OPINION

Post-Shutdown, Time to Move Forward on Immigration and Conservation

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 06: Julio Magana and others participate in a march that organizers said was an attempt to get the U.S. Congress to say yes to immigration reform on April 6, 2013 in Miami, Florida. The marchers were calling for a new immigration system with a real and inclusive path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans, and to keep families together.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 06: Julio Magana and others participate in a march that organizers said was an attempt to get the U.S. Congress to say yes to immigration reform on April 6, 2013 in Miami, Florida. The marchers were calling for a new immigration system with a real and inclusive path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans, and to keep families together. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

The government is open. Washington is back at work.

However, the bitter and partisan budget negotiations that resulted in a 16-day shutdown of the federal government are far from over. President Obama signed into law a temporary bipartisan deal approved by Congress that sets up the possibility of a new showdown to come early next year. Much is at stake for the Latino community, already taking the brunt of sequestration and previous budget cuts, but at last the government has finally re-opened and Congress can get back to work.

Americans, including many Latinos, are tired of the partisan gridlock in Congress. The approval of Congress is at a new low in 40 years of polling. A mere 12 percent of Americans approve of Congress’ job performance, with 85 percent disapproving. The aftermath of the shutdown presents the President and Congress with a unique opportunity to put aside partisan differences and work together for the good of the country. This includes leadership on immigration and conservation issues.

Comprehensive immigration legislation, passed by the U.S. Senate but currently stalled in the House of Representatives, would keep families together, uphold our values, promote economic growth and create a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the U.S. Business and labor leaders agree immigration is an economic issue. In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the bipartisan Senate-passed immigration bill would cut the deficit by $158 billion over the next decade.

By acting on comprehensive immigration reform and conservation of Latino culture and heritage, the President and Congress would leave a legacy for generations to come.

- Mario Baeza

In early October, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia introduced H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This legislation has garnered the support of 189 members of Congress, including the most recently U.S. Reps Jeff Denham (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and David Valadao (R-CA). In recent remarks, Speaker Boehner said immigration reform remains an important subject for Congress to address. Enough votes exist in the House to move immigration reform to the President’s desk. Congressional leaders must exercise their leadership, allow for a vote and enact immigration reform this year.

Leadership from the White House and Congress is also needed to conserve Latino cultural heritage. Last year, President Obama protected the César E. Chávez National Monument in California and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Northern New Mexico – two places critical to Latino history and culture. Building on that success, the National Parks Service recently submitted recommendations to Congress to establish a new National Historical Park to honor César E. Chávez. Despite the Latino community’s gains on Latino cultural heritage and conservation issues, much remains to be done.  

Only 3 percent of the 86,000 sites on the National Register of Historic Places explicitly recognize and celebrate our country’s ethnically diverse cultures, including Latinos. As a community, we need to continue to protect the places where our history was made, like the historic Camino Real de Tierra Adentro in New Mexico, which could be preserved by President Obama as part of an Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The National Park Service is encouraging the public to identify additional trails, neighborhoods, and national monuments and landmarks for connections to the Latino American past. We should seize the opportunity to celebrate our culture and heritage.

Given the reported imbalance between the number of acres of public lands open to the public and those closed off for oil and gas development, we need to be mindful of protecting public lands where our families appreciate much-needed recreational opportunities.

In his proclamation of National Hispanic Heritage Month 2013, President Obama said, “I was proud to establish the César E. Chávez National Monument in honor of an American hero, a man who reminded us that every life has value, that together, those who recognize their common humanity have the power to shape a better world. As César Chávez’s example teaches us, we must never scale back our dreams.”

By acting on comprehensive immigration reform and conservation of Latino culture and heritage, the President and Congress would leave a legacy for generations to come. It’s time for our leaders to work together and move our nation forward.

Mario Baeza is a board member of the Hispanic Federation.

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