30 Jun, 2011

Latino advocates and law experts hear testimony in Austin, Texas

The American Bar Association’s Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities opened its doors again today to hear testimony on the legal challenges facing Latinos in the country.

This time Latino leaders in the U.S. Southwest had a chance to add their concerns, experiences, and suggestions to the record that will be used as a catalyst to promote changes and policy that affect the Latino community.

“As students we do not want to live in fear anymore,” said Hector Gaucin, who identified himself as a DREAM Act student from the University of Texas at Austin. He was the last person to testify, but asked that his issue take top priority in the commission’s assessment of the needs of Latinos.

“I’m asking the commission to please be the voice of those in the shadows,” he said.

The DREAM Act would allow students who came to the country as children to have permanent residency if they go to college or serve in the military and meet other qualifications such as passing a criminal background check.

Chairman Cesar Alvarez encouraged Gaucin to ‘never give up’.

Gaucin’s voice was one of many asking the commission to steamroll their issues to the top of the list of recommendations that will go before the ABA’s House of Delegates in 2012 and that may become recommended for US or state-level legislation. The hearing at Austin City Hall is the fifth of six regional hearings held over the last year. The final meeting will take place July 12 in Los Angeles.

Norma Cantu, a professor of law and education at the University of Texas at Austin stepped out of her role as commissioner and gave testimony to encourage the group to think of the country’s education challenges as opportunities.

“Look at every obstacle, every barrier, as an opportunity,” she said. “What others label in us as an obstacle we should be proud of and see as an asset.”

Cantu said some look at the Spanish language as a barrier, but she sees it as an asset of having two languages.

“Ideas such as funding scholarships for preschoolers to go to school a full day are innovative approaches to bridging the education gap early on,” Cantu said.

She suggested that the legal profession should continue to build on strong models that exist to expose younger students to the profession: programs such as the Law School preparatory academies at the Universities of Texas at Austin, South Texas, Valley, El Paso and San Antonio, in addition to CLIO and Law Bound projects.

“Athletic coaches and military recruiters are watching our elementary school students now, reaching them much earlier than the recruiters for law schools,” Cantu said.

Other Latino leaders testified on the state of redrawing electoral districts, Latino health and the state of Latino veterans, among other important topics facing the Hispanic-Latino community.

Carlos Martinez, president of the American GI Forum’s National Veterans Outreach Program, cited a homeless veterans assessment report that indicated that Hispanic veterans living in poverty are three more times likely to be homeless than the general veteran population.

“Serving homeless veterans has been a very challenging aspect of our operation,” Martinez said. “The emergence of more women over the last decade — and the unfortunate subsequent growth of the more women veterans in the ranks of the homeless — led us to reconfigure our residential center to accommodate more females.”

The changing demographics of the military have added new dimensions to service needs, Martinez said.  He added that expanding veterans’ legislation to include provisions for spouses has had some limited success but called it ‘a growing need.’

ABA president Stephen Zack, the first Hispanic American to head the association, launched the commission to gain insight into this largest and fastest growing minority group in the country.


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