Conference seeks Latino solidarity
EL PASO -- About 400 participants will descend on El Paso to discuss immigration reform, climate change and the economy when the fourth annual National Latino Congresso begins Friday.
Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, said immigration reform would be the most hotly debated of the topics. However, he said, the economy is what is on the minds of many Latinos.
He said that Latino unemployment was almost 20 percent nationally and that 2 million have lost homes in foreclosure. He said millions more would probably lose their homes this year.
"This congresso comes at a very critical time -- I'd like to say opportune time -- but critical conveys the meaning more appropriately," he said during a news conference. "Our economy is in crisis."
The conference at the Camino Real Hotel is designed to forge a direction for a national dialogue on issues important to Latinos.
It's also a chance for candidates to speak to a group that might mobilize voters in the coming primary elections.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Bill White and Farouk Shami have said they will attend the conference. Gonzalez said the NLC was still awaiting responses from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry, who are competing in the Republican primary.
Kelly Love Johnson, spokes woman for Shami, said that the candidate is to appear Friday before the group for an hour beginning at 4 p.m. and that it would be a question-and-answer format.
Katy Bacon, spokeswoman for White's campaign, said the candidate would address the NLC on Saturday afternoon.
The NLC, which is nonpartisan, attempts to set an agenda for Latino issues nationally. Gonzalez said to expect a heated debate on immigration reform once the congresso begins.
"It will be the push for the whole enchilada or an incremental approach and, then, what do we do if we don't get it this year," he said.
El Paso County Commissioner Anna Perez said having the congresso in El Paso would go a long way toward connecting the area with the powers in Washington, D.C.
Perez also applauded the congresso for choosing El Paso -- calling it a "stimulus package" for the region.