Peter Reyes, 48, has made it his mission to make sure more Latinos are appointed as judges and help the Hispanic community understand the legal system when it comes to immigration reform. Reyes, an intellectual property lawyer and partner at Barnes & Thornburg in Minneapolis, is also currently serving his one-year term as president of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) — a non-partisan organization, where he’s played an active role in for the past decade.
As soon as he became president of the organization, which represents more than 100,000 law students and professionals all over the country, this past August, he says he put together a Dream Act Task Force and then an Immigration Reform Task Force. Currently, he says his primary goals are endorsing Hispanic candidates for judicial positions and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.
He says another priority of the group is to provide greater communication to the Hispanic community if immigration reform is passed.
“We need to work very hard to make sure we communicate the rights and requirements to the immigrant community so they don’t get lost in the system,” says Reyes. “We will communicate through our Web site, social media, [and our] strong network around the country with members who can reach out to disseminate the information to our communities.”
Reyes says the HNBA serves as the Hispanic voice of the legal community.
“My involvement in the HNBA has allowed me the opportunity to develop my own leadership skills. It has afforded me the opportunity to be able to give back to the community, on a national level by advocating for Hispanic lawyers, judges, and on a personal level, it has allowed me to meet other Hispanic lawyers throughout the country, who have become some of my closest friends.”
He says having this close-knit network is a striking difference from his high school years in Minnesota, where there were only three Latinos in his school.
“It’s incredible the growth that has happened in the past couple of decades,” he says about Latino immigration to Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S. “The HBNA has issued approximately 10 principles of immigration reform… One of the key issues for us is having a reasonable path to citizenship. We are hopeful that whatever comes out of the discussion of the senators, that is one of the key aspects of it.”
Perhaps his genuine concern about the topic stems from his own grandparents being immigrants from Mexico.
“My grandparents were migrant workers from Guadalajara who worked through Texas and Oklahoma and eventually settled in St. Paul,” says Reyes. “One of the great things about why my grandparents came is that they came seeking the American Dream. They never had a formal education, and I was the first in my family to go to college. We had a huge fiesta, because it was the culmination of what my family fought so hard to achieve.”
At the end of the day, he says, it’s about people.
“To be able to call a judge in D.C. and have a casual conversation about family, and to be able to call a colleague in Portland about IP issues, or to call a colleague in Houston to ask about leadership issues — there are so many people you can reach out and talk to,” says Reyes about the benefits of being part of organizations like HNBA.
He says his theme for this year is laying the foundation for the future.
“I want to make sure the HBNA is in a better position than it was when I found it, and our community is in a better position than it was when we first started,” says Reyes, who aims to strengthen Hispanic leadership and advocate for more Hispanic judges on the bench and for comprehensive immigration reform. “If I can do those things, I would feel like I made a difference…That’s what my family always wanted –I feel very blessed that I have this unique opportunity to do that — I am indeed living the American Dream.”