During tonight’s Special Orders on workers and the economy, Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) highlighted the story of a DREAMer sitting in the gallery. Most people would see this as a rare acknowledgment that not only does the lack of action on immigration reform hurt real people and families, but that those immigrants themselves are among the most forceful advocates pushing for reform, and the movement’s true champions. But according to the House Speaker Pro Tem presiding over the floor, making a reference to someone being in the gallery constituted “addressing the gallery,” which is against House decorum and procedure.
This outraged Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), and he wasn’t afraid to voice his outrage to the Speaker Pro Tem. “Do you think these advocates want to be here, in the gallery, probably paying for their own travel to Washington?” he asked. He reminded the Speaker Pro Tem that many of the advocates in the gallery today live under the risk of deportation themselves, or are fighting to keep their families together. “Do you understand that you are blocking HR 15”—the bipartisan House bill modeled on the Senate’s immigration reform bill—“from coming to the floor for a vote?”
You can watch Rep. Polis’ well-deserved outburst here:
A note about House “decorum.” Immigration advocates have been routinely criticized and escorted out of hearings by police for standing up and demanding that their voices be heard by a Republican majority that seems committed to shutting them out. Rep. Bob Goodlatte has taken to preemptively warning at the beginning of a hearing that “disruptive” outbursts will not be tolerated—as if the mere presence of brown faces in the gallery makes it likely that something will happen. And he and his staff have told DREAMers on multiple occasions that they are not even allowed to wear T-shirts with immigration slogans in hearing rooms—they have to turn the T-shirts inside out. Now, merely mentioning that a DREAMer is in the gallery apparently constitutes a “decorum” breach.
“Decorum” doesn’t appear to extend to Members having to respect immigrants or advocates—or even to acknowledge them as fellow humans. It didn’t stop Rep. Boehner from locking his office door to keep out immigration advocates, fasters, and would-be turkey deliverers at least three times in the past month. And it didn’t stop Rep. Cantor from blowing off a young girl who needed his help to keep her father in the country. But when advocates refuse to be ignored and take their message to the House the only way they will be listened to—or even when a sympathetic Member of Congress like Rep. Garcia points out that they are present, and watching—Republicans get flustered and annoyed.
Rep. Polis said something that desperately needed to be said. Pretending you don’t see immigrants crying out to end deportations and protect families, or getting upset about the acknowledgment of someone who needs reform, is what’s truly “out of order.” It’s cowardly, and it’s callous. And whether Rep. Goodlatte and others like it or not, immigrants and allies will be watching the House GOP’s every move—and will not forget how it treats them.