Hispanic Lawmakers Upset With Democrats

Richard S. Dunham, Houston Chronicle, May 20, 2008

Rep. Joe Baca, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is steamed. Latinos have become a political “punching bag” this year, the California Democrat complained recently, attacked by “the misinformed” and “the misguided.”

Baca and other Latino lawmakers on Capitol Hill {snip} held a news conference on the steps of a House office building to denounce their leadership’s willingness to cater to immigration critics by holding hearings on enforcement measures proposed by endangered Democratic moderates.

They’ve threatened to block progress on immigration proposals backed by business interests and pushed by key Democrats, such as special visas for high-tech workers or agricultural help, unless leaders also move forward with comprehensive immigration legislation.

{snip}

Lawmakers in the 20-member Hispanic Caucus know they are not going to get their political wish this year: another shot at comprehensive immigration legislation, something that died in the Senate last year. But they are frustrated that their party has not been aggressive at pushing back against the rhetoric of some conservatives.

{snip}

Latino lawmakers are most upset about a proposal by conservative Democrat Heath Shuler, D-N.C., to step up border enforcement and tighten requirements forcing employers to verify the legal status of their workers. {snip}

Several dozen Democratic moderates, including Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, have angered the Hispanic caucus by signing the petition. In addition, Lampson has proposed legislation to double penalties against smugglers who bring criminals into the U.S.

The political consequences of a Hispanic rebellion—if it occurs—could be significant.

If alienated Latinos stay home from the polls in November, it could cost Democrats dearly in closely contested local elections in Texas, Arizona and other states. And if Hispanics conclude that their party is no different on immigration than presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain—a longtime supporter of comprehensive reform—it could tip the balance to the GOP in presidential contests in swing states such as New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.

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