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- 01-22-2012, 11:02 AM #1
White House officials reach out to San Jose's Latino community during all-day summit
By John Boudreau
Posted: 01/21/2012 07:03:26 PM PST
About a dozen White House officials descended on San Jose on Saturday for an all-day summit with members of the region's politically important Latino community -- a gathering in which officials were at times forced to defend the administration's polices on issues ranging from immigration reform to job creation.
It's not that the White House didn't ask for it.
The 500 participants who attended the White House Hispanic Community Action Summit at Evergreen Valley College, one of many being held around the country, were encouraged to voice their gripes and worries about the problems gripping the nation during tough economic times. They were also asked to come up with some solutions.
While previous administrations have conducted outreach programs to engage different groups in Washington and around the country, Saturday's event was ambitious in the scope of issues thrown up for debate and discussion. At the end of the seven-hour summit, recommendations were posted to a policy social-networking site, La Plaza - La plaza.
"There is a sense of frustration we see time and time again from folks who want to get back to work, folks who want to provide quality education for their kids, folks who want to improve public transportation," said Julie Chávez Rodriguez, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. "From our perspective, these summits have been a way to roll up our sleeves alongside the
community and to really work hard on what are some of the challenges facing our country today."
The gatherings, which include people breaking into small groups to hash out different issues, are designed to foster networking among participants. "For me, this is historic for the community," said Victor Garza, chairman of the LaRaza Roundtable, a San Jose-based education and social justice advocacy group. "I've never seen anything like this before. I'm looking at the people here -- community leaders, educators, corporate leaders."
The process, though, can be a bit unwieldy for organizers, who turn over much of the program to participants. While the federal officials were quick to point out accomplishments of the Obama administration -- helping Latinos with new health-care laws, reducing government loan rates to students, preventing an economic meltdown and fostering job growth -- they also absorbed criticisms.
Gina Gates, a leader in the activist group People Acting In Community Together, asked the White House representatives why President Barack Obama was reluctant to investigate the banking industry for its role in the financial crisis.
"We want the president to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the banks to see if their practices were corrupt," she told a reporter later. "The president has not been receptive. I don't think it's convenient for him because some very powerful people would be held accountable. People are afraid of the banks, and I think he is afraid of the banks."
Among the greatest concerns voiced Saturday was the slow pace of immigration reform and the administration's record number of deportations of illegal immigrants.
"I have heard students who are very supportive (of Obama) say they are also very frustrated," said Cindy Quiralte, a sophomore at Fresno City College. "They feel the Latino community is not being appreciated enough."
Obama senior policy adviser Felicia Escobar said that the administration has strongly pushed for the Dream Act, which would provide conditional permanent residency to some undocumented immigrants -- such as those who arrived in the country as minors -- only to see it die in Congress.
"At the end of the day, it will take Congress to act," Rodriguez said. "We are at a time in our country's history where we don't have bipartisan support."
Officials also pointed to an administration policy change in which federal immigration authorities are dropping deportation cases against many illegal immigrants whose only offense is being here. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, is reviewing about 300,000 pending deportation cases nationwide. It will work to deport immigrants with criminal histories while closing the cases of students, veterans and others with close family and community ties in the United States.
Much the criticism seemed rooted in trying to make do in a tough economy. Quiralte, for example, has a lot of friends juggling two jobs and still struggling to pay rising college tuition. It's also taking longer to transfer to a four-year college because community college courses are being cut due to tight budgets.
Despite the criticisms, though, many of those attending the conference continue to back Obama.
"It's more like constructive criticism,'' said Pedro Ramirez, the former student body president at Fresno State University who in 2010 publicly disclosed that he was an undocumented immigrant. He said he has lived in the U.S. since he was 3.
"We want to make sure he is informed of the issues affecting the Latino community," Ramirez said. "We don't want handouts. We want to be partners."
Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496 .
White House officials reach out to San Jose's Latino community during all-day summit - Santa Cruz SentinelIf a man sneaks into your home he is a burglar, not an undocumented tenant you must provide for!