While incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi laid out a list of half a dozen Democratic Party priorities for the U.S. House of Representatives to accomplish in the first 100 hours after it convenes Jan. 3, leaders of major Latino organizations propose a distinctly different set to serve the nation’s 44 million Hispanics.

Hispanic Link News Service surveyed leaders of a number of Latino groups on the community’s six most critical legislative needs. Only one of their top requisites – increase the minimum wage – clearly aligned with Pelosi’s choices.

Selected as No.1 by most of the Latino leaders was comprehensive immigration reform. Pelosi did not include it on her list.

The reform package, emphasized National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguía, should include AgJOBS and the DREAM Act.

While the respondents fully endorsed a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants, a guestworker program as envisioned by President Bush received less favor.

Increasing the federal minimum wage of $5.15 – a Pelosi priority – was the second most frequently mentioned Hispanic need. The National Institute for Latino Policy’s Angelo Falcón proposed that it be doubled.

Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund president and general counsel John Trasviña made the point, echoed by some others, that while Pelosi’s listed Democratic Party priorities are doable and good for Latinos, “The most important issues to the Latino community, frankly, take longer than 100 hours to achieve.”

In addition to a minimum wage increase, Pelosi’s list, now expanded, includes: implementation of the 9/11 Commission’s proposals, energy independence, stem cell research, ending subsidies for “Big Oil,” reducing federal student loan rates, cutting prescription drug prices, and no new deficit spending.

Several concerns high on the Latino “want” lists involve health issues and education reforms. These embrace universal health care, more support for bilingual education and English classes for immigrants, and full funding of No Child Left Behind and Head Start.

Extending the reach of prescription drug benefits and removing the citizenship requirement for Medicaid recipients also received mention.

Raúl Yzaguirre, NCLR founder and its leader for three decades, was also asked his priorities. He included among them federal support for a Latino Museum to complement other Smithsonian Institution properties.

Both NALEO’s Arturo Vargas and NHLA’s Ron Blackburn-Moreno included the need for oversight on Voting Rights Act enforcement. Blackburn-Moreno also urged better support and protections for Latino businesspersons.

He added that NHLA, nearly all of whose 40 board members head major Latino organizations, will deliver a detailed legislative agenda of its own to the new Congress in January.

Among other recommendations:

* Cristina Caballero, president of Dialogue on Diversity, included effectively limiting greenhouse gas emissions and revising intelligence statutes such as the Patriot Act.

* NALEO’s Vargas included making naturalization more accessible and providing full funding for the Census 2010 and the American Community Survey.

* LULAC called for greater representation in key congressional appointments and in the federal government.

(Kecia Judson is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C. She may be contacted care of editor@hispaniclink.org.) (c) 2006

By Kecia Judson
Hispanic Link