Senator decries delays on Hispanic claims

Dec. 21, 2009 at 2:21 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has questioned denial of class-action status for Hispanic farmers suing the government for discrimination.

"Justice dictates that if in fact the government discriminated against a class of people and we recognize that discrimination existed, you don't use legal barriers, i.e. opposing class-action status, to shield the government," Menendez said, The Washington Post reported Monday.

"It is no secret decades of indifference and discrimination in lending practices … have made it difficult for minority farmers, specifically Hispanic farmers, to make a living at what they love to do," Menendez said.

A previous class-action suit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture by black farmers resulted in a settlement of $1 billion. Similar cases, only without the class-action status, have been filed by Hispanic and women farmers. Native American farmers, however, were granted class-action status and are negotiating a settlement.

With 110 Hispanic farmers suing the government, "the discrimination followed a pretty distinct pattern" of denying, delaying or refusing to facilitate loan applications, attorney Stephen Hill said.

But lead attorney in the case brought by Native American farmers Joe Sellers said, "I credit this administration with genuine interest in fixing these problems that have afflicted the USDA for decades."

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