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Biden's second in command rallies Hispanic Democrats with Latino Cabinet members

Vice President Kamala Harris joined four Latino Cabinet members on Wednesday to show their support for abortion, health care and looser immigration policies at the annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) conference

Vice President Kamala Harris speaking at the Democratic National Convention summer session in San Francisco, California in 2019
Vice President Kamala Harris speaking at the Democratic National Convention summer session in San Francisco, California in 2019 | Shutterstock

September 22, 2023 9:15am

Updated: September 22, 2023 9:27am

Vice President Kamala Harris joined four Latino Cabinet members Wednesday to show their support for President Biden's policies on abortion, health care and immigration, all part of a series of events featured at the annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) conference.

The CHCI, which is made up of Latino Democrats held the conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Flanked by Hispanic members of Biden’s Cabinet such as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Health and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Harris rallied the audience by saying that refusing to allow exceptions to abortion, even in case of rape or incest, “is immoral.”

Harris assured the crowd that Biden “has been clear that when Congress puts back Roe v. Wade, he will sign that legislation,” adding the caveat, “that’s why elections matter.”

“One does not have to abandon their faith to agree that the government should not be telling a woman what to do with her body," she said.

Harris then turned her attention to immigration, hammering former President Donald Trump’s initiatives to quash Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation, accusing Republicans of “unapologetic attempts to undo progress."

The conference highlighted Biden's four Latino Cabinet members who sat together on a panel. The CHCI Conference marked the first time for such an event.

Harris was not the only Biden official who praised her administration’s handling of immigration.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whose handling of the southwest border has made  him a subject of impeachment talk among Republicans, heralded the president’s handling of immigration.

When the DHS secretary was asked about the recent wave of migrants crossing the border, he cheered the administration’s attempts to create “lawful pathways” for migrants to remain in the United States. “We are incredibly proud to be a nation of immigrants,” he said.

Mayorkas made a clear distinction between Biden’s administration and the prior administration’s policies of family separation when questions arose about the issue.

“We ended the cruel policy of family separations” from the Trump administration, he said, boasting that more than 700 families who were separated under Trump were reunited since Biden took office in 2021.

One veteran Hispanic American official, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, was not as impressed with the Biden administration’s efforts.

Menendez said the administration is not doing enough to open legal pathways to some who are legitimately seeking asylum, saying the White House needs to “urgently and aggressively” use executive action to address migration issue, since it is in the president’s authority power to do so. 

“Unfortunately, any meaningful immigration reform is not going to come from Congress anytime soon,” Menendez said during a media call.

During that call, the longtime member of the Cuban American Congressional Caucus reiterated his prior proposal to issue new visas to address labor shortages.

Specifically, Menendez has proposed to increase access to the H2A temporary agricultural worker visas in the Caribbean and throughout Latin America, redesignating El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status.

He also wants to issue H2A temporary agricultural worker visas to those coming from Guatemala.

The New Jersey senator’s calls come on the heels of the Biden administration announcing it was extending Temporary Protected Status to all Venezuelans who entered the U.S. since July.

The effect of such a move would permit hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to live and work in the country without facing the prospect of deportation.

According to NBC News, a source told the network that Biden’s decision came after the administration faced increasing pressure from fellow Democrat, New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

Implementing a TPS designation would allow many of Venezuelan migrants who are languishing in the city’s system to work without being dependent on government resources and a shelter system that Adams has said is at a breaking point.

Menendez said Biden needed to step up and take action, noting that the crisis has become so significant there have been images of migrants riding on top of freight trains in Mexico to expedite their journey to the southwest U.S. border.  

“Creating new links, creating new pathways reduces pressure on the southwest border. It reduces the scenes that we see every day. It reduces the reality of going from 3,500 to 8,000 and it solves the economic questions that Republican governors across the country are calling for ... they are actually saying, why can’t we offer people who want to do a job here in our state,” Menendez said. 

“Running away from this doesn’t make this any better,” he asserted.

Hispanic Americans have had mixed reactions to immigration policies from both sides of the aisle. In 2014, immigration was only the top issue for 34% of Hispanics, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Those concerns amplified by 2021, however.

“At least three-quarters of Latinos in both political parties say the immigration system needs major changes or a total rebuild, though Democrats and Republicans prioritize different immigration policy goals,” says a 2021 Pew Research Center report.

“Latinos broadly agree that the U.S. immigration system needs an overhaul, with large shares saying it requires major changes (53%) or needs to be completely rebuilt (29%). Only 17% say the immigration system needs no or only minor changes, according to a new national Pew Research Center survey of Hispanic adults conducted in March.

The report added that, “A majority of Latino immigrants and those born in the U.S. share the view that the country’s immigration system needs fixing, and this sentiment extends across all ages and education levels. Latinos’ views on a variety of issues often break clearly along party lines, but Democrats and Republicans generally agree on the need for substantial changes to the immigration system.”

Matt Barreto, president and co-founder of BSP Research, told NBC that polling of Hispanics by his firm and Immigration Hub, an immigration reform advocacy group, found that Latinos want the government to address the immigration crisis, but with compassion.

Barreto said that most Latinos want the U.S. to deal with migrants in a way “that includes humane and orderly border security.” “When you couple border security actions, that is, adding more agents to monitor and process immigrants, and also taking action to support the immigrants already living here — we’re talking about longtime immigrants who have been working in the United States for decades that people are connected to — that gives you the biggest boost in enthusiasm,” he explained of the results.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona took a swing at the Supreme Court, blaming the justices for striking down the president’s student debt relief plan, but struck down the plan.

According to the education secretary, the debt of 1 in 2 Latinos would have been forgiven under Biden’s plan.

Cardona said his boss is working on other ways to help Hispanic students by exploring a new income-driven repayment plan. He also pledged to stop institutions that are leaving students with lots of debt in exchange for a mere professional certificate.

“We are also trying to address a racial wealth gap,” Cardona told his audience.

Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman also tried to rally the audience on the issue of the economy.

Casillas Guzman told the conference that Biden was trying to help Hispanic businesses, which she asserted start at higher rates than other groups despite contributing $800 billion to the economy.

On the issue of health, Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra tried to rally Hispanic Dems by declaring that under Biden, more Blacks and Latinos have health insurance than ever before.

Becerra said HHS was making efforts to ensure women have access to including emergency health care services in cases of pregnancy and abortion, making the case that women who live in states with no access to abortion are 2-3 times likely to die while giving birth.

The HHS secretary talked about the agency taking action when pregnant women were denied emergency services in Kansas and Missouri, asserting that anyone denying anyone emergency services was violating federal law.

Several polls over the past month have shown Trump doing “historically well” among Black and Latino voters, according to a poll taken by The Washington Post.

Recent reports filed by NBC said those voter samples were small however, additionally reporting that Trump and other Republicans were gaining Hispanic support in Texas and Florida.