ABA panel tackles immigration reform

 Latino leaders, activists and legal experts advocated for comprehensive immigration reform, improving access to legal services for the Hispanic community and increased Latino representation in government during an American Bar Association panel on Nov. 6.


Panelists participating in the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities program “The Latino Impact: Immigration, Voting Rights and Diversity of Latinos in the Legal Profession” also addressed the Dream Act, voter suppression and the need for more Latino lawyers.

“Equality, justice and due process are all principles that define our nation and our system of law, and yet for many Latinos, those principles belong in somebody else’s America,” ABA President James R. Silkenat said. “Our job as lawyers, as ABA members and as Americans is to ensure that Latinos are guaranteed the same rights and responsibilities that we all enjoy.”

By 2060, Latinos are projected to make up 31 percent of the nation’s population — growing during that period by a rate more than eight times that of the nation’s non-Hispanic population. However, Latinos are substantially underrepresented in the legal profession, constituting a mere 3.3 percent of all lawyers, 4.5 percent of all judges, magistrates and judicial workers, and 6 percent of all students in ABA-approved law schools.

“This underrepresentation leads to the underprovision of legal services to Latino clients,” said Silkenat, who has made legal education and immigration key priorities of his term as ABA president. He expressed his concern for the growing Hispanic population’s lack of access to justice, describing the problem as one of the most critical issues facing the legal profession.

Peter M. Reyes Jr., immediate past president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, addressed the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. and its importance to the future of the nation.

“There is universal agreement that our current immigration system is broken. That is not up for debate; that is not in question. The only issue is how do we go about fixing it and when do we fix it?” Reyes said. “The time to fix it is now. … It is good for our economy, it is good for business, it is good for employees, it is good for the 11 million undocumented people that are here in this country.”

Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, considered the legal issues faced by the Latino community as civil rights matter.

“Issues faced by the Latino community in the legal system are not only issues that ought to be of concern to the Latino community,” Saenz said. “There are issues that are ought to be of concern to everyone interested in ensuring that the rule of law successfully continues to govern this nation.”

Saenz specifically pointed to voter suppression and the recent challenges to voting rights.  

“I will not rest until we see a reasonable and fair immigration reform bill pass in this country,” Reyes said. “I can’t stress how important it is to have the ABA, which represents the lawyers across the country, to be leading on this issue.”

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