History has been made again. President Barack Obama has just been sworn into office for a second term, becoming the only Black man in U.S. history to do so, and tonight the city will celebrate. However, once the parties are over and the tourists have all gone home, Mr. Obama and Congress have to get busy carrying out the nation’s work. It is, after all, a school night. So, before all the inauguration parties later this evening, we’d like to take this opportunity to remind the president and Congress what Latinos expect of them once they resume working.
November marked a sea change in electoral politics. Latinos turned out in record numbers, with approximately 12 million voting, ensuring decisive victories for many candidates, including the president. And immigration is now back on the table, as members from both parties acknowledged the power of the Latino vote and signaled their readiness to work together toward serious immigration reform. You can be sure that we’re working hard to make it happen. Some detractors, however, have started hitting the airwaves, calling on our leaders to slow down the immigration talk. Their claim is that we have too many economic problems to solve and that now is not the time.
We think they’re wrong.
The federal budget and debt ceiling conversation is absolutely necessary. We’re committed to keeping legislators and the White House on track to continue those conversations because we think our elected officials can walk and chew gum at the same time. Americans have to multitask every day. We should expect no less from Washington.
In fact, we have a longer list of issues for Congress once it has dealt with the federal budget and immigration. They are important to Latinos and could all be affected by a negative outcome from the budget negotiations. As Washington returns to work, we hope our representatives and senators will keep these priorities in mind because they certainly are on the minds of the millions of Latinos who sent them to the Capitol.
Now is the time to create a commonsense immigration system that puts 11 million Americans-in-waiting on the road to citizenship. There is a clear moral, economic, and political imperative to create a waiting line for these people, who include DREAMers, their parents, and millions of contributing workers who have been with us for more than a decade. In 2013, Congress and the president must focus on:
- Developing a roadmap to citizenship for hardworking, taxpaying immigrants that builds the strength and unity of working people
- Reforming our immigration system so families can stay together and the rights of all workers are protected, regardless of their national origin
- Ensuring that internal and border law enforcement focuses on preventing criminals, drug cartels, and other bad actors from entering the U.S. or engaging in criminal activities
Federal Budget and Taxes
Latinos have much at stake as our nation moves closer to making major decisions regarding our federal budget and tax policy. There is much to be gained for our community in this federal budget fight. In 2013, Congress and the president must focus on:
- Tax policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, which keep hardworking families out of poverty
- Proposals that keep our economy growing so more Americans can find work
- Programs that invest in children and the future
- Protecting the most vulnerable members of society, including low-income seniors, disabled adults, and children who rely on Social Security
If our nation is embarking on deficit reduction—an ill-advised policy choice during a weak recovery that will slow down job creation—then millionaires and corporations must also contribute. It is unfair to make poor people and the middle class bear all responsibility for reducing the deficit.
Jobs and the Economy
Latino unemployment still hovers around 10%, equal to the worst overall unemployment rate during the recession. Moreover, the vast majority of Latino adults who are working must deal with inadequate hours and wages and uncertainty about their future. In 2013, Congress and the president must focus on:
- Addressing Americans’ number one priority by creating jobs through new infrastructure projects
- Raising the minimum wage
- Cracking down on employers who cut corners on wages and workplace safety
Latino voters have watched housing and foreclosure prevention solutions arrive in the form of national mortgage settlements and bumps in the market—just not in their own neighborhoods. Partners of the Home for Good campaign will focus on the stories of these homeowners and use them to hold lenders and federal players accountable for the settlement dollars that reach everyone but the hardest hit. In 2013, Congress and the president must focus on:
- Finding a replacement for the Acting Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Edward DeMarco, during the president’s first 90 days
- Creating true enforcement, outreach, and data-driven accountability in housing recovery programs
- Delivering systemic improvements to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that will strengthen investment in our neighborhoods
Our economic security is intricately tied to our health care spending and the healthfulness of Americans. The most immediate opportunity to improve Latino health is through full investment in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. While Congress is expected to look at ways to address our overall health care spending and improve efficiencies in health care, it must be careful to not harm the very programs that Americans rely on to stay healthy. In 2013, Congress and the president must focus on:
- Supporting a full and inclusive Affordable Care Act implementation
- Protecting Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the health of families
- Fulfilling the promise to resolve health care for immigrants in immigration reform
Critical to our agenda is the need to expand opportunities to prevent and eliminate discrimination and secure core civil rights for all Latinos, especially the growing number of at-risk Latino youth. In this legislative session there are strategies in LGBT and juvenile justice arenas where deep investments are needed to turn the tide of opportunity. In 2013, Congress and the president must focus on:
- Ensuring that the president’s gun violence prevention recommendations are advanced and legislative solutions include measures that delve into the root causes of violence
- Taking steps to stop school bullying and keep all kids safe in their second sanctuary
- Supporting marriage equality and preventing the separation of binational couples
The administration has called education the “civil rights issue of our time,” yet the achievement gap remains. Leadership is needed to tackle the educational inequalities the Latino community faces. Improvement is certainly needed, but we must also have policies that raise the bar for all students and identify those students who are being left behind. In 2013, Congress and the president must focus on:
- Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) so that all children have an opportunity to succeed
- Identifying mechanisms to keep college affordable for all youth, since nearly two-thirds of Latino children and youth live in low-income families with no resources to allow a postsecondary education