Hispanic Representatives Seek Assurance About Reid’s Immigration Plan

Posted September 14, 2010 at 8:53pm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is hoping to get some political mileage out of tacking an immigration provision onto the annual defense authorization bill, but Hispanic lawmakers in the House aren’t jumping on the bandwagon just yet.

The Nevada Democrat, who is in a tough re-election fight in a state with a fast-growing Hispanic population, announced Tuesday that he would add the provision to the defense bill, which the Senate could take up as soon as next week.

The provision, known as the DREAM Act, would provide a pathway to citizenship for people who came to the United States illegally as children and who serve in the military or go to college as adults.

But Hispanic Representatives are frustrated that the Senate has not moved forward with a comprehensive immigration overhaul, and they are waiting to know more before endorsing Reid’s approach.

“I want to see what the Senate comes up with,” said Democratic House Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), the chamber’s highest-ranking Hispanic lawmaker. “The concern is, will it be a constructive fix? Will the Senate move the ball forward on fixing the system? If the Senate can move the ball forward on fixing the system, I don’t think anyone’s going to object to that.”

Congressional Hispanic Caucus members have been clamoring for action this year on comprehensive immigration legislation, and they have been adamantly opposed to a piecemeal approach. Members of the group huddled Tuesday to review Reid’s announcement, and they will seek a meeting with the Majority Leader to discuss the topic.

Hispanic Caucus Vice Chairman Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) said Hispanic lawmakers were concerned that other provisions, such as a worker program for farm laborers or visa rules, could also get tacked onto the Senate proposal, a scenario that might anger stakeholders, such as the business community, that overhaul advocates had worked hard to bring to the table.

“The DREAM Act has to be a clean DREAM Act. It cannot include other aspects,” Gonzalez said. “We figured it would be tied in with other provisions that are part of a comprehensive reform measure, and we don’t want that.”

Becerra said that although Hispanic lawmakers still do not want a piecemeal approach, the circumstances in the Senate might leave room for the DREAM Act as a short-term option. The lawmaker said he could be open to supporting “anything constructive” that comes out of the Senate.

“If the whole system’s broken, you have to do more than piecemeal,” he said. “The difficulty is this: Senate Republicans are blocking any wholesale reform. Can Sen. Reid get a bill out that includes the DREAM Act? I don’t know, but if the Senate can do something constructive on immigration, that’s a good sign.

“When you’ve got a broken system, you need to make sure you’re fixing it. What we’ve always said in the House is we need the Senate to do something, because the House is ready to reform our immigration laws.”