Meet New U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro

I’m trying to figure out how to explain the impact of sequestration to my Latina readers. These are the automatic cuts divided evenly between defense and domestic spending, totally $1.2 trillion dollars over ten years that kicked in last week when Congress and The White House couldn’t come to an agreement on the federal budget deficit.

Who cares!

I do and so should you. This is connected to our $16 trillion national debt. While it is true that we must control our spending, the extreme solution of sequestration in high gear means little to no money for a host of services that touch virtually every aspect of our lives. Think hours in the security line the next time you hop a flight or the safety of your food jeopardized because there aren’t enough inspectors. 

One member of Congress in this sequestration mix is Joaquín Castro. Elected to the House of Representatives in November, Congressman Castro (D-TX) has been on the job only two months. And it physically shows. I caught up with him in his office--”minimalist” with little more than a phone, a stack of papers, and a computer on his desk.

But where the Congressman indulges are his ideas. He gave a prediction on when an overhaul to our immigration system will pass. He spoke about the need for Latinas to complete college and acquire skills to compete in the new economy. He revealed that this is the longest he has been separated from his identical twin brother, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and also opened up about being one of the new kids on the Congressional block. 

Is it kind of like being a freshman in college?

I graduated from Stanford University and I remember when I showed up for college, there were people at a table waiting for you with a packet with your name on it.  And when I showed up a few months ago for orientation here, there were people at a table with a packet waiting for me. 

About jobs, what do Latinos need to do to prepare themselves for the economy of now and the future?

The best thing that we can do is get, acquire as many skills as we can. That we increase the number of folks going on to college, graduating from college. That’s still a big challenge in our community.

Do you believe that immigration reform is going to happen this year?

I believe that we’re going to get immigration reform in 2013. It’s not going to be an easy thing. It will be a bit of a heavy lift. Some in the right wing of the Republican party would prefer a guest worker program or permanent residency for folks. 

But there’s a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center that shows that a big part of legal Mexican residents have chosen not to apply for citizenship.

I think the important thing is that those folks have the option and the choice to become citizens. And I certainly hope that as many people as possible would choose that option. We want folks who are here to become full citizens, fully engaged, and hopefully vote. 

When you’re looking at the youth and new voters, what message do you have about civic engagement and community involvement?

I’m 38 years old of Generation X. The folks of Generation Y and younger have the most to gain and the most to lose on the big issues of the day. Not just immigration but social security, for example.  Any of those changes would be for those who are 38 or 28 or 18 years old. So the young folks should make sure that their voices are heard and vote. For you, those stakes are the highest.

Is this the longest you’ve been separated from your twin? Because you guys grew up together, went to school together.

[Laughs] Well, we shared a room for seventeen years! Then we went to college and law school together. This is the period in my life when I see my brother the least. I’m not married yet. I’m still working on it. (Laughs) But my brother is married, he’s got a daughter who’s turning four next month. I feel like we’re at different junctures in our lives. We’re still very close. We talk almost every day. I see him a few times a week.

Viviana Hurtado Ph.D., founder of the Hispanic woman-focused news and current events website The Wise Latina Club, is Latina’s Washington, DC-based political correspondent. Read Viviana's political posts here.