Living the American Dream: Karina Velasco

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By Janet Hernandez, Senior Civic Engagement Project Manager, NCLR


Karina outside the U.S. Capitol during the recent National Latino Advocacy Days.

The most recent snow storm to hit the Washington, DC, area could not stop Karina Velasco, a 25-year-old DACA recipient, from meeting with her congressional representatives and advocating for administrative relief. Since congressional offices were closed during National Latino Advocacy Days, Karina rescheduled her meetings to ensure Congress heard her story.

Her persistence comes from years of advocating for an opportunity to experience the American dream. Throughout her life Karina witnessed her parents’ struggle, perseverance, and hard work. Her mother cleaned restaurants and houses while also being a full-time mother. Her father held two jobs in construction and housekeeping to make ends meet. Their encouragement and daily sacrifices helped Karina make the choice to focus on her education.

“My mother always told me that education was the path to success, so I decided to become a social worker to advocate for those in need,” said Karina.

In 2012 she celebrated the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) announcement, and gathered the paperwork needed to apply. She also helped fill out hundreds of applications for other DREAMers who were eligible to apply for DACA. Since Karina received DACA, she has obtained a driver’s license, finished community college, transferred to a four-year university, and obtained a job. Having the job allows her to enter the workforce, pay taxes, and help others.

“Without DACA it would have been harder to accomplish this success. I can finally contribute to my country’s economy and lift some of my parents’ economic burdens,” said Karina.

This week, Karina met with her elected officials to highlight how well DACA works by demonstrating that she is an example of the program’s success.


Karina (left), Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Rosa, program manager for NCLR Affiliate Latin American Youth Center

Like Karina, there are millions of other young Americans who need Congress to stand up for administrative relief rather than deny them the opportunity to contribute to the country and pursue the American dream.

Washington Plays Host to Escalera National Summit


Attendees and staff at the 2015 Escalera National Summit

Students who participate in our Escalera Program had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC recently for the Escalera National Summit. The program was held in conjunction with NCLR’s National Latino Advocacy Days. 

Despite some bad weather, summit participants enjoyed a productive week that included an active presence at the Advocacy Days’ legislative meetings, a Lideres Congreso and a screening of the movie “Selma”. Students also participated in guided tours of the nation’s most important monuments and a Summit celebration hosted by our DC Affiliate, the Latin American Youth Center. The week was capped off by a recognition ceremony for all the attendees in which students received certificates of completion and a lapel pin. We are especially thankful to LAYC for all their support in making the summit a success.

Below are some highlights from this year’s event.

Escalera summit attendees at the MLK Memorial

Escalera summit attendees at the MLK Memorial

DACA Recipients Share Their Stories at 2015 National Latino Advocacy Days

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By Laura Vazquez, Senior Immigration Legislative Analyst, NCLR 

At the recent 2015 NCLR National Latino Advocacy Days, groups representing communities in 24 states and the District of Columbia engaged in sessions on public policy, advocacy, and strategy to prepare for the implementation of administrative relief through Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).


One of the exciting outcomes of Advocacy Days was the opportunity to connect with DACA recipients who made the trip to Washington, DC, ready to share their stories and advocate for administrative relief and immigration reform. We heard how DACA has allowed these individuals to continue pursuing an education and volunteering or working with NCLR Affiliates. DACA enabled them to pursue their aspirations, and they want to make sure that others can benefit too.

Last Wednesday’s session began with remarks from Samantha, a youth coordinator for NCLR Affiliate TODEC Legal Center in Perris, California. Samantha received DACA in 2012. She has been volunteering with TODEC for more than five years and continues to advocate for her community through TODEC. Another Affiliate, the Latin American Community Center in Delaware, who has participated in Advocacy Days for many years, included in its delegation Maria, a DACA recipient. Maria shared her story with legislators about how DACA enabled her to continue her contributions in Delaware, where she works with survivors of domestic violence.


