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Archive for March, 2009

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Today would have been the 82nd birthday of labor and civil rights leader, Cesar Chávez.  Born into humble circumstances, he brought the plight of farm workers, who are some of the nation’s most downtrodden and helpless, into the national spotlight.  With his founding of the United Farm Workers (UFW), he gave a voice to those who toil to bring food to our tables often under harsh conditions.

His efforts benefited not just those in the fields, but all who care about justice and equality.  With his embrace of non-violence and civil disobedience, Latinos were propelled into the larger civil rights movement, and an entire generation was galvanized into action to address the myriad of concerns that face our community from education to environmental justice.  His legacy lives on today in many of the nation’s Latino leaders who were inspired by Chávez’s life.

Chávez Day is a an official celebration in 8 states, Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.  Countless other towns, cities, school districts and counties also hold commemorations in some form.

Beginning a week of events to remember the civil rights leader’s life, Dolores Huerta, who helped found UFW with Chávez, spoke about the labor movement at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.  Huerta, said that one of the things to learn from Chávez’s legacy was to always maintain faith, and that despite obstacles “he just kept going forward.”

His son, Paul Chávez, said, “when farmworkers fight to improve their lives, his legacy is honored” and that “when hospital workers, hotel workers and factory workers fight to improve their lives, his legacy is honored.”

Chávez continued saying that his father knew, “that his work wouldn’t be finished in his life. You always have to look for ways to inspire future generations of folks because the work won’t be finished.”

Today, the White House as well as Congressional leadership issued statements memorializing the late leader’s accomplishments.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “The impact of Cesar Chávez’s work is so deep, it reaches beyond the Latino community. All American workers benefit directly or indirectly from his dedication and progressive views.”

An example of Chávez’s ongoing legacy is evidenced by last year’s historic presidential election, when then candidate Barack Obama embraced a paraphrase of the UFW’s often heard chant and made it part of the American lexicon- Sí Se Puede – Yes We Can! 

Chávez died in 1993 at the age of 66.

LA Times

Reid Statement

White House statement

Pelosi statement

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More than 150 key Latino entrepreneurs and business leaders from across the country met in Washington D.C. for the first U.S. Latino Economic Summit hosted by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and LATINO Magazine.

Gene Sperling, adviser to U.S. Department of the Secretary Timothy Geithner and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, was the keynote speaker and spoke about how small  businesses are the engine of economic growth in this ailing economy. He said, “I can’t tell you how supportive I am of the formidable platform the administration is building on education, healthcare, economy and sustainability reform.”

Publisher of LATINO Magazine, Alfredo Estrada, said, “Mr. Sperling is a key player in our nation’s economic recovery and we look forward to his counsel and leadership impacting the Latino business community.”

The summit coincided with the launch of Latino Magazine and addressed many of the financial challenges Hispanic entrepreneurs and small business owners are currently facing across the country due to the lack of credit. Other speakers included Aida Alvarez, former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and of the US House Small Business Committee, who discussed the future of the economy and where Hispanics can play a role in a town hall.

According to the HispanicTelligence(R), 2 million Hispanic-owned businesses contribute to the U.S. economy by creating jobs and generating more than $388 billion in annual gross receipts and by 2010 there will be 3.2 million Latino firms generating an estimated $465 billion.

“LATINO Magazine focuses on the issues most relevant to our community, and the growth of Latino-owned businesses is one of the most important issues facing us today,” said Estrada. “This is why we are proud to be part of the first Latino Economic Summit to help business owners survive and thrive.”

In a panel discussion about the new economic and political landscape, former U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez stressed the importance that affairs in Latin America have an impact on Latinos in the states citing political circumstances that drive immigration. He spoke about the recent drug violence in Mexico and Vice President Joe Biden’s visit throughout Latin America, concluding that “Latin American issues are Latino issues”.

Dewey Square Principal Maria Cardona spoke about the importance of education and how it can serve as a catalyst for future Latino business leaders.

Representatives from major corporations and some of the nation’s largest Hispanic organizations such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the National Council of La Raza also participated in the summit

Latino Magazine

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By: Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus

The Latino community should wholeheartedly get behind the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  Introduced March 10, the bill has a majority of support in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, but business groups are spending heavily to make sure the Senate does not reach the 60 votes that it needs to survive a filibuster.

EFCA is important because it levels the playing field for workers by ensuring a more democratic decision-making process that provides employees the room to be full partners with management.   At a minimum, democracy involves freedom of speech and freedom to organize collectively around issues.  In the case of workers, a minimum standard of democracy involves the ability of workers to discuss and debate amongst themselves free of harassment from either unions or corporate management as to whether they would like to join a union.

