In an attempt to move Republican leaders in the House to reignite the immigration reform debate, thousands of immigrants in more than 140 cities marched on Saturday, demanding reform and an end to deportations. The demonstrations set the stage for a larger protest planned for tomorrow in Washington, D.C.
In Texas, thousands marched. Houston saw the biggest turnout, with organizers estimating nearly 2,000 demonstrators. Close to 1,000 people took to the streets in Dallas, according to organizers, and rallies in Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi drew hundreds. Huge demonstrations in Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles sent the same message to Washington: Immigrants are no longer afraid, but they are tired of waiting.
“The government shutdown isn’t going to shut down the issue,” says Connie Paredes, who helped organize the Dallas march with Texas Organizing Project. “The issue is still there and we’re going to continue fighting for immigration reform and for a pathway to citizenship.”
The U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill drafted by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” in June, but Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to bring that bill to the floor of the lower chamber. Another “Gang of Eight” bipartisan group formed in the House, but after three of the four Republicans dropped out, hopes of a comprehensive immigration reform bill passing the House withered.
Two of the three Republicans who abandoned the bipartisan effort in the House are from Texas—Sam Johnson (R-Richardson) and John Carter (R-Round Rock). The reps blamed President Obama, saying they didn’t trust him to enforce the border security provisions that conservatives see as the centerpiece of any successful immigration reform legislation. Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat in the House Gang of Eight, said the Republicans left negotiations because they weren’t getting the backing they wanted from Republican leaders.
“It is clear the bipartisan group’s work was not being embraced by Republican leaders, so this allows us to put the focus squarely on Speaker Boehner and his lieutenants to decide if they are serious about reform and if so, to do something more than talk,” Gutierrez said in a written statement.
Instead, House Republicans have indicated they want to focus on a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. Despite this, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, backed by other House Democrats, unveiled a “new” immigration reform bill last week that is a combination of the Senate’s bill and a border security amendment that passed the House Judiciary Committee. She said each part of the bill has had bipartisan support in one chamber or another, but no House Republicans joined her during the announcement.
“We graciously deferred to the Speaker as to the timing, as to the method,” Pelosi said. “We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to go to conference with a good bill that stops the deportations and is a path to citizenship.”
Boehner is not likely to let the bill get to the floor, but like the protests, the legislation was likely designed to keep immigration reform in the national eye and to pressure Republican leaders to act even as the government shutdown claims the spotlight and threatens to kick immigration off this year’s legislative calendar.
But Paredes, who has been advocating for immigration reform for 20 years, says she’s never seen so much support for reform. Organizers are focusing on educating Americans as to immigrants’ contributions to the economy and society, she says, and seeing results.
“Immigrants have a lot of family members, friends, employers who are U.S. citizens who are now involved in this fight and will cast their vote according to who is advocating to immigrants’ rights,” she says. “Legislators fail to see that – they’re against a pathway to citizenship because they fear the future vote, but what they need to fear is the vote now.”