Later in the day we heard from Andrea, a high school student in Chicago who is part of the NCLR Escalera Program run by Affiliate Instituto del Progreso Latino. When Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, joined us, Andrea asked him what he envisions for DACA recipients like her in the future. Mayorkas responded that in addition to ensuring that the administration is doing everything it can to aggressively push for the expansion of DACA and implementation of DAPA, he expects that each year approximately 90,000 people will become eligible to apply for DACA and receive a reprieve from deportation and a work permit.

Samantha, Maria, and Andrea are just a few examples how DACA recipients are woven into the fabric of the NCLR familia by contributing to their communities through NCLR Affiliates.

This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending March 6


Week Ending March 6

This week in immigration reform: Nearly 300 community leaders participated in National Latino Advocacy Days,Congress funds the Department of Homeland Security; and NCLR continues a new blog series highlighting the impact of administrative relief.

Braving the weather, hundreds attend National Latino Advocacy Days: This Wednesday, nearly 300 Latino leaders from across the country participated in a day-long event promoting advocacy for Latino priorities. Attendees represented 24 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Check out tweets and photos from the event on Twitter with #NLAD15. Also, take a look at NCLR’s Facebook photo album on why Latinos vote.


Latino Advocacy Days followed the NCLR Capital Awards where NCLR recognized the work of Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and honored longtime immigration reform advocate, Frank Sharry. During her remarks, NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía warned the Republican Party about the political consequences of their rhetoric and policies that are adversely affecting not only the Latino community, but the entire nation’s best interests. You can see Janet’s speechhere.

Congress passes DHS funding bill without harmful immigration amendments: This week the House of Representatives passed a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security through the end of this fiscal year. This was after much political maneuvering and uncertainty. House Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the version of the bill that passed in the Senate, one that removed the harmful language defunding President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. NCLR applauds the passage of a clean DHS funding bill.

Also this week, House Republicans found time for a two-day markup of four-immigration related bills. These bills would promote a national racial profiling protocol, take an ineffective enforcement-only approach to fixing our immigration system, and would deny due process to some of the most vulnerable immigrants: child refugees. In a statement, NCLR’s Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro said “These bills are a conscious, premeditated attack against millions of American families and a direct blow at the heart of the Latino community. They are representative of the backward thinking that has replaced a solution-driven approach to immigration in Washington, and they show a disregard for the civil rights of all Americans.”

Second installment of our blog profiling deferred action success stories: This week’s “Living the American DREAM” blog post features Steven Arteaga Rodriguez, a 19-year-old from Houston and a DACA recipient who was brought to the United States when he was four months old. Steven got the chance to meet with President Obama to discuss how his executive actions have impacted the lives of immigrants and their families. DACA enabled Steven to search for work without fear of deportation. To continue the success of deferred action programs, Steven urged his fellow DREAMers to apply, saying “If we don’t apply, we don’t take this opportunity, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We’ve gotten this far, and it wouldn’t be fair for all those DREAMers that fought if, you know, not everybody applied.”

Latino Leaders Denounce Pursuit of Anti-Immigrant Agenda at 2015 National Latino Advocacy Days

More than 300 Latino leaders from throughout the country participated in the 2015 NCLR National Latino Advocacy Days (NLAD) this week. Leaders from our national Affiliate Network of community-based organizations and the youth Líderes Congreso joined together to denounce the continued pursuit of an anti-immigrant agenda and attacks on President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration.

Communities in 24 states and the District of Columbia were represented including California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. They engaged in sessions on public policy, advocacy and strategy to prepare for the implementation of administrative relief through Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Many advocates also met with congressional offices to deliver a statement urging Congress to cease the obstruction of measures aimed at providing relief for millions of hardworking American families.

We also asked NLAD attendees to tell us why they voted. Here’s what they told us: (Click play to view slide show)

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 Below are more social media highlights from this annual event.

NCLR Affiliates Make the Case for Education Reform in Washington

By Eunice Ahenkorah, Education Policy Fellow, NCLR Policy Analysis Center

Last week Washington was buzzing with excitement as more than 200 advocates, including nearly 60 youth participants, from NCLR Affiliates across the country converged on the nation’s capital.  In all, groups from 28 states participated in the 2014 NCLR National Latino Advocacy Days.  On the first day, three workshops and five briefings were organized to teach participants how to advocate effectively when meeting with elected officials and their staff.  Then, on the second day, participants held more than 100 meetings with members of Congress and their staff.

