EDINBURG, July 14 - Congressman Rubén Hinojosa says a majority of U.S. House members support comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship, thus reflecting public opinion across the country.
Hinojosa and other members of the Congressman Hispanic Caucus met with President Obama and Vice President Biden in the White House this past week to discuss the chances of the House passing immigration reform.
“I know that out of the 238 Republicans in the House, that there are enough votes on the Republican side, if you add them to the 200 on the Democratic side, that we would have more than the 218 votes we need to pass the legislation,” Hinojosa told the Guardian.
According to a recent opinion poll for Bloomberg, 74 percent of Americans support allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to become citizens, provided they don't have criminal records, they pay fines and back taxes, and they wait for more than 10 years.
Hinojosa said he wished Congress displayed the sort of bipartisanship the Texas legislature is known for. He said if this happened there is no question comprehensive immigration reform would pass in the House.
“We have got to find a way to compromise and get it passed in the House of Representatives, then take the Senate bill and the House bill into conference and then, eventually, send it to the president for his signature. It is so important,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa, a Democrat from Mercedes, Texas, made his comments on immigration reform in two interviews with the Guardian on Friday. The first was at a groundbreaking ceremony for a road-widening project in Mercedes. The second was at an immigration reform forum hosted by the Minority Affairs Council (MAC) at UTPA. MAC comprises students who are not citizens or legal residents. Members of La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and Project ARISE were in attendance.
Hinojosa assured his audiences in Mercedes and Edinburg that immigration reform is the “signature” issue for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, for which he is chair.
Hinojosa said all 27 members of the CHC were in the White House on Wednesday for a meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden. He said the President wanted to both discuss comprehensive immigration reform and highlight the coalitions that were built between groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO in order to craft an immigration reform bill in the Senate. Obama said he needs to lean “heavily” on the CHC to forge such partnerships again to get immigration reform legislation passed in the House, Hinojosa said. “It was a very interesting meeting, very lively,” Hinojosa said.
House Speaker John Boehner has said he will not take up a comprehensive immigration reform bill unless a majority of House Republicans support the measure. This strategy could undermine the chances of the legislation passing because many GOP House members are said to be hearing loud opposition to the measure from voters in their districts. Hinojosa was asked in Edinburg what would happen to DREAM Act students if Boehner carried out this approach.
“If the Speaker of the House does not allow the vote, then it is stalled. They (the DREAMers) would have to wait longer. But, we are the closest we have ever been (to passing immigration reform) in the 17 years I have been in Congress. There are more Republicans, friends of mine, that say,’ don’t stop, don’t stop, just make this (legislation) come to the House floor so we can vote.’ We will have enough votes to get it done (if a bill comes to the floor) so we can go to conference and eventually have the President sign it into law. It is possible,” Hinojosa said.
At the UTPA forum, Tania Chavez, community of conscience coordinator for (LUPE), challenged Hinojosa to “tell the truth” about the chances of immigration reform passing. She said immigrants in the Valley deserve to know the truth. Hinojosa said he was telling it like it is. He said Chavez should direct any criticism she had towards the Republicans because they are the ones preventing comprehensive immigration reform from passing.
Hinojosa said he had nothing but praise for UTPA’s Minority Affairs Council, which is why he agreed to speak at the forum. “This student body is very important,” he said. He also praised DREAMers in general.
“The DREAMers have been courageous, they have been relentless. They have had a mindset that they cannot give up. That is what it takes to make positive change that improves the quality of life of the different ethnic groups in America. Just like the Irish did when they came; just like the Polish did when they came, the German-Americans, Czech, Polish, they did all that. They went through this difficulty,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa said he has seen DREAMers rally in Washington, D.C., even though they risk being deported. “I have seen them give up their life to make the point and get the attention of U.S. Congress. That is why I fight for them. That is why I am determined to fight until we get the job done,” he said.
Another speaker at the UTPA forum was Martha Cantu, vice president for student affairs at UTPA. Cantu said UTPA President Robert Nelsen would have liked to have been at the forum because he supports MAC and the DREAMers. However, he had to visit Austin on UT business, she said.
“The Minority Affairs Council has worked hard. They really are role models for other students. They are very hardworking students and they deserve the American Dream just like everybody else,” Cantu said. “I want the students to know that we support them and we are there for them. Dr. Nelsen, myself and the rest of the President’s Cabinet support you students and we are very, very, proud of you. Si Se Puede.”
On a related topic, the RGV Equal Voice Network and the Sierra Club will be holding a news conference and rally with Congressman Filemon Vela at his San Benito district office on Wednesday to voice their opposition to the “border surge” component of the Senate immigration reform bill. This component increases Border Patrol agents on the southern border by 20,000, adds more drones, cameras, watchtowers and sensors, and calls for the completion of 700 miles of border fencing. The rally and news conference takes place at 10 a.m. on July 17 at 1390 W. Expressway 83, San Benito. The title of the rally and conference is being called “Overkill.”