EFCA would reinvigorate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) giving workers additional protections to bargain collectively and join a union.  Time and again, we have witnessed that the current system for workers to form unions so as to bargain over wages and benefits is broken.  As a result, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would be better able to ensure that the processes regarding authorization forms are fair, thus preventing coercion from either side.

In 2008, workers represented by unions earned a median weekly salary of $886. This compared to non-unionized workers, with median weekly earnings amounting to $691.

In particular, young men and women just entering the work world benefit from protections that collective bargaining provides.

Latinos are among the youngest population group in the United States. Their median age is 25.8 years – more than 10 years younger than that for the U.S. population as a whole. Also worth mention: they have more children and greater family stability. More than half are fully bilingual.

Needless to say, union membership would assist them not just in earning a livable wage. It could move many into jobs where they learn more skills, take on greater responsibilities gain added benefits

Latino workers want to join unions.  Union membership, long in decline, actually increased in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual report. The unionized share of the U.S. workforce climbed to 12.4 percent last year from 12.1 percent in 2007, an increase of more than 420,000 members.

While the gains were broadly shared across demographic lines and occupations, growth was strongest in the public sector, among Hispanics, and in Western states, driving the largest increase in more than a quarter of a century. More than 120,000 Hispanics became union members last year. Their membership rate rose nearly a full percent to 10.6 percent from 9.8 percent in 2007.

EFCA offers workers added access to such benefits as health insurance and pensions. Management gains from the skill sets, contagious motivation and increased productivity that satisfied workers provide.  It follows that productive workers help companies grow profits and capital for further economic growth.

As President Obama reminds us daily, the need to revitalize our communities is paramount. Urgent. Which communities will succeed in doing so?

Where unions are stronger, not only are wages higher and health insurance more accessible; there are numerous other benefits.  In states with higher union density, it is more likely that poverty will be reduced. There will be more homeowners than renters and better schools because there is greater public education spending per pupil.  The three are inter-related.

Together they bring an unintended benefit – a significant reduction in crime. Compare states where unions are strong with those where they’re weak. In the former, public dollars are more likely to go to schools and less likely to building jails.

By bolstering the middle class, educating our communities and ensuring they are healthy, we give people hope.  That’s the essence of the American Dream. The Employee Free Choice Act can help make it real again.

Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus is executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), with headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Ponte Al Dia

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As reported in the Washington Post, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has delayed a series of proposed immigration raids at U.S. workplaces in recent weeks, asking agents in her department to apply more scrutiny to the selection and investigation of targets as well as the timing of raids.

A senior department official said the delays signal a pending change in which agents at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will choose to prosecute businesses and executives instead of ordinary workers.

“ICE is now scrutinizing these cases more thoroughly to ensure that [targets] are being taken down when they should be taken down, and that the employer is being targeted and the surveillance and the investigation is being done how it should be done,” said the official, discussing Napolitano’s views about sensitive law enforcement matters on the condition of anonymity.

“There will be a change in policy, but in the interim, you’ve got to scrutinize the cases coming up,” the senior DHS official said, emphasizing Napolitano’s expectations as a former federal prosecutor and state attorney general.

According to another DHS official, Napolitano plans to release protocols this week to ensure that work-site investigations are fair and have less “haphazard” decision-making.

Napolitano’s moves have led some to question President Obama’s commitment to work-site raids, which were a signature staple of the Bush administration efforts to fight illegal immigration. Recently, Napolitano has highlighted other priorities, such as combating Mexican drug cartels and catching dangerous criminals who are illegal immigrants.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus made similar calls for reforming workplace immigration raids when the CHC met formally with Obama for the first time earlier this month.

Pelosi said, “Raids that break up families in that way, just kick in the door in the middle of the night, taking [a] father, a parent away, that’s just not the American way. It must stop.”

Conservatives and centrist Democrats are criticizing Obama saying that workplace enforcement is needed to reduce the supply of jobs that attract illegal immigrants.

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) led Congress this year in ordering ICE to spend $127 million on workplace operations, $34 million more than President George W. Bush had requested. Reducing those amounts, even in ICE’s overall $5 billion budget, would provoke a fight, senior aides in both parties said.

Napolitano has said she intends to focus more on prosecuting criminal cases of wrongdoing by companies. Analysts say they also think ICE may conduct fewer raids, focusing routine enforcement on civil infractions of worker eligibility verification rules.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group, says groups such as his support Obama’s focus on going after bad employers and criminal illegal immigrants first — or as he put it, prioritizing “drug smugglers, not window washers.”

