Fabiola Santiago

Hispanics in Congress need unity on immigration. So why reject a worthy Republican?

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo
U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Pardon the language, but this is the kind of crap that keeps Hispanics down in this country.

Citing concerns about his positions on immigration, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has rejected the petition of Rep. Carlos Curbelo — a Cuban-American Republican from Miami considered a moderate — to join the group.

The 30 members are all Democrats, but here’s the first question that comes to find: Are the Democrats not the party of inclusion?

As the vote was going down in Washington, I was participating in a national call-in press conference in which Curbelo and fellow Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, also a Republican, were both praised by immigration advocates for their efforts on behalf of Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status recipients. And they also were being called with urgency to push their party forward and harder to achieve “a clean Dream Act” — meaning one that leads to citizenship for youth who are American in every way but status.

Getting anything done in this political climate is a tall order, considering the angst and division the Donald Trump presidency has created in this country — and immigration advocates wisely understand that they need members of Congress in both parties on board.

Trump has ended the DACA protections for Dreamers. Temporary Protective Status is expiring next year for groups of Central Americans and Haitians, and all indications are the White House remains in intense deportation mode.

As Natalia Jaramillo, communications strategist of the group We Belong Together, succinctly put it: “The time is now.”

Time to close ranks on behalf of families who are hurting and terrified of being split apart by deportation. The Hispanic caucus couldn’t have picked a worse time to engage in unnecessary partisan divisions.

There’s no good excuse — unless the group plans to change its name to Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus — to deny a member of Congress who wants to work with you.

Take note of the Congressional Black Caucus, which includes Mia Love, a Utah Republican elected, like Curbelo, in 2015.

Curbelo is far from perfect — and his greatest flaw is exactly the same as that of the Democrats who reject him. He sees through party glasses way too often, despite the Democratic-leaning demographics of the district he represents.

But I can assure you that undocumented Maria Perez — who came to this country from Argentina with her children, ages 6 and 4, in 2000 fleeing economic blight — doesn’t care about petty politics. She needs results so that her DACA recipient children don’t lose their mother and can realize their dreams in the only homeland they know, this one.

“We’re not asking for luxuries,” Perez said through tears Thursday. “We’re only asking to be able to keep our family together.”

Neither does Christina Ponthieux — a charming 10-year-old Miamian whose parents are from Haiti and have TPS protections that may soon run out — care about your Democratic squabbles or shifts left of center.

“I thank Curbelo for everything he has done,” Ponthieux said, speaking from Las Vegas, where she was scheduled to make a national appeal to Americans Thursday night from the Latin Grammy Awards to support the legislation “American Promise Act,” which would lead to permanent status for both Dreamers and TPS holders.

Let me tell you one thing, Democrats: Work it out. If I wanted to live in a one-party system, I’d repatriate to my native Cuba. As much as I detest most Republican policies, their existence keeps Democrats in check. It goes without saying that no party is exempt from wrongdoing and criticism. The Democratic Party has made tremendous gains recently among Cuban-Americans in South Florida. Don’t blow it.

But most importantly, this only-Democrats attitude hurts the good cause of sheltering the undocumented who are our neighbors, our school and workmates, our friends — people who’ve contributed positively to the economy for decades now.

In Florida — home to an estimated 33,000 recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status — Cuban Americans with no status issues are helping battle anti-immigrant forces intent on bringing Draconian measures that hurt the undocumented. Not everyone on the pro-immigrant team is a Democrat. In fact, I’ve written about the racist slips of Democrats in Florida, too.

And I’ve been critical of Curbelo when I’ve needed to be, on his vote to rescind Obamacare, and now, for the disastrous Republican tax bill that only benefits the wealthy.

But I’ve also seen Curbelo’s hard work as a freshman in Congress, particularly on climate change, and certainly on the Dreamers issue. Does it mean nothing to you that he filed Dream Act legislation?

Fight him when he’s up for re-election in 2018, but work with him in Congress now. When we splinter, we’re guaranteed to lose.

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