A group of young immigrants wearing T-shirts emblazoned with #DREAM ARMY stood at attention in front of the Capitol Wednesday morning, just before a few business-suited Latino leaders met to discuss how they can push Congress to work together to fix the national debt.
Though they were working separately, together they were harnessing the growing influence of the community’s numbers to focus the attention of the powerful on what is important to Latinos and how the political bickering of today’s Congress is affecting them.
Barreto’s father, an immigrant to the U.S. in the late 1950s, was one of the founders of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“When my dad was doing this, people would say, ‘Why do you guys even need to do that? There’s not that many of you,’ and now nobody says that,” Barreto said.
A week ago Thursday the federal government got back to work after a last-minute deal ended a standoff over the budget and the Affordable Care Act.
But there are just 13 weeks for the sparring political parties to hammer out an agreement to get past the next government funding deadline, Jan. 15.
Mark Hugo Lopez director of the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project said the U.S. population generally was paying more attention to the national debate once the shutdown started and by its end, 57 percent said they were worried about its impact.
Latinos are the fastest growing population and labor market’s growth over the next 40 years is going to come primarily from Latino labor force growth, Lopez said.
“So anything about debt, the cost of government, that’s going to impact young Latinos,” he said.
Lopez said polling shows taxes and the nation’s debt are on the radar of Latinos though they don’t rank as high in importance as education and other issues.
Also, Latinos are more likely to support bigger government than the general U.S. population. That is true even among U.S. born Latinos, he said. Among third-generation Latinos, 60 percent support bigger government, Lopez said.
“I do believe Latinos are just as concerned as everybody else about the national debt,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., who particpated in the roundtable.
He urged other leaders at the roundtable to offer support to politicians willing to move to the middle to work out agreements on spending and the country’s deficit – the amount that the federal government spending exceeds its revenue.
“If the elected officials are willing to make the tough decisions then we have to be there for them,” Cardenas said.
In the time since the government has restarted, while President Obama has urged Congress to move forward on immigration reform, the House has not taken public action, although some GOP members have said work is going on behind the scenes.
As time runs out on the first year of the two-year 113th Congress, skepticism is growing that immigration reform will be accomplished this year.
But Hassan Quiz, 22, of Phoenix said he still is hopeful he’ll see the legislation that will give him the chance to serve in the military.
He was at the Capitol Monday with other young immigrants to talk to staffers of congressional members about his desire to serve in the military, which is not open to him because he does not have permanent legal status.
“I was interested in the military from a very young age. From playing with my little toy soldiers to watching military commercials on TV and knowing that that’s what I want to do in life,” said Quiz whose parents brought him to the country when he was 9 months old from Chihuahua, Mexico.
Quiz earned rank of captain in his high school Marines ROTC. He and his friends all planned to join the military. It was when he spoke to a recruiter he learned he could not.
“That hit me in the heart - I’m proud I’m Mexican, but this is my country. I want to give back to my country that has given me so much,” said Quiz, who is remaining in the country under a temporary waiver and considers himself a Republican even if he can’t vote.
At a Congressional Hispanic Conference news conference later, Rep. Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Congress will pass “common-sense immigration reform of our broken immigration system.”
“The question really is, when will the House Republican leadership allow a vote on the floor?” said Becerra, D-Calif.
Some Republicans have said the negotiations over the budget that led to the shutdown have spoiled the chances for negotiation over immigration.
But in a news conference Wednesday following the GOP Caucus meeting, House Speaker John Boehner said, “I still think immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed and I’m hopeful.”
On health care, National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguia said in a conference call on Wednesday that there is frustration over the problem-plagued website and the lack of a Spanish language site for what is known as Obamacare.
Despite the problems, the 3-year-old health care law is the “first meaningful and successful effort to address the longstanding health gap” for Latinos, many who lack health insurance.
While some are calling for an end to the law requiring everyone to have health insurance by next year, Murguia said NCLR and its affiliate community groups are using other means such as health fairs and home visits to help people meet the March 31 deadline for buying coverage.
“We are mindful of the fact that too many in our community are facing a digital divide. We need to make sure we are compensating for that gap,” she said.