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Letter to Barack Obama, President of the United States - Discrimination Lawsuits by Hispanic Farmers

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U. S. Senator Menendez (D-NJ) and seven Senate colleagues are urging President Obama to settle outstanding discrimination lawsuits by Hispanic farmers who have been denied access to United States Department of Agriculture loans and programs for more than a decade (a news report on this issue is available here: http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_12532653?source=most_emailed. Earlier this year $1.25 billion was allocated in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget to settle similar outstanding lawsuits by black farmers in the Pigford v Glickman suit, which the senators applauded. In their letter to the president, they reminded President Obama that the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 calls on the administration to resolve outstanding discrimination lawsuits against the USDA brought by Hispanic and other farmers in an expeditious and just manner.

"Indeed, we will never be able to close the entire book of discrimination within the USDA until all victims receive fair and just settlements as compensation for the losses they suffered and the USDA is reformed," wrote the senators. "To date, approximately $2.25 billion will have been set aside to resolve USDA discrimination against black farmers, yet thousands of Hispanic farmers and ranchers, many of whom are our constituents, continue to suffer from precisely the same discrimination and have seen no recourse thus far. The USDA's corrective role in this instance has been clearly laid out, and there remains no legitimate reason to delay action for any of the affected groups."

Signing the letter to the president were: Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA)), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Udall (D-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

Text of letter below:
June 17, 2009

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We applaud your recent commitment to appropriate $1.25 billion in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget to settle outstanding discrimination lawsuits by black farmers who missed the initial filing deadline in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit. In your statement on Wednesday, May 6, 2009, you said that "I am pleased that we are now able to close this chapter in the agency's history" and that you "hope[d] . . . that the farmers and their families who were denied access to USDA loans and programs will be made whole and will have the chance to rebuild their lives and businesses." Indeed, we share your desire to bring this ugly chapter to a close by restoring justice and fairness to those who were discriminated against based on their race, ethnicity, or gender.

Unfortunately, the settlement of the Pigford case merely closes a single chapter of a long narrative of discrimination within the USDA. Indeed, we will never be able to close the entire book of discrimination within the USDA until all victims receive fair and just settlements as compensation for the losses they suffered and the USDA is reformed. To date, approximately $2.25 billion will have been set aside to resolve USDA discrimination against black farmers, yet thousands of Hispanic farmers and ranchers, many of whom are our constituents, continue to suffer from precisely the same discrimination and have seen no recourse thus far. The USDA's corrective role in this instance has been clearly laid out, and there remains no legitimate reason to delay action for any of the affected groups.

Moreover, despite language in Section 14011 of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 urging the Administration to settle the outstanding discrimination suits brought by Hispanic and other farmers, as well as encouraging words from Secretary Vilsack himself, we are not aware that USDA has begun working to settle these cases. Lawyers representing Hispanic farmers and ranchers have met with members of Secretary Vilsack's staff and have offered potential solutions to resolve the pending lawsuits and reform USDA policies to ensure the agency will never discriminate again.

Accordingly, we urge you to work to ensure Hispanic farmers and ranchers, like black farmers with whom you have already settled, can begin to rebuild their lives and businesses. Fundamental fairness requires nothing less, and inconsistent applications of justice only serve to threaten the foundations of this great nation. The sooner we can resolve this issue once and for all, the sooner we can look forward to an agency that serves all Americans equally.

Sincerely,

ROBERT MENENDEZ PATTY MURRAY
United States Senator United States Senator

BARBARA BOXER MARIA CANTWELL
United States Senator United States Senator

ARLEN SPECTER TOM UDALL
United States Senator United States Senator

MARK UDALL MICHAEL BENNET
United States Senator United States Senator


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