Can New Jersey’s Hispanic population become a major political force?

The Hispanic population in New Jersey has grown dramatically over the last ten years. At 18 percent of the population, Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the state, surpassing African-Americans. 

Finding ways to harnessing that potential political influence is one of the challenges for state Hispanic leaders. Issue like this and others will be discussed at the Second Annual Hispanic Leadership Summit in Glassboro, N.J. next month. 

It is planned to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15. The September 22 event at Rowan University.

Co-founder and chairman, N.J. Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D-Camden), says the Latino population in New Jersey grew by almost 40 percent between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Hispanics make up 18 percent of New Jersey’s total population as compared with 14 percent for blacks.

“We as leaders have a responsibility to help empower the current and next generation,” said Fuentes, and one of the major questions facing Latino lawmakers is “What can we do to empower Hispanics to get more involved” in the democratic process?

One answer is to encourage the Hispanic community to vote regardless of party affiliation. There is a “mandate to vote,” said Fuentes, because Latinos “owe that” to those who died to uphold America’s democracy. Thus, a number of workshops will focus on getting Latinos involved in “the November election and any election” by showing Latinos see that they “do have a voice” at the local, state and federal levels of government on “issues that affect their quality of life.”

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, a full 30% of the Garden State’s Hispanic population is uninsured compared to 8% of non-Hispanic whites. In a workshop titled, “Obama Care Act and the Impact on the Hispanic Community” a panel of lawyers and representatives from N.J. Citizen Action, a watchdog coalition, will be on hand to “analyze the true impact of the Affordable Care Act” for Latinos in South Jersey.

Immigration is another major issue for Latinos in N.J. Fuentes says that the panel “Immigration Issues for Non-Citizen Parties Navigating the Justice System,” will address problems especially faced by young, undocumented Latinos who were brought to the U.S. by their parents, know the culture, have attended school in the U.S. and speak English. The panel of prosecutors, judges and a lawyer will offer advice for navigating the justice system, especially in light of the Arizona immigration law and President Obama’s proposed new path to citizenship through the DREAM Act.

Other workshop topics include “Transforming Bullies Into Leaders,” “Latinos in Law Enforcement: A Unique Perspective,” and “Accessing Capital.”

Fuentes said they expect 250-300 attendees from all walks of life, including Hispanics and non-Hispanics, to attend the summit.

“As the event grows, we have an opportunity to provide education and information that participants can take back to their churches, communities, and neighborhoods,” said Fuentes.

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