McALLEN, RGV – U.S. Senator John Cornyn has been named ‘Legislator of the Year’ by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The award was presented at the group’s Annual Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. It is the first time the group has given such an award. Cornyn also won the award from the Texas Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn

The Annual Legislative Summit is the USHCC’s premier political and advocacy event. It offers guests the opportunity to interact with business leaders, policy experts, and officials at the highest levels of government.

Cynthia M. Sakulenzki is president of the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a member of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

Sakulenzki said Cornyn won the Legislator of the Year award because of his stance on issues important to the border region.

“We are very proud Senator Cornyn has won this award. He believes in the things we believe in, which is no need for a border wall and no need for a border adjustment tax. That is a ridiculous idea that will hurt not just us along the border but the entire United States. The reason for this is the consumers will be the ones that end up paying for it,” Sakulenzki said.

Cynthia Sakulenzki

Asked why a national entity like USHCC would pay particular attention to the needs of the border, Sakulenzki explained that its president, Javier Palomarez, is from Elsa, Texas. “Javier is very concerned about our issues. He often calls me to ask for the pulse of the Hispanic-owned business.”

Sakulenzki said another top issue for USHCC is opposition to parts of the Trump administration’s deportation policies. “We want the separation of families stopped. That is just inhumane. We want full immigration reform so that those that merit it can be on the way towards citizenship. Of course, with hardened criminals, we want them shipped out of here.”

Sakulenzki said USHCC’s annual legislative summit is important because its members can reach out to members of Congress that do not know very much about the Hispanic community.

“We are reaching out to those senators and congressmen and women who have never been down to the border but may be quick to form an opinion,” Sakulenzki said. “Some call us a war zone and that is not so. So, we are in Washington, D.C., to educate them. We want them to come down to the border. We have already had several that have come down. But that is not enough.”

Sakulenzki says she tries to reach eight to ten legislators per day on her trips to Washington. “If I can catch them in the cafeteria I do,” she said.

Javier Palomarez

Asked why USHCC is important, Sakulenzki referenced the increasing number of Hispanic-owned businesses. “The fastest growing business owner is the Hispanic female. We are thrilled about that. And, while our focus is small business, there is a lot of Corporate America that supports USHCC.”

RGVHCC was formed in 1997, with Sakulenzki becoming president in 2000. The group was originally called the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce but changed its name to RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce three years ago.

“We have so many people from across the Valley attend our events. They felt they should not join our event because they were from the wrong end of the Valley. But, no. We have members from South Padre Island all the way to Rio Grande City,” Sakulenzki said.

She also announced a major push to increase membership in Starr County.

“We are pleased to focus on Starr County. That county is booming. There is a need for our services to out there.”

The annual membership rate for businesses with less than 25 employees is $200 a year. For those above it is $250. Corporate sponsorship runs anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 a year.

“And, you do not have to be a Hispanic-owned business to become a member,” Sakulenzki said. “Twenty percent of our members are non-Hispanic.”

USHCC’s annual legislative summit ends with a gala that new Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has been invited to.

The black-tie event is scheduled to take place March 16 at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.