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It has been an amazing year in immigration reform.
Over the last year, a deep and diverse coalition has come together to fight for immigration reform–a piece of legislation that could bring 11 million undocumented Americans out of the shadows, stop the separation of families, and repair the nation’s broken immigration system. We’ve held rallies, hunger strikes, marched on Capitol Hill, conducted acts of civil disobedience, met with, called, faxed, tweeted at, sent letters to, and signed petitions at our members of Congress–and the fight isn’t over yet. The House still hasn’t taken action on immigration reform, but there’s still time for them to do so next year. And if they still won’t, our movement will be ready to punish them in every election thereafter, so that we can elect a Congress that will.
As we remember this year, here’s a look back at our year in immigration reform and how far we’ve come:
In JANUARY, DREAM leader Erika Andiola‘s mom was detained by ICE and nearly deported before a flurry of petitions and calls stopped her bus and brought her home. The case was a desperately powerful reminder of why we need immigration reform–because families are being separated and people are being deported without just cause. As Erika said in a video that went viral, “This is real. This is so real. This is not just happening to me, this is happening to families everywhere.” Erika’s mom’s case was scheduled to come back up again in January, but yesterday we learned that she has received a two-year stay of deportation.
FEBRUARY saw the launch of the Alliance for Citizenship, while a petition drive held by CREDO Action, Presente.org, Reform Immigration FOR America (RI4A), Daily Kos, National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and America’s Voice Education Fund (AVEF) delivered more than a quarter-million signatures to Congress asking for immigration reform. The 265,213 petitions were entered into the official Senate record during an immigration hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, marking the progressive effort behind the push for reform and highlighting the growing breadth of support for immigration and a path to citizenship.
In MARCH, the Senate held a series of hearings, after Republicans like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) complained that immigration was moving too quickly through that chamber and more hearings needed to be held. Grassley and his allies promptly then used the hearings to dress down immigrants and invite witnesses from the Center for Immigration Studies. GOP obstruction continued throughout 2013, with Republicans blaming President Obama, the Democrats, fiscal issues, the legislative calendar, and finally immigration reform advocates themselves for why they couldn’t pass immigration reform.
In APRIL, thousands of activists from across the nation rallied on the National Mall for immigration reform and the first major immigration rally of the year. A week later, the Gang of 8 introduced S. 744, the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, which contained a path to citizenship, a return provision for certain immigrants who had been deported, no age limit for DREAMers, and more. The bill headed to the Senate Judiciary Committee for markup, while advocates launched a campaign calling upon Congress to “protect the path” to citizenship.
In MAY, the Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine made national headlines when it was discovered that his 2009 PhD thesis defended a “genetic component to group differences in IQ” and claimed that “no one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites.” The ensuing uproar led to Richwine’s resignation and the Heritage Foundation to seriously consider hiring a PR firm. The RNC’s Hispanic Director for Florida quit his post and became a Democrat, citing a “culture of intolerance” and specifically the Richwine report as the last straw. Meanwhile, the Senate immigration bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and moved onto the Senate floor, facing challenges like John Cornyn’s border security poison pill and Ted Cruz‘s insistence that no undocumented immigrants ever be allowed to become citizens, ever.
House Republicans, in comparison, spent June giving Steve King a vote on his amendment to deport DREAMers, and allowing Bob Goodlatte to introduce the SAFE Act, an enforcement-only piece of legislation that criminalizes immigrants.
In JULY, Republicans were once again confronted with the need to pass immigration reform when Steve King likened DREAMers to drug dealers and claimed that they all had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” Republicans and Democrats alike condemned his comments, but King refused to apologize. Advocates later visited Capitol Hill to deliver cantaloupes to King and 223 of his colleagues–the 221 House Republicans and three House Democrats who had voted for King’s June amendment.
AUGUST began with an act of civil disobedience in Washington, DC, where more than 40 immigration reform leaders were arrested while calling on Congress to take action on citizenship. But the real story came from districts across the country, where advocates spent the entire month of August visiting Congressional offices, contacting their Representatives, calling and faxing their members, holding rallies, organizing actions, and in general conducting thousands of local mobilizations for immigration reform. By the time the August recess was over, 1,194 events had been organized in 41 states, more than 600,000 petitions for citizenship had been gathered, and more than 81,466 contacts to Congress via email, fax, and phone had been logged. Meanwhile, Steve King and his cohort of immigration reform opponents (pictures to the right), mobilized almost no one.
In SEPTEMBER, America’s Voice launched our Cost of Inaction website, highlighting both the personal and political costs of every single day the House continues to stall on immigration reform. With more than 1,100 deportations happening a day, the Obama administration is scheduled to hit its 2 millionth deportation sometime late this year or early next year.To highlight the personal costs of our broken immigration system–specifically, its impact on families, women, and children–104 women were arrested in an act of civil disobedience in September, including our own Managing Director Patty Kupfer. “This fight is not about Congressional procedures,” she wrote in a statement. “It’s about real people.”
OCTOBER saw more arrests, when nearly 200 immigration reform supporters, including 8 members of Congress, were arrested after an act of civil disobedience on Capitol Hill. Specifically, the activists were protesting Speaker John Boehner’s continued refusal to call for a vote on immigration reform in the House, even though such a vote has more than enough support to pass. Just a few days previously, October 5th actions once again turned out thousands of immigration reform supporters across the country, as advocates organized more than 180 events across 40 states.
NOVEMBER marked one year since the 2012 election in which Mitt Romney’s embrace of self-deportation sealed his fate, and brought the national GOP one step closer to electoral doom. Romney emerged from political exile to express regret for alienating so many Latino voters, but House Republicans continued to whistle past Dixie, taking no action on immigration reform. Immigration advocates continued to escalate the pressure both on Congress and President Obama: Eliseo Medina and others began a 22-day fast for reform, while President Obama was interrupted mid-speech when he came to San Francisco to talk about immigration. No House GOP leader was spared: Boehner was accosted at breakfast and advocates held a pre-dawn vigil outside his home, while eleven DREAMers were arrested when they refused to leave Eric Cantor’s office. In Spokane, WA, 12 were arrested after conducting an act of civil disobedience at Cathy McMorris Rodgers‘ office, while in Bakersfield, CA, 13 women forced an 11 PM meeting with Kevin McCarthy. In Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Jersey, other activists continued a chain of actions against ICE offices and deportation buses, chaining themselves together to shut down ICE and stop buses with deportees from leaving.
Congress only has to work 5 days this DECEMBER, but they spent it once again doing nothing. Meanwhile, the movement was galvanized and refocused by the Fast4Families. House GOP leaders, including Speaker Boehner and Kevin McCarthy, even started locking their doors and refusing to engage with immigration advocates who came to speak with them, while Eric Cantor abruptly dismissed a 9-year-old girl who tried to ask him to help her father, who is facing deportation proceedings. America’s Voice used the opportunity to launch the “Do Your Jobs” campaign, reminding Congress that immigrants work hard every day to contribute to this country, and Congress should, too–by taking action and passing immigration reform. And on the second-to-last day of the 2013 legislative session, more than 1000 advocates flooded into more than 100 Congressional offices in a coordinated blitz, intended to remind Representatives that our movement is not going away.
2014? Congress adjourns for the year this Friday, and 2013 is quickly coming to a close. But the legislative session is not over yet–Speaker Boehner and his caucus can still pass immigration reform through the House next year, and save their party some electoral hope. But will they actually do so? Or will they continue to let extremists like Steve King speak for the GOP? Will they pass immigration reform and give hope to 11 million immigrants and families? Or will we have to elect a different Congress, who will?