Lawmaker Arrests Over Immigration: Good Optics but Little Change

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) is arrested by U.S. Capitol Police after blocking First Street NW in front of the U.S. Capitol with fellow supporters of immigration reform, on October 8, 2013 in Washington, DC. Last week, House Democrats introduced their own immigration reform bill.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Elahe Izad
Oct. 8, 2013, 5:03 p.m.

In­side the Cap­it­ol on Tues­day, Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic law­makers traded barbs over the fisc­al is­sues. Out­side, mem­bers of Con­gress were get­ting cuffed.

The Cap­it­ol Po­lice’s ar­rests of Demo­crat­ic Reps. Joseph Crow­ley and Charlie Ran­gel of New York; Keith El­lis­on of Min­nesota; Al Green of Texas; Lu­is Gu­ti­er­rez and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois; John Lewis of Geor­gia; and Raul Gri­jalva of Ari­zona were the pre­planned cul­min­a­tion of a daylong im­mig­ra­tion rally on the Na­tion­al Mall. Scores of of­ficers des­cen­ded on Gar­field Circle, where the law­makers and hun­dreds of act­iv­ists re­fused to leave the street, lead­ing to the ar­rests.

The protest made for good op­tics — law­makers were led off in zip-ties — but it is un­likely to re­shape the polit­ics of im­mig­ra­tion re­form, which has lost mo­mentum since the Sen­ate passed a com­pre­hens­ive bill earli­er this year.

“It doesn’t have an ef­fect as to what is go­ing on be­hind the scenes here to try and get this thing done,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Bal­art, R-Fla., said of the rally, which he at­ten­ded earli­er in the day.

Still, thou­sands turned out to urge Con­gress to act. Al­though parts of the Mall have been closed due to the shut­down, groups are gran­ted ac­cess for First Amend­ment activ­it­ies, in­clud­ing World War II vets who are now al­lowed to vis­it the WWII Me­mori­al.

“We will be ar­res­ted and we will be denied our liberty, but we do it so that one man — the speak­er of the House — can free the Con­gress of the United States and al­low Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats, men and wo­men from all 50 states, to fi­nally pass com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form,” Gu­ti­er­rez told the crowd be­fore march­ing to the Cap­it­ol.

Then in Span­ish, Gu­ti­er­rez said the votes ex­ist in the House to pass im­mig­ra­tion re­form, adding, “In our com­munity, we say: We are not frus­trated, we are not tired.”

Gu­ti­er­rez and about 200 oth­er im­mig­ra­tion ad­voc­ates were led away in zip-tie hand­cuffs as crowds bel­lowed “Si se puede!” At one point, a bus full of photo-snap­ping tour­ists was caught in the crowd. Each law­maker had to pay a $50 fine, and an Eth­ics Com­mit­tee re­port will likely be gen­er­ated as a mat­ter of course, ac­cord­ing to an aide.

Lewis, an icon of the civil-rights move­ment, has been ar­res­ted at least 45 times, in­clud­ing five as a mem­ber of Con­gress. He com­pared the day’s events to the March on Wash­ing­ton, where he spoke 50 years ago. Back then, Lewis said, he noted: “You tell us to wait. You tell us to be pa­tient. But we can­not wait. We can­not be pa­tient. We want our free­dom and we want it now. Fifty years later, there are forces telling us to wait, but we are say­ing we want com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form now.”

For many ad­voc­ates, such as 19-year-old Jas­mine Ramirez of Nashville, Tenn., the is­sue is highly per­son­al. She and oth­er fam­ily mem­bers are un­doc­u­mented, and while she qual­i­fied for the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, she would like to see the same pro­tec­tion ex­ten­ded to her par­ents.

“We’re not go­ing to give up. It af­fects every­body — my fam­ily, my com­munity,” she said. “I still think we’ll get something passed.”

