Latina lawmakers discuss efforts to increase representation

Latina lawmakers on Wednesday discussed efforts to increase representation in both the federal government and private sector.

Speaking at The Hill’s Latina Leaders Summit, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recounted their paths to becoming some of the first Hispanic women to join their state's congressional delegation.

Rep. Jaime Herrera BeutlerJaime Lynn Herrera BeutlerThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Kinzinger says Trump 'winning' because many Republicans 'have remained silent' Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE (R-Wash.) said her experience working on the congressional staff of Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersBiden administration rolls out clean car goals Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban Latina lawmakers discuss efforts to increase representation MORE (R-Wash.) played an instrumental role in her decision to run for office.

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“I have seen the need to bring, to bear my perspective when it comes to making policy. There's a reason people like me need to be here because we represent either as a woman, over half of the voting population in the United States, or as a woman of a Hispanic background, that's also a growing population that needs those voices,” she said.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, the first Hispanic Republican in New York City to hold elected office, described how she has broken many glass ceilings.

“When I was first entered into politics, it was dominated by white males in my party,” she said at the event sponsored by Telemundo and Centene Corporation. “Because I was sort of an outsider, you could say I always had to work harder and take on the harder seats.”

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Asked what advice she would give President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE and Republican leaders about inclusion and diversity, Malliotakis warned against tokenism.

“I think it almost diminishes an individual when you're doing it simply because they check off a box, as opposed to they're qualified and can really contribute to the conversation,” she said.

There's a record number of Latino lawmakers — 54 — in the 117th Congress. Fourteen of them are women, including one senator.

Rep. Linda SanchezLinda Teresa SánchezBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Latina lawmakers discuss efforts to increase representation MORE (D-Calif.) credited Reps. Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarCourt rulings put Biden in tough spot with Trump's 'Remain in Mexico' policy Supreme Court ruling on Texas abortion law rattles lawmakers Sunday shows - Biden domestic agenda, Texas abortion law dominate MORE (D-Texas), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Latina lawmakers discuss efforts to increase representation MORE (D-Calif.) for helping increase diversity.

“All their work over the years collectively has really brought women much more equity and parity with our male counterparts,” Sanchez told The Hill's Steve Clemons. “We still have a long way to go, but we would be really much further back without their contributions."

She went on to argue that Americans are ready to tackle issues that affect Latinos, like immigration.

“Given how terribly immigrants were treated under the last administration, and how the world watched as the Trump administration separated parents and children, treated them basically like animals, I think that there is a turning point,” she said. “COVID has really highlighted the need for immigrant labor in this country, and I think the American public has the appetite for it.”

On immigration and border control, Escobar said Congress needs to take a cautious approach.

“We’ve got to recognize that securing the border doesn't mean cruelty. It doesn't mean militarization, or it shouldn't,” she said. “Those very kind of terrible public policy approaches have been a failure.”

While Escobar declined to say whether she would vote for a reconciliation package that does not include immigration provisions, she said, “I have made up my mind.” 

“We have to do something. This has to be the year. We cannot continue to punt on this critical issue,” Escobar added.