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Latino Groups Take Sides in Natural Resources Fight

Two prominent Latino organizations have come out in support of Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva for ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Though the panel deals with environmental concerns, the outside groups see the Arizona Democrat’s ascent to a leadership role as one that would be a boon to a variety of causes they support – including immigration.

“Like environmental efforts, [the National Hispanic Latino Agenda] is also keenly interested in immigration reform; it is an urgent NHLA priority,” the umbrella group of 36 separate like-minded organizations wrote to members of the House Democratic Steering Committee on Wednesday. “The immigration policy debate now unfolding in Washington, especially in the House and Senate, intersects in a number of significant crosscutting ways with the work and policy issues of the Natural Resources Committee. Given this, we believe it is imperative the next Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee has a strong understanding of the ever-growing nexus of immigration reform and natural resources.”

That man, they say, is Grijalva, who has on his own behalf also sought to draw a distinction between himself and his rival for the ranking member slot, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon.

In a recent letter he sent to colleagues, Grijalva pointed out that DeFazio voted in 2005 for an immigration overhaul that, though never enacted into law, was backed by President George W. Bush and should be troubling for Democrats at this critical juncture in the renewed debate over the issue.

Before voting for that GOP-backed bill, DeFazio noted in a floor speech that he was not enamored of the entire measure. “Immigrant rights organizations, labor unions and others have rightfully pointed out that the bill does not in any way address the 10-12 million undocumented workers already in the U.S., no matter how long they’ve been here or how much they’ve contributed to their local community or the economy,” he said at the time. He added that he was voting for it because it was the only bill that allowed him to support enhanced border security.

But it’s still being used as a selling point for Grijalva by the NHLA, as well as by the California chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

In a letter to California Democratic congressmen, LULAC’s California state director, Benny Diaz Jr., praised Grijalva’s environmental record while slamming DeFazio’s immigration voting history as “abysmal” and “an automatic disqualifier for any leadership position.”

The battle for the ranking member slot on Natural Resources between Grijalva and DeFazio is based on the expectation that the panel’s current top Democrat, Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, will win next week’s special election for the Senate seat left vacant by now-Secretary of State John Kerry.

Grijalva has the backing of Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, and some regional colleagues. DeFazio, however, has the bulk of support from colleagues, including many members of the Progressive Caucus, of which Grijalva is the chairman.

If DeFazio succeeds, it could come down to support for his record but also for his seniority, something to which many Democrats defer. He is currently No. 2 on the panel, whereas Grijalva comes in at No. 7.

“Peter has the seniority, the experience, the expertise, and the tenacity to challenge the Republicans’ ideological rhetoric,” nearly two dozen self-described progressive Democrats wrote in a recent letter to leadership. “He has ably served on the committee for 26 years — serving on every subcommittee — and mastered the wide range of natural resources issues confronting the committee.”

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