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White House Officials and Ohio Latinos discuss Immigration Reform, DREAM Act,

Talks also held on Economy, Education, Health Care

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

ELYRIA, OH, Feb.18, 2012: Immigration reform appeared to garner the most debate at the first White House Hispanic Community Action Summit in Ohio where roughly 350 people attended. Other topics discussed included education, the economy and health care.

Julie Chávez Rodriguez, associate director, White House Office of Public Engagement.

Latino leaders met with over a dozen senior officials from President Barack Obama’s administration to discuss and find solutions to topics important for Latinos, at Lorain County Community College’s Spitzer Conference Center, Elyria, Feb. 18, 2012. The all-day summit, organized by the White House and the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs (OCHLA) state agency, ran from 8:30 a.m. to 4p.m.

It is the second time the White House makes an appearance at LCCC; Obama gave a speech in a townhall meeting there and toured the school on Jan. 22, 2010.

LCCC President Dr. Roy Church said “I’m absolutely delighted to be a small part of this wonderful gathering here today. The notion of a community action summit is music to the ears of a community college president. That is what community colleges are all about.”

Lilleana Cavanaugh, executive director of OCHLA, said Elyria was chosen for the summit because of its proximity to the areas with the highest density of Latinos in Ohio. Latinos make up 3.1 percent in the Buckeye State, a key state in this year’s presidential elections.

Neighboring Elyria’s nearly 5 percent of Latinos, Lorain is the city with the highest concentration of Latinos, making up 25.2 percent of the total population. Although Latinos make up 10 percent of the population in Cleveland, Latinos in its West Side make up 41 percent; Painesville is 22 percent, and Toledo has roughly 7 percent, according to 2010 Census figures.

Cavanaugh said OCHLA organized this event “to engage our (Latino) community with the leadership from the Obama administration and the federal government.”

Latinos in the U.S. have reached more than 54 million, including nearly 4 million in Puerto Rico, composing 16 percent of the country’s population, and have become the country’s largest and fastest-growing minority group.  Roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S., comprising many Latinos.

Latinos throughout the nation, who greatly supported Obama in 2008, could again play an important role in the 2012 presidential election.

Participants huddled in groups around tables designated for debates on a variety of topics, but the immigration issue appeared to be the most popular topic; talks for it ran over 4 hours and were held in a separate well-attended room. Plenty of Spanish-speaking interpreters were present to translate most of the talks.

U.S. representatives, state senators and representatives, other local politicians, teachers, lawyers, students, immigrants, and visitors from all throughout Northeast Ohio, the state and even several neighboring states were among the crowd.

José Rico, executive director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellance for Hispanics, Lilleana Cavanaugh, executive director of Ohio Latino Affairs Commission, listen to LCCC President Roy Church.

Immigration Reform and the DREAM Act

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland), contenders for the remodeled 9th district seat (covering from parts of Toledo to Lorain and to parts of Cleveland), made an appearance and spoke at the summit, both speaking at times in Spanish.

Kaptur, who refrained from voicing her own opinions about specific issues during her brief speech, said she attended to hear Latinos’ concerns and develop closer partnerships with them.

Kucinich, who gave a longer speech and more frequently than Kaptur spoke in Spanish, energetically vocalized his support for the DREAM Act.  He said in Spanish “I think Latinos are very important citizens to the future of the United States.”

The DREAM Act passed in the House 216 to 198 but then failed to be voted on in the Senate in December of 2010 [The sponsors lacked the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate]. Kucinich voted in favor of the DREAM Act but Kaptur voted against it.

Kaptur previously said she voted against the DREAM Act because it does not solve the entire immigration issue; and it allows immigration officials to more aggressively target the parents of those DREAMers.

The bill proposed to grant first residency and then citizenship to qualifying any undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children, of good moral character, and enrolled in a university/college or serving in the military among other requirements.

Kucinich said: “There are accomplished young people who are adversely affected by current laws. This is why the DREAM Act is so important for the rights of our children, for the rights of immigrants.” He said there should be a legal structure that makes it possible to get the education entitled to them.

“There are no illegal brothers; there are no illegal human beings. We have to make sure that we pursue a path that upholds all of us,” Kucinich said.

Dennis Kucinich

Participants asked about prosecutorial discretion and if it was indeed being granted to qualifying undocumented immigrants. It would place nonviolent undocumented persons that lack a serious criminal record on a lower priority for deportation if meeting certain requirements.

Plus, debates arose on the controversial Secure Communities Program and the 287(g) program, which deputizes local police officers to act as immigration agents. Among the participants, some opposed the programs saying they would lead to racial profiling or civil rights abuses. Others favored them saying they would curb violent or serious crimes. Recently, federal immigration enforcement agents have proposed to shut down the 287(g) program.  

Julie Chávez Rodríguez, associate director, of the White House Office of Public Engagement, said insuring prosecutorial discretion is granted to those who qualify is their goal but “full implementation will take aggressive training.”

