Women’s Groups Rally for Immigration Reform
Written by Julia Preston
September 12, 2013
View the original here.
WASHINGTON — More than 100 women were arrested on Capitol Hill on Thursday after they blocked a busy intersection to press the House of Representatives to move on immigration legislation in a protest that rallied national women’s groups to the cause.
The women were handcuffed by Capitol police officers and taken away in vans. Organizers said 25 immigrants who are in the country without legal papers were among those arrested.
The 115 women arrested included Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, and Linda Meric, executive director of 9to5, both women’s groups that have not been prominent in pushing Congress for a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
In a choreographed demonstration, the women sat in a circle on Independence Avenue, disrupting traffic for about 30 minutes, then were handcuffed by Capitol police officers and taken away in vans. Organizers said 25 immigrants who are in the country without legal papers were among those arrested.
Last week, House leaders said they would probably not take up contentious immigration legislation this fall, with lawmakers’ attention focused on the fast-changing debate over Syria and Republicans at odds over how to deal with a looming Oct. 1 debt ceiling deadline and other urgent budget issues.
The advocates’ response came quickly, with the protesting women saying they were not willing to wait. Immigrant groups have been marshaling their forces for a fight on the House floor this fall, and leaders warned they could adopt increasingly aggressive tactics if the debate stalls in the House. In June, the Senate passed a broad immigration bill, with a 13-year path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Pramila Jayapal, an organizer of the women’s protest, said immigration groups had learned that they could expand their public appeal by stressing the impact on women and children of deportations, which the Obama administration has continued at a fast pace.
Maria Hernandez, 37, an immigrant from Mexico who does not have legal status, said she participated in the protest even though she is raising three young daughters in San Francisco. “Why not?” Ms. Hernandez said before her arrest. “I’m taking the same risk every time I go out of my house, every time I take my daughters to school.”
All protesters were given misdemeanor citations with $50 fines and were released by late afternoon, organizers said. The police brought no criminal charges, which could have triggered deportation proceedings against the illegal immigrants.
Leaders of the liberal women’s organizations said they were embracing immigration in a bid to expand their following among immigrant and Latina women, both fast-growing populations. Those groups have been under siege on other fronts, with states passing laws restricting abortion or reducing funding for clinics providing birth control and other health services.
Ms. O’Neill of NOW said that although she has been active for many years, the sit-in was her first arrest. “We need to bring these issues to the fore in the minds of women voters and demand that Congress gets this done this year,” she said.
In recent days, some House Republicans revised their predictions, suggesting that some immigration bills could be voted on during the fall. A memorandum circulated to House Republicans last Friday by Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, mentioned immigration as one issue Republicans should expect to address before November, although he listed it after other priorities like the budget, Syria and efforts to repeal President Obama’s health care law.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, still hopes to see votes on immigration bills by the end of October, a judiciary aide said Thursday. Those votes could be on four bills the committee approved this year, including a tough measure to strengthen immigration enforcement.
Mr. Goodlatte and other Republican leaders would insist on passing measures to enhance enforcement and border security before the House could consider any legal status for illegal immigrants, the judiciary aide said.
“We must have enforcement as a prerequisite,” the aide said.
But Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Goodlatte’s plan would lead to “a train wreck.” Ms. Lofgren, who addressed a rally before the sit-in, said the committee bills had no support among Democrats and might not pass even in the House. She said Democrats were waiting to see if Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio would clear the way for a debate on a bipartisan bill that she and six other lawmakers have drafted.