As a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I work to address national and international issues and the impact these policies have on the Hispanic community. The function of the Caucus is to serve as a forum for the Hispanic Members of Congress to coalesce around a collective legislative agenda. The Caucus is dedicated to voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics in the United States and Puerto Rico. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) was founded in December 1976 as a legislative service organization of the United States House of Representatives. Today, the CHC is organized as a Bicameral Congressional Member organization, governed under the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives, with a total of 24 Members, 1 in the U.S. Senate, and 23 Members in the House of Representatives.
Some of the past successes of the CHC occurred while I chaired the organization during the 110th Congress (2007-2008). Here, the CHC successfully led efforts to fight back harmful English --only and anti-immigrant amendments offered in the House. The CHC successfully ensured that the contributions of Latino veterans were recognized in the PBS documentary "The War." In addition, with the help of the CHC, I helped pass record breaking funding levels for food stamps and nutrition programs to feed over 38 million hungry Americans; and helped secure record levels of funding for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), including over $200 million in new grant funding.
Member of CHC Task Forces: Corporate America (Chairman); Civil Rights, Veterans and Worker Protections; Communications, Technology and the Arts; Education and Job Training; Immigration
Chairman of the CHC Corporate America Task Force: As Chair of the Corporate America Task Force I focus on diversity in the workforce, and Hispanic representation in the management and board membership of fortune 500 companies. My goal is to help with fairness in procurement (contracts to Hispanic Small Business) and to highlight philanthropy.
This summer, I organized a roundtable discussion between the American Bar Association, National Hispanic Bar Association and the National Hispanic Bar Foundation to highlight the need for more Latinos in America's top law firms and expose potential barriers of entry and retention. During the 2009 CHCI Public Policy Conference, I hosted the Corporate America Task Force Summit to showcase the state of Hispanics in corporate America and America's top law firms. The summit included two presentations of surveys, one on the state of minorities in top law firms in the country, and preliminary statistics on the state of Latinos in the Fortune 100 companies. Panelists included the Minority Law Journal, Hispanic National Bar Association, and HACR.
Also, throughout the year I held meetings with various industry leaders to discuss how to include Hispanics as part of Board of Directors and other executive leadership positions, the inclusion of the Hispanic community in the recovery of the automobile industry (specifically in the dealer realm) and the economic recovery focused programs such as the Treasury's Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP).
Co-Chairman of the CHC Communications, Technology and the Arts Task Force: As Co-Chair of the Communications, Technology and the Arts Task Force, I focus on the promotion of diversity in the workplace and content in the media, the need to increase diversity in all STEM fields, and increasing access to media outlets by all minorities especially the Hispanic community. As Co-Chair, I submitted a public comment to the FCC on the importance of broadband access to the Hispanic community and stressed the economic and educational importance. As part of the 2009 CHCI Public Policy Conference, I co-hosted a summit to raise awareness and stress the need of Hispanic access to broadband services. Two separate panels included distinguished guests such as the FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, NTIA Deputy Secretary Ana Gomez, and leaders of various interested Hispanic organizations.
Working for the Hispanic Community
I have continued to serve as a lead advocate this Congress on other issues of importance to the Hispanic Community. These include:
* 2010 Census - The US Constitution requires all residents of the United Status, including immigrants, participate in the decennial census. Census statistics determine reapportionment and political representation, and are also used for allocating federal funding for many social and economic programs that benefit the Hispanic community, along with other residents. Additionally, Census data is used for the enforcement of civil rights and anti-discrimination laws, including the Voting Rights Act.
