Union Tribune

March 28, 2003

Latino, Jewish members of Congress help launch joint strategy organization


WASHINGTON A group of Latino and Jewish members of Congress, citing a common history of prejudice, helped launch a national organization yesterday to develop joint strategies on such issues as immigration and U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, said the Latino-Jewish Leadership Council would continue an alliance he first saw in action in the 1950s, when Hispanics faced constant discrimination in his hometown of San Antonio. "It was the Jewish community that really supported us," Gonzalez said at a Capitol Hill breakfast meeting.

However, Gonzalez warned that lobbying efforts of the America Israel Political Action Committee, a legendary pro-Israel powerhouse on Capitol Hill, could produce tension within the alliance. He said "hurt feelings" sometimes result when a member of Congress decides not to support an AIPAC initiative.

"That's an issue that has the potential to divide us," Gonzalez said. He went on to stress his support for "a strong and secure Israel."

The discussion produced broad agreement that national security concerns must not be used as a pretext to create an atmosphere that is hostile to immigrants. And Hispanic representatives said many of their constituents are feeling the sting of excessive scrutiny from persons who think they are Arabs.

Addressing the moderator of the discussion, bearded PBS newsman Ray Suarez, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said, "If you were to go to the airport, you would be racially profiled as an Arab."

"No kidding," said Suarez, drawing a laugh. Then he added, "It's actually been much better now than it was in the months right after" the September 2001 terror attacks. "I might as well have been wearing a burnoose," he said, referring to the hooded cloak some Arabs wear.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said that while security concerns force the United States to enforce its borders strictly, in the long term, economic necessity will require the country to open channels of legal immigration.

Several speakers said the leadership council is part of a nationwide effort by Jewish and Latino groups to work together. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, said in an interview that such a group was founded last year in San Diego "to try to solve some issues of shared concern."