration and Congress will grow weary of what we call  "immigration proxy wars," and will want the issue taken off the table.  

With rising violence in Mexico, and the everyday drumbeat of clashes and conflicts over immigration in communities across America, t
he broken immigration system is not going to fade from public consciousness any time soon. The very vocal minority on the right -- those who put this issue on the table in the first place -- will continue to try to attach amendments to other bills ensuring that various government benefits are not conferred upon undocumenteds. We have already seen battles pop up this year on virtually every major bill Congress has taken up, including SCHIP and the stimulus. By the fall, I think leaders of both parties will grow weary of these proxy battles popping up on every issue and will want to resolve the issue once and for all. Passing immigration reform will become essential to making progress on other much needed societal goals like moving toward universal health insurance. 

In sum, I would just like to point out how immigration reform is NOT health care reform. Primarily because: 

1) The coalition for immigration reform is much broader - Immigration reform does draw strong feelings from both sides of the issue, but the fight for CIR draws a broader and larger number of grassroots activists (faith community, small business and Fortune 500, Asian-Pacific community, Hispanic, Ag, Labor, etc.) who are sufficiently passionate about this issue to come out to town halls, write letters, emails, attend organizational meetings, etc. to defend a stance for reform.

2) No one can claim CIR will cost us money, as CIR provides net revenue - The only persons affected by CIR will be the immigrants and families of immigrants who want it, they are the ones who will bear the cost of adjustment of status, becoming full-fledged taxpaying citizens, etc.   We have written before as to how the cost of the legalization component of CIR will be a net benefit, not cost, to taxpayers.  

3) History of bipartisanship - As Simon points out, no bipartisan health care bill has passed Congress, while we do have a history of bipartisan immigration bills passing Congress: from the 1986 bill amnesty bill, to the 1996 criminalization legislation, to the McCain-Kennedy reform legislation.  

4) Impact on the Redistricting/Apportionment Process - Without comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), minority and immigrant communities of all backgrounds will continue to feel marginalized and persecuted - even if they are here legally; DHS raids and deportations understandably cause a deep mistrust towards anything related to the government.  Translation: without CIR, an important percentage of people will fear the Census, might refuse to talk with Census workers and be counted, and will thus skew apportionment data. This would lead to use of faulty data in the redistricting and reapportionment processes.  FYI, the Constitution calls for all persons to be counted, not only U.S. citizens. In sum, CIR can have broader and more long-lasting political implications.  

White House Reiterates Commitment to Fixing the Broken Immigration System

Today's White House meeting demonstrates that President Obama understands the need and urgency for an overhaul of our broken immigration system.  Importantly, the process is beginning, there is interest at the top levels, and today provided stakeholders an opportunity to weigh in.  Below, Secretary Napolitano's statement:


"Today's meeting on comprehensive immigration reform was an important opportunity to hear from stakeholders and build on the significant time I've spent on the Hill meeting with members of Congress on this critical subject. I look forward to working with President Obama, my colleagues in Congress and representatives from law enforcement, business, labor organizations, the interfaith community, advocacy groups and others as we work on this important issue." 


"La reunión de hoy sobre la reforma integral de la inmigración fue una oportunidad importante para escuchar a las partes interesadas y sumar al tiempo significativo que he pasado en el Capitolio reunida con miembros del Congreso sobre este importante tema. Anticipo con entusiasmo trabajar con el Presidente Obama, mis colegas del Congreso y los representantes de las agencias de la ley, empresas, sindicatos, grupos religiosos, grupos que abogan por la comunidad, y otros a medida que trabajamos sobre este importante asunto." 


For additional information on this issue, access NDN's Backgrounder: Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

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