Updated April 20, 2021 - 6:03 pm
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Tuesday to discuss pressing issues that included immigration and components of the recently enacted coronavirus package.
At the outset of the meeting, Biden said America cannot succeed “unless Hispanic families succeed.”
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico headed the delegation of about 10 Democratic lawmakers with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the meeting with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Cortez Masto said some of the discussion focused on the impact of the pandemic on Latino communities and ways to help get vaccines and health care to communities that have been underserved.
She asked Biden and Harris to create an interagency task force with the jobs bill before Congress to make sure funds flow to small Hispanic entrepreneurs and minority small-business owners can bid on federal contracts.
“Many of our Latinos are entrepreneurs and they’re small-business owners, and they can’t access capital or credit, and they have trouble getting contracts at the federal level,” Cortez Masto told Nevada reporters after the meeting.
Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate, also said she spoke to the president about the importance of the child tax credit to Latino families and the importance of investment in minority serving colleges and universities.
Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in America and account for roughly 18 percent of the nation’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics account for nearly a third of the population of Nevada.
A Pew Research Center of Hispanic adults in March found Latinos broadly agree that the U.S. immigration system needs an overhaul, with 53 percent saying the system needs major changes and 29 percent saying it needs to be completely rebuilt.
The survey included 3,375 respondents, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
Biden has called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a pathway for citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in this country illegally. But he initially endorsed to keep the Trump administration’s cap on refugees at 15,000 this fiscal year, but quickly reversed course and said the limit could be raised by as early as May.
Republicans have called the wave of refugees at the southern border a crisis, and have criticized the Biden administration’s handling of it as soft on security. Meanwhile, religious, civil and minority rights groups have condemned the administration’s handling of the refugee cap.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said keeping the current cap in place for now is in the nation’s best interest, and provides for humane treatment of those detained in this country.
Seeking common ground
Although Republicans such as former President George W. Bush have called on his party to tone down the rhetoric on immigration, Trump used the issue to politically motivate conservatives in past elections. Republicans largely backed building Trump’s promised border wall.
Menendez said he is seeking some common ground and Republican support that helped the “Gang of Eight” pass immigration reform in the Senate in 2013. That bill died in the House.
Barring a bipartisan agreement, Menendez said Democrats would explore other avenues to pass legislation, including budget reconciliation, a parliamentary maneuver to bypass the need for Republican support.
Cortez Masto is one of a group of bipartisan lawmakers in the Senate trying to find consensus to pass an immigration bill. She remained optimistic that could happen in this Congress.
“We can have a strong border and still have an immigration system that treats people with dignity,” Cortez Masto said.