When he first came to Congress, Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., believed his former congressman, the late Rep. Edward R. Roybal, hadn't done enough. Then he confronted the opposition to immigrants among his own Democratic colleagues, he said.
Becerra was honored with the Edward R. Roybal award for public service at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Official’s (NALEO) gala Tuesday night. Roybal helped found the Congressional Hispanic Caucus during his 30-year house career and co-founded NALEO.
In his acceptance speech, Becerra said his first battle on immigration was in 1993 against fellow Democrats, who were in the majority. He and other Congressional Hispanic Caucus members had refused to vote for a bill partly funding unemployment insurance with cuts in assistance to legal immigrants.
Becerra tangled with then Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, who chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and the bill's sponsor. Becerra had refuted an anti-immigrant comment by Rostenkowski on the House floor, shocking some of his colleagues. The bill and cuts were back on the floor the next day. Becerra said he had a "come to Jesus" moment and voted aye.
"I thought to myself, this is not why I came to Congress. But that was when I was young, and I used to think Edward Roybal wasn’t doing enough. And then I learned, it is tough. It is tough," he said.
Now, he looks at Roybal's accomplishments and hopes to achieve a fraction of what he did, he said.
Becerra is the House's highest ranking Hispanic Democrat. He chairs the Democratic Caucus, holds the seat held by Roybal and considers him a mentor.
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-- Suzanne Gamboa