The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is eager to see comprehensive immigration reform happen this time, after years of failure. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., the caucus whip, spoke with National Journal about how the group will protect the principles it wants to see in a bill and prepare to push it past the finish line. Edited excerpts follow.
NJ How has the Congressional Hispanic Caucus shaped immigration reform so far?
LUJAN GRISHAM One thing is, the caucus has been on this issue for a long time. Two, the growing numbers of the caucus put us in a really great position to hold the line on a comprehensive package that keeps families together, that deals with the employment issues, that provides a pathway to citizenship, that has all of our core values. And, three, as a result, it’s clear that this caucus won’t vote for a piecemeal approach and that our endorsement is required to get this bill out of the House.
NJ You’re working primarily on shaping the House bill?
LUJAN GRISHAM At this point, yes. We are watching [the Senate Judiciary markup]—we are having conversations about that—and we’re going to be prepared as a caucus to weigh in on what comes out of the Senate. And members of the caucus are certainly not waiting until then but weighing in with lead senators to make sure the tenets that are important to us in the bill are kept.
NJ What are you watching most closely in the Senate bill?
LUJAN GRISHAM We are making sure that there is a reasonable pathway to citizenship. If that gets adjusted or minimized so that it’s just residency or it’s anything else, then that bill’s not going to be acceptable. While we have accepted that there will be investments in border security, we want to make sure we are clear about immigration reform that keeps families together, that gets them reunified. We want to make sure we keep the provisions that provide the agricultural community and other related businesses the opportunity for a robust guest-worker program.
NJ Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who is not a member of the caucus, has emerged as one of the most prominent Hispanic lawmakers advocating for reform. Does it hurt the CHC’s mission to have a Republican leading that message?
LUJAN GRISHAM Other members might have a different opinion about how this is unfolding and what advocacy is making the most difference. I don’t think it’s harmful at all. I think it shows that the CHC position on immigration reform has broad appeal and is clearly a national priority, and that’s being demonstrated by Senate members, [including] prominent Republican Hispanic members, individually and independently. I think it’s a testament to the kind of groundwork the CHC has laid.
NJ What about Republicans such as Representative Raul Labrador and Senator Ted Cruz who disagree with your group on whether the legislation should be comprehensive and include a pathway to citizenship?
LUJAN GRISHAM That has told us that our job is not done. So I would go back to [emphasize] even more the role of the CHC and other members of Congress who are clear about making sure [the bill is] comprehensive, that the issues that we identify as priorities all stay. We still have some work to do, because we don’t have every member of Congress. There will continue to be individuals who like parts of it, who are still going to need a lot of advocacy from us before they’re going to be willing to vote on the whole bill, and we’re not going to give up on anyone.
NJ The CHC’s principles include family protections for binational, same-sex couples, which Republicans have said will kill the bill. What do you do?
LUJAN GRISHAM It’s a really important principle, but I might find other ways to provide those protections to LGBT families and the community. I believe the sense of everyone’s effort is to not let it stop immigration reform, but we haven’t given up the fight on that.
NJ Are you satisfied with the pace of progress, or does reform need to move faster so it doesn’t get overshadowed by the 2014 midterms?
LUJAN GRISHAM There have been conversations, whispers in the hall about, well, we need to hurry up, and we want to be careful about letting the Senate or the president or anybody else getting out in front of us. I don’t think that’s a shared concern. All steps forward continue to make sure that this actually gets done in 2013, and if it takes the House a little longer to get the bill ready to be dropped and before [the House] Judiciary [Committee], that tells me they’re making sure they’re dealing with as many concerns that would prevent it from moving forward. I think that’s prudent.