Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Latinos in 2008: MALDEF Roundtable

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) hosted its first annual roundtable on law, policy, and civil rights this afternoon, titling it, "State of Latinos 2008." The roundtable featured three different panels, which focused separately on Congress and Public Policy, the Judiciary and MALDEF's Key Lawsuits, and the Presidential Elections and the Latino Vote.

The event was impressive for a number of reasons, not least of which was the diversity that it brought to the (round) table. Hispanics from various backgrounds, organizations and political affiliations weighed in on the issues, offering their unique perspectives on such matters as comprehensive immigration reform, "activist judges," how Democrat and Republican candidates are (or are not) reaching Latino voters and more.

Much of the discussion centered around immigration reform, for obvious reasons. A majority of the panel participants were pessimistic about the chances for immigration reform in 2008 and many were adamant about the need to "change the tone" of the immigration debate. Some speakers characterized immigration reform as a social justice issue. "People need to understand that erosion of rights for a slippery slope... that leads to erosion of rights for all," said Maria Echaveste, a member of the board of directors of MALDEF.

Being involved in partisan issues on a daily basis, it can become easy to forget that some issues truly do unite people across parties. Therefore - and pardon my gushing - it was inspiring to see Hispanics from both sides of the aisle committed to this cause.

My one major criticism is this: for a roundtable on "civil rights," an awful lot of civil rights issues appeared to be missing from the agenda. Things like, oh, education reform, health care, etc. I'm looking forward to another roundtable next year, but also hoping for some changes in this arena.

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