Systems for Civil Rights Enforcement, Immigration are Broken, Say Hispanic Rights Advocates at ABA Hearing
(a Spanish-language version of this article appears here)
“The civil rights enforcement system has been simply unable to adequately enforce anti-discrimination laws on behalf of Latinos,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, speaking last week in Chicago at a public hearing of the American Bar Association Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities.
Murguia and other Latino community leaders testified before the first national commission focused on ensuring the legal rights and responsibilities of Hispanic Americans. ABA President Stephen N. Zack, the first Hispanic-American to head the association, launched the commission last month to hear first hand about the challenges facing Hispanics, who now are the largest minority group in the country as well as the fastest growing one.
The event at the Loyola University School of Law was the first of four regional hearings taking place over the next several months.
Citing a recent Pew study indicating that more than 60 percent of Hispanics believe that discrimination is a major problem for them, Murguia indicated that the lack of diversity and cultural competence in the civil rights enforcement system are just two of the reasons why that system needs fixing.
The growing number of residential foreclosures impacting Hispanic Americans was the focus of testimony by Judge Jesse G. Reyes of the Chancery Division in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. Reyes reported that in 2005, there were 16,494 foreclosure filings in the county, and the number has grown every year since then. Foreclosure filings for 2010 so far number 44,716, and will likely surpass the record number of 44,876 last year.
As foreclosures rise, so does the incidence of homelessness. Dulce Quintero, a program director at La Casa Norte, a social service agency for the homeless, noted the growing trend of “doubling up” among the Hispanic clients she sees in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. Doubling up, she explained, happens when more than one family lives together in an often small living space, mostly for economic reasons.
Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, emphasized the need for comprehensive immigration reform, citing “growing disturbing trends in the law and policy” that target undocumented Hispanics living in the United States. Tsao said that 26 counties in Illinois have enrolled in the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Secure Communities program.
“The expressed intent of Secure Communities is to catch and deport serious criminals,” he said. “Unfortunately, it appears that the program is being used to target the wrong people. In Illinois, 78 percent of persons detained by ICE under this program are not criminals.”
Juan Salgado, testifying for Instituto de Progreso Latino, noted that such programs stoke fear among communities with a heavy concentration of immigrant Hispanics.
The Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities is composed of several dozen individuals representing national legal and civic organizations. Gov. Bill Richardson (NM), who provided closing remarks at the hearing, and music producer Emilio Estefan, are honorary co-chairs. Cesar Alvarez, managing partner of Greenberg Traurig LLP, the U.S.’ seventh-largest law firm, presided over Friday’s meeting as commission chairperson.
The ABA commission will hold successive hearings in California, New York and Texas in cities to be determined in the near future. The testimony gathered at these hearings will inform the development of recommendations for congressional and presidential administration policymakers.