California Democratic congressman Tony Cardenas is the first Latino to represent the San Fernando Valley. (Photo/Getty Images )

CA congressman Tony Cardenas: immigrant father worked in the fields, now he’s advocating reform

Last November when Tony Cárdenas (D-California) was elected to serve California’s 29th congressional district, he became the first Latino to represent the San Fernando Valley in Congress.  Cárdenas is the 50-year-old son of immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico. He was born in Pacoima, California and was raised with 10 brothers and sisters.  Decades later, the former state legislator with an engineering and business background is now a member of Congress, and has jumped enthusiastically into the immigration debate, advocating for a pathway to citizenship and a bill with protections for agricultural workers.

When asked by NBC Latino if there have been any surprises he’s encountered as a freshman legislator, Cárdenas said that being asked by the United Farm Workers (UFW) to lead on their issues in the immigration bill was something that he was not expecting so soon.  The Congressman worked with the UFW when he served in the California State Assembly, and his father worked in the fields in Stockton after immigrating to the U.S., before relocating to Southern California.

In April, Rep. Cárdenas issued a statement after welcoming over100 agricultural workers to the Capitol, saying he would not support immigration reform legislation that lacked a mandate for fair wages and hours, worker protections, and worker mobility.

“Throughout the history of this nation, certain groups of people have been used to do the dirtiest jobs, for the lowest pay, in the most dangerous conditions, until the people of this country fully understood the terrible abuse they suffered,” stated Cardenas, adding, “Let’s recognize past mistakes and understand that those who labor in the name of our food are just like us.”

Cardenas spoke of how he thinks the immigration debate will unfold during the August Congressional recess. Now that lawmakers return to their home districts, there will be increased pressure by both immigration advocacy groups and those who are opposed to reform in town hall meetings. Faith-based groups and unions have indicated that they plan to target 52 congressional districts to push for immigration reform.

“What is hopefully going to happen is that across the country, more people are going to mobilize for comprehensive immigration reform. We have more clergy reminding people that this is the right thing to do,” explained Cárdenas. “We have them on our side. We also have the chambers of commerce and big corporations signing letters of support saying we need comprehensive reform.”

RELATED: Lawmakers continue to raise hopes on immigration reform solution

Cárdenas added that law enforcement groups will be pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, arguing that reform is good for public safety.

While House Republicans have indicated that immigration should be tackled in a piecemeal fashion focusing on border security first, Cárdenas is insistent that the way to get reform passed is in a comprehensive bill.

“The Senate already proved that there isn’t a reason to do anything piecemeal. They had over 60 percent over their members vote in favor to pass it,” said Cárdenas. “The best way to get it done is not get it done piecemeal and instead get it done right in one big bill.”

When asked about the backlash that Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) has been facing by conservatives for helping to craft the immigration bill that passed in the Senate, Cárdenas was optimistic that the junior senator would stay the course.

“The Republicans at the highest levels are backing him and encouraging him to look at the larger impact with immigration,” Cárdenas stated in reference to Senator Rubio.

He explained that regardless of party, all lawmakers would have to weigh the economic impact that passing immigration reform would have and be cognizant of the reports showing what the bill’s passage would mean for the economy.

CA congressman Tony Cardenas: immigrant father worked in the fields, now hes advocating reform   adriana maestas e1372274661894 politics NBC Latino News

Adriana Maestas is a senior contributing editor at Politic365 and one of the co-founders of the  She resides in California.      

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