August 1, 2008

Commentary:

Latino Congresso 2008: Translating Resolutions into Reality

By Ty Coronado
MAPA –San Diego

“Translating Resolutions into Reality” was the slogan of the third annual Latino Congresso (congress). The congresso was held in Los Angeles on July 18-21. This was the third consecutive congresso since it was reinstated in 2006 and the fifth congresso since 1938. The first Latino congresso was held in 1938. It was then under the leadership of Chicano activists Bert Corona and was organized with the goal of uniting all Latino organizations throughout the state.

This year’s congresso was attended by more than 1500 delegates. It was sponsored by all the major Latino organizations: MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund), LULAC (United League of Latin American Citizens), MAPA (Mexican American Political Association), NALACC (National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities), CARECEN (Central American Resources Center), Hermandad Mexicana, Project Yano, and the Hispanic Federation (HF). The Democratic Party was also in attendance. Some notable democrats at this year’s congresso were: Jerry Brown (D- CA), Joe Baca (D-CA), Antonio Villaraigosa (D-CA), and Steve Gallardo (D-AZ). Both presidential candidates were invited but did not attend. Other notable attendees included, Nativo Lopez, president of MAPA, and vice presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez (Ralph Nader).

The overriding focus of this year’s congresso was the presidential election, particularly, voter registration. Many leaders called for ambitious voter mobilization projects. The lack of Latino voting power is a major concern for many of the delegates, candidates, and activists in attendance. The goal of mobilizing Latino voters was presented as a long term project, a project that should carry over beyond this year’s presidential election. Voting was presented as the surest and fastest road to Latino empowerment.

For example, Congressman Joe Baca (D- CA), head of the Congressional Latino Caucus argued that voting was the key to political representation. He reminded us that Latino’s will make up 37% of the country’s population by 2050. Latinos are currently 34% of the state’s population. The importance of voting and Obama was a leitmotif of his speech, “It is important to count every individual.” He also urged unity in support for Obama, “We’ve gotta get beyond where we’re at now – get over the black-brown syndrome.”

The district attorney for the state of California, Jerry Brown was another democrat with a strong message for Latino voters. Brown’s tone was one of concern over the state of the economy and the treatment of immigrants, “banking institutions that used to be under control of the state are now federal, and they don’t do anything.” Jerry Brown reiterated his support for the Latino workers throughout his speech. He offered assistance to defrauded workers and claimed to have 11,000 lawyers at his disposal, each one, “ready to sue.” Brown was one of the few white speakers at the congresso. Brown’s impassioned speech was another get out the vote message, an early start for 2010.

Besides speeches, the congresso consisted of a series of town-hall meetings/forums. Attendees were presented with a set of resolutions on different issues that currently affect the Latino community. This year’s resolutions were narrower in scope than the previous year. They focused on: the presidential election, immigration reform, justice for immigrants, the war in Iraq, education, and sustainable development.

The town hall discussion on Immigration centered on the Unity Blueprint for Immigration Reform, “The Unity Blueprint for Immigration Reform provides specific legislative proposals for rational and humane transformation of the current immigration policy disaster in the United States.” http://www.unityblueprint.org/. Peter Shay, an immigration lawyer from the Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, is the main architect of the Unity Blueprint and presented the main points of the blueprint.

The first point of the Unity Blueprint is to promote a regional dialogue between the Americas. According to Shay immigration is not only a U.S. – Mexico issue since it affects the whole southern hemisphere. The second point of the Unity Blueprint calls for the implementation of a legalization program with a path toward permanent visas (3 years max). In the third point, Shay argued that the need for border enforcement would be greatly reduced once a sensible immigration system is put into place. The fourth point of the Blueprint supports the protection of families and children from ICE raids, and judicial review for undocumented workers (judicial review was repealed in the 1986 IRCA legislation). Other provisions include the barring of local law enforcement from immigration matters; this will motivate undocumented immigrants to trust the police, and a ban on local governments from passing anti-immigration legislation – points five and six.

The Blueprint has been endorsed by the majority of progressive immigrant rights groups. It is a comprehensive plan written by activists and community leaders, it is continually being revised in open dialogue with community activists and the public at large. The Blueprint is a unique document that exists outside Washington and special interests. In spite of its ties to the community, it is unlikely that any congress (democrat or republican) would support such a progressive document.

The town hall meeting on education revolved around the CA-DREAM act. Ramon Mira-montes of the Los Angeles Community College district sees the DREAM ACT as a great opportunity for the 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school each year in California. The 1986 IRCA provision was a major setback for undocumented students since it blocked financial aide for undocumented students. Miramontes argued the need to “reach across the isle” to conservative voters and politicians by showing how the DREAM ACT would increase the pool of working Latino’s who would help fund the ailing social security system. Those who oppose the DREAM ACT point out its military service option which would pull undocumented students away from education. Given the rising cost of education and the inaccessibility of financial aide, it easy to see how the DREAM ACT can function as a recruitment tool.

Other town-hall meetings focused on sustainable development, the environment, relations with South America, and the war in Iraq.

On the whole, the congresso provided a much needed contact zone for Latino leaders. Resolutions voted on during this congresso will be diffused far and wide. The town hall/forums on immigration, climate change, education, and the war in Iraq, were informative and timely.

On the other hand, this year’s congresso was not as diverse as the previous one. The over-representation of Latino democrats was overwhelming. The large democratic showing infused the congresso with a false sense of optimism. An optimism based on the belief that electing democrats is a surefire way of affecting positive change for Latinos. The democrats have positioned themselves as the only option for Latinos. The barbarism of the Bush regime, the viability of Obama, and a rigid two-party system has put all the odds in the Democrats favor. Indeed, it is a good time to be a Latino democrat!

Nevertheless, whether or not the Democrats will help Latino’s, remains to be seen. The past two years have been some of the hardest years for Latino’s in recent history. Anti-immigrant sentiment is at an all time high and the recession continues to widen. The democratic response has been lackluster. We must not forget that the recent persecution of Latino immigrants occurred under a newly elected democratic senate and congress. The guarantee of a democratic victory in November does not necessarily guarantee a Latino victory. This year’s Latino Congresso served as the loudspeaker for the Latino democrats lets see if they can live up to their potential.

According to Shay, the authors of the Blueprint are still revising the document and are open to suggestions. The unity web site allows for feedback and input.

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