Politics & Government

Hispanic group to grill McCain, Obama today

WASHINGTON — A leading Hispanic organization is demanding assurances from the two major presidential candidates that they'll push for comprehensive immigration revisions and dramatically increase Hispanic representation in the federal government.

John McCain and Barack Obama are scheduled to appear Tuesday before the 79th annual convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens as part of their continuing offensive to bolster their support among Hispanics, the nation's fastest-growing minority. More than 9 million Latinos are expected to vote in the November general election.

Leaders of LULAC said Monday that they planned to press McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, and Obama, the victor of a grueling Democratic primary race, for their positions on several issues that are important to Hispanics.

LULAC, the nation's largest and oldest Hispanic organization, with 115,000 members, is insisting that the next president support — and force Congress to pass — comprehensive immigration legislation that would create a guest-worker program and put millions of illegal immigrants on paths to citizenship.

LULAC leaders say that they'll also insist that Obama and McCain promise to reverse decades of inadequate representation by Hispanics in the federal work force. Hispanics constitute about 15 to 16 percent of the population but hold just more than 7 percent of federal jobs.

McCain, an Arizona senator, earlier worked with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to fashion broad immigration legislation that included the legalization and guest-worker provisions sought by LULAC and other groups. Obama, an Illinois senator, has supported similar measures during repeated — and unsuccessful — Senate debates on immigration over the past two years.

LULAC President Rosa Rosales of San Antonio said, however, that she didn't think that the two candidates "have been very specific" in explaining their stands on immigration as they head into the November election. McCain, in particular, has troubled immigration advocates by stressing border security over legalization for immigrants in recent months.

"I do not feel they've addressed it," Rosales said. She said she wanted the two candidates to give LULAC delegates "a clear answer" on immigration during their appearances Tuesday.

McCain is scheduled to address a LULAC "diversity luncheon." His opponent will follow several hours later in a town-hall setting billed as "an open dialogue with Obama."

Although Hispanic voters have diverse political views and don't share a single monolithic stance on immigration, LULAC Executive Director Brent Wilkes said the vast majority wanted a comprehensive policy that would give legal safeguards and eventual citizenship to undocumented immigrants, most of whom are from Latin America.

"If they're against comprehensive immigration reform, they will not get the Latino vote, and they can't win," he said of the two candidates.

Delegates also will press the candidates for their stands on three other LULAC priorities: educational opportunities for children, access to health care and civil rights.