Immigrant-rights supporters rallied in Riverside, San Bernardino and around the country Saturday, Oct. 5, chanting “the time is now” for a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
The demonstrations in about 150 cities nationwide were an attempt to jump-start immigration-reform legislation that is stalled in Congress.
“We will continue praying and voting and marching and calling and writing letters and organizing our communities, until every immigrant who works hard, pays taxes and is part of this nation of immigrants has the opportunity of becoming a citizen of the United States of America,” Moises Escalante, lead organizer of the social-justice group Pueblo de Fe Unido, said at a downtown Riverside rally and march.
The demonstrations were intended to show grass-roots support for an overhaul of the immigration system.
Yet since the Senate’s approval in June of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, there has been little sign that leaders of the Republican-controlled House will allow a similar measure to come to a vote in that chamber this year.
“I think the prospects look very bleak — almost impossible,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of political science at UC Riverside and an expert on immigration politics.
The rallies Saturday — and a national demonstration scheduled for Tuesday in Washington, D.C. — won’t change House members’ positions on immigration, in part because many of the participants are living in the country illegally and can’t vote, predicted Joe Guzzardi, spokesman for the anti-illegal-immigration Californians for Population Stabilization.
“These marches and protests and chanting and demanding will not move it forward one inch,” Guzzardi said of a path to citizenship, the top goal of immigrant-rights groups.
Yet people who rallied Saturday contend they are not daunted by the immigration standstill in the House.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Lucia Mirande, of Inland Congregations United for Change, a faith-based social-justice group that helped organize Saturday afternoon’s rally in downtown Riverside. “But people are keeping their eyes on the prize. I don’t think anyone feels defeated in terms of immigration reform. Leaders of our community are still optimistic.”
One of the more than 130 demonstrators in Riverside, Nadia Ayala, came to the United States at age 4. She is 18 now and has temporary protection from deportation under an Obama administration program for young undocumented immigrants. But that could end under a new president.
Ayala is studying at Riverside City College to be a social worker and worries she won’t be able to find a job in her field because of her legal status.
“My future is going to be the same as my parents: working in warehouses,” she said.
The rallies occurred nearly a year after elections that catapulted immigration reform to near the top of the congressional agenda. Latinos and Asian Americans voted in record numbers, and overwhelmingly for Democrats.
The rallies were another reminder that immigrant-rights supporters will vote against members of Congress who don’t back a path to citizenship, said Elena Carrasco, Inland Empire coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, which runs voter-registration and citizenship drives.
“If Congress doesn’t fix our broken immigration system, there will be consequences,” said Carrasco, an organizer of a rally Saturday morning in San Bernardino. “We will elect a new Congress.”
Carrasco said the rally was deliberately held in the district of Rep. Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga, who had long been a strong opponent of a path to citizenship but, after redistricting put him in a majority Latino and Asian district, has said he is reviewing his position.
In Apple Valley, immigrant-rights supporters held an all-night vigil Friday night and Saturday morning at the office of Republican Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, who also has not said how he would vote on a path to citizenship.
Immigrant-rights groups still hope they can sway Miller’s and Cook’s votes with the specter of a large Latino and Asian-American turnout in congressional elections.
But most GOP-held congressional districts don’t look like Southern California, said Roy Beck, executive director of Virginia-based NumbersUSA, a leading anti-illegal-immigration group.
The vast majority of Republican members of Congress represent safely GOP areas with relatively small Latino populations and worry far more about a challenge from the right in the Republican primaries than they do about getting flak for opposing a path to citizenship, he said.
As organizers planned the rallies, NumbersUSA members were calling congressional offices over the past several days to urge them to vote against what they deem an amnesty for violators of immigration laws.
Robin Hvidston, executive director of the Claremont-based anti-illegal-immigration group We the People Rising, was one of the callers. On Tuesday, she and other activists plan to visit the offices of Miller and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, to counteract the Washington immigrant-rights rally.
“We’re trying to give Republican members the backbone to not sign on to any amnesty legislation in the House,” she said.
MAYBE IN 2016
Beck said there are not enough votes in the House to approve a path to citizenship.
Dawn Le, deputy campaign manager for the Alliance for Citizenship, a nationwide coalition of nearly 120 organizations, insisted there are, if only House Speaker John Boehner allowed the full House to vote on it.
Boehner’s office did not respond to requests for a comment.
Boehner repeatedly has said he would not allow a vote on an immigration bill unless it had the support of a majority of House Republicans. Only a small minority of House Republicans have endorsed a path to citizenship.
Ramakrishnan said enactment of immigration reform with a path to citizenship is unlikely until 2016, when a presidential election and an ever-growing Latino and Asian electorate may shift some Republican votes.
But Carrasco said immigrant-rights activists will continue to push for a vote on immigration reform this year.
“We’re not going to let this issue go away,” she said.