A Celebration of Community and Struggle at the 2015 NCLR Capital Awards

By David Castro, Senior Web Editor, NCLR

“¡Con ánimo, con ánimo, vamos a subir!”

These words from Senator Cory Booker (D–NJ) set the tone for the 2015 NCLR Capital Awards held last night at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, where more than 750 advocates, policymakers, and community leaders celebrated the hard-won successes of the past year and examined the long road ahead.

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“The reality in this country es inaceptable para nosotros [is unacceptable to us],” Booker said as he was recognized by NCLR for his work to reform the country’s juvenile justice system. “Latino men are twice as likely to be arrested for using drugs than White men. And if you have a felony conviction for a nonviolent offense, you can’t get a job, or get a Pell Grant.” This year, Booker expects to reintroduce bipartisan legislation that aims to end the school-to-prison pipeline for young Latinos and give nonviolent criminals a better chance to find employment after they have served their sentences.

President Obama’s administrative relief actions were another principal theme at the event. In her remarks, NCLR’s President and CEO, Janet Murguía, took aim at the continued efforts by the Republicans to roll back these policy changes.

“This feels like it is about us—that when it comes to Latinos and their families, too many in the Republican Party simply don’t care,” Murguía said. “They don’t care about the human toll their inaction has on our community. They don’t care how many of our children will lose a parent. They don’t care about the financial devastation they cause to our families and our communities.”

“We must be clear: we are going to defend these changes, we will implement these changes, and we are going to work to expand on these changes,” said Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director of America’s Voice. Sharry received the NCLR Capital Award for Public Service for his decades of work at the frontlines of immigration reform. “It comes to this: either Congress has a change of heart, or we change Congress.”

Murguía added, “The Republican Party’s blockade of any type of progress on immigration—whether in a bipartisan bill or the president’s executive order—sends a brutal message to our community. It is in our nation’s interest that we find a way forward.”

Booker admitted that in his time in the Senate, he has been frustrated at how partisan bickering can stall progress on immigration reform. In those moments, he says, he gains strength from the words repeated by a guide who helped him during a mountain trek in Quito, Ecuador:

“I hear that voice telling me, ¡Con ánimo, con ánimo, vamos a subir! [Let’s go, don’t give up! We will make it up there!]” “I know that people struggle in the shadows and they deserve to be brought in the light,” Booker continued. “Let’s march up that mountain. Let’s fix this system.”

Other speakers at the event included Jorge Plasencia, Chair of the NCLR Board of Directors, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, and Representative Linda Sánchez of California.

See below for more social media highlights from the evening.

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