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Pressing for More Latino Voices on Capitol Hill

Congressional Hispanic Staff Association pushes for diversity by pushing members forward

Francisco Bencosme has worked for Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2013. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Francisco Bencosme has worked for Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2013. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Francisco Bencosme, the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association president, said he makes time for his fellow Latinos on Capitol Hill as a way to look out for others as someone once did for him.

When Bencosme was an intern on Capitol Hill in the office of Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke in 2013, he met Marvin Figueroa, the association’s president at the time.

“That afternoon, he said, ‘Forward me your résumé — a position just opened up on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,’” Bencosme recalled. “It had a lasting impact with me, and once I got the job, it became very clear that I wanted to give back to my community and help the organization that sort of helped me get my foot in the door.”

Bencosme, 27, has since risen to legislative research assistant for the Foreign Relations Committee Democrats.

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He started his one-year presidency at the CHSA in February and has four main goals for his term.

First, Bencosme wants to focus on the underrepresentation of minority staffers on the Hill, which increasingly has been discussed lately, as groups push Senate and House leadership to do more.

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“It’s very clear that the arc of history bends towards diversity,” he said. “With the changing demographics and the increasing Latino population, we want to make sure that those who are creating the policies are reflective and representative of the United States, especially at a time that has seen increased animosity towards the Latino communities.”

Last month, the CHSA invited Latina chiefs of staff to speak on a panel. Three participated, but there are not many in that role.

Second, Bencosme wants group members to push for Latino-related policy initiatives in their offices.

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Third, he wants to partner with outside organizations who advocate diversity in the federal government or the corporate sector to develop strategies to do the same on the Hill.

And lastly, he wants to increase recruitment.

“We want to reach new highs, whether that’s reaching out to more Republican Latinos or Latinas or just new offices that maybe haven’t heard about CHSA,” he said.

The association has about 150 members. When asked what percentage of those are Republicans, Bencosme said: “It’s very low. And that’s something we really want to change.”

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Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida is the CHSA’s co-sponsor, along with Democratic Rep. Nanette Barragán of California.

The group’s roots trace back to the early 1990s on a softball field, according to Bencosme.

“To the best of my knowledge, it was actually founded on a softball team, so a bunch of Latino staffers got together, wanted an opportunity to hang out, so they formed a softball team and afterwards were like, we should turn this into a staff association,” he said.

That softball team, the Chili Dogs, still exists. They’re just starting off their season.

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“[The CHSA] continued to evolve and become more comprehensive,” Bencosme said. “It sort of came with the realization that there needed to be kind of a platform for Latino Hill staffers to congregate and continue to professionally develop.”

The organization has a placement committee with a résumé bank as well as a membership outreach task force to “help offices find Latino candidates if they want it and  diverse candidates,” he said.

“We strive for justice, for equality, for representation and empowerment. To really make those who came before us proud and chart a path for those that came after us,” Bencosme said.

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