March 7, 2013 -- Dozens of Latino community leaders gathered in the Capitol on Thursday, united in support for immigration reform that includes a direct pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The organizer of the event was the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), one of the most prominent civil rights organizations in the country and a longtime player in the politics of immigration. Speaking at a press conference, Janet Murguía, the president and CEO of NCLR, focused on citizenship, one area where advocates have found broad consensus.
"This process should not take decades," Murguía said. "We need to see, I think, ideally somewhere between 8 and 12 years...We would be very, very skeptical of any proposal that would take longer than a decade."
The timeline has an added resonance coming from Murguía and her camp. As the head of the nation's most influential Latino rights group, she's a thought leader on the issue, both inside and outside the Beltway.
The NCLR itself evokes comparisons to the NAACP. That's because it was born in the civil rights era and speaks with a broad mandate for Hispanics across the country, gaining credibility from a network of 300 affiliate organizations nationwide.
It also has deep political connections in Washington, DC. Murguía is one of the people at the table as politicians and industry leaders jockey for an immigration deal. In February, she testified about the need for reform at a Senate committee hearing. And earlier that month, she was part of a group of advocates and interested parties that talked immigration with President Barack Obama.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference -- and a veteran civil rights leader -- called her "one of the most effective and sophisticated advocates in Washington today."
"I think what makes NCLR so unique is that it can shift from being a fighter and an aggressive advocate to the role of peacemaker, as needed," Henderson said.
But for all of the group's gravity in the world of immigration policy, it also faces challenges. Some of those were laid out earlier this week by Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who advocates on behalf of undocumented immigrants. Vargas, who is undocumented himself, received an award for service from NCLR on Tuesday, and spoke at a reception.
Vargas said the country has entered an era of "intersectionality," where "you do not have to be Latino to care about Latino issues" and "you do not have to be gay to care about gay issues."
Speaking with ABC/Univision on Thursday, he said that NCLR should consider how to reach out beyond its Hispanic constituency, and engage a broader audience.
"This is an opportunity for us to say that immigration is not just a Latino issue," he said. "NCLR is uniquely suited to help lead that conversation."
He also called on the group to better incorporate undocumented youth in its work. The award Vargas received on Tuesday was issued jointly to United We Dream, the largest network of undocumented youth in the country.
"Latino Dreamers in particular have been at the forefront of the change, they've been game changers," Vargas said. "I think that there's the opportunity for groups like NCLR to really learn from Dreamers."
Murguía spoke with ABC/Univision about her organization's outreach: "I think it's fair to say that we are engaging in a broad coalition with other immigrant rights coalitions, and, frankly, staying very close to the DREAMers, as well."
"The reality is that people see the National Council of La Raza as a respected voice for the Latino community, and we are building a big coalition in support of comprehensive immigration reform," she said. "Yes, we're working within the Latino community, but we see a responsibility to work outside of our own community to build that support."