Below is the seventh article in the series, “Immigration Reform Summer,” by Gebe Martinez, Advisor to America’s Voice Education Fund. This article is available for reprint as long as the author is given proper attribution. View other posts in the series here.
Through the canyons of California and to the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley where agriculture anchors the economy, hundreds of cars and buses caravanned Wednesday to the Bakersfield office of the third highest ranking House Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
Workers who harvest the fields and deliver the produce to markets, joined by nearly two thousand supporters from labor, business, faith and others in the broad coalition for immigration reform, demanded that McCarthy use his political rank to get a House floor vote on reform with a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“Are you going to lead or are you going to hide? Rep McCarthy are you for progress or obstruction?” asked Eliseo Medina, Executive-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union at a rally behind McCarthy’s office.
“We want a vote! We want a vote!” echoed Dolores Huerta, as one of the early members of the United Farm Workers of America union that was founded by Cesar E. Chavez. Chavez’s gravesite and the national monument dedicated to him lie in McCarthy’s district.
Unlike Republican Congressman David Valadao, whose district abuts McCarthy’s and has taken an aggressive stand for a path to citizenship, the GOP whip has not budged from his support for a step-by-step plan that “first secures the border.”
McCarthy’s job on the House GOP leadership team is to count votes on legislation but he has not acknowledged that a majority of the House supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Nor has he advanced a plan that would satisfy the needs of his farmworker heavy district that has a 35.5 percent Latino population.
At the rally within ear shot of his office, came warnings that McCarthy’s lack of support after the August congressional recess would have negative consequences when he is up for re-election in 2014.
“We are going to vote,” said Gabriela Fernandez, a 19-year-old voter in his district. “We are the future and we will make the difference.”
As the young voter spoke, a UFW member standing in front of the stage held up a cantaloupe in each hand, a sign of protest against Rep. Steve King, R-IA, whose latest insult against immigrants described DREAMers as having “calves the size of cantaloupes” because they are drug smugglers.
Given the importance of Latino workers to the district’s economy, McCarthy needs to step up and do the right thing, said Ben Monterroso, Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota, which conducts citizenship and voter engagement programs.
“This is the community he has lived with. He has the moral responsibility and he needs to exercise his leadership,” Monterroso said. “I do not expect (House Speaker John) Boehner to understand our community. But Mr. McCarthy? Definitely.”
As a reminder of contributions by the immigrant community, leaders of national advocacy groups including the UFW, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, labor and faith leaders, presented to McCarthy’s staff the tools and fruits of their labor including produce, tools for landscaping, and scrub brushes and gloves used by janitors. Their plea was for immigrants of today to be treated like those of the past who were allowed to earn citizenship and aim for their American dreams.
Their march to the congressman’s office was met by a small group of immigration restrictionists who began chanting, “USA.” The marchers, who outnumbered opponents, joined in the chant, in a show that they, too, are Americans. Then they returned to the refrain begun decades ago by Chavez, “Si se puede!”
Optimism that McCarthy will come around to immigration reform with a path to citizenship was expressed by Bakersfield’s Mayor Harvey Hall, a Republican who spoke at the rally. Hall credited Valadao’s advocacy for the citizenship path and predicted McCarthy also would join in once he finds the political space.
“I believe eventually, as the political process continues to unfold, that Congressman McCarthy will make it possible for us to achieve that,” the mayor said.
POLITICO: Immigration reform’s whipping boy: Kevin McCarthy
Los Angeles Times: Activists march on Bakersfield to push for immigration overhaul
KGET-TV: Thousands rally for immigration reform in Bakersfield
Press release: Nearly 2,000 March to Rep. McCarthy’s Office with One Message: “Give Us a Vote on Citizenship”