In September 1968, Congress authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week. Today we devote a month to celebrating the contributions of Hispanic-Americans to this country, including their contributions to the law. Yet we know that their potential to enrich our profession has not been realized.
Although projections indicate that one in every three U.S. residents will be Hispanic by 2050, Hispanics remain underrepresented in our association, our profession, our law schools and our courts. We must fully integrate Hispanics into our profession and civic life—we need the perspectives and talents they represent.
To advance the ABA’s mission to defend liberty and pursue justice, the association has appointed a Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities. The commission will work to fulfill America’s promise to Hispanics, and in so doing will enrich our legal system and its service to all of society. Hispanic-Americans are the largest and fastest-growing minority category in this country, and make up more than 20 percent of our population, while only 3 percent of lawyers are Hispanic.
In a recent study, the Pew Hispanic Research Center noted that of the country’s 16 million Hispanic children, 89 percent are second and third generation with at least one U.S.-born parent. We must equip our next generation of Hispanic-American citizens with what they need to succeed as lawyers, judges, corporate executives, educators and politicians. We must ensure these future leaders are prepared to preserve and strengthen our justice system and rule of law for all Americans.
Cesar Alvarez, who will chair the commission, is a leader in the national legal and Hispanic communities. Emilio Estefan, an award-winning producer, musician and civil rights advocate, will serve as honorary chair.
The new ABA commission—as well as its advisory committee of respected attorneys, judges, educators and organizational and community leaders—will identify and advance solutions to important legal issues affecting Hispanics throughout the United States. The commission itself includes leaders from an array of racial and ethnic communities. It will address key issues such as voting rights, immigration, civil rights and access to the courts by holding regional hearings to engage leaders and the broader community, and to inform development of ABA policy and a comprehensive report to propose action by congressional and administration policymakers.
Today, there are some who would like to see the doors to our courtrooms closed to other immigrants, their civil liberties denied and guarantees of justice forgotten. Our legal system cannot be used to attack the liberties of those who walk our streets because of their national origin. More than 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy reminded us in his book, A Nation of Immigrants, that our basic freedoms are based on the principle that law protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority. His reminder needs repeating today.
Clarence Darrow once stated, “I am a foreigner; my people didn’t get here until about 1710, and now I am asked to close the doors to people who came on a later ship. My ancestors came here to get a better chance, and I don’t believe in closing the doors on people who would like to come for the same reason now.” Though many in my family came to the U.S. as recently as 1961, I believe the same is true today.
Every day our nation becomes more divided over immigration issues, but there is a solution. The ABA Commission on Immigration recently published a groundbreaking report titled Reforming the Immigration System: Proposals to Promote Independence, Fairness, Efficiency and Professionalism in the Adjudication of Removal Cases. This report is the culmination of 18 months and more than 13,000 pro bono hours by attorneys, paralegals and other staff from Arnold & Porter. It provides nearly 60 recommendations for improvements to achieve both immediate and long-term reform at every level of the current immigration system. It is efforts such as this that serve as a shining example of the goals and values of our association.
In 1954, Carlos Cadena, Gus Garcia and James DeAnda became the first Mexican-American lawyers to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court and ensure that Hispanics were guaranteed protection under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Nearly 60 years later, we must continue to commit ourselves to “Eliminate Bias and Enhance Diversity,” which is the title of the association’s Goal III.
I am confident the leaders and experts we have assembled to serve on the Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities will succeed in their efforts. I am confident they will execute our goal to “promote the full and equal participation in the association, our profession and the justice system by all persons.”