Latino Leaders Convene First National Latino Congress
in a Generation
By Aaron Glantz
September 7, 2006
Thousands of Latino community leaders from across the
country convened in Los Angeles Wednesday for what
organizers say is the first massive gathering of Latino
community leaders, organizations, and elected officials
"The Latino Congresso is deigned to do something that
the Congress in Washington is not doing--paying
attention to issues of importance to the Latino
community," explained John Trasvina, who heads up the
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Organizers say 2,000 people will participate in the
four-day gathering, which is co-hosted by Los Angeles
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The goal is to come away
with a unified program on immigration, labor rights,
health care, the environment, and even foreign policy.
Equally important, organizers say, is to maintain
momentum gained in May, when millions rallied around
the country to protest a harsh immigration measure,
which had been passed by the House of Representatives.
The demonstrations forced Congress to shelve the
proposal, HR 4437, which would have made it a crime to
be an undocumented immigrant in the United States or to
help those who remain in the United States illegally.
It would have also required churches and non-profit
organizations to require proof of legal status before
providing charity and would have mandated construction
of a giant fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Having killed that measure, leaders in the Latino
community are hoping to gather enough momentum to push
forward a proposal they see as immigrant-friendly.
"We want Congress to be more practical in dealing with
the immigration issues. We want to deal with these
issues as a whole," Arizona State legislator Steve
Gallardo told OneWorld. "Controlling the border is
important but it's just one piece of the puzzle."
What immigrant groups want most, Gallardo said, is a
legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"The fact is our job market is dependant on
undocumented workers," he argued. "Agriculture would
just falter if the undocumented were not there. Look at
the housing market. The State of Arizona had a $1
billion surplus and that was due to the housing market.
Who do you think builds that housing? Undocumented
Gallardo is part of a growing number of Latino
officials elected nationally as the ethnic group grows
in population and a higher percentage become citizens.
Three Latinos currently serve in the U.S. Senate--the
highest number in history. Twenty-three serve in the
House of Representatives. There are 232 Latino state
law-makers--almost double a decade ago.
But Gallardo said that rise in representation is
creating a backlash. In 2004, the State of Arizona
passed Proposition 200, which barred all state services
for undocumented immigrants. New measures have been
introduced every year since. This fall, Arizona voters
will consider a proposition forbidding judges to grant
bail to the undocumented.
The trend has hardly been limited to Arizona. In
California, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger ousted
incumbent Democrat Gray Davis pledging to revoke
driving license privileges for undocumented immigrants.
"What you're seeing now is a reaction by the entire
country for some kind of immigration reform," Gallardo
In such an environment, Latino organizers are looking
toward this week's Congress in Los Angeles, which will
conclude Sunday with a get-out-the-vote training, as a
way to put forward a united front.
"This Congress comes at a time when the Latino
community is mobilized," said Angela Sanbrano, head of
the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean
Communities (NALACC). "We not only need to march. We
also need to develop policies and strategies that show
that our marches have impact on policies at all levels