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Hispanic Caucus Unveils Principles It Requires in an Immigration Overhaul

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
At a Wednesday news conference held by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Menendez, left, said the GOP “must understand that, on this issue, it must work with us to achieve what is good for the country and good for the immigrant community.”

“We have never required English-language ability for permanent residency,” Menendez said. “We have required that for U.S. citizenship but not for permanent residency, so it is a higher bar.”

Although the group represents only a small fraction of Congress, incoming Chairman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, said he has reached out to the other members of what is known as the Tri-Caucus — the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus — to increase their collective influence over legislation. He said he wants to “build on the synergy of these 85 votes” and that he would ask Obama to meet with the groups as the immigration debate begins in earnest, most likely next year.

Even as the Hispanic Caucus unveiled its priorities, however, partisan complications were clear.

The House is scheduled to vote Friday on legislation (HR 6429) that would make 55,000 green cards available to foreign-born graduates of American universities in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math. The concept is popular in the business community and on both sides of the aisle, and it is one of the principles included in the Hispanic Caucus’ list.

The Republican-backed legislation, however, would make those green cards available by abolishing a separate program that awards green cards known as “diversity visas” though a lottery system. Democrats view that trade-off as unacceptable, and members of the Hispanic Caucus said Wednesday that they would vote against the Republican proposal when it comes to the floor Friday.

Menendez said the House proposal “didn’t follow the bipartisan effort that it could have” and that House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, did not do enough to bring Democrats aboard. “There was a deal on the table. It could have been had,” he said.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., said the bill is insufficient because it does not allow family members of green-card seekers to remain with their loved ones during the application process. Relatives currently must wait in their home countries and away from family members for up to two years; in their bill, House Republicans addressed the issue by cutting that period in half.

Of House Republicans, Gutierrez said, “It’s almost as if they didn’t hear the call from voters on Nov. 6.”

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