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National Civil Rights Conference Has No Latinos on Panels

A full-day conference this week hosted by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights didn't have any speakers on panels who were Latinos. And it wasn't just Latinos who weren't visible at the conference, as the story I wrote about the conference published by edweek.org conveys. No prominent civil rights groups had representatives on the panels. It's not clear if that was a result of their not being actively recruited or if, assuming they were actively recruited, didn't participate because they don't like the direction the commission has taken on civil rights issues.

Martin Castro, who stepped up to the microphone during a Q & A and is the chairman of the Illinois advisory committee to the commission, criticized the conference for having "an amazing lack of Latinos on the panels."

In an interview, Gerald A. Reynolds, the chairman of the commission and one of four Republicans on the eight-member commission, said Castro's criticism was "legitimate." But he added that instead of trying to have "every facet of civil rights" represented on the panels, conference planners opted for a "more-focused" approach.

Only one panelist, Carol Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, deliberately put the issue of immigration on the table. She stressed that civil rights should focus on developing "native-born human capital." She made a statement that she repeated three times in a row for emphasis: "It will also require strong immigration enforcement." She added, "Civil rights in this country cannot turn a blind eye to the rule of law."

While at the microphone, Castro raised other issues of interest to Latinos. He asked members of a panel on education if they supported the extension of the premise of the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Plyler v. Doe to higher education. That court ruling says students are entitled to a free K-12 education regardless of their immigration status. No such provision exists at the higher-education level. Castro asked the panelists as well if they supported the DREAM Act. The proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act says that undocumented youths who meet certain criteria and attend college or serve in the military for at least two years would be put on the path to legalization.

No panelist answered Castro's questions directly, but Robert P. Moses, famous for his civil rights organizing in the 1960s and the founder of the Algebra Project, responded that he views his math project to be "raising the floor" of academics for many Latino and African-American students. The strategy of the initiative is for students who aren't doing well in school to double the math they take and eventually do well on SAT college entrance exams, he said. However, he added, "That doesn't give you a ticket to college to do college math or get college credit."

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