Republican’s Hispanic Caucus invite stalls over Dreamers

A group of religious leaders from across the country are arrested after protesting in support of the Dream Act on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
A group of religious leaders from across the country are arrested after protesting in support of the Dream Act on Capitol Hill Wednesday. AP

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's bid to join the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus is hitting a hurdle, stemming in part from the Miami Republican's decision not to co-sponsor an immigration bill with support from both sides of the aisle.

The caucus could discuss Curbelo's bid at its weekly meeting Thursday, a week after some members privately raised questions about his inclusion.

Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., had predicted last week that members would easily extend an invite to Curbelo. But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. said Wednesday that members wanted more time to deliberate and seek further clarification about how it would work to have a Republican join the all-Democratic group.

“I don’t think the caucus should be anybody’s foil,” Grijalva said.

Curbelo is a top target for national Democrats eager to win his Democratic-leaning district in south Florida in 2018, but has insisted his bid to join the caucus is not politically motivated. He said he waited until after last year’s election to make the request.

Curbelo had asked to join the group that takes up issues of concern to the Hispanic community in February, but has claimed that Democrats are deliberately stalling his induction.

Lujan Grisham said she’s been positive about Curbelo’s potential membership, but acknowledged that “in this climate” some caucus members have reservations.

“There is no effort to delay taking an action. There’s more of a thoughtful process to figure out what’s the best way forward,” she said.

The caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago over differences on Cuba policy and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who has said he’s not interested in joining the other caucus.

Lujan Grisham did not rule out that Curbelo was looking for a political advantage so he could look as though he works with Democrats on issues.

“He has to rebut that presumption,” she said. He doesn’t need to be a member of the caucus to support its positions, but has not. Lujan Grisham said.

Curbelo has been asked “over and over and over and over again” to support the Dream Act, which the caucus backs and which would give the children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, Lujan Grisham said. It has both Republican and Democratic support in both chambers.

“Why doesn’t he support our agenda?” she asked.

Curbelo is not a co-sponsor of the Dream Act, but said Wednesday he is committed to voting for “any” House legislation that supports Dreamers.

He is a sponsor of the Recognizing America’s Children Act, a bill that would provide Dreamers a path to citizenship, but is considered a narrower, more conservative alternative to the Dream Act that might encourage more Republicans to get on board.

Curbelo's bill is more restrictive and would affect fewer children. It would allow children to apply for legalized status if they came to the U.S. before the age of 16 — as opposed to 18 in the Dream Act — and lived in the United States for five years instead of the four in the Dream Act.

Lujan Grishman said the caucus doesn’t believe Curbelo’s bill goes far enough. One of Curbelo’s co-sponsors on his bill, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., is a co-sponsor of the Dream Act.

Curbelo said as a Cuban-American, he has overlapping interests with many of the Hispanics on the caucus.

“Were members who were admitted in the past subjected to this litmus test?” Curbelo asked in a text message. “Or am I being discriminated against? Is this a poll tax?”

Curbelo said he would tell Lujan Grisham that if the caucus endorsed his bill, he’d co-sponsor the Dream Act: “I want them to show good will,” he said.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark