A prominent Latino group is upset with several House Democrats who voted for “Kate’s Law,” a bill that has become a focal point of the Republican push for tougher immigration enforcement.
Of the 24 House Democrats who voted for Kate's Law last month, six — Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Charlie Crist (Fla.), Tom O'Halleran (Ariz.), Ann McLane Kuster (N.H.) and Josh Gottheimer (N.J.) — had received campaign contributions from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).
"I think it's shameful that these members, this handful of Democrats, decided to stand with Donald Trump instead of with Latinos and immigrants — instead of their own constituents," said Cristóbal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, a group that campaigns for Hispanic candidates.
The six Democrats received a total of $20,500 from the CHC’s Bold PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
While that amount is small by the standard of modern campaigns, it’s a show of support that Alex says the lawmakers shouldn’t take lightly.
"BOLD PAC is a major political powerhouse and one of our closest partners," said Alex.
"I'm dismayed and I can only imagine how upset members of BOLD PAC can be, given they worked so hard to get these resources," he added.
Kate's Law is named after Kate Steinle, a woman who died after being shot in San Francisco, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times.
The measure would expand maximum sentences for foreigners who attempt to re-enter the country, legally or illegally, after having been deported, denied entry or removed, and for foreign felons who attempt to re-enter the country. It appears unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats have vowed to filibuster it.
House Democratic leaders did not whip their members against Kate’s Law, essentially allowing members who might be facing tough races next year to vote for it.
Democrats earlier this year identified Crist, O'Halleran, Murphy, McLane Kuster and Gottheimer as vulnerable members who may face competitive reelection races next year.
Crist noted that, while he did vote for Kate’s Law, he also voted that same day against legislation stripping federal funding from “sanctuary” jurisdictions that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
"Our number one job is to keep the American people safe, to take appropriate actions to prevent tragedies like the death of Kate Steinle," Crist said in a statement.
"In the same vein, that’s why I also voted the same afternoon against legislation punishing law enforcement who believe that being forced to police federal immigration laws would harm their ability to protect the communities they serve."
None of the other five Democrats who voted for Kate's Law and received BOLD PAC funding responded to requests for comment.
CHC members, including BOLD PAC Chairman Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), heavily criticized the Kate’s Law legislation, calling it "anti-immigrant."
"[The bills] tell Americans that we don't have rights and that we are not the same as others," Cárdenas said in Spanish in a press conference on the day of the vote.
"These bills will not make our community safer," he added in English.
In a statement to The Hill, Cárdenas suggested the BOLD PAC would take votes on Kate’s Law into consideration as it decides endorsements going forward.
"When making endorsement decisions, the CHC BOLD PAC membership considers many factors, including voting records, especially as it pertains to immigration and other votes that disproportionately impact the Latino community," Cárdenas said in a statement.
Still, Cárdenas left the door open for BOLD PAC to support candidates based on their overall record.
"BOLD PAC is focused on Dems retaking the House this election cycle and so while we consider individual votes, we also look at Members' records as a whole to determine whether they receive BOLD PAC support," he said.
"We will continue to work with our colleagues to understand the importance of the votes that matter to us and to the constituents they represent," Cárdenas added.
BOLD PAC has grown into a political force the last few election cycles, consistently posting fundraising records and supporting winning candidates.
Under Cárdenas, BOLD PAC went from raising just under $1 million for the 2014 cycle to $6 million in the 2016 cycle. According to the Federal Election Commission, BOLD PAC has already raised over $3 million in the current cycle.
Only three Democrats sided with Republicans on both Kate's Law and the sanctuary bill: Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas), who a member of the CHC, Matt Cartwright (Pa.) and Collin Peterson (Minn.). None of them received contributions from BOLD PAC in the last election cycle.
"I don't ask BOLD PAC for money, I help raise money for them," said Cuellar, a former member of BOLD PAC's leadership team.
"I'm for immigration reform. I think people like the Dreamers or people who come in without criminal record, they should stay here," he added. "If we're advocating for criminals to stay, then I think we've got a problem as a political party."
Republicans have seized on Steinle's murder, and other cases where undocumented immigrants committed violent acts, as they seek to make a broader case for action on immigration enforcement.
"We can use hundreds of people," Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) told The Hill last week. "There are people who have been harmed, there are women that have been harmed, there are people that have been killed by drunk drivers … and finally we have an administration that will deport them."
The GOP message is broadly in line with President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE, who has touted Kate’s Law and made illegal immigration a central part of his White House campaign.
While Democrats may fear being painted as weak on illegal immigration, Alex said the members who voted for Kate's Law are backing themselves into a corner.
"These members are going to be attacked [by Republicans] regardless," he said.
Alex said several of the lawmakers in question have heavily Hispanic districts, opening the door for Latino Democrats to challenge those incumbents in primaries.
"Sinema’s [district] is a whopping 29 percent Hispanic," Alex said. "I'm scratching my head why a prominent Democrat in Arizona would do that."