Luis Campillo first experienced working on Capitol Hill more than 10 years ago through a summer internship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. The end goal being to make a difference through politics.
Yet, at first glance, he noticed hardly anyone looked like him.
“It wasn’t a very diverse place,” said Campillo of his experience working as an intern. “I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me or that talked like me.”
Campillo migrated to the United States at the age of 12 from Armenia, Colombia by family petition. He didn’t know a word of English, but excelled in his ESL classes. He was accepted into Brown University and followed through with a fellowship through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) and later ended up working with Sen. Jack Reed of his hometown in Rhode Island.
‘All politics are local’
“What was striking for me was how important it is for your community and your viewpoint to be represented because you don’t need a lobbyist to get your point across, all politics are local,” he said. “I went back to school and the CHCI Internship experience solidified in my mind that I wanted to focus on political science as a way to empower myself to understand how the system works and help to get the system to serve my community and others like me.”
He wanted to find solutions for those who constantly lived on edge because of their legal status.
“Within the Colombian community, there were a lot of people who came through el huecoas they call it crossing the border. I had a full understanding of that concept,” he said. “And even though I’m legal—I knew that just because the way I looked people still looked at me differently.”
Campillo is now an associate helping clients with strategy development, advocacy and outreach through the Ibarra Strategy Group—a Washington D.C.-based government and public relations firm. He is also the CHCI alumni president promoting outreach to aspiring students hoping to gain D.C. experience.
CHCI is a nonprofit and nonpartisan leadership development organization established in 1978. The organization runs semester-long Congressional internships in the fall, spring and summer. The fellowships are also available for college students hoping to gain more exposure in the policy making process.
Prior to joining the Ibarra Strategy Group, Luis Campillo worked as a Legislative Correspondent with Sen. Reed and as a liaison with the Senate Democratic Hispanic Taskforce.
Yet, he said he really got his hands dirty navigating the policymaking process through his fellowship with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) in 2004. Campillo worked alongside immigration reform advocates including Cecilia Muñoz and Josh Bernstein. Being at the forefront of the policymaking process, he learned that it’s not just about having the right kind of solution. It’s also about building a base of supporters.
“You have to build a sustained campaign—the reality is that political changes take a long time.”
Campillo helped with the planning of activities for the Low-Wage Immigrant Worker (LWIW) Coalition, which brought immigrant advocacy groups and labor organizations together on common goals shared with Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Since he started working with NILC, he’s been through the ups and downs of immigration reform. From the turmoil in 2006 to finding a consensus among Republicans into the turn of this election, he said the issue finally hit home with the Latino community.
“There’s a lot of personality, personal egos unfortunately often times” said Campillo. “One thing about D.C. it works a lot on relationships, which is a great thing, but it can also be a difficult challenge to confront if you have legislators of parties who don’t get along at the personal level.”
Luis Campillo works to close gap in diversity
In a series of stories published by the National Journal this October, the issue of diversity became strikingly apparent. The National Journal’s “Hill People” issue in 2011 “profiled 288 top aides who work for congressional leaders and House and Senate committees, and only 7 percent of them were identified as Asian, black, or Hispanic.”
“If you’re not given an opportunity to work on the Hill, how are you going to get the Hill experience?” said Campillo.
He noted that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Tri-caucus, and CHCI have called attention to the leadership in both Congressional chambers to make sure that there is more diversity on the policy-making level. The Congressional Hispanic Staffers Association has also made an effort to bridge that gap.
The National Journal’s Hill People report indicated that of those staffers who provided their race, 93 percent were white. Still, with the ongoing discussions of the Latino vote surge, analysts suggest there will be a greater push for diversity this time around.
On the other end, he said that his experience with CHCI provided invaluable access. There are a number of paths he could have navigated including working with an advocacy firm, a personal office or a lobbying group.
“It made it reachable,” said Campillo of his goals. “It opens doors. Once, you have worked on the Hill you can always go back to your community or stay in D.C. with a solid understanding of how the Hill works.”