WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. House members formally launched the Latino-Jewish Congressional Caucus.
The bipartisan group started Tuesday recognizes the developing ties between the two communities.
The four caucus co-chairs each spoke during the opening ceremony of the shared interests and values held by the Latino and Jewish communities. The leaders — Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) — said they hoped the caucus can foster progress on joint issues of concern.
"The Latino community and the Jewish community have been through, in a parallel way, so many similarities in terms of discrimination, in terms of the plight, 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," said Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee. "It just makes sense that we recognize and bless the importance of our two communities building an ever-stronger relationship."
Ros-Lehtinen and Engel both referenced foreign policy in their remarks, amid the international tensions with Israel.
"We all are very concerned about the Iranian regime and its proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas, and they are increasing their influence lamentably in countries in our own hemisphere," Ros-Lehtinen said. "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."
Engel mentioned the recent moves of some Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile, to recognize an independent Palestinian state and the possibility of a recognition vote in 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 who are willing to sit down and respect each other and negotiate a peace happen."
While there was no discussion of specific legislative goals, Becerra said he expected immigration reform would be a top issue.
"I think for the two communities it’s a natural issue to be supportive of," Becerra told JTA.
Dina Siegel Vann, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Latino and Latin American Institute, said the formation of the caucus is more critical than ever.
"The Latino-Jewish Congressional Caucus certainly can provide significant impetus to creating new joint initiatives and furthering cooperation," Siegel Vann said at the ceremony.
Other House of Representatives members who have joined the caucus include Reps. Shelly Berkley (D-Nev.), Joe Baca (D-Calif.), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Rivera (R-Fla.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Albio Sires (D-N.J.).