On Civil Rights Battles, HF Emerges as a Leader

The Hispanic Federation was founded to strengthen Latino nonprofits, but we have always been, at our core, a civil rights organization. That means that while we work with our member agencies on important social issues such as education and housing, we are also deeply committed to preserving and expanding civil rights for all Latinos. We do that in large part by organizing and leveraging the collective wisdom and power of our community to create opportunities for social action. This year, we significantly increased our capacity to this critical work by making some key staff hires and launching new issue-based coalitions.

These last few months have certainly been historic ones for civil rights across the United States and HF has had much to celebrate. Three Supreme Court decisions in particular were especially welcomed here at the Hispanic Federation: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) decision in the case of King v. Burwell; the Marriage Equality Ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges; and the ruling on housing discrimination in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v Inclusive Communities Project. Each of these decisions upheld basic values of equality, fairness and social justice we had been fighting for and working on in different capacities.

The treatment of unaccompanied minors detained at the U.S. border with Mexico was also a focus of our civil rights work during the first half of 2015. New York City is home to a large number of these child immigrants and providing services to this vulnerable population requires a comprehensive effort that includes government and nonprofits. HF hosted and co-sponsored a forum with the Children’s Defense Fund on the state of unaccompanied migrant children who have arrived in the city. The forum was attended by over 100 community leaders and front-line providers many of whom are providing support and services to these children. HF is currently working on developing an initiative to provide new supportive services to many of these children.

Additionally, we focused on the issue of criminal justice. In response to increasing community tensions and fatalities following interactions with local law enforcement in cities across the country, Hispanic Federation, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Drug Policy Alliance co-hosted a roundtable on Latinos and the Criminal Justice System at HF in May. We discussed proposed reforms of the many policies and practices criminalizing our communities, while exploring ways to work together to start to address what is clearly a national crisis. HF is researching a variety of legislative reforms to address many of these issues, while committing to reconvening members and partners to forge a collective Latino agenda on criminal justice reform and civil rights.

Of course, we still have more work to do. This year, we entered the legislative session in Albany with high hopes for approval of the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (FFLPA). This legislation would extend basic labor rights (day of rest, overtime, collective bargaining and others) to migrant farm workers in New York State, rights that all other workers in the state are entitled to. We collaborated with a number of Latino, immigrant, and labor advocates on this campaign which included press conferences, call-in days, and petition/postcard signing efforts to increase public awareness about the issue and compel legislators to bring the vote to the floor. Unfortunately, those who had the power to bring the bill to the floor in the New York State Senate rebuffed our efforts. We’re disappointed in them and we’re disappointed for the laborers and their families who remain without some of the most basic worker protections. But we’re not giving up – much as we’re not giving up on getting Congress to pass national immigration reform. Already, we are strategizing with allies and conducting meetings with key legislators and staff to make sure that the FFPLA is approved next year.

For more information, please contact Jose Davila.