WASHINGTON, D.C. –  MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) honored three esteemed Latino leaders in Washington, D.C. last week for their long service to civil rights and the Latino community.

“The breadth and depth of the contributions by our three honorees is so impressive, and so indicative of the role that the Latino community can and should play in our nation's present and future,” said MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz.  “The gala has provided added inspiration to MALDEF as we continue to pursue our civil-rights mission.”

Juan Cartagena, the former President & General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, received the Lifetime Achievement Award – Excellence in Legal Service. Cartagena, an attorney with a distinguished record of fighting for systemic change in policing, the courts and prison on behalf of Latinos and other marginalized communities, is a former municipal court judge in Hoboken, New Jersey. He currently, lectures on constitutional and civil rights at several universities and is researching the effect of mass incarceration on Latinos.

“I want to share my sincere appreciation to the staff and board of MALDEF for this special recognition and Lifetime Achievement award,” said Cartagena. “Although it is bestowed on me personally it also serves to remind our gente of the bonds between MALDEF and PRLDEF – enlazos that go back to PRLDEF’s formation in 1972. Our growing community needs even more legal resources today and I am proud to witness how MALDEF has carried out its legacy.”

The Lifetime Achievement – Excellence in Community Service Award was given to author and entrepreneur, Maria Hinojosa. Founder of the independent, nonprofit newsroom, Futuro Media, Hinojosa is an award-winning journalist who has reported for PBS, CBS and NPR among other news outlets. Her work at Futuro Media centers on reporting news from the perspective of people of color and she dedicates time to mentoring the next generation of diverse journalists. In May, Hinojosa and Futuro won the Pulitzer Prize in Audio Reporting for the podcast “Suave.”

“I grew up with MALDEF,” said Hinojosa. “MALDEF taught me about the very particular struggle that the Latinx community faces, and our particular fight for civil rights. To receive a lifetime achievement award from this organization as an affirmation of what they taught me. They taught me to own my power and my voice. And I’ve tried to do that in their example.”

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, was honored for her years of public service with the Lifetime Achievement – Excellence in Public Service Award. In 1992, Roybal-Allard was the first Mexican American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress. She chairs the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and is a strong advocate for immigration reform that recognizes the critical contributions immigrants make to our nation. She is also a co-author of the original Dream Act which offered certain immigrants a way to earn permanent residence and, eventually, U.S. citizenship and continues to support efforts to provide a path to legalization.

“I am humbled to receive the Excellence in Public Service Award from MALDEF, an outstanding organization that throughout its history has worked tirelessly to protect and defend the rights of Latinos in the United States,” said Roybal-Allard. “I hope my time in public service can be an example to others who to want pursue a career working for the betterment of their community and country.”

The event was emceed by attorney and NBC Latino contributor Raul A. Reyes.

MALDEF recognizes the significant contributions of these outstanding leaders and their dedication to advancing civil rights for all. The event draws notable government and community leaders from around the nation.