Castro takes aim at migrant issues
Hispanic Caucus’ new chair targets DACA, cost of ICE and the wall
WASHINGTON — As the newly elected head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro said he intends to press for immigration legislation early in the new Congress while paying close attention to President Donald Trump’s border policies.
Castro, of San Antonio, also intends to be a main participant when the Intelligence Committee, under Democratic control starting next month, reopens an investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections with the aim of identifying Americans who may have played a role.
“We’re going to go in there and figure out gaps in information, and from there we should have a much clearer understanding of what happened, who was involved and whether a foreign nation has leverage over the president of the United States — or not,” he said.
Expanding the profile
For Castro, 44, elected last month to a fourth term, the new duties are part of an expanding profile in both lawmaking and Democratic politics. He is also an adviser — likely the main adviser — as twin brother Julian pursues a plan to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Julian Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and Obama administration housing secretary, is expected to announce his intentions soon.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which elected Castro as chair last week, gained clout after Latinos’ robust participation in many midterm elections.
Latinos made up an increasing share of the U.S. electorate in the midterm elections and 7-of-10 voted for Democrats in congressional races, according to exit polls. About a quarter of Hispanics who cast ballots said they were voting for the first time. In Texas, Democrats comprised 30 percent of eligible voters.
The Hispanic Caucus, which grew to 39 from 31 members after the midterms, has been quick to make demands, and Castro vows to be aggressive when he takes over in January.
“We’re intent on playing a central role in the major policy issues that go through the House of Representatives,” Castro said. “They (Democratic leaders) understand that you’ve got a very energized community out there that is watching what the Congress does.”
‘Dreamer’ bill a priority
From early indications, Democratic leaders are getting the message. In a letter last week, Castro and other caucus members urged Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., — who likely will be House Speaker in the new Congress — to bring legislation to a vote within the first 100 days giving protection from deportation to young undocumented immigrants and people with Temporary Protected Status.
One day later, Pelosi said in a statement that the House would protect TPS holders and pass the Dream Act with pathway to citizenship to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants left in limbo when Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. She didn’t say when.
On Thursday, Pelosi declared further solidarity with the Hispanics in the simmering dispute over funding the border wall. She once more rejected Trump’s demand for $5 billion in border wall funding, coolly dismissing the suggestion of packaging border wall funding in a deal that would protect Dreamers.
“They’re two different subjects,” she told reporters.
But the wall-funding dispute remains unresolved. Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, are scheduled to meet on Tuesday with Trump, who on Friday signed a two-week spending measure that averted a partial government shutdown.
Beyond wall funding, other of the Hispanic Caucus demands are at stake in the negotiation. Castro and Grisham were among members who signed a letter to Republican leaders pressing for a reduction in funding for Immigrant and Customs Enforcement Agents and for fewer detention beds. ICE presently operates 44,000 detention beds, 4,000 more than Congress authorized.
Signals from Trump that he may step up his hardedged immigration plans as he prepares to seek re-election suggest that Castro’s new chairmanship may keep him busy. For instance, the Trump administration is considering overhauling policy by requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their claims are handled in the United States.
To succeed, Castro may need to strike a balance between pressing for legislation and criticizing Trump while at the same time satisfying members’ competing views.
On one end of the caucus’s political spectrum is Laredo Democrat Henry Cuellar, a moderate, and on the other, first-term Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, who is decidedly liberal.
Castro said he has two main goals: “First, pursue policies that create opportunity for all Americans, including the Latino community, and second, do everything we can to hold the White House accountable when they trample on Constitutional rights or pursue outlandish policies,” he asserted.
“We’re intent on playing a centrol role in the major policy issues that go through the House of Representatives.” Rep. Joaquin Castro
Rep. Joaquin Castro is the new chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and plans to be aggressive on migrant issues. He also intends to be a key player on the Intelligence Committee, soon to be under Democratic control in the House.