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The Latino Community Wants Accountability in 2010

The promise of change that energized voting and participation in 2008 is bringing hundreds of Latino community leaders to Washington today as NCLR launches new ads on immigration.

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But it goes further than that. The high-decibel debate on immigration reform is generating anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment, and we have seen a spike in hate crimes against this community. When the dehumanizing label "illegals" is shouted in the public square, in the media, and by elected officials and candidates, a lot of Latinos correctly hear it as an attack on their entire community. The issue is a lens through which Latinos assess how politicians and parties regard their community. Action--and inaction--on immigration speaks volumes to Latino voters. That is why, even if it does not rise to the top of the issue agenda in every poll, immigration packs a powerful punch among Latinos when it comes to civic participation.

With an election coming in November, whether and how Latinos vote should be critically important to both parties. From NCLR's perspective, the 2010 elections have extra importance because they follow the extraordinary mobilization and turnout of 2008. But individual Latinos and the community as a whole are wondering whether their participation really matters. They have not seen the promised improvements in the economy, a change in the tone of how their community is regarded, or concrete results when it comes to immigration, health care reform, and other issues.

Though participation is always down for all groups in a midterm election, the question is by how much. For Latinos, if it is down because they feel dispirited, that is bad news for the community and for the health of democracy in America. Less participation brings less accountability, and that is something Congress needs more of, not less.

That's why NCLR and our network of nearly 300 Affiliate organizations throughout the country are working to keep the Latino community engaged in the public policy process, in politics, and in civil society. The Latino leaders coming to Washington to meet with their members of Congress work with community-based service and advocacy organizations in their states to help people stay in their homes, train for new jobs, stay healthy, and excel in school. They are also helping eligible immigrants become citizens, citizens become voters, and their communities become active participants in our democracy. They are held accountable every day and want the same for Congress and the administration.

Washington can give them a hand. There is a great deal at stake in the individual policies that Washington enacts or fails to enact before Election Day. In terms of the lives of individual Latino families, just as important for the long run is whether Washington is accountable and responsive to the voters that helped put them in office. Latino voters remain hopeful, but we do not have unlimited patience.

Clarissa Martinez de Castro is the Director of Immigration and National Campaigns for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)