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Hispanic Lawmakers Disagree on Strategy

A disconnect is growing among Hispanic lawmakers over the strategy for moving comprehensive immigration reform, with some pressuring President Barack Obama to push legislation this summer and others acknowledging the issue likely will have to wait until after the midterm elections.

Some leading voices in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are becoming increasingly aggressive in their calls for Obama to demand immigration legislation this year.

The president needs to “put his back into the push for comprehensive immigration reform,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who chairs the CHC’s Immigration Task Force, said Tuesday. Specifically, he called on Obama to help round up the necessary votes to pass Senate legislation during the work period between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

“The president needs to begin to work harder and bring the people together so that we can get this process started in the Senate, and it must begin immediately,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez went so far as to say he is holding open the possibility of urging Hispanic voters to stay home on Election Day if the White House and Congressional leaders don’t do enough to try to advance immigration reform in the coming months.

“Will I rule it out in the future? Absolutely not,” he said. If nothing else, Hispanic voters “can simply stay home, and that, to me, seems to be an option that is there” even without lawmakers’ urging, he added.

Gutierrez’s comments are the latest flash of discontent within the Hispanic community over Obama’s lack of action on their priority issue. Earlier this month, Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said in a radio interview that Latinos view Obama with “suspicion” and question his priorities since he failed to follow through with a pledge to pass immigration reform in his first year in office.

“The president made a promise,” Becerra said during the interview. “He hasn’t fulfilled that promise.”

But as some Hispanic lawmakers up the ante on Obama, other CHC leaders say election-year pressures might make action on reform an impossible task this year given GOP opposition and a shrinking window of time for legislative action.

CHC Vice Chairman Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) said Obama has “kept his word” on helping to advance immigration reform simply by keeping it on his radar screen and mentioning it in key speeches, such as the State of the Union.

The “reality on the ground” is that it may not happen this year, Gonzalez said. “Immigration, like any other issue, takes serious debate. ... We’re not quitting. It’s just that the lift has been made a little heavier for everyone” because of election season.

Gonzalez said CHC members have already begun compiling a list of key lawmakers for Obama to target after the November elections. “The president obviously is very persuasive,” he added.

Similarly, CHC Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) defended Obama’s commitment to getting something done and said Hispanic lawmakers “continue to have productive discussions” with him.

“I think the president understands the importance of this issue not only from a human perspective, but also its fundamental importance to the Latino community,” Velázquez said.

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