SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The first hearing on fixing the immigration system will be held by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. They will hear testimony concerning enforcement against illegal immigration. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is being called as a witness and will deliver a message of urgency.
America heard Castro's personal immigration story when he delivered the keynote at last year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
“My grandmother was an orphan. As a young girl she had to leave her home in Mexico and move to San Antonio where some relatives had agreed to take her in. She never made it past the 4th grade. She had to drop out and start working to help her family," Castro said.
His grandmother worked as a maid, cook and babysitter in the United States and taught herself to read and write in English and Spanish.
The San Antonio mayor will have a chance to elaborate on his family’s story when he testifies to the House Judiciary Committee as they take up America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws Against Illegal Immigration.
After announcing his re-election campaign for mayor Saturday, Castro explained what he plans to bring to the immigration hearing.
“I’m happy to do it particularly because San Antonio is a city that over the generations was built up by immigrants like every community in America," he said. "As a mayor I am fairly close to the ground, hopefully I can offer a local perspective in D.C. “
That local perspective about immigration reform has been missing from Washington. Then the results of the November election reset Congress' priorities, and immigration reform then shot to the top of the list. But with 17 Democrats and 25 Republicans on the committee, the hearing is likely to spark debate.
Castro says even though there remain many Republican congressmen opposed to providing reform with a pathway to citizenship, still a bill can become law.
“We have a better shot of passing comprehensive immigration reform system than we have in a long time because everyone recognizes that we have a broken immigration system. It’s not just in the interest of immigrants, but it’s in the national interest to fix this broken immigration system," he said.
Castro’s optimism about the eventual passage seems to be contagious for now. But many, including Castro’s twin brother, Congressman Joaquin Castro, acknowledge that the eventual bill’s passage will require a fight.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy, and there’s no question that there is conflict within the Republican Party on how to move forward on this," Julian Castro said. "I’m hoping that Republicans will take the long view and realize that comprehensive immigration reform is what’s best for our nation.”
But Congressman Castro said many of the GOP representatives have gerrymandered districts that are insulated from the direct pressure of an awakened Latino electorate, and the long view doesn’t work well when they have to run for re-election every two years. So to pass immigration reform through the House it’s going to require votes from both parties and Speaker John Boehner will have to break the Hastert rule one more time.
“[The Hastert rule] is an informal rule that says he’s not going to move a single piece of legislation forward unless there is a majority of Republicans who support it. I believe we can get 33-40 percent of Republicans and combine that with Democrats and get a bi-partisan bill through," Castro said.
Boehner already broke the Hastert rule twice -- for Hurricane Sandy Relief and for avoiding the Fiscal Cliff -- and his critics say immigration reform would be strike three.
Supporters of immigration reform like Laredo, Texas Mayor Raul Salinas says if Republicans block the passage the political consequences from Latinos would be intense.
“I think they would have a backlash on the GOP. And if you have 11 million [estimated undocumented] Latinos becoming citizens, and they are mistreated by a particular party, they are going to go to the polls," Salinas said.
Salinas said the best solution for Republican strategists is to get behind immigration reform and welcome those 11 million new citizens.
And the first House hearing of the immigration reform legislation is the perfect time to lay out the welcome mat.