Leaders call for immigration reform at NCLR conference
Teresa Puente on 07.26.09

I'm at the National Conference of La Raza (NCLR) Conference this Sunday morning in Chicago. This is one of the leading Latino civil rights organizations in the United States. It's like a Latino version of the NAACP and has been around since 1968. Each year they hold an annual four-day conference in a different city.

During a panel on the progress of comprehensive immigration reform several national leaders spoke about the chances of passing a bill in Congress this year.

"We cannot continue to survive as a society with three classes of workers, "
said Eliseo Medina with the Service Employees International Union. "We need to be sure every worker in the United States has the same rights and responsibilities as everybody else."

Since Latinos played such a key role in the 2008 election, leaders said politicians must feel the pressure to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Medina said the Republicans are in a tough spot and can't remain a viable party as the Latino population grows unless they rethink their stance on immigration.

"If they (don't do) that, they are going to be the party of the past," Medina said.

There also are more than 6 million legal permanent residents in the United States who have not yet applied for citizenship. They must be mobilized, Medina said.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said, "The future of our country depends on where the immigrant vote goes. Let's not underestimate that power."

He pressured the community leaders in the audience to mobilize their communities and use the Internet and text messaging to contact their elected officials.

Noorani also shared an anecdote about U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat from New York, who shortly after the election went up to Barack Obama and gave him a big hug. "Your legacy will be comprehensive immigration reform," she told him.

Velazquez added that all Democrats must support comprehensive immigration reform. "They better join us or next time around we will not be there for them," she said.

There is still no bill on the table and it could be tough for immigration advocates to get all they are asking for.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, has reintroduced the Dream Act that would help young people who complete two years of college or military service legalize.

That is a step but not all that is needed for comprehensive immigration reform.

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