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Delia Ramirez: Illinois Elects First Latina Congressmember; Ran on Medicare for All, Immigration Reform

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We speak with Congressmember-elect Delia Ramirez, who won her election for Illinois’s newly redrawn 3rd Congressional District Tuesday, making her the first Latina elected to Congress from Illinois. Ramirez is a progressive Democratic state representative who is the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants and the wife of a DACA recipient. She campaigned on expanding healthcare and housing access for working people, as well as passing the DREAM Act. “I represent an electorate that is growing — an electorate that expects us to deliver to all people and put the politics to the side and make working families a priority,” says Ramirez. “We understand the importance of multicultural coalition building for all working people.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Chicago, where one of the most exciting victories for progressives and the Latinx and immigrant communities in today’s midterm elections took place, as Democratic state Representative Delia Ramirez won her Illinois election for the newly redrawn 3rd Congressional District, making her Illinois’s first Latina elected to Congress.

REP.-ELECT DELIA RAMIREZ: We just made herstory tonight in the 3rd Congressional District!

AMY GOODMAN: Democrat Delia Ramirez is a progressive state representative who’s the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants and the wife of a DACA recipient. She previously served in the Illinois state House after being elected in 2018, has for years been a community organizer. She formerly worked as the campaign manager of Common Cause Illinois and co-chaired the elected officials chapter of the state’s Working Families Party affiliate. The Working Families Party played a key role in supporting her congressional race. Progressive members of Congress also supported her, including Senators Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As The Intercept reports, Ramirez is now said to be, quote, “poised to become a Squad-adjacent member of Congress.” But she had to overcome opposition, funded in part by the AIPAC-allied super PAC, Democratic Majority for Israel, or DMFI.

The day after the election, Congressmember-elect Delia Ramirez spoke at a celebratory press conference held by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

REP.-ELECT DELIA RAMIREZ: The seeds — ustedes han sembrado — that you have planted are blooming today. You are sending yourselves to the General Assembly, to the state Senate, to the state House, to the county. You are working towards Lake County, Will County, Kane County, Suburban Cook, DuPage County, and you’ll be building up in Cook County, as well. But you’ve got a bunch more counties to go, and you are just getting started.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, Congressmember-elect Delia Ramirez joins us from Chicago.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, and congratulations.

REP.-ELECT DELIA RAMIREZ: Thank you, Amy. Good morning. Honored to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you talk about people sending themselves at every level of elected office, and you, the first Latina to be elected to Congress. Talk about who you represent and what you feel are the key issues that you want to represent in Congress.

REP.-ELECT DELIA RAMIREZ: Look, when I announced on December 8th, a year ago, that we were running for Congress, I was really deliberate about making it “we,” that while my name was on the ballot in November and in June, I was taking the voices, the souls, the minds of the people that asked me to run. These are people who are struggling in paying for their child care. These are people that I helped house 10 years ago when I used to run a homeless shelter. These are the same people that I have been working with and building with so that we have progressives representing them in city council, in the state House, in the state Senate. And these are people who have been fighting every single day to create affordable housing, so that people can have — families can have stable housing security. So, when I say “we,” I wanted them to know that they may not be on the ballot, but they were going with me — they are going with me to Washington, D.C. And that was really important.

It meant that 800 volunteers worked very hard, endlessly, Amy, to make sure that I made it through a very, very challenging primary, a primary where my opponents — particularly one of them did everything in his power to try to destroy my character, from commercials to mailers to radio to digital ads. And unfortunate for him, it backfired, because the people on the doors knew that my track record was one of expanding healthcare coverage, of helping create democracy through an elected school board in Chicago, and I was someone that had secured more than $1.5 billion in emergency housing relief to keep people in their homes during the pandemic. It was clear. People knew I had a track record. They knew I represented thousands of people in my journey in public service, and that I was going — I am going to Congress to build a network that we’ve done in Illinois.

