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Immigration Reform “Office Hours”

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office hoursThe Faces Behind the Immigration Debate: Why Boehner & House GOP Can’t Ignore Us

On today’s immigration reform “Office Hours” press call, we lifted up the real stories driving the immigration debate and reminded Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and the rest of House GOP Leadership of why they can’t avoid us (though they may try).

Whether it’s fasting on the national mall, prayer vigils inside the halls of Congress and outside homes of House leadership, or acts of civil disobedience across the country, the immigration reform movement was everywhere this week, proving yet again that our power and presence is inescapable.

Yesterday, a group of immigration advocates and immigrant farm workers sought to deliver immigrant processed turkeys from United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and merlot wine from United Farm Workers (UFW) to Speaker Boehner and key members of House leadership, as a reminder of how hard immigrants work in America while Members of Congress prepare to take off for yet another recess (after already taking 198 days off this year).

However, the response from House leadership was more heavy-handed— Boehner’s staff actually locked their doors, refusing to talk to the activists who came to the office, including two women who work at a Washington vineyard producing some of the Speaker’s prized merlot.  A member of the House GOP leadership went so far as to sic the Capitol Hill police on the advocates (read more about what went down at the Capitol HERE, view the pictures HERE, and watch it HERE).

As Giev Kashkooli, a National Vice President of UFW, explained:

We all would like to have 32 of the next 39 days off that Speaker Boehner and Republican leaders of Congress have the rest of the year.  New Americans who are farm workers have done their jobs so that Speaker Boehner and other Americans can enjoy their Thanksgiving meals, now it is time for Speaker Boehner and Republican House leaders to ‘Do Your Job’ by voting on immigration reform.

On today’s call, Kashkooli was joined by Fidel Silva, an immigrant potato farm worker from Idaho, who reacted to news that the House was delaying an immigration vote with additional days off while he’d be working hard in the fields:

To harvest the potatoes that are on everyone’s Thanksgiving table requires working in freezing temperatures in the winter during planting season and working in 100 degree heat in the summer when we irrigate the fields.  During the harvest season in the Fall, we work 14 to 16 hour days.  We need immigration reform for people like me who work hard all year to ensure that essential foods like potatoes are on the Thanksgiving table. We especially ask for immigration reform for the person who carries the weight in the household. Without them, what is going to happen to their families? That is why I am asking the House of Representative Republicans and the leader of the House to have immigration reform.

Other actions in front of the homes of House Leadership this week turned up the heat on Republicans to act.  Hundreds of activists held a pre-dawn vigil outside the Speaker’s Washington, DC home this week, which was followed by a march on his Capitol Hill office.  And a civil disobedience action at House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) office drew hundreds of people.

Saul Aleman, Field Leader for Students Working for Equal Rights in Florida, who participated in the civil disobedience action, said:

Our community continues to live in fear and our nation continues to live in a moral crisis, so we felt the need to escalate. We wanted Speaker Boehner and Representative Cantor to hear our demands and to know that as they celebrate Thanksgiving with their families next week, more than 2 million in our community will have an empty chair at the table because of senseless deportations. We will continue to escalate until we finally end the pain in our community.

In addition to the actions on Capitol Hill, the ongoing fast on the national mall drew the attention of House leaders from both parties as well as a special visit from Vice President Joe Biden this morning.

“Every day our body and energy level gets weaker and low but our spiritual energy is very high. We’re fasting to stop the pain of family separation.  Everyday more than 1,100 hard working immigrants are deported; they’re mothers, father, uncles, and aunts.  Our children are asking, where is my mommy? When is she coming home? This is a crisis, a moral crisis and we need to stop this,” said Dae Joong Yoon, faster from “Fasting for Families” and Executive Director of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), “When we lost hope in the House of Representatives, we decided to create a ‘tent of hope’ and the ‘Fasting for Families’ tent is our determination that we will never give up for immigration reform and we are not going away. We pray for our faith and we for the House Speaker’s heart and mind so he can make the right decision and put the bill on the floor for a vote.”

And as activists kept the pro-reform drum beating in Washington, the painful reality of our broken immigration system was on full display across the country. Maria Perez, risked arrest this week in front of a Chicago Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bus in an attempt to save her husband, Brigido Acosta Luis, from deportation:

There’s nothing like the pain of watching your loved one leave you and not knowing when you’ll be able to see them again.  I did everything I could to stop Brigido’s deportation, yet still ICE insisted that my husband, father to our two children and the love of my life, was a high priority target for deportation?  Nothing seems to add up here,” said Perez.  “As Republicans in the House continue to delay a vote on immigration, it’s families like mine who have to suffer.  I’d like for Speaker Boehner and his GOP friends to explain to my children why there will be an empty place at our Thanksgiving table this year.  I call on them to get moving on immigration reform, and I call on the President to stop these deportations so no other families have to go through what we are.

To read Maria’s full harrowing account of Brigido’s deportation, click HERE.

Concluded Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Congress has been out of session 198 days this year, and they’re going on recess yet again.  They seem to be slow-walking the issue, but we’re not letting up on them.  Immigrants are preparing food and drink for the upcoming holidays, and we don’t think it’s too much to ask that our elected officials—whose salaries are paid with taxpayer money—do their jobs too by taking up immigration reform.  There is still time this year to schedule a vote on immigration reform this year, something supported by the vast majority of the American people and a real priority for this Congress.

Please note that there will be no immigration reform “Office Hours” Friday, November 29th.

For recordings and resources from prior Office Hours calls, click here.