Cas­tro takes aim at mi­grant is­sues

His­panic Cau­cus’ new chair tar­gets DACA, cost of ICE and the wall

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Bill Lam­brecht

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

Al Drago / Getty Im­ages

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.

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