In the past couple of days, a group of people have been gathering in Washington to discuss immigration reform – but they are not House or Senate members.
“I’m here with seven undocumented students,” says Mauricio Calvo, director of Latino Memphis, an advocacy and social services agency in Memphis, Tennessee. “All they are asking for is a chance to go to college, and one of them wants to join the military,” he says. ”We need a pathway to citizenship, not just for Dreamers, but for their parents, so they can come out of the shadows, get better-paying jobs, and help their children pay for college,” says Calvo.
Calvo and the students were participating in NCLR’s (National Council of La Raza) National Latino Advocacy Days, where hundreds of community leaders from around the country gathered to discuss ways to learn to take their messages on the value of immigration reform to their state and Congressional leaders. In states like Tennessee, Calvo explains, about 10 percent of the elementary school student body is now Latino, and the Hispanic population has gone from a few hundred to about 100,000 in the last 20 years.
“Yet while the community has grown tremendously, the infrastructure of support has not,” Calvo says. “It’s not that we have to have a Latino representative, but we do want people to champion our community.”
As part of the NCLR National Latino Advocacy events, community leaders received training on policy and legislative advocacy, as well as federal policies which affect their communities. They also discussed ways to build relationships with their Congressional representatives through legislative visits on Capitol Hill.
In Memphis, says Calvo, the business community and a moderate Republican Sheriff have been supportive of the growing Latino population. But now, he says, the issue is how to get the state’s Senators to support immigration reform.”Senator Lamar Alexander has always championed education, and Senator Corker is concerned about the budget, so we are working on having constructive conversations with them.”