One of the most important issues at this year’s event was education, as evidenced by the nearly 70 people who joined the education workshop on March 5 to discuss principles of equity, access, and opportunity.  Some of these participants shared with us why they are passionate about education:

Kevin Sanchez at the U.S. Capitol

“We all have goals and aspirations in life. The key to getting the things you want in life is education.  I believe that there needs to be some kind of reform in our current education system.  No system or bill was ever perfect, but we need to have some type of reform to pass on to the next generation to come.” –Kevin Sanchez, age 18, first-time youth participant from Raleigh, NC

Jennifer Reyes and others from the Latin American Coalition.

“I am passionate about education because I want to succeed in life….I want to go to college and have an amazing life with whoever I want.” –Jennifer Reyes, youth participant

Karen Gomez

Karen Gomez

“I think we as a country have to do a better job of supporting parents and kids, especially Latinos.  We know that one out of every five children in the U.S. is a Latino, so we need to seriously start investing money in them because they are going to be the future of the country.” –Karen Gomez, Executive Director of Centro Hispano Comunitario de Nebraska and mother of two

“Education starts very early, at birth. Our [Latino] kids are already falling behind, when they start school.  Because of this we cannot further our education as a community in order to help others.” –Zhania Martinez, volunteer at Action Institute, NC, a former NCLR Emerging Latino Communities (ELC) Initiative grantee

NCLR’s National Latino Advocacy Days are proof that Latinos are a powerful force in this country.  The diversity of age and geographic location among participants reflects the commitment, strength, persistence, and resilience of our community.  They came to tell their stories, show how congressional inaction was affecting their lives, and give Latino issues the attention they deserve.  If members of Congress are wise, they will have listened closely to the hundreds of advocates who visited them last week.  Doing otherwise could result in a lost seat in Congress come Election Day.

This Week in Immigration Reform – Week Ending March 7


Week Ending March 7, 2014

This week in immigration reform: NCLR salutes the tremendous work done for immigration reform by the Senate Gang of Eight and the Fast for Families fasters at our 2014 Capital Awards gala, where NCLR’s Janet Murguía criticizes continued House Republican inaction on immigration reform and calls on President Obama to stop unnecessary deportations; hundreds of advocates travel to Washington, D.C. for NCLR’s 2014 National Latino Advocacy Days and lobby Congress on the need for immigration reform legislation and other Latino priorities; and NCLR and its network tweet at House Republican leadership, telling them that Latino voters will remember their obstruction when they go to the polls in the November midterm elections.  NCLR kept the community informed in a number of media appearances this week, with staff quoted in the Associated Press, the Washington Post, Politico, CBS News, NPR, NBC, USA Today, Univision, Fox News LA, The Hill, and many other news outlets.

NCLR salutes efforts of Gang of Eight, Fast for Families at 2014 Capital Awards, where Janet Murguía lambasts House Republican inaction on immigration reform while calling on Pres. Obama to stop unnecessary deportations.  NCLR bestowed its highest honors on the Senate Gang of Eight and the Fast for Families fasters, honoring them for their heroic efforts for immigration reform, at its 27th Annual Capital Awards ceremony this Tuesday, Mar. 4th.

NCLR’s Janet Murguía focused on the fight for immigration reform in her remarks Tuesday night, criticizing continued House Republican inaction on immigration reform while also calling on President Obama to stop separating families by putting an end to hundreds of thousands of senseless deportations.  You can read Janet’s remarks here.  Imm_reformUpdate_3_7_2014_pic1

Fast for Families fasters Eliseo Medina, Lisa Sharon Harper, and Rudy Lopez are hailed at NCLR’s 2014 Capital Awards.

Imm_reformUpdate_3_7_2014_pic2Representing the Senate Gang of Eight, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) are awarded for their efforts on immigration reform by NCLR’s Janet Murguía, NCLR Board Chair Jorge Plasencia, and NCLR Board Member Cid Wilson at the 2014 Capital Awards (photo: @SEIU_Eliseo).

