Hispanic veterans convention comes to Las Vegas

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WASHINGTON — A national Hispanic veterans and civil rights organization will hold its annual national convention in Las Vegas this week as it the gears up for the upcoming 2020 elections.

The conference theme of the 71st annual National Conference of the American GI Forum is “Veterans, Women and Children Working Together for a Better Tomorrow” and will focus on equal opportunities for minorities and veterans benefits.

National Commander Larry Romo, the U.S. Selective Service director under former President Barack Obama, said he was glad the forum and its 40 national chapters selected Las Vegas as the site of the convention because of the city’s “strong military and veteran community.”

Dora Gonzales, national chairwoman of the Women’s Forum, will head the Women’s Leadership and Recognition Luncheon to honor gold and blue star families. (Blue stars represent family members on active duty during wartime; gold stars represent those killed in action.)

The keynote speaker for that event will be Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.

Gonzales said she was “astounded to learn that the city of Las Vegas has over 100 gold star families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

Although seeking bipartisan solutions to current issues, the forum will advocate on behalf of veterans who have been deported under policies recently enacted by the Trump administration.

The forum also supports the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, otherwise known as “Dreamers,” which allows children brought into this country illegally by parents or relatives to remain here with protected status.

Obama initiated the DACA program to focus immigration enforcement and deportation of those here illegally who had committed crimes. Those without criminal record, or who enlisted in the military or in enrolled higher education were given protected status.

President Donald Trump cancelled the program, which is currently tied up in federal courts.

Despite years of wrangling, Congress has refused to pass legislation that would implement a DACA program that would provide protected status and eventual citizenship to Dreamers who have been educated or served in the military to remain in the country lawfully.

There are roughly 800,000 people in the United States who have been part of the DACA program, including about 13,000 in Nevada, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Gold Star parents Khizr Muazzam Khan and wife Ghazala Kahn, Pakistani Americans who lost their son, Capt. Humayun Khan in the Iraqi war, drew international attention when they spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and were criticized by Trump.

During the speech Khan spoke out against Trump’s proposed ban of immigrants from Muslim countries, and also offered the candidate his pocket copy of the Constitution to read.

Trump’s comments drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Meanwhile, the GI Forum also is working with the Department of Defense to promote more Hispanic and minority officers, and helping the Department of Veterans Affairs educate Hispanics and minority veterans about their benefits.

The annual conference will be held Aug. 4-7 at the Golden Nugget hotel-casino.

Other featured guests include Kat Miller, director of the Nevada Department of Veteran Services and Nevada Assemblywoman Brittany Miller, D-Las Vegas.

The GI Forum was founded in Corpus Christi, Texas following World War II by Dr. Hector Garcia to address the issues of Mexican-American veterans who were being denied veterans administration benefits following the war.

The fast-growing group later became an advocacy organization for Latino and civil rights and remains one of the largest such groups nationally.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-622-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.