Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights Aims to Right Wrongs of Discrimination

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Immigration reform must be a mainstream goal if it’s going to garner widespread acceptance, and the American Bar Association could be a big help, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said today at an ABA public hearing assessing the country’s Hispanic legal issues.

“It’s important that we explain immigration issues in terms of what’s good for America and what’s good for mainstream issues,” Richardson said, mentioning the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, more commonly known as the DREAM Act.

“The ABA is a mainstream, powerful institution, and our community wants to be mainstream,” said Richardson, who grew up in Mexico and the United States. “They want to be part of the American dream.”

Richardson was tapped as a honorary co-chair of the recently formed ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities. Today the group, appointed by ABA president Stephen N. Zack, met in Chicago to hold its first of four hearings. The commission plans to use what it learns from the hearings as a tool to improve the ABA’s commitment to righting the wrongs of discrimination.

At the Chicago program, which was held at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law, the commission also heard concerns about health care, housing foreclosure and education. And many commission members noted that they are the children of immigrants—or immigrants themselves.

But one of the more common points was the rapid growth of the Hispanic community in the United States and how this community’s legal needs aren’t being met.

“The growing need for Spanish-speaking lawyers can’t be ignored, and must be addressed by our law schools,” Adria D. Maddaleni, president of the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association, told the commission. She noted that Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee now offers one course, Comparative Criminal Law and Procedure, taught entirely in Spanish.

Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, also addressed the commission. She stated that one out of every four children in the United States is Hispanic.

“It’s obvious that the Latino population has significant unmet legal needs,” she said, adding that her group’s primary concerns are jobs, health care, education, immigration and criminal justice.

“Among the key goals of the ABA are to eliminate bias. You can’t achieve that goal without a legal system that is more reflective and responsive to the Latino community,” Murguia said.

Last updated Nov. 16 to add the audio interview with Gov. Richardson.

Editor’s Note: ABA Journal legal affairs writer Stephanie Francis Ward covered the inaugural public hearing of the ABA’s Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities.

Below his her report on the hearing and a brief interview with one of the commission’s honorary co-chairs, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

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