NAC Blog: Putting politics aside to pass immigration reform

Celebrating NAHREP familia, cultura, politics, and grassroots action

July 29, 2021

Qué onda mi gente?!

I like to think of the NAHREP National Advocacy Committee (NAC) as an organization within the larger NAHREP organization. For those of you who care about making a difference for Latinos, and care about policy, there is a home for you within NAHREP and I have every intention of working with all of you to make NAHREP the most powerful Latino organization in the country.

The NAC, like most of NAHREP, is made up mostly of volunteers – passionate individuals who want to work together, learn together, and grow our voice together. On the national staff we have a small but mighty group of people who are dedicated full time to supporting these efforts. The team consists of two rock stars, Jaime Smeraski and Dustin Robinson, as well as myself. But there’s another group that is critical to our efforts: our lobbyists.

NAHREP works with a group of lobbyists from Becker & Poliakoff who serve as our representatives in Washington D.C. Today, I’m going to spend some time introducing you to Omar Franco who heads up Becker’s federal lobbying practice in Washington D.C. Not only does Omar help lead NAHREP’s lobbying efforts, but he was a former Chief of Staff for several Congressional Members and has played an integral role in the work to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform for the past several decades.

As Latinos, we have to put politics aside to pass immigration reform

Omar is a veteran when it comes to the inner workings of Washington D.C. Most recently, he served as Chief of Staff for Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Florida and a longtime ally of NAHREP’s. Last year, Omar was named “Top Lobbyist” by the National Institute of Lobbying and Ethics and it’s been awesome to get to know him better and to work with him, especially through the intense work we did around COVID-19 relief last year.

Q: First of all, you’ve been a Chief of Staff for several congressional leaders. Can you explain to our members what it means to be a chief of staff?

Omar: Officially, the Chief of Staff for a Member of Congress oversees all the staffing and the budget for both the DC and District Congressional offices. In reality, a Chief is in charge of so much more. The Chief is usually a Member’s closest confidante and political adviser, especially in the House where elections are held every two years.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with Omar about how Latinos can gain more power through our political system and how we can come together as a united Latino community to pass difficult legislation, such as Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Q: You have worked for a good amount of Latino Republicans in the past. Tell us about how Latino Republicans and Democrats have worked together in the past to try to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Omar: The most recent example was in May of 2013 when a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives, nicknamed the “Gang of Eight”, came to an informal agreement on a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The gang was formed by both Republicans and Democrats who cared deeply about the issue and were willing to put aside their ideological differences to produce a commonsense solution for our immigration system.

Led by members such as Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. John Carter (R-TX), former Rep. Raul Labrador (R-IA), now HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a tentative deal was reached. Unfortunately, when the bill was being written up for a final draft, the question of how to deal with Obamacare in the immigration package was never discussed and efforts to move the bill forward fell apart. To this day the remaining House members of the “Gang of Eight” continue to work together to find opportunities to address this divisive yet very important issue.

It’s incredible that the last time that meaningful immigration policy was passed was in in 1986 when President Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act granted legal status to 3 million people who were in the country without documentation. That was more than 30 years ago! While the Gang of Eight came close in 2013, we don’t have any more decades to waste. But it is going to take a bipartisan effort, with both Republicans and Democrats, putting politics aside in order to make real change happen.

Latinos have another chance to come together again on this issue. It is time our leaders internalize the reality that Latinos are the future of our country and we should act like it. We need to urge our Members of Congress to come together on all of the issues facing the Latino community –  on Cuba, immigration, Puerto Rico, representation, and economic mobility for all Latinos.

Q: According to you, what lessons can we learn from the past and what role can NAHREP play in driving the legislation forward?

Omar: NAHREP has a unique role to play in our current federal legislative environment. First, NAHREP represents the largest, growing minority community in the country, Hispanics. However, NAHREP also understands the differences in our communities according to nationalities and geography, and therefore can very effectively lobby on behalf of all our community in a distinct and powerful voice.

Equally as important, by representing all real estate professionals, Congressional members and staff know that they are being educated on housing and real estate issues by the whole industry, not just a subset. This creates two very distinct advantages for NAHREP to have a leading role when it comes to all the current federal legislation being proposed.

Q. Finally, what is your favorite song of all time?

Omar: Easy – “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin with the best lyric of all time “To be a rock and not to roll!”

That’s it, mi gente. I hope you enjoyed learning more about Omar and the importance of coming together in order to pass immigration reform. If you haven’t taken action on our two current campaigns, now is the time.

Un abrazo. I’m looking forward to seeing some of you next week in Orange County!

About Noerena Limón

Noerena Limón is NAHREP’s Executive Vice President of Public Policy and Industry Relations. Noerena heads the organization’s policy and advocacy efforts on issues ranging from homeownership, housing inventory, credit access and immigration.

Prior to joining NAHREP, Noerena spent six years at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and served as a political appointee under President Obama in the White House Office of Political Affairs.