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Minority Groups Turn Up the Heat On Affirmative Action Opponents

Minority Groups Turn Up the Heat On Affirmative Action Opponents
By Charles Dervarics

Civil rights organizations and groups representing Hispanics and African Americans are turning up the heat on opponents of the University of Michigan affirmative action case even before the case gets before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Advocates went on the offensive in early January as the court prepared to accept final legal briefs in the case. In a series of public forums, they argued that a rollback of the university’s policy would have a chilling effect on access by students of color to higher education.

“Ending affirmative action would shut the door to the American dream for a vast number of our citizens,” said groups such as the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) in an open letter to President Bush. A ruling against the Michigan policy would create an “immediate crisis” for Hispanics, whose college-going rates lag behind those of both Whites and African Americans.

Yet a rollback by the Supreme Court would hurt all citizens, says Dr. Antonio Flores, HACU’s president and CEO. “This is not an issue that should be viewed along minority versus non-minority lines. All Americans benefit by the promise of equal opportunity to achieve higher education success in diverse learning communities. All Americans would suffer by denying the importance of diversity in the most diverse nation of the world.”

Those signing on to the open letter include representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Council of La Raza (see story, pg. 18).

Despite the letter and open call for Bush’s support, at Black Issues’ press time, one day before the legal briefs were due to the Supreme Court, White House officials announced that Bush would declare his opposition to Michigan’s use of race in college admissions.

Still, the release of the open letter to Bush underscores the role Hispanics are playing in the debate. While most African Americans traditionally vote Democratic, Republicans are trying to make more inroads with Hispanic voters. Some observers say this long-term goal is one reason the Bush administration had been slow to offer its views on the upcoming court battle.

Republican links to African Americans also are still in recovery mode after racially charged remarks by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., drew widespread criticism. As a result, affirmative action opponents no longer are certain the administration will support their view, says Curt Levey of the Center for Individual Rights, a group representing opponents of the Michigan plan.

This month, African American leaders also voiced support for the Michigan plan. “Women and people of color continue to encounter systematic illegal discrimination that robs them of equal opportunities to secure success,” says Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference of Civil Rights.

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