WASHINGTON – Lack of quality education, health care, and good jobs, and widespread discrimination define the “State of Hispanic America” and are critical issues for Latinos in the 2004 election, said Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza.

“Their 9 million votes could be decisive in determining who is the next president,” Yzaguirre told a news conference here Feb. 24. La Raza is the largest Latino civil rights organization in the nation.

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd, Yzaguirre gave George W. Bush a “D+” on immigration reform despite Bush’s January immigration speech aimed at Latino voters. Yzaguirre released a 59-page report titled “State of Hispanic America 2004: Latino Perspectives on the American Agenda,” which makes clear that the Bush administration has failed to deliver for the nation’s 40 million Latinos.

“The Latino vote will be at least as large as it was in 2000 and we expect it to grow by 35 percent,” Yzaguirre told the World. “If Bush gets the same proportion of the Latino vote next November as he got in 2000, he will lose the election. It is clearly a strategic part of the electorate.”

Bush, he warned, will use much of his $200 million campaign war chest to lure the Latino vote in battleground states like California, New York, Illinois, Texas, and Florida. “If the Democrats don’t have the money, they have to prove their interest by action,” he said, stressing that La Raza is seeking action now on enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (prohibiting intentional discrimination based on race, color, or national origin) and full funding of Head Start.

NCLR brought hundreds of Latinos to Capitol Hill for “Advocacy Day” to demand immediate action on that agenda. Yzaguirre told the crowd, “Almost every federal program violates Title VI by underfunding programs that serve the Latino community. We are prepared to acknowledge those who support us on full funding of Head Start, enforcement of Title VI, and equal employment.”

When asked about the “jobless recovery,” Yzaguirre pointed to the higher rates of unemployment among Latinos and Blacks. The report charged “Since the beginning of the most recent recession in March 2001, the number of unemployed Hispanics has increased by 16 percent to 1.25 million as of January 2004.”

A chapter on health points out that 34 percent of Latinos lack health insurance, including 24.9 percent of children. Latinos count for 70 percent of farm workers in the U.S. and half earn less than $7,500 a year. The report urged that all currently undocumented farm workers be granted legal status. It also endorsed the bipartisan Agricultural Job Opportunity Benefits and Security Act to provide many benefits now denied to farm workers.

Schools serving Hispanics and other minority students “spent on average $966 less per student in 2000” than schools serving more affluent white communities. Latinos accounted for 38.6 percent of all school dropouts, the report charged.

A chapter on counterterrorism decries Attorney General John Ashcroft’s order that local and state police enforce federal immigration law. “The Ashcroft announcement,” the report states, “increased fear in Latino and immigrant communities, leading to an unwillingness to cooperate with law enforcement, to report crimes, to come forward as witnesses.”

Ten states have passed laws restricting the right of non-citizens to obtain drivers licenses, the document reports. Many legal residents, and even citizens, face “harassment and discrimination … because poorly conceived policies deny licenses to lawful residents.”

The chapter blasts the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department for “racial profiling,” adding, “The federal government has not been able to connect any of those arrested … with terrorism or terrorist activities.”

A chapter on immigration calls on Congress to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous ruling in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. National Labor Relations Board that immigrant workers are not entitled to back pay and are not protected by U.S. labor law even if they are fired illegally. “The Hoffman decision hurts all American workers because it lowers wages, reduces working conditions, and discourages organizing,” the report states.

The report calls for “comprehensive immigration reform” in which undocumented immigrants who can prove they have lived and worked in the U.S. and pass background checks are granted legal status.

Eric Rodriguez, who helped prepare the chapter on employment, told the World, “The nation as a whole is grading the Bush administration and I would say it’s in the ‘D’ area. They continue to stress tax cuts for the wealthy as a means of job creation. But we are not seeing the jobs. From where we stand, Latino voters are much more engaged. They are energized. They are looking for a change in direction.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com.