NJ Rep. Albio Sires (D-Dist. 13) is one of 16 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to join its new Latino-Jewish Congressional Caucus.
The goal of the caucus, advocated by the American Jewish Committee, is to reinforce growing political ties between the two communities and their representatives in Congress.
“Congressman Sires joined the Latino-Jewish Caucus so he could engage with other members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, in discussions of issues that affect both Latino and Jewish communities,” wrote his communications director, Erica Daughtery, in a June 20 e-mail to NJ Jewish News.
Daughtery said Sires hopes the caucus will work to preserve “a free Israel” and cope with the equally thorny issue of immigration reform. Sires’ aide called it “a topic that the congressman believes deserves the Caucus’s attention….”
The caucus was created partly due to the efforts of Dina Siegel Vann, director of the AJC’s Latino and Latin American Institute. Speaking at the caucus’s June 14 launch ceremony in Washington, DC, Siegel Vann said the body “certainly can provide significant impetus to creating new joint initiatives and furthering cooperation.”
Although the AJC’s New Jersey Area office did not have direct involvement with the caucus on a state level, “we saw Albio’s name on the list, and that is good,” said Allyson Gall, NJ AJC director.
To Gall, the caucus represents a coalition of interests that could eventually result in immigration reforms, as well as shared foreign policy concerns in both Latin America and the Middle East.
“It is about Israel and about other nations, wherever we can jointly agree,” she said.
Despite partisan discord on those issues, especially immigration reform, the coalition drew lawmakers from both major parties.
“We all are very concerned about the Iranian regime and its proxies like Hizbullah and Hamas, and they are increasing their influence lamentably in countries in our own hemisphere,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a caucus cochair and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“These developments are negative for the U.S., they’re negative for Israel, and they’re negative for freedom-loving people who live in Latin American countries,” she said at the caucus’s opening session.
Of concern to another cochair, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), are recent moves by Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile to recognize an independent Palestinian state and the possibility of its approval by the United Nations General Assembly in September.
“Some of the countries, particularly in South America, have disappointed a little bit lately,” Engel said. “As we know, peace can only come when two sides are willing to sit down and respect each other and negotiate a peace….”
As far as caucus cochair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is concerned, “the Latino community and the Jewish community have been through, in a parallel way, so many similarities in terms of discrimination…, in terms of our history of immigration to this country, and trying to make our way through a combination of assimilating in the appropriate way and also preserving our rich traditional heritage.”
Wasserman Schultz also chairs the Democratic National Committee.
Other members of the caucus include Reps. Shelly Berkley (D-Nev.), Joe Baca (D-Calif.), Henry Cuellar ( D-Texas), Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Rivera (R-Fla.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.)