Cleveland – Latinos care about issues other than immigration.
That was the message that members of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) conveyed Tuesday afternoon during a press conference in downtown Cleveland during the Republican National Convention.
“No longer are we just focusing on immigration, we have broadened our focus to include things such as environmental issues and health care,” said Brent Wilkes, NHLA treasurer and executive director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “We have put together a document that really reflects the consensus of the Latino community.”
That document is NHLA’s Hispanic Public Policy Agenda, which the coalition of over 40 Latino organizations put out in February and is promoting at both the RNC and next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
While immigration is still at the center of the group’s agenda, the 2016 plan also highlights issues like the upcoming 2020 census, health care and voting rights.
“This will be first presidential election in 50 years without the Voting Rights Act,” said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Official’s Educational Fund. “We need to be vigilant to make sure voting is easy and accessible to everybody,” said the NALEO executive.
The Voting Rights Act obligated certain states with a history of discrimination to get permission from the U.S. Department of Justice to make any modifications of electoral laws. But in 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated this provision and those protections were lost.
More than 8 million Latinos live in states that have enacted more restrictive voting laws since 2012.
The issue of voting rights has already played a role in this year’s primary election — in Arizona, residents were forced to wait in line for hours at polling places.
“We have already seen where this has had consequences within our community,” Vargas said.
Another top issue on the NHLA agenda is getting more Latinos elected to political office. While much has been made about the strides Latinos have made in Congress in recent years, there are currently 30 Hispanics in the House of Representatives and just three in the Senate.
“The NHLA will lead the charge to get Latinos elected to positions within the federal government,” Kenneth Romero, the executive director of the National Hispanic Caucus of State legislators, told FNL.
Health care and the number of Latinos – documented or undocumented - who have access to it is also a concern expressed on the NHLA agenda, along with the number of Hispanics working in the medical field. Currently only 5 percent of doctors and 2 percent of nurses in the United States are Latino.
Elena Rios, the president of the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), said that despite the implementation of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, there needs to be an expansion of it and other health-related polices that affect Latinos.
“We need more affordable health care and medication for our community,” she said.
Rios added that it’s not just the health care system that they are concerned about, but the spread of diseases like the Zika virus.
Despite the focus on its widespread agenda, NHLA members did not forget the importance of immigration to Latino voters — especially when it comes to getting citizenship.
“The cost of becoming a citizen has been the biggest hurdle for many people hoping to get their U.S. citizenship,” Vargas said.
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.