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Latino leaders call for greater state presence
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/29/2010 12:03 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - Latino leaders from across Illinois criticized recent cuts to programs that help the Latino community and said the growing population should have more of a presence in the budget and state employment.

Ricardo Meza, Midwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Latinos are the fastest growing part of the Illinois population but they lag in representation and funding of community services.

Meza was among several Latino leaders at the Capitol on Wednesday meeting with lawmakers.

They pointed out that the numbers of Latinos working in higher education and state government do not represent the overall population. "This is unacceptable," said Elizabeth Ortiz, diversity official at DePaul University and president of the Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education.

Martha Lopez, president of the Illinois Association of Hispanic State Employees, said budget cuts have disproportionately hit Latinos.

"We're the last hired, the first fired," she said.

Meza compared cuts to school bilingual programs to a school choosing to not teach second grade.

He said his organization is monitoring budget decisions and reminding lawmakers and the governor of their responsibilities.