Summit brings together Hispanic leaders to address critical issues
February 18, 2010
Las Vegas, NV—Nevada Senator Harry Reid today hosted Latino Summit 2010 in Las Vegas, bringing together community and national leaders to discuss issues of importance to Nevada’s Hispanic community. The topics discussed included jobs and the economy, housing and immigration reform. The participants included representatives from the White House and U.S. Department of Labor and leaders from Nevada.
Below are Reid’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“As you know, Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in Nevada and throughout the nation. The Hispanic population is growing in this state by the tens of thousands every year, and by the millions across all fifty states.
“But today, I want to talk to you about just four people. I want to talk to you about Ruth Bailey, about Gilberto Romero, about Jesús and about one young girl whose name I don’t even know.
“Ruth moved to Las Vegas from Puerto Rico 10 years ago. She’s an industrial engineer by training and was working two jobs to support her two daughters. One of the jobs laid her off, and Ruth was among the unacceptably high number of unemployed Hispanics in our state.
“She started cleaning houses to make ends meet. And just as she was about to give up hope, she landed a job created by the stimulus we passed early last year. HELP of Southern Nevada got a grant through our economic recovery program to make low-income homes more comfortable and more energy efficient. They needed people to do that important work, and Ruth’s was one of the thousands of jobs the stimulus created in Nevada.
“Now she does community outreach, especially in Hispanic neighborhoods. She’s not only taking home a good paycheck, but she takes satisfaction from her worthwhile and fulfilling work – like making sure Hispanic senior citizens have working air conditioning when the temperatures climb toward the triple digits.
“If we’re going to get our economy back on track, we have to get the American people back to work. If we are going to spark recovery in the short term and nurture prosperity in the long term, we need to create the right conditions for Nevada businesses to hire more people like Ruth.
“We’re going to keep going. We’re going to put more teachers in our children’s classrooms, more police and firefighters on our families’ streets. We’re going to improve our roads and bridges and continue to make Nevada the nation’s leader in clean energy.
“Ruth says she gets thank-you letters that make her cry. Andwhen I hear stories like Ruth’s, I, too, am filled with hope – and filled with the conviction that we cannot stop until every American who wants to work can find a good job.
“The second story I want to share is about Gilberto. No state has felt the full force of the foreclosure crisis as intensely as ours. Each day, more families are losing their homes, their equity and their fair share of the American Dream.
“When Gilberto’s mortgage payments rose, he found a company that said it would modify his loan. That company asked for nearly $1,000 up front, and kept Gilberto waiting months and months for help. But it turns out he was only waiting for disaster. The company suddenly closed up shop, taking Gilberto’s money with it.
“Haven’t hardworking Nevadans have lost enough in this storm? They don’t need to give thousands of dollars to con artists who will leave them struggling with the same bad mortgage and even less money to pay it off.
“That’s why we passed laws last year that will protect families not only by punishing perpetrators, but it also by stopping the scams before they start. The programs we’ve created not only give the authorities the right tools to fight these con artists, but they give homeowners the ability to stand up for themselves and fight back, too.
“I know we need to do more. I get thousands of calls from families trying to navigate the system – families frustrated just trying to get a real person on the phone when they call the bank. I’ve directed my staff to work with every one of those Nevadans to make sure they can fight back.
“We’re already making a difference, and we’re going to keep moving forward. Just a few days ago, I had a very direct conversation with President Obama’s Housing Secretary. And I got him to agree to send more full-time housing counselors to Nevada to help struggling homeowners keep their homes.
“And as you prepare your taxes this year, I’m sure many of you will be taking advantage of the $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers. I’m prepared to keep going as long as companies prey on families like Gilberto’s and so many others across Nevada – because your family or mine could be next.
“The third story is about Jesús. I mentioned earlier how this community is the fastest-growing in America, and it is now the nation’s largest minority. There are more than 47 million Hispanic Americans – which is the same number of Americans who cannot afford the rapidly rising costs of health insurance. That’s some perspective – imagine if not a single Hispanic family had health care. Would we just turn our backs and say, too bad?
“But reforming our broken health insurance system isn’t just about those who have none. It’s about those fortunate enough to cover their families today, but who live just one accident, one illness or one pink slip away from losing everything. It’s about greedy insurance companies who drop your coverage when you need it the most, or refuse to cover you because of a pre-existing condition.
“That’s what happened to Jesús’s family. Jesús, who owns a restaurant in Reno, had a baby girl a couple of years ago. His daughter was born with a cleft palate, which required surgery to fix. A few months later, he got a letter from his insurance company saying it wasn’t going to cover his daughter’s surgery. What was the insurance company’s excuse? That his baby’s cleft palate was a pre-existing condition. So it stuck Jesús with a $90,000 hospital bill.
“That should not happen in America. It should not happen to families like Jesús’s, who play by the rules, who pay their premiums and who just want the best for their children. The Hispanic community is most vulnerable to these kinds of abuses, and is more like to go uninsured than any other group. But as Jesús can tell you, even having insurance isn’t always enough.
“That’s why we’ll keep fighting to make health insurance more affordable and make health insurance companies more accountable. That’s why I won’t stop fighting until it’s possible for every American to afford to live a healthy life, and impossible for health insurance companies to get in the way.
“Finally, I want to talk about a young Hispanic student I met in Spring Valley. She came up to me and told me she was the best student in her class. But she knew all that hard work, all that dedication, all that effort wouldn’t matter. She wouldn’t be able to go to college because she was undocumented.
“I don’t know what happened to her. She never even told me her name. But I know she was locked out of an education she deserved, through no fault of her own. A bright student like that should have a shot at success.
“That’s why I’m committed to passing the DREAM Act. As we work toward a comprehensive approach to reforming our country's broken immigration policies, one thing we can do right away is ensure the next generation, though they may be undocumented through no fault of their own, can contribute to our economy and our society.
“The DREAM Act will allow tens of thousands of students to pursue higher education or honorably serve their country. I know I can count on the people here in this room today – Nevada’s Hispanic leaders – to stand with me and pressure opponents to do what’s right when it comes to immigration reform.
“These stories are about the Hispanic community, but these stories and these four Americans are no different from the challenges in every community, in every neighborhood, in every state. They’re each about getting a fair shot at success, about fulfilling the promise that brought all of us to America.
“That’s why I convened this summit. We must have an open dialogue about how to help people like Ruth, Gilberto, Jesús, and that one young student. I want us to continue coming up with ideas to help the millions who hear their stories and think: That’s my story, too.”