41 immigration-reform activists arrested
Immigration-reform advocates plan to spend the next 40 days putting pressure on House Republicans to pass legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. They kicked off their campaign by breaking the law.
The director of a Phoenix immigration-reform advocacy group was among 41 prominent activists who were arrested Thursday in Washington, D.C., after blocking Independence Avenue for about 30 minutes outside buildings where House members have their offices.
“We think this is the moment we need to send the loudest, strongest message that we can to Congress,” Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, said after she was released from custody.
She and other advocates say they will use a variety of tactics in coming weeks to attract public attention and remind House Republicans of the growing power of Latino voters to swing elections, possibly including more acts of civil disobedience that result in arrests.
About 200 supporters also took part in Thursday’s protest, some of them carrying banners that said “GOP do you want our vote?” and “Citizenship for 11 million.”
Three Democratic House members, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, and Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, joined protesters, although they were not among those arrested.
The arrested included leaders of several national groups that support immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship: Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice; Eliseo Medina, international secretary treasurer of the Service Employees International Union; and Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Campaign for Community Change.
The Capitol Hill protest was timed to catch House members before they return to their districts for the start of the August recess, said Donna De La Cruz, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Community Change, based in Washington, D.C.
The protest coincided with a renewed push by President Barack Obama to drum up support for immigration reform by touting the economic benefits reform would bring to individual states.
A national network of immigration-reform groups, including Promise Arizona, plan to target the districts of GOP House members with a series of events over the next five weeks, including rallies, door-to-door voter canvassing, vigils and town-hall-style meetings. The events are designed to pressure House Republicans to consider comprehensive immigration reforms when they return to work in Washington on Sept. 9, De La Cruz said.
The advocates are trying to jump-start immigration reform after Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled House refused to consider a sweeping bill passed by the Senate in June that would add billions in border security spending and also overhaul the nation’s immigration system, including allowing most of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to gain temporary legal status, and eventually citizenship.
“It’s really a moral urgency,” Falcon said. “We don’t want to let this moment go without trying our best to get immigration reform across the finish line.”
House Republican leaders, however, have chosen to tackle immigration reform one piece at a time, frustrating immigration advocates fearful that any bill passed by the House won’t include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Many House Republicans oppose a pathway to citizenship, calling it a form of “amnesty” for immigrants who broke the law.
In Arizona, reform advocates are targeting Reps. Trent Franks and Matt Salmon, two Republicans who have said they oppose a direct pathway to citizenship but have indicated they may support allowing some undocumented immigrants to gain legal status.
Meanwhile, immigration-enforcement advocates are planning their own campaign to pressure House members not to support immigration reforms that allow undocumented immigrants to get legal status.
The Phoenix-based Remember 1986 Coalition is organizing a “road trip” to travel around the state visiting the offices of all nine members of Arizona’s congressional delegation to deliver petitions signed by constituents opposed to legalizing undocumented immigrants, founder Rusty Childress said.
The group was formed this year to avoid repeating the “mistakes” of a 1986 law that allowed nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants to gain legal status but failed to follow through with border security and immigration-enforcement measures, Childress said.
Allowing undocumented immigrants to gain legal status would create added competition for millions of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who are out of work and can’t find jobs, Childress said. “It would make it much more difficult for them to get jobs,” he said.