Hispanic Caucus sees expanded role for itself in Congress

Hispanic Caucus sees expanded role for itself in Congress

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is poised to play an increasingly significant role in the new Congress after seeing a significant jump in its membership when Democrats took over the House majority.

The CHC’s membership is at an all-time high, jumping from 30 to 38 members following the midterms.

Two of its members  — Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) —  obtained committee gavels while many others secured positions on powerful panels.

With the political debate dominated by President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE’s demands for border wall funding in the wake of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, the CHC is ready to play a key role in the fight.

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Specifically, lawmakers want to win protections for “Dreamers,” a group of immigrants who saw their status under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program unwound by Trump.

They also want to put the Trump administration's policy on family separations at the border under the spotlight, and to pass legislation helping other immigrants covered by Temporary Protected Status (TPS), another program Trump has sought to scale back.

The TPS program has given temporary legal status to thousands of immigrants who have come to the United States to escape wars and natural disasters. The administration has argued TPS was by definition intended to be temporary.

“I'm confident that we can pass the DREAM Act and also TPS legislation to offer protections to TPS holders who may be kicked out by President Trump's executive orders,” CHC Chairman Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Cummings: Treatment of young migrants is 'government-sponsored child abuse' 2020 Democrats vow to get tough on lobbyists MORE (D-Texas) told The Hill in an interview. “And then we’ll also in the longer term, or on the horizon, put together a comprehensive immigration reform bill. And, you know, hopefully, the Senate and the White House are willing to negotiate at that point.”

Castro said the CHC intends to be a player on much more than immigration, however.

In addition to immigration reform, the group also plans to place a strong focus on education, health care and economic development.

“Of course seeing immigration reform achieved is important to the Hispanic Caucus, but also making sure that we build out an infrastructure of opportunity in this country,” he said.

The Texas Democrat noted that Hispanics make up roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population.

With its growing membership, the CHC believes it will provide a better voice for Hispanics who Castro said have been underrepresented in the past.

Castro noted that the CHC also includes new stars pushing the party to the left, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) of New York.

But he was quick to point out that the group also includes more centrist or conservative Democrats in addition to progressives.

“We have the youngest member of Congress, of course, AOC as she's known now, who has been just a spark plug here, has been a strong voice for progress,” he said.  “We have folks now that represent districts that are not even majority-Latino districts. So we have a lot of people that have fresh perspectives, that are innovative, folks that are also willing to work with others across the aisle.”

The Hispanic Caucus currently solely consists of Democrats, although Castro said he is open to Republican membership on a case-by-case basis.

He said the group also intends to play a major role in House Democrats’ plan to launch investigations into Trump and the administration — including the response to Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“Well, what I mean when it comes to investigations, we wanted to be sure that some major issues that concern the Latino community are looked into. For example, why is it that the hurricane response in Puerto Rico was so slow and how did so many people end up dying,” he said.

The separations of families at the border is another issue the CHC wants to example.

“And also what happened that thousands of children were separated from their parents with no way to keep track of them or reunite them,” Castro said.

Castro said while much of the legislation that will pass the House won’t go anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate, he feels it’s good that “at least they are in the game" and getting their message out there.

He expects the caucus’ numbers and influence to continue to grow over the course of the next few years.

“This is kind of the latest peak, but there are higher highs to come,” he said.