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LULAC Arrives, Aims at Arizona Law

July 12, 2010 By Juan Carlos Rodriguez
Journal Staff Writer

One of the nation's largest and oldest Hispanic organizations is in Albuquerque this week, with guns blazing at Arizona's new illegal immigration bill.

Albuquerque is hosting the League of United Latin American Citizens' 81st annual convention, which will last from today until Saturday, and immigration reform, especially Arizona's law, is at the top of the group's agenda.

LULAC executive director Brent Wilkes said the organization followed the federal government's example and on Friday filed its own lawsuit against Arizona's new illegal immigration bill. "This is really a classic case of where the majority population is, in essence, picking on a minority population," Wilkes said.

On Friday, the group has scheduled two workshops to talk about immigration reform. A morning town hall will feature Felicia Escobar, President Obama's senior adviser for immigration policy at the Domestic Policy Council; Marshall Fitz, immigration policy director for the Center for American Progress; and Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. An afternoon session will feature Mari Alvarado, LULAC Phoenix district director; Arizona state Rep. Ben Miranda; Arizona state Sen. Richard Miranda; and Peter Schey, executive director for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

Wilkes said as many as 20,000 people could attend the convention, which will cover far more than immigration.

It is bringing in dozens of speakers, including presidential Cabinet secretaries, and will offer close to 80 different workshops and presentations. Most of them are free to the public.

In addition, job seekers can take advantage of LULAC's three-day job fair, which starts Wednesday. A combination of private-sector and public-sector employers are coming to the conference to talk about opportunities within their agencies or companies.

"We put a lot of pressure on the companies year round and the federal agencies to hire more Latinos," Wilkes said. "In some cases, we've signed memorandums of understanding where they commit to recruiting and attracting Latino employees into their organization. We just concluded an agreement with Comcast to hire more Hispanics. And the most recent federal one I did was with the Department of the Interior."

The job fair will also have a résumé writing workshop that also offers interview training.

Education also will be a prominent topic, with at least three seminars focusing on current issues.

"What's happening in education is not that the statistics have improved all that much, but we now have some clear-cut examples of where really good programs have moved into Latino communities," Wilkes said.

He said some charter schools have found success by getting more parent and teacher involvement.

"Some of them get the parents to sign an agreement that says if you want to enroll your kid in one of their schools, the parents have to commit, in writing, to doing their end of the bargain, which involves a lot of extracurricular activities and homework and other assistance to the student. It's very demanding and extremely successful," Wilkes said.

Other sessions will focus on Latino voting and civic involvement.

"It's absolutely critical, because we really think that issues like Arizona's bill come to the fore when Latinos aren't engaged in the process and aren't voting, yet are a significant population. So they could be influential if they chose to be," Wilkes said.

LULAC, founded in 1929, says on its website its mission is to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population of the United States.

Other convention speakers will include Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Gov. Bill Richardson and many other public and private leaders.

The convention will wrap up with a free concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Tingley Coliseum, featuring Ozomatli, Christian Castro and Pee Wee. Tickets are free but must be obtained at the convention.

If you go

WHAT: 81st Annual League of United Latin American Citizens Convention
WHEN: Today through Saturday
WHERE: Albuquerque Convention Center
HOW MUCH: Most events are free, but some require a fee.

LULAC speakers

Tuesday: Luncheon will feature John Berry, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Wednesday: Luncheon will feature Hilda Solís, Secretary of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor.
Thursday: Luncheon will feature Tom Pérez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice.
Friday: Luncheon will feature Rosa Ríos, Treasurer of the United States.

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