And so, you asked me: What are the things I want to work on? You know, I kept saying, for me, this race is personal. I’m the daughter of immigrants. I have parents who can’t afford their Medicare supplemental. My mother is on Medicaid, working a minimum wage job as a homecare worker. And as she cares for this 93-year-old senior, she worries about her diabetes medication and the fact that the agency that she works for pays so little that she can’t afford the $550-a-month healthcare insurance they offer, because those copays and the cost of her insulin is almost a third of her entire income. This is a reality for me.

I’m also the wife of a DACA recipient, someone that’s been here since the age of 14. I am entering Congress as the only member of Congress in a mixed-status family. So, healthcare, Medicare for All, expanding healthcare access and quality is absolutely important to me. Finally delivering, after 30 years of a conversation, on immigration reform is not something I’m going to just co-sponsor, talk about, hashtag. I understand the urgency of the people that are sending me and the responsibility to be a leader on the issue. In short term, my hope, and what I call my future colleagues to do during lame duck, is to finally pass the DREAM Act and give DACA recipients that pathway to citizenship that they deserve, that my husband deserves, that every single one of the young people who are not that young anymore, who look like me, who are my age, have been waiting for as they’ve contributed and called this place home for so long.

And then, I say to you, lastly, is the economy. What I heard people continue to say and what resonated was, yes, we’ve made some progress. Yes, we helped you keep your housing during the pandemic. Yes, we’re helping you, you know, through some child tax credits, through some support services. But the reality is it’s still not enough. You are still struggling with two jobs and barely making it. We have a responsibility to hold corporations accountable, and all of those that have profited and created this inflation at the backs of everyday working people. So, immigration, healthcare, economy are front and center for me.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about your assessment of the Biden administration on immigration, continuing to support the Trump-era pandemic policies like Title 42, which has blocked at least 2 million migrants from applying for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. What is your assessment of President Biden on immigration?

REP.-ELECT DELIA RAMIREZ: I think President Biden has done some good work, and we have a lot more to do. The reality is that no one travels through Central America or through a jungle of Venezuela if it wasn’t because they thought like it was life or death. The reality is that we also have to talk about what our relations with foreign policy is — right? — and foreign partners, or lack of.

So, there is a comprehensive immigration reform that we must take on and have to understand the root causes of migration. People don’t come here because they woke up and said, “I think I’m bored here in Chiquimula, Guatemala, you know, and living nearly starving. I’m just going to figure out how to find $10,000 to begin a journey of traveling that may mean I die, I get raped, I never make it to the other side.” People are crossing the border because it’s their only option to survival. In my opinion, these are refugees. These are people that are seeking asylum from countries that, unfortunately, are destroying the ability for their everyday people to have even the basic needs met.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Congressmember-elect, about reproductive rights, something you have championed for a long time. Abortion was a referendum in five different states, and abortion rights activists won every one. Three of those states, like Vermont and Michigan, it enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution. And then there were two anti-abortion referenda, like one in Kentucky that was overwhelmingly defeated. Can you respond to this and how much further you want to go in Congress to protect reproductive rights?

REP.-ELECT DELIA RAMIREZ: In Illinois in 2019, as a freshman state representative, I stood with 42 Democrat women in the state House for six hours, demanding that our chamber codify Roe v. Wade, specifically preparing ourselves for this moment. It wasn’t an easy fight. And I’ll be honest with you: There were Democrats that didn’t vote for it. And certainly not one Republican on the other side voted for it, although they knew clearly that they were voting against their best interest, their own interest, the women, Republican women, and others on the other side. To me, what I think about and what I saw here in Illinois and what I’ve seen across the country is that people are saying, women are saying, people who were born with a female reproductive system, they are being clear to say, “You don’t get to choose what I do over my body. My decision to have a family is a decision between my family and my doctor.”

And the second piece of that, and I think particularly, let me say, Amy, in the Latino community, which I know people have said the red wave, the Republicans are investing so much in Latinos because Latinos don’t support abortion. There was no red wave in the Latino community. Abortion — right? — and the fear that if more Democrats are in, that we would codify Roe v. Wade, that didn’t work in the favor of Republicans. We understand that abortion is healthcare, and that if people care about fertility, people care about ectopic pregnancies and dying from them, and people care about people having a right over their bodies, that making sure that we protect our ability and our right to abortions is pivotal to our livelihood. That was clear. That was clear in the Latino community. That was clear across the country.

