A coalition of 40 national Latino organizations has sent a nonpartisan letter to all of the 2016 presidential candidates with policy recommendations they say will improve the lives of Hispanics in the country.
The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) letter, released first to BuzzFeed News a day before the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, calls for increasing the minimum wage, a comprehensive immigration overhaul, continuing to implement Obama's Affordable Care Act, protecting voting rights, including Hispanics in the criminal justice conversation, and focusing on education through a Latino prism.
NHLA has already received interest and responses from the major Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley as well as Republican Jim Gilmore. But the hope is to engage as many presidential candidates as possible on these issues to find out where they stand.
While some of the recommendations will be a nonstarter for Republican candidates — none support Obama's signature healthcare law — the group says a focus on the Hispanic community is really a bet on the country because of changing demographics.
"The future of education in the nation is a Latino future," said NHLA chair Hector Sanchez, noting that 25% of students in the country are Hispanic.
The letter calls on candidates to "hold states and school districts accountable for improving the educational outcomes of Latino and English learner students" because the future economic competitiveness of the country will depend in great part on the educational attainment of the growing Hispanic community.
NHLA and one its member organizations, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), have become involved in making the conversation around criminal justice and police abuse in the country one that includes Latinos as well. At the same time, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, led by Rep. Tony Cardenas sent a letter to the Justice Department this summer asking for statistics on Latinos killed by cops in the last five years.
NHLA believes the issue needs to be given more prominence and Sanchez said a member organization Latino Justice PRLDEF is putting together an upcoming criminal justice summit on police brutality, mass incarceration and more.
In defending Obamacare, the letter said implementation of the law should continue because it "has resulted in 2.6 million previously uninsured Latinos gaining health coverage during the first enrollment period alone."
The letter also calls on policies that help small businesses grow and more Latinos to be hired into the federal workforce.
During a summer where Donald Trump has drawn attention to the issue of illegal immigration, using rhetoric about Mexican immigrants that has angered the Latino community, Sanchez said these policy priorities are an opportunity to refocus the debate on what will actually garner the support of the crucial bloc of Hispanic voters.
"This is a unique opportunity to engage on real issues, substantial issues critical to Latinos," he said. "If presidential candidates want the Latino vote, it's a priority to know where they stand."
And while he stressed that there are both progressive and conservative organizations among the 40 member coalition, he said this early outreach is just the first step in civic engagement and Latino voter education, because many of the groups are involved in voter registration efforts as well.
NHLA will join Voto Latino, Mi Familia Vota, SEIU and be among 70 advocacy organizations in a Hispanic Heritage Month of Action launch this week to register Latino voters.