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La Raza’s work

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

In his May 31Op-Ed column, "La Raza and Americans," Jim Simpson railed against bipartisan legislation that would provide funding for community development and affordable housing programs for low- and moderate-income Latino families administered through the organization I lead, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

He asserts that lawmakers from both political parties somehow have been duped into supporting what he calls a "radical immigration group." Presumably Mr. Simpson disagrees with NCLR on the difficult question of immigration policy. Fair enough. However, immigration is a small part of NCLR's work, representing slightly less than 2 percent of our budget. Readers deserve a more accurate picture than Mr. Simpson presents.

Over the past two years, NCLR and its affiliates have helped more than 5,000 low-income Latino families purchase their first homes. Last year, our affiliates added 15 new charter schools to a network of 100 such schools, providing quality education to more than 25,000 Latino children every year.

The health clinics we have helped build and the lay health educators we have helped train provided care and information about prevention and detection of serious illnesses to nearly 100,000 people last year. These are the programs NCLR's network of 300 affiliates operates in the service of communities and the country. They are the heart of NCLR's work, and together we have been engaged in this work for nearly 40 years.

It's easy to be confused about whom NCLR and its affiliates are serving; most of the coverage of the Latino community these days focuses on aliens who are in this country illegally. However, the vast majority of Latinos in the United States are American citizens by birth, often from families whose history in this country dates back for generations. Our job is to make sure the American dream is available to all Americans of Hispanic descent.

NCLR does indeed work on the immigration issue. Our current work on comprehensive reform is supported not only by an overwhelming majority of Latinos, but by a majority of Americans overall. Mr. Simpson may not agree with NCLR's position on comprehensive immigration reform, but he can hardly claim that we are not aligned on this issue with our community or with the country's political mainstream.

Mr. Simpson spends most of his energy on our connection with MEChA, a student organization whose '60s-era founders put some inflammatory language on paper. We strongly disagree with the dated language in MEChA's charter, and we have said so publicly, but we did provide a single $2,500 grant to the MEChA chapter at Georgetown University several years ago for a gathering of students from East Coast colleges who could not afford to travel home for Thanksgiving.

The one thing Mr. Simpson gets right is that we have friends in both political parties. We believe this is because of the quality and effectiveness of our work and our proven record on improving opportunities for Hispanic Americans. Mr. Simpson argues that the professional look of our Web site has duped them into believing we are something we are not. I give them more credit than that.

Those from both parties who support us have done their homework and have decided that an organization committed to helping Hispanic Americans realize the American dream is an organization worthy of their support.

LISA NAVARRETE

Vice president

National Council of La Raza

Washington