Mark Kelly's Re-Election Support From Latino Groups At Risk Over Undocumented Immigrant Aid Vote

Arizona Senator Mark Kelly was sworn into office two months ago, but a critical Latino group has weighed pulling their support for the freshman Democrat after Kelly voted in favor of an amendment that would bar undocumented immigrants from obtaining stimulus aid.

Amendment 54, proposed by Republican Senators Todd Young and Tom Cotton, passed by a 58-42 vote, with Kelly, fellow Arizona Democrat Krysten Sinema and six others from the party joining Republicans to vote in favor of the measure. Now, LUCHA Arizona, a well-respected group that helped elect Kelly and has strong ties to Latino and immigrant communities in the state, has warned those Democrats that should they not get their act together, they will pull their support.

Political observers note that the vote by Kelly was simply about politics, with undocumented immigrants ineligible for such aid, and no support from the Biden administration on the issue. Kelly's office told Newsweek the amendment did not make any changes to current policy and U.S. citizens and green card holders, including those in mixed immigration-status families, will still receive relief checks.

But publicly and privately Latino groups have wrestled with the vote.

Asked if they were prepared to walk away from Kelly's reelection, LUCHA Arizona — which is part of the One Arizona table that has registered 550,000 voters over the last decade and was launched in response to the strident SB1070 immigration law — said all options are on the table.

"Nothing is off the table for our membership if we do not see that our senator is moving legislation and standing behind legislation not only on citizenship for all but also immediate relief for the families that are the essential workforce right now," LUCHA Arizona co-executive director Alejandra Gomez, told Newsweek. "Our membership is prepared to do what it takes to make sure our families do not get left behind in the future."

LULAC, one of the oldest and largest Latino organizations in the country, which had 7,000 people on the ground in Arizona for voter registration and GOTV this past cycle, was also angered by Kelly's vote, but said it seeks an audience with the senator before making any further decisions.

"We're kind of pissed off at Kelly for not supporting benefits for undocumented immigrants," said LULAC president Domingo Garcia, before noting he hopes to schedule a sit-down with him during an upcoming visit to Washington, D.C. "I have not met with Kelly, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt until I meet with him."

The groups joined Mi Familia Vota, which has one of the largest field operations in the Latino community nationally, in publicly chiding Kelly and the senators who voted the same way, with the organization calling the vote "unacceptable" and saying they would "hold him accountable."

But Arizona Latinos also note that while Kelly's vote was disappointing, he then immediately convened a so-called "Latino kitchen cabinet" meeting of local groups and advisors to explain his vote and receive their feedback on issues ranging from immigration to the economy and health care. Despite criticism of Kelly and his vote, LUCHA Arizona was invited to the call.

The group added that Sinema has never agreed to meet with them, and there is no similar open line of communication. Sinema's office did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

Kelly's office told Newsweek that in December, during his first month in office after winning Arizona's special election, he voted to make changes to the COVID relief payments so individuals in mixed-status families would receive not just the $600 stimulus that passed in December, but retroactively receive the up to $1,200 per household and $500 per child stimulus included in the CARES act.

A Kelly spokesperson said his commitment is "to long-term bipartisan solutions to fix our broken immigration system in a way that is true to our values and supports Arizona's economy."

A Kelly ally, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the GOP's goal with amendment 54 was to put Democrats in a politically uncomfortable position, which proved successful. Kelly is focused on what can get passed in a Senate where you need 10 Republican senators, the source said, noting they have heard Kelly tell these groups he's "open" to breaking immigration reform into pieces so popular legislation like the DREAM act can get done. But if Democrats get something, Republicans will want something, too.

"It's going to include border security, there is no getting away from that," the source warned. "If it doesn't, someone like Mark Kelly who is on the ballot is going to get attacked. These things groups want from him — he has to win an election — he's up next year."

At the first Latino kitchen cabinet meeting after his vote, sources described a "disconnect" on expectations from groups and what Kelly's office said was possible.

LUCHA Arizona wanted some sort of benefits for undocumented immigrants in the COVID relief package, and failing that, sought to secure additional policy reforms in a future reconciliation package, while Kelly's team sought to explain the lack of political support in the Senate for such a plan. But LUCHA Arizona was steadfast as the call concluded, reiterating that they were just asking Kelly to support immigration policy plans within a second reconciliation package.

Asked about this back and forth, the Kelly ally said the benefits that these immigration groups want are "not in there now, they can't be and won't be."

"You can't ask someone to deliver something for you that's impossible and then be mad at them if they don't deliver it," the source said.

From Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper, who joined the controversial vote, to Kelly and Sinema, Gomez told Newsweek LUCHA Arizona is undeterred, having seen legislators play "political football" with the lives of real people that are being devastated for political gain for an election.

"We'll be watching who delivers and who leaves broken promises," Gomez said.

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Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) leaves after paying respects at the remains of US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick as he lays in honor in the Rotunda of the US Capitol building on February 3, 2021, in Washington, DC. - The US Capitol police officer who died after being injured in the January 6 attack by pro-Trump rioters will lie in honor at the building's Rotunda, lawmakers said Friday, a mark of respect rarely bestowed. CARLOS BARRIA/POOL/AFP/Getty