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Hispanic civil rights group prepares for Kansas City convention a decade after dispute

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Three Democratic presidential candidates are headlining a National Council of La Raza convention that opens this weekend in Kansas City, nearly a decade after the national Hispanic advocacy group pulled another event to protest the appointment of an illegal immigration opponent to a city board.

The four-day event starts Saturday, with the highlight coming Monday as the favorite among Democratic candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as former Maryland Gov. and Vermont Sen. address the crowd.

Of particular interest to the conference-goers will be the candidates' stance on immigration reform, said Enrique Chaurand, a deputy vice president for the organization, adding that the group wants to "work with whoever is sitting in the Oval Office on a pathway to citizenship for all immigrant communities."

He said Republican candidates also were asked to speak "because we want our conference attendees to hear from everyone," but none accepted the offer.

"Civic engagement is a big part of what we do to encourage our community to go to the ballot box and exercise their right to vote," Chaurand said. "We don't tell them who to vote for. We do not endorse candidates, but civic participation over the past couple of conferences has been a big part of what we discuss."

The conference is expected to draw up to 5,000 participants with another 18,000 to 25,000 people attending an exposition that offers free activities aimed at Latino families. Sessions also are planned on education, workforce development, biased and abusive policing, income and health inequality, affordable housing and Medicaid expansion. Other high-profile speakers include Sprint Corp. Chief Executive Marcelo Claure and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Fences had to be mended before the convention could come to Kansas City. The NCLR moved its 2009 gathering from the city because former Mayor appointed to the city park board a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which was known for posting sometimes armed patrols on the Mexican border before disbanding.

Funkhouser's controversial pick resigned in late January 2008, three months after the NCLR convention was pulled. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference also decided to move its convention.

Funkhouser, a Democrat, served just one term. In February 2011, he became the first incumbent since the 1920s to lose a primary election, coming in third in a seven-way, nonpartisan primary.

Now, current Mayor Sly James is speaking at the convention, and NCLR said James and the current council have been welcoming. The area has a large Hispanic community, comprising 10 percent of the population in Kansas City, Missouri, and 28 percent in Kansas City, Kansas.

"That is the past, and we are focused on the future," Chaurand said. "We want good jobs. We want to be able to provide for our families and our children to be able to go to good schools, and we want to participate fully in this great Democracy."

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