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CHC Unlikely to Attempt to Stop Appropriations Bill

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus appears unlikely to attempt to block the fiscal 2008 omnibus appropriations bill that is expected to reach the House this week, after members reached a tentative agreement with Democratic leadership to strike what it derides as “English-only” language from the spending measure.

According to CHC Chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has agreed to overhaul a provision that would have effectively curbed federal workplace protections for non-English speakers — a proposal that CHC members have complained is an “English-only” initiative — that had been anticipated in the fiscal 2008 Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill, now to be included in the omnibus.

“She’s agreed and our Caucus is united,” Baca said Thursday. A Pelosi spokesman declined to comment on what he called a private conversation.

Hispanic Democrats staged a full-scale revolt on the House floor in mid-November — nearly derailing tax reform legislation — after Members approved a late-night vote to instruct conferees to the CJS appropriations bill to adhere to Senate language restricting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from prosecuting employers for alleged discrimination against non-English-speaking workers.

The House had earlier struck down an amendment to include the language in its version of the bill; however, the Senate agreed to include the proposal, which was sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

“Everybody agrees it was a mistake that was done,” Baca said. CHC members have previously criticized Democratic leaders for not instructing Members on the vote.

“People didn’t realize what was actually being inserted, and that was really the problem,” Baca said.

In the wake of the CHC objections, House Democrats have delayed a conference on the CJS appropriations bill, which will now become part of the omnibus spending bill Democrats are expected to introduce tonight.

“Now that it’s come up, hopefully we can remedy it,” Baca said. He added that he expects the language to either be struck in its entirety from the omnibus spending bill or to be replaced by language drafted in part by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“If not stripped, then we want to make sure an appropriations bill isn’t legislating on civil rights enforcement,” said Sam Jammal, MALDEF’s legislative staff attorney in its Washington, D.C., office.

Although the substitute language had not been finalized late Friday afternoon, Jammal said the measure is expected to contain more “proactive” language, promoting, for example, the expansion of adult English as a second language education.

“We agree with Sen. Alexander, people should speak English — it helps them economically … We just don’t think it’s the right track,” he said.

Although Baca said he is concerned other immigration-related issues could appear in the omnibus — including the expansion of specific visas, rather than comprehensive reforms the CHC has pushed — he expects his colleagues will support the spending bill.

“Everybody could be in a win-win situation,” Baca said.

In addition, Baca said he is preparing to address the Democratic Caucus on the issue of immigration at its weekly meeting, although that presentation could be moved to the second half of the 110th Congress as the House attempts to begin its December recess at the end of this week.