LOS ANGELES (AP) -- What is being hailed as the largest gathering of Hispanic leaders in decades began Wednesday with promises to re-energize a campaign to secure citizenship for over 11 million illegal immigrants.
The four-day National Latino Congreso opened as the immigration reform movement is trying to regain momentum following internal divisions and as the U.S. Congress returns for its fall session having all but shelved immigration reform.
"This conference is designed to get us back on the offensive," said John Trasvina, interim president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Congress is doing nothing for Latino issues."
Sessions include speeches and workshops on registering Hispanic voters, running Hispanic political candidates, wage gaps between Hispanics and whites, environmental issues and a lack of access to health care in immigrant communities. The conference culminates Saturday afternoon with a rally.
The idea for the gathering developed several years ago when Hispanic leaders reviewed census data and noted Hispanics still lagged far behind whites in wages, education and access to health care, said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William Velasquez Institute, a think tank focusing on Hispanic issues.
During Wednesday's opening remarks, organizers said efforts to register thousands of new voters -- a promised legacy of protesters this spring -- would intensify as November's congressional elections approached.
So far, there is little indication of any such effect. An Associated Press review this week of voter registration figures from Chicago, Denver, Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles and other major urban areas that saw large rallies showed no sign of a historic new voter boom that could sway elections.