Tucson Citizen
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Hispanics: Go past migration issues for votes

Citizen Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Democratic and Republican candidates must move beyond the immigration issue to win over the 8 million Hispanic voters expected to go to the polls in November, says a report issued yesterday by the country's largest Hispanic civil rights organization.

In its annual "State of Hispanic America" report, the National Council of La Raza called on candidates to address a wide range of issues of concern to the country's 39 million Hispanics.

The eight-point agenda includes recommendations for improving education and access to health care as well as raising Hispanic home-ownership rates.

"Immigration policy is important, but our community has other very real concerns," said La Raza President Raul Yzaguirre, pointing out that only 40 percent of U.S. Hispanics were born abroad.

He and other NCLR officials said political candidates must pay more attention to other issues to appeal to the larger Hispanic community, the nation's largest minority group.

Among the most pressing is education. Only about 60 percent of adult Hispanics have completed high school compared with 84 percent of blacks and 92 percent of whites. Less than 11 percent of Hispanic adults have college degrees.

La Raza members want to see more federal dollars devoted to early childhood education programs, such as Head Start, and they want full funding for programs targeting Hispanics under President Bush's No Child Left Behind school-reform law.

Health care is another troubling topic. Citing private studies, the report said that 34 percent of Hispanics are uninsured compared with 22 percent of blacks, 20 percent of Asians and 12 percent of whites.

"Latino health care is in crisis," concluded the report.

La Raza also cited low homeownership rates among Hispanics. Only 48 percent of Hispanics own a home. The percentage is about the same among blacks, but lags far behind that of whites. About three of every four whites own a home.

La Raza members want the federal government to crack down on predatory lending practices in Hispanic and other minority neighborhoods, and they support creation of more public-private partnerships for preventing mortgage foreclosures.

The report should serve as a road map for political candidates seeking to attract the serious attention of the nation's growing population of Hispanic voters, the group's leaders said.

On the Web

www.nclr.org, National Council of La Raza.