(Photo of Martin Luther King Jr Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

50 years later, ceremonies to mark “I Have a Dream” speech and a focus on civil rights

Today the nation’s first black president will speak at the same spot where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech fifty years ago. President Obama will be joined by other elected officials and national leaders in the “Let Freedom Ring and Call to Action” commemoration.  The ceremony will include bell-ringing in the afternoon, around exactly the same time Dr. King echoed the words which still reverberate five decades later.

For some Latinos, the ceremonies today have special resonance as the nation debates the need for sweeping immigration reform.

Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and a longtime immigration advocate, said in a statement that the 1963 March on Washington paved the way for landmark civil rights laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a significant immigration law — the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. “This latter bill dramatically changed the way that immigrants were admitted to the United States, undoing a policy which allocated visas according to notions of racial superiority,” said Muñoz. She added that President Lyndon Johnson, when he signed the new law, noted that only three European countries were allowed to supply 70 percent of immigrants, and families were separated because of country of origin.

“Then as now, immigration reform was about restoring fundamental fairness to an outdated, broken system,” said Muñoz, adding that “then as now, it enjoyed bipartisan support even as it faced obstacles from political figures who are doing everything to stand in the way of progress.”

RELATED: Latino leaders push for civil rights on March on Washington 50th anniversary

For others, the issue of voting rights, 50 years later, is still unfinished business.

“Today, millions of Americans’ ability to vote is at stake, including that of Latinos. It’s up to us to own this moment and do what was done in 1963: Galvanize a nation, united in the belief that every American regardless of their age or race must have equal, unrestricted access to the polls,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino’s President and CEO, in a recent statement.

The events today culminate what has been days of rallies and events leading up to the 50th anniversary.  National leaders gathered with thousands on Saturday in the nation’s capital.

“Dr. King is a beloved icon in the Latino community because we know that his vision was an inclusive one; his dream was our dream too. His legacy continues to inspire us as we work to ensure equality, fairness and justice for all Americans,” said National Council of La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguia.

RELATED: Opinion: 50 years later, King’s dream unfinished on voting rights, education, health

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