Mrvan, local leaders detail challenges of delivering on priorities like immigration, education for Latino community – Chicago Tribune

The federal government — and especially Democrats — needs to get better at communicating the items it gets done for the Latino community, according to several of Northwest Indiana’s Latino leaders.

Too many people either don’t know about programs that exist to help them, or no one alerts anyone if a program goes away, they told US Rep. Frank J. Mrvan, D-Highland, during a Wednesday afternoon roundtable discussion at Purdue Northwest . US Rep. Tony Cardenas, a Democrat who represents California’s San Fernando Valley, and Indiana State Representatives Michael Andrade, D-Munster, and Earl Harris, D-East Chicago, joined Mrvan for the discussion.

All four legislators agreed with the sentiment.

“Dems are horrible at talking about our victories,” Cardenas said. “But we have to admit there’s an equation here, and we need other people to speak (on those topics as well).”

Community leaders brought up several different topics, such as immigration, education, food insecurity and driver’s licenses for undocumented people so that they can drive to work, school and the like. Cardenas, who was first elected to the House during President Barack Obama’s second term, told the group to not expect anything on immigration from the US Senate for the foreseeable future because Senate Republicans “aren’t budging” because they’re using immigration as a negative, even though it would be beneficial to lowering inflation.

That’s not to say no one’s working on anything — it just has to be done smarter, Cardenas said.

“When we wrote DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Obama told us to write it from our perspective, so we did, and we argued a lot about it,” Cardenas said. “We wanted him to save a lot of items, and he pushed back hard, but he was right. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but (DACA) is also still intact to this day.”

From that experience, the Hispanic Caucus has learned that with the political climate being as terrible as it is, they know they have a better shot at getting legislative pieces inserted into bills rather than banking on whole bills, though they still try to get whole bills passed, Cardenas said.

Rosalva Robles, a manager with NIPSCO who attended on her own behalf, said that when federal leaders talk about the things they’ve accomplished, they’re talking about them at a macro level that involves politics, in which most Latinos aren’t interested . Additionally, many Latinos are “very conservative” and tend to vote Republican in federal elections, but Democrat at the local level.

“These people need jobs — they may have a history of drugs or felonies, but they’re willing to work,” Robles said. “What we need is a path for them. They don’t care about politics; they want jobs and safety in their communities.”

Mrvan said that when it comes to jobs, the American Rescue Plan had resources in it for the Black and Hispanic communities since they were hit hardest. There was money for dredging the Grand Calumet in order to make the land cleaner and safer in North Lake County, he said; as well, there’s money designated for apprenticeship programs in various trades and mental health programs, and the $50 million Ready Grant the state received to help with employment readiness.

Vic Garcia, CEO of Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, asked whether there will be a funding reduction in the Farm Bill, which covers up to 75% of his commodities and directly affects the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) and WIC (SNAP for women, infants and children) programs, when it comes up for debate next year. Both Mrvan and Cardenas said so far, they’re not expecting one.

“We’re not overspending on it, so we can push back,” Cardenas said.

Felipe Oria, a returning student at PNW tackling a nursing degree, said he just wants a reason to stay in Northwest Indiana when he gets done with school. So far, he’s a bit on the fence, but discussions like Wednesday’s help him see the forest through the trees, even if things move slowly.

“I think they have a vision, and that they appreciate their communities,” he said.

Michelle L. Quinn is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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