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The 17th annual Hispanic Leadership Conference focuses on immigration issues

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

ELYRIA:  Undocumented immigrant Gerardo Bautista Bolaños accepted a voluntary departure back to his native México in September 2010, leaving behind in the U.S., his wife Tracy Bailes Bolaños and their two children, ages 10 and 5.

Tracy Bailes Bolaños shared her story at the 17th annual Hispanic Leadership Conference at Lorain County Community College, Elyria, April 21, 2012.  Roughly 400 to 500 people attended the conference.

Except in a visit to Mexico last Christmas, Tracy Bailes Bolaños, of Vermilion, has not seen her husband. With her lawyer, she's been fighting for his return to the U.S. by alleging hardship but to no success. Although he lived 17 years in the U.S. and has no criminal record, his entering the country without documentation complicated his case.

He now lives in Maravatío, Michoacán but in hopes of returning to his family, he often travels to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez, nicknamed the most dangerous city in the world.

“Even for him, who’s a native of Mexico, it’s still scary for him,” she said.

The 2012 Hispanic Leadership Conference primarily focused on immigration reform, but topics discussed also included health disparities, entrepreneurship, advocacy, and education. Nearly a dozen speakers participated.

Michael and Dina Ferrer have co-organized the Hispanic Leadership Conference for 17 years to provide a forum for discussing the important issues affecting the Latino communities. They also hope the forum will inspire Latinos and non-Latinos to mobilize and make a positive impact, a change.

“There’s no undocumented, no illegals; they're human beings. We will not buy into this caste system,” Mike Ferrer said.

The conference was hosted by the Coalition for Hispanic/Latino Issues and Progress (CHIP) and with the help of 67 other organizations and 44 sponsors including La Prensa.

Joel Arredondo, CHIP president, reminded the audience that Latinos now make up over 50 million in the U.S. (16 percent of the U.S. population) and are the largest minority group in the country but “those numbers don’t mean a darn thing unless you do three things: get educated, get involved, and vote.”


Juan Sepúlveda: A Latino Inspiration

Visiting from the President Obama administration was Juan Sepúlveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, and the senior advisor for Hispanic Affairs for the Democratic National Committee. He said Obama is proud of what the Latinos are doing in Lorain County during the last couple of decades.

Sepúlveda shared his inspirational story: how as a young Mexican-American growing up in a working class neighborhood in Topeka, Kansas, he managed to defy the odds and attend Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford Universities. He became the first to attend college in his family. All smiles, Sepúlveda shared with the crowd how he managed to prove wrong his high school guidance counselor that did not believe in him even though he was a “smart, Mexican kid,” at the top of his class. He now also has two children in college. He said the three keys to success are hard work, learning the system you want to succeed in (figuring out how to navigate or master your specific school or job), and “never compare yourself to anyone because at the end of the night, there’s only one person who knows if you gave it your all, and that’s you.”

Another young Latino following his dreams is Matt Jones, a student at Cleveland Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University, and a member of the Hispanic Law Student Association. He previously graduated from the Ohio State University. Jones helped direct audience questions to the speakers at the conference. 

He said it’s important for Latinos to attend these forums because of networking opportunities and to be role models. “Especially for the next generation to show the younger kids and high school students that they can actually do something,” like attend college or achieve any other goal.


Advocating Immigrant Rights

Veronica Isabel Dahlberg, from Canton and of Mexican and Hungarian roots, has been advocating for the rights of Ohio’s Latino immigrants for over 20 years. Founder and executive director of Hispanas Organizadas de Lake y Ashtabula (HOLA) in Painesville, she shared the plights of immigrants her organization strives to help.

HOLA is not a direct service provider but instead an organization in Painesville that partners with other Latino organizations to help empower Latino immigrants and teach them how to advocate for themselves, she said.

Dahlberg shared the story of one undocumented immigrant mother in jeopardy of being deported back this May to Mexico, leaving behind her four youngest sons and one grandson, all U.S. citizens.

HOLA managed to help Manuela Maldonado, of Painesville, mother of six boys, find the legal help she needed, and she was granted a one year delay of her deportation on May 16, 2011. But as their next court hearing approaches, she and her two oldest sons, who are also undocumented, will face the risk of deportation again. Her husband and their father, Diego Maldonado was already deported in 2010. He had lived in Painesville for 13 years, worked at the same job for 10 years, and had no criminal record.

She said Cleveland’s ICE office is not implementing prosecutorial discretion as they should and as set forth in the John Morton Memo that was issued on June 17, 2011—a policy that requires federal agents to place priority on deporting undocumented hardened criminals or terrorists over those with no criminal background.

“I wish our government would find better ways to spend their money than trying to destroy this family,” Dahlberg said.     

