Caucus outlines Latino legislative hopes

Rankings: Hispanics come to defense of bilingual programs, rate voting records of nation's lawmakers.

WASHINGTON — With Congress inching toward adjournment, Hispanic lawmakers on Tuesday urged the House and Senate not to slap restrictions on bilingual education and called for clearing up the long backlog of people waiting to become U.S. citizens. The members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also called for disaster relief for farm laborers who have lacked work because of severe flooding in some areas and harsh drought conditions in others. Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., said these issues “must be addressed before the Latino community can say that this Congress and this president are engaged in trying to work toward resolving issues for the Latino community.” Rep. Rubin E. Hinojosa, D-Texas, said Hispanic educational achievement has been the lowest of any population group in the United States. But, he said, Congress has made strides in improving that record by increasing to $28 million from $12 million money for universities that cater to Hispanics and adding $25 million for bilingual-education programs. Members of the caucus, however, said they were determined to fend off any last-minute efforts to gut bilingual-education programs as both houses of Congress whittle away at legislation before heading home, possibly at the end of this week. The caucus also is urging that Congress grant the $171 million President Clinton requested for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to process citizenship requests. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said the money would eliminate the “atrocious” backlog of people who are waiting to become citizens. Gutierrez said House and Senate negotiators were considering providing only half what the White House requested. There are some 1.9 million people waiting to become citizens. “What are we going to do, let a million of them get through and the other 900,000 just linger and wait and suffer?” Gutierrez said. On another immigration issue, Gutierrez asked that Salvadorans, Guatamalans and Hondurans who are persecuted in their home countries be granted the same amnesty protection that Nicaraguans and Cubans received last year, instead of having to attain a higher standard of proof of persecution. And he called on the federal government to grant amnesty to 300,000 to 400,000 immigrants who came to this country before 1982 but who didn’t receive permission to stay. “That’s one of the greatest tragedies out there,” Gutierrez said, adding that these people are denied legal status in the United States “because some bureaucrat decided that they filed too late E or that they left the country and didn’t follow all the rules exactly.” Gutierrez said these people are entitled to judicial review of “something so critical and crucial as whether you stay in this country.” On another issue, Rep. Esteban Edward Torres, D-Calif., said it appeared that farm workers who were unable to work because of drought and other weather conditions will likely receive $7 million in federal disaster aid. However, Torres urged Congress to kill a Senate proposal that would bring Mexican and Central-American “guest workers” into this country. “We have many farm workers who are now unemployed,” Torres said. “There are ample Americans out there in need of work. This is only a guise to bring in guest workers under inferior conditions E The industry would rather bring people in and underpay them or not pay them benefits.” Also Tuesday, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of major Latino groups, released its “congressional scorecard” for the 105th Congress. The ranking showed Senate Democrats voted for issues supported by the coalition 89 percent of the time, while Republican senators voted that way 20 percent. The scorecard was based on 11 key votes. The group said House Democrats voted 85 percent of the time on 24 key issues, while House Republicans voted that way 19 percent of the time. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., both received scores of zero on voting for issues of concern to the coalition, while the group said Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., voted favorably 91 percent of the time, and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., voted favorably 75 percent of the time. Senators receiving scores of 100 from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda were Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill.; Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.; John F. Kerry, D-Mass.; Paul David Wellstone, D-Minn.; Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J.; and Jack Reed, D-R.I. House members receiving 100 percent scores were Ed Pastor, D-Ariz.; Lois Capps, D-Calif.; Julian C. Dixon, D-Calif.; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.; Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga.; Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii; Danny Davis, D-Ill.; Jesse Jackson R., D-Ill.; Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; David E. Bonior, D-Mich.; Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss.; Melvin Watt, D-N.C.; and Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas.

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