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Upcoming US Congress Likely to Keep its Share of Foreign-Born Lawmakers

The 117th U.S. Congress was considered the most racially and ethnically diverse ever, according to studies by the Pew Research Center. It showed that 18 congressional members were born outside the United States and became U.S. citizens through naturalization.

The 118th Congress, which will be sworn in on January 2, 2023, will maintain its share of immigrants and yet remain below historical highs, according to Pew.

Some congressional races have yet to be decided, but the 118th U.S. Congress is expected to have at least 16 members — 3% — who immigrated to the U.S. and later became U.S. citizens. In the 50th Congress from 1887 to 1889, 8% of members were born abroad.

“While the number of foreign-born lawmakers in the current Congress is small, more members have at least one parent who was born in another country. Together, immigrants and the children of immigrants account for at least 14% of the new Congress, a slightly higher share than in the last Congress (13%),” according to a 2021 study from Pew, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington that provides analysis on demographic trends shaping the United States.

The study also showed that the 117th Congress’ share of foreign-born lawmakers, at 3%, is far below the foreign-born share of the U.S. population as a whole, which was 13.6% as of 2019, according to Pew.

Currently, at least 18 congressional members, Republicans and Democrats, were born outside the U.S. and became U.S. citizens. They come from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, India, Poland, Somalia, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine and Vietnam.

Residency requirements

Under the U.S. Constitution, those who acquired U.S. citizenship through naturalization have to meet certain requirements to run for office and hold office at the federal level.

A person taking office in the U.S. Senate must be 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for nine years, and a resident of the state from which they are running for election.

To hold office in the U.S. House of Representatives, the naturalized American must be 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for seven years, and live in the represented state when elected.

The U.S. Congress is the legislative branch responsible for making laws where the Senate and House make up the upper and lower chambers, respectively.

A House member serves two years, while senators serve six-year terms.

Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is the only current U.S. senator born outside of the United States. She was born in Japan to parents who were not U.S. citizens. Hirono became a U.S. citizen in 1959, the same year Hawaii became a state.

Hirono is the longest-serving of the current foreign-born members. She was elected to the Senate in 2013 and was a member of the House from 2007 to 2013.

“We have long known that when America welcomes refugees and asylum-seekers, they invest in America. Refugees and asylum-seekers meaningfully contribute to the economy as earners and taxpayers by joining the workforce, starting their own businesses, and laying down roots with their families to become proactive members of their communities — including serving in public office,” JC Hendrickson, senior director of resettlement, asylum, and integration policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, told VOA by email.

Immigrant politicians on both sides

At least 16 foreign-born lawmakers won election or reelection in the midterms. Four were born in Mexico, including three Democrats: Salud Carbajal and Raul Ruiz, both representing California, and Jesus Garcia from Illinois.

Juan Ciscomani, a Republican, was elected for the first time to Arizona’s 6th congressional seat. His family immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. He became a naturalized citizen as a child.

Two of the lawmakers are from India: Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. Both are Democrats. And two are from South Korea: Young Kim and Michelle Park Steel, both Republicans from California. Victoria Spartz, a Republican, is the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress. She immigrated to the United States in 2000.

In the incoming Congress, at least 12 foreign-born members are Democrats and four are Republicans.

Three of those Republicans were first elected to Congress in 2020. One Republican is newly elected earlier this month.

At the local level, Ghida Dagher, president of New American Leaders and the New American Leaders Action Fund, said in a statement that voters were ready for “a new generation of elected officials and have embraced the future new American candidates represent.”

“Voters of all backgrounds chose to support many of the new Americans who stepped up to run, win, and lead,” she said.

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