Richard Romero, Isabel Framer, Jesús Nebot, Juan Sepúlveda, Margarita DeLeón, Roberto Torres, Veronica Dahlberg, and Richard Herman.

Baldemar Velásquez


Michael Ferrer


Antonio Barrios and Mary Santiago


Isabel Framer

Ken Wiley

Mike Rendon atty

Ingrid Marie Rivera and  Adrianne Chasteen

There are roughly 12 million undocumented individuals in the U.S.

Roughly 5 million U.S. citizen Latino children have atleast one undocumented parent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Calling the conference an opportunity to mobilize and “an incredible experience,” Dahlberg said she hopes the forum will motivate people to speak up and get involved.

She said: “I’m hoping people will take away from this (conference) a new perspective about this (undocumented immigrant) population and say: ‘Why aren’t we trying to integrate this population into our communities instead of ripping the families apart?’”


Velásquez, FLOC, and the Bible

Baldemar Velásquez, an international advocate for Latino and immigrant rights within the farm labor and beyond, founded the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), to address the injustices suffered by his family and other farmworkers.

He grew up in a migrant farmworker family in the Rio Grande valley of Texas and his family also would migrate to the Midwest every year to harvest crops. His family eventually settled in Ohio and he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Bluffton College, also the first member of his family to graduate from college.

Velásquez said the immigration issue is part of a global problem where the “super rich marginalize others,” and he criticized NAFTA, a trade agreement between Canada, U.S., and Mexico.

But he happily shared his exciting developments.

He will be meeting soon with the three major tobacco companies on behalf of the agricultural, undocumented migrant workers, to speak of their rights. FLOC will also be joining the NAACP in North Carolina to create a similar Latino chapter.

Velásquez turned to the Bible for answers to the immigration issue.

He said he found 119 verses in the Old Testament that mention stranger or aliens, and found three similar themes.

He said the Bible says: “One: Do not mistreat the alien. Two: You should govern the alien with the same law as you govern yourself. Three: God will judge those who mistreat the poor and the aliens.”

But above all, Velásquez said the Bible teaches humans to practice amnesty.

“We can’t deny the principal promise as to why God sent his son Jesus to the cross, and that’s to give us all amnesty, to forgive us of our sins,” Velásquez said, while someone in the audience responded “That’s right.”

Velásquez powerfully commanded the stage, raised his voice and said: “If that’s the promise we have, who are we to deny it to somebody else?”

Filmmaker Jesús Nebot presented “Lessons and Common Sense Solutions to Immigration Reform.”  Nebot, along with Velásquez and Dahlberg, were workshop presenters. So were Lilleana Cavanaugh (OCHLA executive director), José Rafi Rodríguez (Ohio Hispanic Chambers of Commerce president), attorney Richard Herman, Gloria Herrera La Morte, Eileen Torres, and Laura Vásquez.

The guests enjoyed entertainment by SalsaOco, a group of Colombian style, ballroom and Latin dancers from New Jersey and many more. Performing also was Alfredo de la Fé, born in Cuba, raised in New York and carrying a Colombian citizenship, a violinist who has traveled to 94 countries and performed with music legends Celia Cruz (his godmother), Carlos Santana, Eddie Palmieri, Las Estrellas de Fania, and more. De la Fé is also an actor.

Cleveland Clinic, the title sponsor, provided free health/medical screenings. Offered also were résumé reviews. The conference also featured a salsa dance workshop by Eileen Torres, of Lorain. Guests enjoyed a gala Saturday evening at DeLuca’s Place in the Park, and saw the film “Entre Nos,” on Friday.

Plus, Guillermo Arriaga, curator of the Museum of Hispanic and Latino Cultures, brought an exhibit showcasing dozens of artifacts including folkloric clothing from 18 Latino countries. His collection spans the pre-Columbian Era to current time, and most are from México and Perú. Among the artifacts: a tostonera from Puerto Rico, the Aztec Calendar stones, a beautiful doll dressed in a Spaniard folkloric dress poised with her hands graciously in the air as ready for dance.

Speaking at the conference also was Laura Vásquez, senior policy analyst of the National Council of  La Raza (NCLR) in her workshop that addressed the Morton Memo: Prosecutorial Discretion.

Tracy Bailes Bolaños, who works at the Lorain County Community Action Agency Head Start and has two additional older children for a total of four, attended the workshop on prosecutorial discretion in hopes of finding new tools to help her husband return home. She has attended the conference since its 4th year and finds them informative.

She urges Latinos and non-Latinos to get involved and attend.

Veronica Isabel Dahlberg 

Juan Sepúlveda

Baldemar Velasquez and Mike Ferrer

Baldemar Velasquez

Tracy Bailes Bolaños (in white shirt), Kailey Silva, Christina Shamblin, Victoria Sanchez,
and Elizabeth Soto, attendees at the conference.


Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/24/12 18:14:33 -0700.





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