So, what I want to do is I want to make sure there’s never a federal ban on abortion. What I want to do is to make sure that we’re educating people on what abortion care and reproductive rights is and what it isn’t, right? Because the amount of misinformation, and this idea that you go into communities of color and you just spread all this misinformation because they don’t know better, I mean, that, to me, is the epitome of what white supremacy and racism is. The truth is that on election night, on November 8th, at 9, 10, 11 p.m., people across the country responded clearly and said, “We know better. We are educated. We know what we need. And we know what we need to protect.”

AMY GOODMAN: And then, your thoughts, finally, on — on the one hand, you had a number of progressives who won, like Summer Lee in Pennsylvania. She’ll be the first African American congressmember to represent Pennsylvania. And you’ve got Greg Casar in Austin, Texas, who was the youngest elected member of the Austin City Council. But you also have Greg Abbott who won his reelection, the Texas governor, and you’ve got, of course, Ron DeSantis in Florida, who easily won his reelection — two men who have sent asylum seekers to cities like New York and your city, Chicago, in a kind of defiant show of anti-immigrant zeal, with Ron DeSantis possibly being a presidential candidate in 2024. Your final comments about how you feel it’s most important to represent immigrants in this country today?

REP.-ELECT DELIA RAMIREZ: Yeah. Look, the fearmongering and scapegoating of immigrants is not a new thing. They’ve done this to us, and you will see that every single election cycle. All of a sudden you hear about caravans. In this case, we are hearing about Venezuelans coming through the border. And you have seen people traffic immigrants across this country, put them on planes. This could not have been more painful to see. I met a 3-year-old, Camila, who already had learned at the age of 3 that she had to give me an alias, because she was so afraid that her family would get deported, in Texas, or she’d get deported if she got sent to Florida.

The reality is that if we say that we are a country of diversity, if we say we are a country that welcomes all people, that is a superpower, a beautiful nation — right? — that stands on justice and love, then we should be a country that’s pro-immigrant. And the reality, that in this moment we are not.

But my hope comes from Maxwell Frost in Florida. My hope comes from Greg Casar in Texas. My hope comes from Michelle Vallejo, that may have not won the election in Texas 15, but she is moving the needle and moving the needle. And the reality is that in 10 months we’ll be circulating petitions again. And I hope Michelle runs again, that some of the local work we do will be so critical as we actually move the needle in gubernatorial races.

Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis and the extremist Republicans are scared. They are so scared of who we are and that this daughter of immigrants, whose mother crossed the border of Mexico and Guatemala to come here, pregnant of me, nearly drowning, is about to go to Congress. That is fear to them, because I represent an electorate that is growing, an electorate that expects us to deliver for all people and put the politics to the side and make working families a priority. That’s going to impact their profits. That’s going to impact the corporations that continue to profit at the expense of our people. But we’re here. We’re not leaving. We’re representing. Six of us Latinos are going to Congress, and those numbers will continue to grow, because we understand the importance of multicultural coalition building for all working people.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Congressmember-elect Delia Ramirez, thank you so much for being with us, the first Latina congresswoman to be elected to Congress not only to represent Illinois, but to represent the Midwest, previously served in the Illinois state House after being elected in 2018, a longtime community organizer, daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, wife of a DACA recipient. Thank you so much.


AMY GOODMAN: Next up, we look at ranked-choice voting. What is it? It was on the ballot Tuesday in Nevada and many cities, and shaped the outcome of the Senate race in Alaska. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Divino Maravilhoso” by the longtime Brazilian singer Gal Costa, who died Wednesday at the age of 77 after a career that spanned over five decades. Brazil’s recently elected President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva posted on Instagram that Costa was “one of the best singers in the world, one of our foremost artists who brought the name and sounds of Brazil to the entire planet.” He said, “The country … lost one of its great voices today.”

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Ranked-Choice Voting Backed in Midterm Ballot Measures, May Help “Crash-Proofing Our Democracy”

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