Protesters Pressure Lawmakers over Immigration

Aug 13, 2013

Credit Service Employees International Union

Congress is gone for the month of August so local immigration advocates are planning to take their fight for reform to Republican’s district offices in Virginia.

During the last week Congress was in session immigration groups stormed Capitol Hill…waving signs threatening Republicans at the polls and holding sit ins…with dozens submitting to arrests. A lot of their anger is directed at two Virginia Republicans: Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and Bob Goodlatte, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Jaime Contreris is the vice president of an East Coast chapter of the Service Employees International Union. He says they have a message for Virginia Republicans.

“We’re here and we’re paying attention to everything that’s been happening with in the immigrant community for the past decade. And we’re sick of attacks. We want them to act on the package sent by the Senate and we don’t want a piece by piece solution," said Contreris.

That message isn’t going to get put on hold just because Congress is on a month long break. Contreris says his group and others are going to keep the pressure up throughout the month of August and into the fall.

“They’re going to have a rude awakening because everywhere they go on vacation in their district offices, we’re going to be there. You know we’re here to say have a nice vacation and when they go to the district we’re also going to have protests at their district offices. But also when they come back we’re going to be here also to remind them that, ‘hope you’re rested. Now get to work.’”

But many Republicans say they aren’t worried about the protests. Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith says the House is now having a substantive debate that can’t be fit into a chant or banner.  

“Oh, it’s a policy debate. I don’t think the protests really do a whole lot to promote what they’re trying to promote. In fact they may make it more difficult in some districts," said Griffith.

And Virginia Republican Congressman Randy Forbes says all of these immigration advocates who have been rallying loudly on Capitol Hill are too narrowly focused on granting citizenship to the nation’s undocumented workers.

“You’re talking about people who have decided that there is one component of this that they just want. They don’t care about the rest of the bill. Well, that’s not going to happen in the House. We’re not going to let one interest group or one advocacy group control this whole process.”

After Congress left town Virginia Republican Congressman Eric Cantor stuck around D-C to be on Fox News Sunday. The House majority leader reiterated his intention to take up immigration reform one piece at a time starting with border security.

“I have said that we will be addressing the issue of immigration in the House according to our terms. Not the way the Senate did, because as you now there’s been a lot of doubt being cast on whether the folks who voted for it even knew what they voted on because of the scramble to get the votes needed in the last bit of that legislative activity," said Cantor.

Democrats, like Virginia’s Gerry Connolly, say Republican leaders know their approach threatens to derail the reform effort.   “The piecemeal approach is another way of saying ‘a long slow death march.’”

Congress only has nine legislative days in September and its most pressing concern is preventing a government shutdown and trying to rearrange sequestration, which means the window to deal with immigration may be shrinking quickly. That’s why Jaime Cantreris – the union leader – says Virginia Republicans need to stop helping their party slow walk the reform effort.  

“The timeline is always a concern. Nine days is a short period of time, but if these guys really want to get something done, they can get it done. The problem here is a lack of will and lack of understanding of what solving this problem once and for all for the American people would mean.”

Now the ball is in House Republican’s court, and at least for these local protestors, that means they’re not letting up pressure on senior Republican officials from the commonwealth…whether they’re on vacation or not.