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By Mike O'Sullivan
Los Angeles
15 January 2009

A Latina
A Latina
Many Hispanics in the United States, who make up the country's largest minority group, are looking to the Obama administration to resolve the economic crisis and address a range of controversial issues, from immigration to education. 

A Latina farmworker
A Latina farmworker
The United States has more than 45 million Hispanics, about 15 percent of the population. Also called Latinos, they come from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, and are a critical part of the workforce in service industries, manufacturing, and agriculture. Hispanics are also the fastest growing minority group, with a growth rate of more than three percent a year.

Many Hispanics are excited about the new administration. Randy Jurado Ertll of the social service agency El Centro de Accion Social says they expect change.

Randy Jurado Ertll
Randy Jurado Ertll
"For the better, to improve our society, to improve all communities in terms of education, economic prosperity, health care access, safety in our streets, especially in the inner cities," he said. "There is a lot of expectations."

He says Hispanics identify with Mr. Obama, who is bi-racial, and the son of an immigrant from Kenya.

Mr. Obama has selected Latinos for several posts in his cabinet. They include Colorado senator Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior, and California congresswoman Hilda Solis as secretary of labor. But many were disappointed when New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, a prominent Hispanic, withdrew his nomination for secretary of commerce because of an ongoing investigation into his campaign fundraising in his home state.

Rosalind Gold of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials says Hispanics bring important skills and insights, and that the new president should hire more at both the top and middle levels of government.

"What we expect the Obama administration to do is to tap into the pool of talented Latino public servants and have Latinos on his team at all levels of his administration, in a variety of policy areas to help work with him and the rest of the nation to address our economic challenges, our challenges both here and abroad," she said.

A U.S. National Guardsman at the U.S. - Mexico border
US National Guardsman at US-Mexico border
Many Americans hope President Obama will tackle the related issues of immigration reform and border security. Millions of undocumented immigrants have crossed the border from Mexico illegally. Many have been in the country for years and have become an important part of the U.S. economy.

Deportation
Deportation
But with recent security crackdowns at the border and more enforcement in the workplace, they face an increased risk of deportation. Critics say that breaks up Latino families, which are often made up of both legal and undocumented residents.

Latinos are young, with a median age of 28. And Harry Pachon of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute says one issue should top the president's agenda.

"Education, education, education," he said. "The Latino community is 10 years younger than the average American on the whole. They are predominantly family centered. Two-parent families are still present in the community, to a large extent. And they have children, and these children are in public schools, and the schools are not doing their job insofar as the Latino community is concerned.

Pachon says Latinos are also concerned with inner-city issues.

"The economy, as well as crime and drugs because the barrios and ghettos are the places where drug abuse and crime are the highest," he said.

Arturo Ybarra
Arturo Ybarra
Activist Arturo Ybarra of the Watts/Century Latino Organization wants to see more jobs and educational opportunities for Latino families. He also hopes for a quick end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where many Latinos serve in the U.S. military. And he wants better prospects for them when they return to civilian life. He has this message for Mr. Obama.

"Mr. President, Latinos voted for you close to 70 percent during the election," he said. "We are not extending our hand just to ask you for anything, but just to be fair."

Hispanics are expected to make up 30 percent of the U.S. population by mid-century, and these Latino leaders say they hope President Obama will be sensitive to the needs of their growing community.  
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