* Hate Crimes - In October 2008, the FBI released its most recent set of annual hate crime statistics. Between 2003 and 2007, hate crimes reported against Latinos increased by 40 percent, and in 2007, Hispanics were the target of more than 61.6 percent of hate crimes committed based on ethnicity or national origin. I supported passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which makes it a federal crime to attack a person because of his or her racial, religious, or gender identity, or sexual orientation. (Signed into law by the President)
* Healthcare Reform - Of the 45 million uninsured in the country, almost 16 million are Hispanic. In 2007, 63% of legal immigrants between 18 and 64 who have been in the country less than five years were uninsured, and 26.9% of Hispanic women qualify their health as regular or bad, compared with 12.8% of all women. The lack of health care options forces many to self-medicate or to seek treatment with unlicensed practitioners. Many times, these unsafe alternatives result in tragedy. I advocated for health care for all children, especially communities of color in the House passed measures on children's health insurance, together with the CBC and CAPAC, we made significant steps to address health disparities in minority communities.
* Immigration - This Congress, I continued my work to advocate for a comprehensive immigration reform that is realistic and helps families. The House comprehensive reform bill was introduced in December of 2009, as CIR ASAP (H.R.4321), and includes a provision I sponsored - the PROUD Act, which will help undocumented high school students, who came to this country at a very young age, be placed on a path to naturalization. Since last Congress, I continued my work to speak on the House floor every week on the urgency to pass a comprehensive immigration reform. Together, with my CHC colleagues, worked to fight off anti-immigrant amendments in Committee and House Floor actions.
* Education - Supported passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, legislation which reforms the student loan industry and includes record levels of funding for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The bill includes $1.275 billion in funding for minority serving institutions, at a rate of $255 million a year for five years.
* Small Business - Two-thirds of American jobs are created by small businesses. Hispanics own an estimated 1.6 million small businesses with annual revenues of $222 billion. In fact, the fastest-growing small business sector is Latina-owned firms. I proudly supported and voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1), which Congress passed and the President signed into law in February, we expect this to generate $21 billion in new lending and investment for entrepreneurs.
* Diversity in Public and Private Sectors - I enthusiastically supported the nomination and confirmation process of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina and 111th justice to serve on the US Supreme Court. I also remain committed to increasing diversity in the private sector. In light of the announced Comcast/NBC Universal proposed merger, I met with Comcast executives to share my specific concerns as they pertain to the Hispanic community's role in the merger and in future plans of service.
* Veterans - Continued to work to provide necessary equipment and services to all our service members, especially those from low-income or minority communities. Congress passed record breaking funding for services to our service members and their families for healthcare, housing, salaries, higher education and job training, and other family needs. In 2009, veterans were finally able to take advantage of the new GI bill. America needs to keep her promise to all our veterans, including the more than 1.1 million Hispanic veterans who have served, including more than 179,000 brave Hispanic men and women who have served their country in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. With the help of the American GI Forum, I advocated for a Medal of Honor to be awarded to Sergeant Rafael Peralta and Manuel F. Martinez. Peralta died courageously using his body as a human shield to save his comrades from a grenade blast in Iraq and Martinez bravely and intentionally drew enemy fire to save his comrades in Vietnam. The fight will continue because our heroes deserve recognition for their acts of valor.
* Civil and Voting Rights - It is critical to our democracy that we protect and preserve the right of all Americans to live and exercise their rights without fear of violence or intimidation. I continue to work with my House colleagues to block all measures that would deny a voter the right to vote. In addition, I have led efforts in the House Agriculture Committee to hold the USDA Accountable for years of civil rights abuses against minority farmers and employees. I have strongly advocated for the USDA to settle all outstanding discrimination cases brought against it by minority farmers, including the Garcia case (Hispanic farmers and ranchers).
* Access to Low-Income Housing - I was an original cosponsor and voted in support of the H.R. 3045, the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act, which passed out of the House Financial Services committee in July. This bill helps to streamline many of the problems that currently exist with Section 8 housing assistance, including simplifying the calculation for tenant rent payments. Additionally, the bill makes it easier to transfer these vouchers between jurisdictions. I also fought against overly burdensome identification requirements that would hinder minority and elderly populations from accessing assistance.