Hundreds of advocates come together at NCLR’s 2014 National Latino Advocacy Days for two days of trainings, meetings on the Hill, and action for immigration reform.  This week witnessed hundreds of community leaders, representing 25 states across the country including North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, and Idaho, coming to Washington, D.C. to take part in NCLR’s 2014 National Latino Advocacy Days.

The advocates – many of them members of NCLR’s nearly 300 Affiliate organizations – spent Wednesday, Mar. 5 at an all-day training, where they strategized around achieving Latino legislative priorities in 2014 and prepared to visit their members of Congress on the Hill on Thursday, Mar. 6.

Imm_reformUpdate_3_7_2014_pic3National Latino Advocacy Days participants attending a policy session on strategies for keeping families together.

NCLR Affiliates and partners followed up on the day of training by traveling to the Hill this Thursday, Mar. 6 and meeting with their members of Congress and staff.  Advocates urged the House to get to work on an immigration reform bill and discussed other areas of concern to the Latino community, including education, equality and economic opportunity, healthcare, and school bullying.

Imm_reformUpdate_3_7_2014_pic4Members of NCLR Affiliates Enlace Chicago, Gads Hill Center, Latino Policy Forum, and Northwest Side Housing Center prepare to meet with their members of Congress as part of NCLR’s 2014 National Latino Advocacy Days (photo: @Latinopolicy).

NCLR, its Affiliates, and partners capped off the day’s visits by staging a mock election outside of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA-7) office, with advocates submitting ballots marked “yes” for immigration reform as a reminder to House Republicans that Latino voters care deeply about reform and will remember those who obstruct it in the 2014 November elections.

Imm_reformUpdate_3_7_2014_pic5NCLR and NCLR Affiliates line up outside House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA-7) office and prepare to deliver hundreds of “votes” for immigration reform to the Congressman.

Youth members of NCLR Affiliate Latino Memphis join NCLR staff in the halls of Congress for NCLR’s 2014 National Latino Advocacy Days (photo: @LatinoMemphis).

NCLR & allies tweet at Congressional leadership: we’ll be voting “Yes” on immigration reform. In support of its Mar. 6 action outside of Majority Leader Cantor’s office, NCLR and its network are tweeting at Congressional leadership this week, telling GOP leaders that Latino voters care deeply about immigration reform and, if Republican leadership continues to block progress on reform, will remember when they go to the polls in the November midterm elections and beyond.

Join us and use our Twitter tool to send Congressional leadership a message, and share the graphic below on Facebook:


NCLR Celebrates and Advocates!

Hundreds joined NCLR this week for our Annual NCLR Capital Awards and National Latino Advocacy Days. Below are highlights from this past week.

The Faces of the Sequester

By Nancy Wilberg Ricks, Senior Policy Communications Strategist, Wealth-Building Policy Project, NCLR

You and I are beginning to feel the unintended consequences of the federal budget tug of war.  The March 1 sequester has brought upon us a rash of arbitrary budget cuts that harm those who are already hurting and our stories need to be shared.  Below are some of the faces from throughout the nation talking about how these cuts have prevented aid from reaching families and stifled progress in our neighborhoods.

Stay tuned for more stories as decisions from Washington, or lack thereof, continue to impact the Latino community. And, if you’ve felt the sting of the sequester, let us know how you’ve been affected in the comments below.

Meet Aldira:

Meet Christine:

Meet Maria:

Meet Mike:

In Their Own Words [VIDEO]

Every year at National Latino Advocacy Days we get the opportunity to not connect with our Affiliate network and highlight their great work.

We can talk ad nauseum about how awesome they are and how vital they are to the communities they serve, but often it’s best to hear from them directly. We asked three of our Affiliates from Texas, North Carolina, and Minnesota to talk about the impact of our broken immigration system and why we need to work together to fix it this year.

Check out their responses and let us know in the comments why you think we need immigration reform now.

Armando Bellmas, Latin American Coalition, Charlotte, N.C.

Ernesto Velez, Centro Campesino, Owatonna, Minnesota