One of the largest Hispanic Evangelical networks in the United States is gathering hundreds of Hispanic spiritual and community leaders from across the country for its 8th annual conference this week in the nation's capital.
In addition to discussing important issues confronted by the Hispanic community, participants of this year's National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference will be meeting with U.S. officials and policymakers on Capitol Hill to address the diverse needs of the Hispanic community.
"I'm pleased we are reintroducing the Capitol Hill visits to the Conference this year," commented the Rev. Luis Cortes, Jr., president of Esperanza, a national network of 12,000 faith and community-based agencies.
"It is the founding principle upon which the event was built, and is meant to empower leaders to reach out to government and politicians to express the needs of our communities," he added. "We have come together in a special way to pray, celebrate, and advocate for Hispanics everywhere."
Since 2002, when Cortes organized the first National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, the annual meeting has served as a time of prayer, advocacy, and celebration, attracting more than 750 each year.
"Our vision is to unite our voices, identify the issues that are important to Hispanic people nationwide, capture the attention of national policy makers, and persuade them to fulfill our unmet needs," states Esperanza.
"It is an exciting event on Capitol Hill where our voices ring loud and true both in prayer and in discussions with those who can effect change."
This year, one of the predominant concerns of the Hispanic community is the issue of immigration and the problems that ensue from a broken and imbalanced system, according to Esperanza.
This week's three-day gathering, which concludes Friday, comes on the heels of the release of a new hate crimes report, which found that the number of hate crimes reported against Hispanics increased nearly 40 percent in the five years from 2003 to 2007.
The report by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) on "Hate Crimes in America" claimed that the increase in violence against Hispanics "correlates closely" with the increasingly heated debate over Comprehensive Immigration Reform and an escalation in the level of anti-immigrant vitriol on radio, television, and the Internet.
"The increase in hate crimes directed against Hispanics for the fourth consecutive year is particularly noteworthy and worrisome because the number of hate crimes committed against other racial, ethnic, and religious groups has over the same period shown either no increase or a decrease," the LCCR reported.
According to Esperanza, this week's Capitol Hill visits will serve as a platform on which the Hispanic church and community leaders will present their principles and position regarding the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Immigration has been the main issue that the network's annual meeting has advocated for in four of its past six conferences.
Esperanza's civic mandate is to advocate on behalf of the marginalized and underserved in the Hispanic community.