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Federal Policymaking: One Size Does Not Fit All

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When it comes to policymaking in the United States, so far one size does not fit all.  Latino families care about the same issues that all families care about. They face the same challenges in the midst of our country’s economic woes.

   However, they also continue to confront inequitable access to health care, affordable housing and quality education.

   Later in March, the National Council of La Raza — this country’s largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization — will release its 2009 Hispanic policy agenda which prioritizes policies that are vital to moving the Latino community forward and that will create opportunities for its members to share equally in the promise of this great country. 

   During NCLR’s 2009 National Issue Briefing and Advocacy Day on  March 4–5, nearly 350 leaders from community groups throughout the nation will travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with their congressional representatives.  Their goal?  To give voice to the same concerns revealed in our policy agenda:  the economic downturn and its impact on their communities, housing stability, health care reform, immigration reform and school accountability.

   Their message:  If we are to move ahead as a nation, it is imperative that Latinos do not get left behind.

   The specific challenges that Hispanics face are highlighted in our agenda.  For instance, the Pew Hispanic Center reports that by 2050, one in three U.S. workers will be Hispanic.  Yet Latinos face a 9.7% unemployment rate, compared to 7.6% for the nation overall.  NCLR supports English-language and occupation-specific job training for adults, and other programs that arm Latinos with the skills they need to access good-quality jobs, especially those created by the stimulus plan.

   At the national level, President Obama has already responded to the foreclosure crisis which so deeply impacts Latino families.  Homeownership is one of the most important ways Hispanics have for building wealth — and their futures.  NCLR supports programs that contribute to sustainable homeownership in Latino communities, such as housing counseling programs that work with struggling families to help them stay in their homes.

   On the health care front, NCLR is joining the millions of families who are in desperate need of reform that will provide affordable health insurance coverage for themselves, their families and their neighbors.  We thank President Obama and Congress for their bipartisan efforts to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which includes measures that strengthen health care for everyone’s children, including legal immigrant children.  This is an encouraging indication that lawmakers at the national level do not want to lock Latinos into a second-class status where their health care is concerned.

   But there is still much to be done.

   We look forward to the same thoughtful attention when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, which we believe is vital to protecting the civil rights of immigrants and citizens alike.  The piecemeal attempts at immigration enforcement that continue to crop up in our cities and states are detrimental to the well-being of everyone. These efforts are no substitute for a national system that deals effectively with employers and national security and humanely treats immigrant families, including all U.S. Latinos who endure discrimination fed by anti-immigrant rhetoric.

   Finally, we want so much more for our kids.  The current figures are appalling:  Of all secondary public school students, 17 percent are Latino. Nearly 40 percent of Latino students are English-language learners, and nearly 60 percent of those English language learners do not graduate from high school. 

   How can Congress help our schools do a better job?  Besides promoting funding for early care and education, we believe that the No Child Left Behind Act should be reauthorized to include assessments and teacher training that focuses on the needs of English-language learners.  Further, NCLR supports state and federal legislation that would enable longtime U.S.-resident immigrant children who have graduated from high school with stellar academic achievement to share in the American Dream and attend college at the in-state tuition rate.

   By 2050, 30 percent of this nation’s residents will be Latino.  But when the 45.5 million Latinos currently contributing to U.S. society live disproportionately with high unemployment, horrendous high school dropout rates, increasing foreclosures, discrimination in the health care setting, and racist language and hate crimes associated with the immigration debate, it’s time for a change. 

   It is our hope that Congress and policymakers are finally ready to put forth real solutions that fit the diverse needs of all people who together define our nation.

   (Janet Murguía is president of the National Council of La Raza, based in Washington, D.C.  Email: [email protected])

   ©2009

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