Washington Post

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President Obama has announced John Trasviña as  Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

John Trasviña has devoted his legal career to public service in civil rights and immigration policy. In the 1980s and 90s, he served as Chairman Paul Simon’s General Counsel & Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. Thereafter, he was appointed Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs in 1993. In 1997, President Clinton appointed Trasviña as Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices. As Special Counsel, he led the only federal government office devoted solely to immigrant workplace rights and was the highest ranking Latino attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. After returning to California, he taught immigration law at Stanford Law School. In 2006, he was named President & General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF). A native of San Francisco, Trasviña is a graduate of Harvard University and Stanford Law School. In recent years, he was a member of the San Francisco Elections Commission, president of the Harvard Club of San Francisco, and a board member of the La Raza Lawyers Association, CORO of Northern California, Lowell High School Alumni Association, League of Women Voters and Pacific Coast Immigration Museum. He serves on the boards of the Latino Issues Forum and Campaign for College Opportunity and recently served as Chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.

The Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) administers and enforces major legislation that ensures equal access to housing, guarantees equal opportunity in all HUD programs and prohibits, to a limited extent, discrimination in employment with respect to HUD programs.

Boston Globe

LULAC

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On Thursday evening, President Obama continued his media blitz appearing on Univision’s longest-running and most popular music awards show “Premio Lo Nuestro”. It was an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community urging them to let their voices be heard in this tough economic time.

Obama said, “Buenas noches. I want to thank the millions of you who voted for tonight’s winners, and I also want to thank all of you who voted in that other election back in November – even if it wasn’t for me,” His pre-recorded message aired during Univision’s live coverage of the Latin music awards from Miami’s BankUnited Center.

“With the challenges we face right now, it is absolutely critical that you stay involved and make your voices heard. I want you to know that I will always be listening, and my Administration is working hard so that we can expand opportunity for all Americans and reach that better day,” he continued. “Now I know you tuned in for ‘Premio Lo Nuestro,’ so let me get right to it. I don’t know who’ll get married tonight or who’ll get Video of the Year, but I know you’re in for some great performances that celebrate the rich diversity of Latin music, and that’s good news. ”

Obama even spoke in Spanish, “So enjoy the show, y para los nominados que se preguntan si esta será su noche, les digo, ¡si se puede!”

Translation: “And for all those nominees wondering if tonight is their night, let me just say, ‘yes you can!’ ”

His bilingual message of hope and civic engagement at the music event “demonstrates the continued growth and influence of Hispanics in this country and the importance of speaking to them directly,” said Joe Uva, Univision’s CEO.

Big acts of the evening included Enrique Iglesias, Juanes, Alejandra Guzman, Emmauel, Reggaeton duo Wilsin y Yandel, Puerto Rican salsa band NG2, Aventura, Victor Manuelle and Mexican band La Arrolladora Banda el Limon.

Obama is no stranger to Univision. During his campaign, the Univision website hosted two historic forums with Democratic and Republican presidential candidates and co-hosted a debate with CNN.

A record turnout of nearly 10 million Hispanic voters in 2008 helped reshape the political map by defining the election in key Southwestern states as well as in Florida, Indiana, and Virginia.

Boston Globe

Associated Press

Huffington Post

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Earlier today Congress took an important step toward immigration reform. When both the US Senate and House reintroduced bipartisan legislation aimed at giving immigrant students raised in the U.S. the opportunity for a path to citizenship via college education or serving in the Armed Forces. Senators Richard Durbin and Richard Lugar reintroduced the DREAM Act, while Representatives Howard Berman, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Lincoln Diaz-Balart reintroduced the American Dream Act. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid applauded Durbin and Lugar for “standing up once more for an idea that economically benefits our nation and that is smart and fair.” The Hispanic civil rights organization Nation Council of La Raza (NCLR) also shared in the excitement explaining that these bills will help to move the U.S. toward a more updated immigration system.

Janet Murguía, NCLR President and CEO, urged both chambers to pass this legislation because “one of the best ways for our nation to recover from the current economic crisis is to have an educated workforce.” Far too often in the U.S. intelligent students are denied the opportunity of a college education because of their immigration status. According to NCLR, every year American high schools grant 65,000 diplomas to immigrant students who have lived in this country since they can remember. Their immigration status prevents these students from receiving financial aid, in-state tuition rates, grants, scholarships and the ability to work legally. This hinders far too many students from being able to make meaningful contributions to the country they call home.

Senator Reid explained “this law would grant these children temporary status while they go to college or serve in the Armed Forces. If they graduate or serve honorably, and stay out of trouble, they would be eligible for a green card and eventually for citizenship.” The legislation would restore states’ rights to determine requirements for in-state tuition and establish a path to a legal status for immigrant youth. Both Majority Leader Reid and Murguía emphasized the need for comprehensive immigration reform and the importance of the DREAM Act and American Dream Act as first steps.

NCLR

Senate Democratic Communications Center

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