Undocumented student Marco Saavedra and Immigrant Rights Activist Nick Torres, both help immigrants within the faith communities in Ohio, and both made sure the DREAM Act was properly discussed at the summit. They quietly cheered and smiled when Kucinich mentioned it in his speech. Saavedra later shared his story with the crowd, saying he would have benefited if the DREAM Act bill had passed.

Torres and Saavedra asked Kaptur in private if she would reconsider voting for a future DREAM Act. They said they were motivated to hear she said “maybe.”

After her speech, Kaptur said “I’d support (the DREAM Act) as part of a comprehensive immigration reform. What this country needs is an initiative where every group is treated fairly.”

Torres, from Columbus, who works with nonprofits and in advocacy training, said he appreciates Kaptur is willing to reconsider the DREAM Act that “has enormous popularity among Latinos,” especially when her congressional district has a high number of Latino voters.

Saavedra, 22, from Cincinnati, graduated May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Kenyon College. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, he came to the U.S. at the age of 3 with his parents. They and his two sisters live in New York. Saavedra founded and manages UndocumentedOhio.com, a site that lists undocumented youth facing deportation, aimed to help them by sharing their stories and by rallying support to stop their deportations. 

Marcy Kaptur

An undocumented person can often feel frustrated and depressed Saavedra said, but he said he refuses to be afraid. He advised other undocumented immigrant students “to not lose hope.”

Saavedra said he attended the community forum hoping to spread the message for the need of immigration reform, to make connections and hold the White House accountable to its policies. But Saavedra said he questions the forum’s effectiveness.

“Maybe in the most pessimistic sense, it might just be like a big PR gig to outreach the Latino community” because Ohio is a key state with many Latinos, he said.

Saavedra continued: “There are legitimate concerns being voiced if not by immigrants themselves by advocates or friends of the immigrant community, particularly the undocumented immigrant community.”

Torres said he was grateful for the opportunity to talk to federal officials on immigration reform, but would like to see more undocumented immigrants attend.

“I think (the forum) was a great start. I would never say I’m satisfied because I think that we tend to become complacent. I think we have to constantly push for the better responsive government that we want,” Torres said.

Isabel Framer, certified court interpreter and language access consultant, said she also spent more time at the community summit among the immigration reform discussions than other topics. Framer said she supports the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform.

“The DREAM Act, it does strengthen our U.S economy,” Framer said “By allowing those students to invest in an education, we’re investing in our future and our economy.”

Framer said fixing the broken immigration system will take a comprehensive reform that includes looking into the different sort of VISAs available, the shortage of judges in immigration courts and more.

Isabel Framer

She added “today the border is as secure as it’s going to get. Now it’s time to move forward and start working on other areas,” like providing an easier, clearer legal path to citizenship, she said.

Framer was also nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the US Senate and currently serves as a member of the board of directors of the State Justice institute and recently re-appointed as commissioner to the OCHLA; she said that the White House Summit was a great success.

White House officials from various federal departments discussed Obama’s successes and future plans for improving the economy and the education system.  They discussed ways to improve Latino access to higher education and to raise Latino high school graduation rates.  The officials also addressed Obama’s Affordable Care Act/Health Care plan that promises to grant Latinos and others greater access to health care. Under its 2014 Affordable Insurance Exchange, it will also allow individuals “to shop around” for health coverage that best suits their needs in a private marketplace.  See more coverage of these summit topics in a related La Prensa article to follow.

This is the 14th Hispanic Summit the White House has hosted throughout the nation since July 2011. Their next community forum stop is March 9, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas.

See La Prensa’s Video coverage of this event at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ej8JBVqRKg
See videos and more info. on the summit online at LaPlaza.net.
Related Internet: https://laprensatoledo.com/Stories/2011/010711/dream.htm

Editor’s Note: Ohio Democrats that voted for the DREAM Act include: Reps. Sutton, Kilroy, Fudge, Kucinich, Ryan, and Dreihaus; Ohio Democrats that voted against the DREAM Act include: Reps. Kaptur, Boccieri, Space, and Wilson. All Ohio Republicans voted no.
 Michigan Democrats that voted for the DREAM Act include: Reps. Dingell, Schauer, and Kildee. Michigan Democrats that voted against the DREAM Act include: Reps. Kilpatrick and Stupak.  All Michigan Republicans voted “No” except for Ehlers. 

To see how your Rep voted, go to: http://politics.nytimes.com/congress/votes/111/house/2/625

José Rico, executive director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellance for Hispanics.

Julie Chávez Rodriguez, associate director, White House Office of Public Engagement.



Undocumented student Marco Saavedra, of Cincinnati, Ohio.

 Immigrant Rights Activist Nick Torres, of Columbus, Ohio.

Baldemar Velasquez and Robert Torres


Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/21/12 19:49:14 -0800.





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