With the Senate wrangling over key parts of his domestic policy agenda, President Joe Biden tried to reassure those who tuned into a major Latino group's conference Monday of better times ahead.
Biden said the pandemic and its resulting economic crisis "brought disproportionate heartache to Latino families, even as so many Latinos — including immigrants — stepped up to carry Americans through this crisis."
His comments were recorded for the conference of UnidosUS, the nation's largest Latino advocacy group. They came as the Senate continued negotiations on Biden’s two-pronged domestic plan of a five-year, $579 billion infrastructure package and $3.5 billion spending plan that Democrats can pass without Republican approval.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has said immigration changes are being explored in the spending plan, but details have not yet been released.
Latinos were disproportionately hit by Covid, their vaccination rates have lagged other groups, and the pandemic reversed some economic gains from previous years. Trump administration programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program business loans helped too few Latino business owners.
There are generations of immigrants awaiting promised fixes to the U.S. immigration system and for Biden to shepherd through Congress paths to citizenship. A federal judge in Texas recently deemed the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA program illegal, frustrating teen and young adults who lack legal status after having been brought to the U.S. as children — also referred to as Dreamers — who had recently sent applications.
“That’s why we need pathways to citizenship for undocumented Americans," Biden said during his brief address. "Until we secure that pathway for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers and all those who contribute to our nation every single day, from fixing our immigration system to creating jobs to raising wages to protecting the sacred right to vote, my administration will always have your back. I promise you.”
In the midst of those, state-level GOP lawmakers are throwing up new requirements to voting in Texas and other states that could choke off increased Latino turnout from recent election cycles.
Biden spoke of reduced caseloads and deaths and improved vaccinations in the Latino community, even though the delta variant has caused an uptick in cases and hospitalizations, largely among the unvaccinated. Groups have stressed the importance of boosting vaccination rates in Hispanic communities.
"It's time to build for the future," Biden said. "That's what my Build Back Better agenda is all about."
Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, UnidosUS deputy vice president of policy and advocacy, said it’s important that Biden is seizing the opportunity to address Latinos because “for Democrats, it’s important they communicate over and over and clearly what they are trying to do is what a majority of the American people want.”
For instance, on immigration, public opinion polls have long shown support for immigration solutions that Latinos groups have been pushing for, she said.
“The vast majority of Americans believe in citizenship and legality,” Martínez-de-Castro said, but “Republicans are operating from a playbook of 40 years ago of anti-immigrant and anti-immigration.”
Given the GOP’s approach to obstruct immigration reforms, the Democrats' use of budget reconciliation and other solutions are critical, she said.
But she said, that doesn’t excuse Democrats from doing a better job of reaching out to Latinos on immigration and other issues.
“The theme of our conference is about our democracy, our economy and our future, and certainly recovery from the pandemic needs to be inclusive,” Martínez-de-Castro said. “How is the administration making sure that the (pandemic) response is reaching the most impacted and the most vulnerable?"
“Our community came out despite the pandemic … now we are seeing more obstacles being put in our way,” she said. “Part of democracy is citizenship, in the civic sense and in the immigration arena.”