By Patrick Madden
After a series of setbacks, Latino leaders in D.C. say it’s time the growing community organizes itself and flexes its political clout. Even before the state of Arizona enacted its controversial immigration law, advocates for D.C.’s Latino community say there’s been a growing sense of anger and frustration.
There was the city’s decision to sign on to a federal program that helps local police catch illegal immigrants. There’s an anti-loitering proposal working through the D.C. Council that advocates say targets Latinos. And, most recently, a proposal to cut the city's Office of Latino Affairs’ budget by half next year.
"I think we saying ‘no more,' we are going to stop these and we are going to organize ourselves and push-back," says Juan Carlos Ruiz, Director of Advocacy for the Latino Federation of Greater Washington.
He’s helping launch the Latino Action Coalition later this month. The group will register Latino voters, organize get-out-the-vote operations, and try to turn D.C.’s growing Latino population into a powerful voting bloc.
"Our message is we are here, we count, we are voting, and from now in the future, when you want to talk for us, don’t talk for us - talk with us and we come together," he says.
Latinos make up more than ten percent of the city’s population. And that percentage is expected to grow. Ruiz says the coalition will focus on wards 1 and 4, which have the highest concentration of Latinos. Registering voters will be the first priority, but he says the group has its eyes on a bigger prize: Latino representation on the D.C. Council.