Latino leaders Wednesday lamented their community’s economic struggles and lack of a voice in national politics, while expressing hope they could make a difference in this year’s election.
“We have to educate folks on how you do politics,” said Jesse Rios, the executive director of the Chicago Metro Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, adding that more Latino residents must “knock on the door of their Congressman; knock on the door of their Senator.”
Rios spoke at a preview of the 6th annual National Latino Congresso, which will be May 17-19 in Chicago, the first time the conference is outside the southwest region. The preview was held in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and moderated by Jose Luis Gutierrez, associate director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (in photo).
National Latino Congresso will focus on economic problems as well as voter mobilization and national immigration policy.
The housing bubble induced recession especially hurt Latinos, resulting in thousands of lost construction jobs. National Latino unemployment is at 10 percent compared to the overall 8.2 percent unemployment rate.
“Industries that employed our working families changed dramatically from construction industries to retail industries [that are] not providing necessary wages and benefits,” lamented Moises Zavala, organizing director of Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers.
Zavala stressed the need for labor unions to organize more service workers – even if some might be undocumented immigrants.
Another issue is what role Latinos can play in the 2012 elections, amid assertions from advocates like Oscar A. Chacon, executive director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, that most elected officials are not accountable to the Latino community.
“We acknowledge the importance of voting,” Chacon said. But Chacon added that Latinos must figure out how to make themselves part of the national conversation, even as the country’s Latino population is now more than 16 percent, or 50 million people, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Josh Hoyt, chief strategy executive of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said that his organization was mobilizing Latino voters and informing them about “three very anti-immigrant Congressmen”: U.S. Reps. Judy Biggert (R-Hindsale), Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth), and Rep. Joe Walsh (R-McHenry). Each incumbent faces a competitive race in Illinois’ redrawn Congressional districts.
Hoyt also argued for the importance of naturalizing immigrants, which will be part of the National Latino Congress. Hoyt stated that Illinois naturalized 327,000 immigrants between 2000 and 2010 and those new potential voters were maybe the difference in Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn eking out a victory over Republican challenger Bill Brady in 2010.
With a comprehensive immigration policy bill dormant in Congress, there was little specific at today’s event about immigration policy, save for discussion about the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending decision on Arizona’s anti-undocumented immigrant laws.
There was an announcement, though, that the Illinois House Executive Committee passed a bill today that would effectively prevent U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement from building an immigrant detention center in the Chicago south suburb of Crete.
The bill, which passed the Illinois Senate, now goes to the full House.