Former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and several other leading Latino experts met at the Center for American Progress Monday to discuss Latinos’ role in shaping America’s future. Panelists such as Sarita Brown of Excelencia in Education and Janet Murguia of NCLR joined Cisneros in affirming that without vast improvements to the Latino community’s economic and educational status, the United States will not advance as a global competitor in the future.

According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. Latino population will reach 63 million by 2050 making Latinos 25% of the overall U.S. population. Cisneros also asserts that the Latino community is vital to U.S. economic success due to their larger size and younger age median compared to that of the retiring Baby Boomer generation.

While the conservative right, like former RNC Chair Jim Nicholson, continues to urge the Republican Party to reach out to Latinos, Cisneros asks not how Americans will accept Latinos as citizens, but how Latinos will accept their role as American citizens. Cisneros and others emphasized the need to equip the Latino population with the opportunities and tools they need to succeed. Cisneros posed the question:

“Is America going to be populated by a population that is large but poor, undereducated, underproductive, alienated in due course for lack of opportunity?” he asked. “Or is it a going to be populated by a community that is large but has infused with the education and skills so that it is one of the contributors to the energy, the creativity the productivity of this country going forward?”

Like it or not, Latinos are here to stay. The reality is that Latinos currently make up 15% of our population and will make up one quarter of the population by 2050. Isn’t it about time we start focusing on integration programs and comprehensive reform rather than divisive rhetoric? As Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum eloquently states:

Now it is up to people of conscience to hold our elected representatives accountable and demand immigration reform that benefits the American people, America’s economic and homeland security, and moves us towards a new era of recognizing that immigration is not a source of weakness for America, it is a sign of our strength.