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January 22, 2018

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Options to combat civil rights abuses offered at conference

Council of La Raza convention

KSNV coverage of Attorney General Eric Holder's speech at the National Council of La Raza gathering in Las Vegas, July 7, 2012.

The nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization continued its annual conference Sunday with another round of workshops, including one about protecting civil rights. The panel featured several officials in the Obama administration who discussed ways to remedy civil rights abuses.

Carlos Munoz-Acevedo, policy adviser for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, spoke first. “How many people knew that we had a civil rights office?” he asked. A few hands went up.

He said that his agency is focused on finding acts of discrimination and addressing them. For example, he said, his office gets many cases alleging rent discrimination on the basis of race and retaliation against those who report it.

John Trasvina, assistant secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that he had asked Immigration and Naturalization Services officials what they do with retaliatory calls on illegal immigrants. He said that INS receives many calls with concerns along the lines of: "My daughter is dating an illegal immigrant. Can you come pick him up and take him away?"

Unless the information is backed by facts rather than stereotypes, he said, the INS has better things to do and is unlikely to respond to a retaliatory call.

Gabriel Sandoval (no relation to Gov. Brian Sandoval) is the senior counsel for the Office on Civil Rights in the Education Department. His agency monitors acts of discrimination in American schools, where one in five children in elementary and secondary education is Hispanic, he said.

Sandoval went over a hypothetical situation on how to report school discrimination. Suppose a student is told repeatedly to “go back to Mexico,” he said. After a report is filed, his agency will consider if there is enough information and follow up with the school district. After interviewing parents, teachers and administrators, the agency will make a determination if there is a violation and if there is, they will encourage the school to enter into a voluntary agreement to remedy the situation.

Sandoval said that you do not have to be the subject of the discrimination to file a complaint and that those who do are protected by law from retaliation.

Monica Ramirez, senior counsel to the deputy attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice, discussed that department's approach to trying civil rights violations. If a violation is found, the party is ordered to remedy it or can be taken to court. Public agencies found in violation can have their funding revoked, she said.

Although the Supreme Court struck down three of four provisions in Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, she said that similar provisions in states like Alabama and Utah were not overturned. The states can either rescind those provisions or argue in court that their laws are different from the Arizona law, she said.

Isaac Barron, a teacher at Rancho High School, said he decided to come to the workshop after hearing several cases of racial profiling.

“We feel that federal agencies like INS are being used against members of the community,” said Barron. He came to the workshop in hopes of finding a method of recourse to civil rights abuses in his community.