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Immigration Reform “Office Hours”

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Second in Two Part Series: Immigration Advocates Review Key Moments from 2013 & Preview What’s to Come in 2014

In 2013, the fight for immigration reform proved that this is not simply an “issue campaign” but a vibrant, relentless movement for social justice.  In a very special Office Hours, the last one in 2013, leaders at the helm of the effort to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship discussed some of the pivotal moments of 2013 and gave a taste for what’s to come in 2014.

Eliseo Medina, former International Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU inspired many with his leadership of the “Fast for Families” on the National Mall.  The fast drew attention and support from across the political spectrum, and after 22 days of a water-only diet, Medina, in a symbolic gesture, passed off his fast to Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA).  Kennedy’s grandfather, Senator Robert Kennedy, broke a similar 25-day fast by Cesar Chavez of United Farm Workers in 1968.  Eliseo was joined by other core fasters including Rudy Lopez, National Field Director for Center for Community Change, Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, Dae Joong Yoon, Executive Director of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota, Eddie Carmona, Campaign Director for PICO National Network’s Campaign for Citizenship and others who all lead the reforming movement in making this sacrifice in support of reform.

Said Medina on today’s call, “’Fast for Families’ reignited our movement and resurrected the debate. From Speaker Boehner claiming immigration reform was far from dead to Congressman Goodlatte declaring immigration reform now the top priority, our hunger for reform made a mark that has led us even closer to a solution. And we’re not done yet.”

The personal commitment, heart, and relentless of the immigration reform movement was in full display all year.  In one of the most powerful and moving moments of 2013, DREAMers affiliated with United We Dream reunited with their deported mothers at the Mexican border in Nogales, AZ.  Reaching through the steel barricade of the border fence, the emotions and pain of losing a loved one to deportation were on full display as DREAMers reconnected with their parents after years of separation.  Other United We Dream led actions included stopping deportation buses at detention centers across the country.  These and other actions from the nationwide movement from family justice made it clear that activists would not give up until a path to citizenship for all 11 million aspiring Americans becomes reality.

Said Greisa Martinez, Organizer with United We Dream, “United We Dream set a new precedent for the immigrant rights’ movement, shutting down a detention center in Arizona and stopping a bus filled with mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters in the midst of being deported.  DREAMers encircled the bus, singing and praying together, forcing the bus to retreat back into the detention center.  This is the kind of escalation and action that both the Obama administration and Congress can expect to see more of in 2014 if they don’t step up and provide relief and reform to our communities.”

In 2013, grassroots energy and pressure grew and demonstrated throughout the country on behalf of reform.  In November, women immigrant rights activists staged a sit-in at House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s district office, refusing to leave the office until the Congressman personally listened to their pleas for reform with a path to citizenship to receive a vote on the House floor.  At 11 PM, Rep. McCarthy finally appeared to meet with the protestors where he committed to taking the issue up in 2014.

Angélica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), said, “In 2013 we put Congress on notice that immigration reform will not go away any time soon.  We will be back in 2014 with renewed energy and ready to remind lawmakers their job is to work for the American public, offer solutions, act like grown-ups  If they refuse, voters are ready to remind them at the ballot box they are replaceable.”

As well, PICO National Network played a key role in turning California Republicans like Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and David Valadao to come out for citizenship and throw their weight behind HR 15, the bipartisan immigration bill in the House.

“PICO’s Campaign for Citizenship put unrelenting pressure on Members of Congress both in DC and back at home.  We conducted pilgrimages, we marched, we prayed, we held vigils, we fasted.  Our Campaign for Citizenship has brought brand new grassroots leaders into action from congregations all over the country and we are prepared to go into 2014 with a renewed sense of commitment,” said Eddie Carmona, Campaign Director for PICO National Network’s Campaign for Citizenship.  “While we didn’t get the legislative breakthrough we were hoping for in the House, we successfully moved key Republicans like Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadao to not only come out in support of citizenship but also to sign-on to HR 15.  That’s why when we return next year, we’re more confident than ever that we’ll not only move more House Republicans but that we’ll ultimately get the vote on citizenship we’ve been pushing for all along.”

Special deliveries to House offices and activity on Capitol Hill also drew widespread attention this year.  In August, leaders from United Farm Workers, America’s Voice and United We Dream responded to comments from Steve King about DREAMers having “calves the size of cantaloupes” by delivering sweet American-grown and immigrant harvested cantaloupes to all the 224 Members who voted in favor of Steve King’s amendment to deport DREAMers.  Just as House leadership gave Steve King his vote, leaders demanded that Speaker Boehner schedule their vote on citizenship as well.

Similar actions were repeated at the district level as well.  For the last 11 days of the 2013 Congressional session, UFW advocates held actions outside of Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) Bakersfield, CA office, including delivering giant rubber duckies to urge him to stop “ducking” his constituents and forming a human barricade in front of his office.  In November, America’s Voice, UFW, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), AFL-CIO, and Mi Familia Vota attempted to deliver immigrant-processed turkeys and bottles of merlot to key Republicans, though many were turned away.

Arturo Rodriguez, President of United Farm Workers, said, “Congressman Kevin McCarthy from Bakersfield closed his office door every day for the last 11 days of the 2013 congressional session, but we won’t be deterred. In 2014, we’ll come back even stronger, and I expect that Congressman McCarthy will have to close his office pretty regularly next year too because we are not going away. We are determined to see that he listens to us and his constituents. It is our hope that he not only opens his office door but his mind as well. Moving forward on immigration reform benefits the agriculture industry, California and Americans. It’s a win-win situation.”

“The immigration movement has been growing in strength, breadth and depth all year.  We’re still very much alive, we’re still fighting and we’re not going to give up until we get the legislative and administrative breakthroughs we’re pushing for,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.  “As we enter the holiday season, there will be a lot of heavy hearts knowing that 1100 people are being deported every day and that families are being torn apart.  We won’t stop until the deportations stop.”

See this 2013 year in review here, and this year in pictures here.  For recordings and resources from prior Office Hours calls, click here.

Click here for a recording from today’s call.

“Office Hours” will resume again on Friday, January 10th.