Grassroots groups ‘dismayed by lack of leadership’ from Hispanic Caucus on immigration

A coalition of grassroots immigrant groups and advocates are calling on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) to push for immigration reform, after the group failed to embrace the issue in congressional negotiations last year.

In an open letter to the CHC, 31 groups led by Angelica Salas, president of the CHIRLA Action Fund and Gustavo Torres, president of CASA in Action, bemoaned the role of Hispanic Democrats in immigration policy negotiations leading up to the House vote on the Build Back Better bill (BBB).

“We remain greatly disappointed that, during the last year, as various interests sought inclusion in President Biden’s Build Back Better plan — legislation that was proposed as a budget reconciliation bill that would not require a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate — champions for immigration solutions were few,” wrote Salas and Torres.

In the lead-up to the vote on BBB, which cleared the House in November, various plans were proposed to include some form of relief for undocumented immigrants in the bill.

Senate members of the CHC explicitly called on their House counterparts to include broad provisions to update the registry date for undocumented immigrants – essentially signing off on a statute of limitations that would allow undocumented immigrants in the country since before 2010 to apply for legal status.

But House negotiators pared down that request to a parole option, which would grant temporary relief to undocumented immigrants, and which CHC senators said put them in a more difficult negotiating position in the upper chamber.

While grassroots advocates decried that compromise, some key members of the CHC like Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D) pointed to the fact that the House passed BBB and a slew of other immigration proposals that haven’t cleared the Senate.

“I don’t know why CHC members and Dem House members take flak for the Senate or White House. We did our job — the best available options for BBB and stand-alone legislation all sent to the Senate by House Dems. It’s time others did their jobs,” said Grijalva.

Still, the letter’s writers compared the CHC’s role in representing immigrants to the Congressional Black Caucus’s role in fighting for voting rights, drawing an unfavorable comparison for the CHC in terms of expending political capital on the issue.

“Indeed, while your colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus were heroically battling for passage of voting rights legislation, in memory of the great Rep. John Lewis, who also fought for immigrants’ rights, we were dismayed by the lack of leadership from most of the 38 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus,” they wrote.

That disparity enraged immigration advocates, particularly as only three members of the CHC – Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Lou Correa (D-Calif.) and Jesús García (D-Ill.) – threatened to withhold their votes if sufficient immigration provisions were not included in the bill.

“The bill was in the House. It’s where we have the majority. It’s where we have the power, in the House. If the House sends a message that we really don’t —-ing care, how do you think it makes [Sen.] Bob Menendez‘s [(D-N.J.)] and [Sen. Catherine] Cortez Masto’s [(D-Nev.)] job? It makes it harder for them,” said former Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who for years led the CHC’s immigration efforts.

Gutiérrez said the letter is a necessary appeal to a CHC that is uniquely positioned to provide political representation to immigrants.

“It’s about time that somebody spoke up. What we’re doing is pleading. Please. If not you then who?” said Gutiérrez.

“If you remain silent don’t expect anyone to stand up for millions and millions of people who live every day in fear. I hope this moment stands as a wake up call to my former colleagues in the Hispanic Congressional Caucus to step up: it’s your turn at the plate, it’s your turn at the plate.”

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Rafael Bernal