The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 12, 2014

Hispanics take case for growing presence to state lawmakers

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Hispanic advocates gathered Wednesday at the state Capitol, urging lawmakers to remember their voices and their growing clout when voting on key issues.

Adolfo Castillo, of Joplin, joined dozens of activists in Jefferson City. Castillo, who previously served on the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, said the size and influence of the Hispanic community continues to grow in Missouri.

“What we’re trying to do is to bring Hispanics from all over this state together to form a group so they can all have a collective voice,” Castillo said. “We don’t care if it is Republican or Democrat. We want to encourage them to be involved in state issues, to come and meet the legislators, and go and get involved in the issues they’re interested in.”

Hispanics make up 4 percent of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but in some communities, such as Monett and Carthage, Hispanics make up 20 to 25 percent of the population.

Castillo and about 60 others from across the state met with local lawmakers, as well as Secretary of State Jason Kander, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and members of Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration. The group also met with Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis, who chaired a Senate committee on immigration last year, pushing the state to create a more welcoming environment for Hispanics.

On immigration issues, state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, a Puerto Rican-American, has filed legislation urging the Congress to “treat immigrants with dignity and respect in changing federal immigration policy.” She met with members of the group and held a reception for them Wednesday.

In 2012, Latinos had purchasing power calculated at $4.9 billion for Missouri, a nearly 600 percent increase since 1990, according to the Immigration Policy Center. Castillo — who also has been involved with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — said a significant portion of what Hispanics earn is being sent to Mexico and other nations to family members of immigrants who might be having a challenge coming to the United States.

“We need to start thinking about immigration and how they can come here legally so that the money can stay here,” he said.

Statewide, politicians have taken note of the growing clout of Latinos. Last year, the Missouri Republican Party endorsed the new Missouri chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly as an effort to reach out to the increasingly influential voting bloc.

Castillo, a Republican, said there also are concerns about voting rights, particularly the Republican push for a requirement that voters present a photo ID at their polling places. He said that could be at odds with the party’s Latino outreach effort. In the General Assembly, lawmakers have filed three bills that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls.

“The right to vote is the law of the land. So why are there so many obstacles before me to do that?” Castillo asked.

Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, a supporter of voter ID bills, said he does not think the policy is at all discriminatory. He noted that when he went to file to run for office this year, he had to present his photo ID.

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