Thursday, September 17, 2009

Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month

Ensuring Access to the American Dream

Column from U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

As Wisconsin celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the many contributions that Hispanics have made to our state, to the nation, and to the world. This year’s theme is “Latinos Leading in a Global Society,” and what better way to celebrate this than by honoring Sonia Sotomayor, who just last month was sworn in as our nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.
Justice Sotomayor is where she is today because she had unparalleled access to the best education America has to offer, graduating from both Princeton and Yale. Throughout my years in the Senate, I have worked to improve access to education for the Hispanic community and all Americans.
Last year, Congress enacted the Higher Education Act, which included a modified version of my measure to ensure college systems with two-year branch campuses, like the UW System, are eligible to receive TRIO Student Support Services awards. These TRIO programs, which provide outreach and assistance to low-income students and underrepresented minority students, combined with increased funding for Pell Grants, will ensure more Hispanic students have the opportunity to attend and succeed in college.
But to allow more people to take full advantage of these programs, we must also support measures such as the DREAM Act, which helps ensure equal access to higher education for all Hispanics in this country by providing in-state tuition and other financial aid to undocumented immigrant children. By further increasing access to colleges and universities, we can help more students get the education they need to compete for jobs and, in the spirit of this year’s theme, see more “Latinos Leading in a Global Society.”
In addition to these steps to expand education, I also strongly support comprehensive immigration reform and am pleased the president has identified this topic as a top priority for this Congress. We urgently need comprehensive immigration reform, and it must include a reasonable solution for those who are already living and working in our communities.
And we are already taking small steps forward toward broader reform. Earlier this year, I cosponsored the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The goal of this bipartisan legislation, known as AgJOBS, is to give agricultural workers who have been employed in this country, including H2-A visa-holders and undocumented workers, the opportunity to earn legal status through past and future work in the agricultural sector. The bill would also reform the H2-A program so that growers and workers will not continue to rely on illegal channels.
It is important that Wisconsin farmers have access to an adequate supply of legal workers to fill positions that U.S. workers can’t or won’t fill, and the AgJOBS bill represents a fair, workable solution. I have a long record of supporting common-sense measures such as this that will help advance our goal of comprehensive immigration reform, and I look forward to further examining this important issue in the months ahead.
Hispanic Americans, as the largest ethnic minority in the United States, serve our nation tremendously every day. Whether it’s as teachers in our classrooms, lawyers in our courtrooms, or soldiers on the battlefield, Hispanic Americans make important contributions to our country in every facet of American life.
Hispanic communities around our state have enhanced our knowledge and enriched our culture, helping to give Wisconsin its diverse character and strong sense of pride. Congress must address the issues important to Hispanic Americans not just for this month, but all year long. Only that will truly honor the remarkable contributions Hispanic Americans have made, and continue to make, to this great nation.

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