“In order for the United States to continue its advance in this century, it will be necessary that the American Latino community within it advance far beyond its present condition.” Henry Cisneros
In 1991, this was the vision driving soon-to-be HUD Secretary under President Clinton, Henry Cisneros, and Raul Yzaguirre, then President and CEO of NCLR, in the creation of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA). Over two decades later, the nonpartisan association steered by distinguished leaders has grown to become a coalition of 36 prominent Latino organizations representing the diversity of our community.
Today, the stakes are high when it comes to issues impacting us like education, immigration reform, government accountability, health care, civil rights and economic development—making NHLA’s mission more important now than ever. At a time when the Latino community is facing so many challenges, NHLA represents a space of unity where national Hispanic organizations and their leaders come together to provide the Hispanic community with greater visibility and a clearer, stronger influence in our nation’s affairs. While more work needs to be done, NHLA, in conjunction with its individual members, is up to the challenge.
Moving forward into 2014, NHLA is leading the charge in five priority areas to help empower and advance our community. First, while Latinos are nearly 17 percent of the U.S. population, they have been a relatively stagnant 8 percent of the nation’s Federal workforce for the past several years. In January 2013, President Barack Obama’s Cabinet was left without a single Hispanic voice after the departures of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. NHLA has promoted qualified Latino candidates for positions in the last three Presidential Administrations and worked to overcome procedural and political obstacles in the U.S. Senate that have delayed the confirmation of numerous nominees. More recently, we fought for the for the successful confirmations of Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Katherine Archuleta as Director of the Office of Personnel Management, the first Latina to ever hold this position.
NHLA leadership and members also worked vigorously to support the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor and build public and political support for her confirmation. Through rigorous Hill and Administration advocacy and media outreach, NHLA was able to help convey the excitement of the Latino community around Justice Sotomayor’s nomination directly to Senators and their senior advisors. In January 2013, our coalition launched its new Latino Appointments Program to identify and support junior to Cabinet-level Latino candidates pursuing presidential and state-level appointments.
Second, NHLA launched its Latinos United for Immigration Reform campaign last year, an unprecedented campaign led by Latino leaders and organizations from across the political spectrum, representing business, labor, community, faith and civil rights advocates, that is carrying forward the message sent by Latino voters in November 2012 for immigration reform.
The campaign is focused on achieving reform that provides for earned legalization and a path to citizenship for hard working undocumented immigrants and their families. It promotes economic growth by creating workable legal immigration channels aligned to the needs of our economy while upholding labor protections, preserves family unity and reduces family backlogs, and restores the rule of law through smart enforcement that improves safety, prevents discrimination and respects due process. The campaign includes an online platform at LatinosUnited.org for the public to engage Members of Congress, outreach to both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, and a grassroots effort that has already included 67 town halls in 24 states and Puerto Rico, with five more scheduled in the coming weeks.
Third, NHLA formed the Latinos United for Healthcare (LUH) campaign to advocate for the Latino community’s priorities in health reform legislation. Through coordinated lobby visits and media outreach, the campaign was able to achieve several successes despite the polarized political environment surrounding health reform and its nexus with our immigrant population. These successes included, among other things, an expansion of Medicaid to cover more lower income families and individuals, ensuring that subsidies in the health insurance exchanges would be available to immigrant families, and securing new Medicaid funding for the territories. Now our attention is focused on making sure that the Latino community take advantage of the historic opportunity that the Affordable Care Act presents us: the ability to enroll over 10 million uninsured Latinos into health coverage.
Fourth, Latinos United for a Fair Economy is a campaign led by Latino organizations that urges Congress and the President to support policies that provide economic security and empowerment to Latino families, improving our standard of living and growing our economy through investment in our youth and small business. Critical to this effort are safeguarding the safety net and income support programs that protect the most vulnerable in society, and rolling back the irrational and arbitrary budget cuts, known as sequestration, that are cutting Federal investments in education, job training, healthcare, transportation and other important domestic priorities that impact the lives of Latino families.
Finally, the Latinos United for Voting Rights is an unprecedented campaign comprised of Latino leaders and organizations from across the political spectrum to ensure a fair and bipartisan process in modernizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that includes full Latino participation and representation at the ballot box.
American Latinos are now such a large percentage of the nation’s population that the scale of our presence will inevitably shape the American future in important ways. NHLA stands ready to help shape that future for the better. Looking ahead to the next two decades of advocacy work, we are confident that the foundation we are laying represents the goals and aspirations not only of our founders, but of the Latino community as a whole. Our founders understood that the Latino community exists as an integrated and interconnected part of this nation and so too should its leadership.
Hector E. Sanchez is the Chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) and Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA).