LOS ANGELES — As of Saturday, former Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia today is officially the first openly LGBTQ+ immigrant to serve in Congress.
Garcia was sworn into the House of Representatives early Saturday Washington time, four days later than scheduled because Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, was unable to get the necessary number of votes needed to be elected speaker until the 15th ballot early Saturday.
“It is about time,” the Democrat said. “The American people deserve a government who works for them, and now I can finally get to work for the people of California.
“As the first LGBTQ+ immigrant to serve in Congress, I am committed to building an inclusive, strong, and prosperous community. I will work with my colleagues to defend democracy, make meaningful progress on immigration reform, and improve the infrastructure in our cities to ensure that the families of Long Beach and Southeast Los Angeles can thrive for years to come,” Garcia added.
He is one of two new House members from Los Angeles County. The other is Rep. Sydney Kamlager, who is succeeding Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass in representing the 37th District.
House rules prohibit the swearing in of members until a speaker is elected.
Garcia said he ran to represent the 42nd District “because I want every single kid in our country to have the same opportunity that this country gave me.”
Garcia, who was Long Beach’s mayor from 2014 through Dec. 20, defeated Republican John Briscoe, then a member of the Ocean View School District Board of Trustees, 68.4%-31.6%, in the race to succeed Alan Lowenthal, who retired after representing the district since 2013.
Portions of the district had been represented by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, who retired after serving in Congress since 1993.
The district runs north from Long Beach through Lakewood, Bellflower and Downey to Huntington Park. It also includes Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands.
When Garcia was 5 years old, he moved to the United States with his parents and other relatives from Lima, Peru. In a biography supplied by his campaign, Garcia said “My mom brought me to America not knowing English, without an education, and without the right immigration status. We came here on a temporary visa and stayed past its expiration date.
“But thanks to a progressive change in immigration law passed by Congress in the 1980s, we were able to apply for permanent legal residency. I became a U.S. citizen at 21. It was the happiest day of my life.”
Garcia has pledged as a House member to support legislation to:
— Make the United States “the world’s leader in pandemic prevention and biosafety and biosecurity planning”
— Increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25, where it has been since 2009, to $15
— Expand paid family leave
— Change overtime rules
— Create public banks
— Provide universal child care
— Guarantee pre-K education
— Expand pathways to citizenship for immigrants in the nation without legal permission
— Expand affordable and accessible housing
Garcia describes himself as a comic book nerd, educator and “progressive and proud American.”
He defended himself against critics of his continuing to read comic books at age 45, declaring in a tweet Nov. 14, “For all of you upset that I still read comics and suggesting that I need to do more serious reading .. um… anyone who understands comics knows that comics are an essential part of American fiction. And the lessons learned are invaluable.”
In fact, when Garcia did take his oath of office, he did so with several meaningful mementos, including a photo of his late parents and his citizenship certificate — and the original story of Earth’s most famous fictional immigrant — Superman.
Garcia was chosen as president of the freshman class of the House Democrats.
His mother, Gaby O’Donnell, died in late July 2020 due to complications from the coronavirus at the age of 61. His stepfather, Greg O’Donnell, died from complications from COVID-19 on Aug. 9, 2020, at age 58, one day after the family had a memorial service for Garcia’s mother.