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Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, first Mexican American congresswoman, retiring

"Every Latina owes a debt of gratitude," California state Sen. Susan Rubio, a Democrat, said about Roybal-Allard, a co-author of the DREAM Act and other legislation.
Image: Lucille Roybal-Allard
Lucille Roybal-Allard speaking at an event in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Nov. 12, 2019.Michael Brochstein / Sipa USA via AP

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican American woman elected to Congress who rose to serve on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations, has said she will not seek re-election.

Her announcement Monday resonated with Latinas throughout public office.

The California Democrat helped open doors in the halls of Congress to more Latinas and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“After thirty years in the House of Representatives, the time has come for me to spend more time with my family. Therefore I have decided not to seek re-election,” Roybal-Allard, 80, said in a tweet.

The first Hispanic elected to Congress, former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., is of Cuban descent. Like Roybal-Allard, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., first entered Congress in 1993. She is Puerto Rican.

Roybal-Allard arrived in Congress in the shadow of her father, former U.S. Rep. Edward Roybal, who also served for 30 years and was a co-founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

But Roybal-Allard, born in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, built her own congressional legacy during her three decades in the House of Representatives.

She achieved the position of House “cardinal”, the moniker given to congressional members who chair a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings for federal spending.

Roybal-Allard is the first Latina to become a cardinal. She is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on homeland security.

In a statement following her announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called her “an absolute force for progress” and a “respected leader within our caucus.”

Allard was one of the original co-authors of what eventually became the DREAM Act, introduced in 2001 to allow young children who grew up in the United States but were not legally here to become legal permanent residents.

She reintroduced the legislation multiple times, sponsoring it with Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate. Congress has never passed it.

She also co-chairs the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform, which formed in 2013 as women and children were arriving on the border from Central America during the Obama administration.

At the time, Roybal-Allard said the voices of women and children needed to be heard in the immigration crisis.

“Congresswoman Roybal-Allard’s unyielding commitment to our immigrant communities is in her DNA, not only following the footsteps of her legendary father, but blazing a trail as the first Mexican-American woman elected to the Congress,” Pelosi said in her statement.

But Roybal-Allard’s district, which includes South and East Los Angeles, was virtually eliminated in the state’s decennial redistricting process. The district had the most Latino voters of any district in the country in 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The process occurs every 10 years and includes redrawing boundaries for congressional districts according to the latest population numbers from the census. An independent panel draws the maps.

California’s population did not grow as much as that of other states, so it lost one congressional seat, dropping its total to 52.

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