Farmworkers Arrested in Civil Disobedience
Immigration reform advocates continue to engage in demonstrations and civil disobedience actions calling on House Republican Leadership to allow a vote on immigration legislation. On Wednesday, the UFW, Virginia Organizing and FIRM youth activists held a civil disobedience action in front of the offices of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), soon to be former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Seventeen people were arrested, including UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, three UFW farmworkers and youth as young as 12-years-old, as well as other supporters of immigration reform. College interns from the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (the interns are former migrant and seasonal head start graduates from farmworker families) participated in the rally and lobby visits, asking Members to call on Speaker Boehner bring immigration reform to a vote before the August recess. This action follows on the heels of civil disobediences in 28 local district offices last week organized by the UFW and other immigration groups around the country.
More actions will take place in the weeks leading to the August recess. This coming Saturday, June 14, the People's Movement Assembly addressing detention, deportation, and resistance will convene in Tacoma, Washington. A rally will follow to the Northwest Detention Center where immigrant detainees were on a hunger strike this past spring in protest of deportations and poor conditions in the privately-run facility, including wages of $1 per day for detainees’ labor. A recent Seattle Times editorial calls for an increase in alternatives to detention for immigrant detainees.
The House, Politics and Immigration Reform
By now most readers are probably aware that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor unexpectedly lost his primary election to Tea Party challenger David Brat. Immigration reform had become an issue in the campaign, with Brat accusing Cantor of supporting amnesty and Cantor pushing back with the claim that he had blocked the Senate “amnesty” bill. Some commentators have said that Cantor’s loss could harm prospects for immigration reform if it increases other Republican Members’ fear of the minority right-wing of the party that opposes reform. Other commentators, however, have pointed out that Cantor was no champion of immigration reform and that those Republicans who have been outspoken in their support of immigration reform, such as Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) and Rep. Renee Ellmers (NC), easily beat anti-immigration reform primary challengers. Supporting this view are polls that show that the primary voters in Cantor’s Virginia district were not motivated by immigration reform, but by other issues. A poll by Americans for a Conservative Direction indicated that the vast majority of voters in Cantor’s district support immigration reform and that Cantor’s loss was due to, among other reasons, a perception that Cantor was more focused on national politics than local needs. The poll found that 72% of those who voted in the GOP primary support the substance of comprehensive immigration reform, including 69% of Brat voters.
Following his loss, Cantor resigned as Majority Leader, which means that House Republicans will be focused on electing a new Majority Leader over the next week. Currently, the only candidate is House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who represents a heavily agricultural district that is 35 percent Latino. Despite his constituency and numerous actions by activists, including the UFW, McCarthy has not yet taken a strong positions calling for meaningful immigration reform. In a Think Progress article addressing this issue, Giev Kashkooli, the strategic campaigns director of UFW, captured the essential question:
“The question for Congressman McCarthy is whether he will step up and take a leadership role in scheduling a vote on immigration reform that would invigorate the Bakersfield economy, hold abusive employers accountable, and lift farm workers out of the shadows; or will he continue ceding power to hateful extremists in the House Republican Conference to the peril of the people he represents?”
McCarthy should heed the call of his district’s need for immigration reform, which is strongly supported by both Republicans and Democrats nation-wide. This week, FWD.us released the results of new polls on immigration reform conducted in collaboration with ten prominent Republican polling firms. The polling found that Republicans overwhelmingly support passing comprehensive immigration reform that specifically includes a pathway to citizenship along with other provisions similar to the Senate bill. A recent poll by the Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute also found that the majority of Americans in both parties support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Failed House Effort to Limit Deportations
There was one failed effort to address the broken immigration system this week. On Wednesday, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) offered an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations Act in the House Appropriations Committee. The amendment would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from using funds to deport the parents of U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident children who do not pose a threat to the country. The amendment failed by a vote of 23-26. Two Republicans joined Democrats to vote in favor of the amendment, Reps. Valadao (R-CA) and Diaz-Balart (R-FL), who are both outspoken in favor of immigration reform.
Humanitarian Crisis at the Border
There has been a recent surge in unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the border into the United States from Mexico. Since October 1, 47,017 children have been caught crossing the Southern border without their parents, up 92% from last year. More recent waves have included some mothers with small children as well. In addition to poverty, many of these individuals are fleeing drug cartels and gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The surge has overwhelmed the capacity of U.S. Customs & Border Protection and the Department of Health & Human Services. These agencies must process, house and care for these children until there is a review for immigration relief eligibility or a successful reunification with family members in the U.S. pending further immigration proceedings. President Obama has called the situation a humanitarian crisis and called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security to set up an interagency task-force to manage the situation. The surge is expected to continue and the White House has asked Congress for an extra $1.4 billion in next years’ budget to handle the migrants.
A factsheet on unaccompanied minors by the Jesuits and the Washington Office on Latin America is available here.
*Correction: Last week’s update erroneously reported that Rep. King’s amendment would provide $5 million for the investigation of the Department of Justice. Instead, the $5 million would go to the Department of Justice to be used to investigate the Department of Homeland Securities’ use of prosecutorial discretion.