But the en­thu­si­asm of ad­voc­ates chant­ing “This is what demo­cracy looks like!” is not matched in­side the dome, where the loom­ing fisc­al crises have cast a shad­ow over le­gis­la­tion on many oth­er is­sues.

Over the week­end, House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence Chair­wo­man Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers said on Uni­vi­sion that, des­pite the fo­cus on the debt ceil­ing and shut­down, there is still time to “fix what is a broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem.”

“The speak­er over the last few weeks has con­tin­ued to talk about the im­port­ance of the House mov­ing for­ward on im­mig­ra­tion re­form,” she said. “I be­lieve that we have a win­dow here between now and the end of the year and that this is a pri­or­ity. And the speak­er has also said it is his goal, his pri­or­ity, to bring im­mig­ra­tion re­form to the floor.”

A spokes­man for House Speak­er John Boehner like­wise signaled that im­mig­ra­tion re­form is on the ho­ri­zon. “House Re­pub­lic­ans will con­tin­ue to work on com­mon­sense, step-by-step re­forms to our broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem,” Mi­chael Steel has told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily.

The House prefers a piece­meal ap­proach, rather than a com­pre­hens­ive bill. The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee has passed le­gis­la­tion on highly skilled and ag­ri­cul­tur­al work­ers and on in­teri­or en­force­ment. But it has not touched a path­way to cit­izen­ship. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor and Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Bob Good­latte have talked about a “Kids Act,” which would leg­al­ize chil­dren of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants, but that bill hasn’t been draf­ted and lacks a chief spon­sor.

“Un­like the Sen­ate, the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is tak­ing a step-by-step ap­proach to im­mig­ra­tion re­form, care­fully and meth­od­ic­ally re­view­ing each com­pon­ent in de­tail so that we get im­mig­ra­tion re­form right,” Good­latte said in a state­ment. “It’s cru­cial that we take the time to get im­mig­ra­tion re­form right rather than rush to pass an­oth­er massive, Obama­care-like bill.”

Good­latte also called a bill in­tro­duced by House Demo­crats last week a “non­starter.” It’s es­sen­tially a car­bon copy of the Sen­ate bill, minus the $46 bil­lion bor­der-se­cur­ity meas­ure, which was re­placed by lan­guage sup­por­ted by Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats on the House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee.

Diaz-Bal­art, the last Re­pub­lic­an mem­ber of the so-called Gang of Eight ne­go­ti­at­ing com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form in the House, told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily the Demo­crats’ bill has “no shot of mov­ing” in the House and that the gang has also ef­fect­ively dis­ban­ded. “But there are a lot of talks go­ing on, a lot of ne­go­ti­ations go­ing on,” he said.

“I’m pretty op­tim­ist­ic. I think our biggest en­emy is time.”

What We're Following See More »
The New Yorker Endorses Clinton
45 minutes ago

The New Yorker has endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying that "barring some astonishment," she will become the next president. Calling Clinton "distinctly capable," the magazine excoriates Donald Trump as a candidate who "favors conspiracy theory and fantasy, deriving his knowledge from the darker recesses of the Internet and 'the shows.'" Additionally, the historical nature of the possibility of "send[ing] a woman to the White House" is not lost on the editors, who note the possibility more than once in the endorsement.

AT&T Seeks to Buy Time Warner
51 minutes ago

AT&T agreed to a deal on Saturday to buy Time Warner Inc. for a reported $85.4 billion, a merger that would turn AT&T into a media giant. The two companies announced that they hope to have the deal closed by the end of 2017. However, the completion of the deal will likely not be smooth sailing, as the deal faces potential backlash from antitrust workers, as well as lawmakers. Following the merger's announcement, multiple lawmakers raised skepticism and said they plan to scrutinize the deal further, with Minn. Sen. Amy Klobuchar calling for a hearing.

Las Vegas Review-Journal Backs Trump
2 hours ago

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by casino magnate and GOP donor Sheldon Adelson, became the first major city newspaper to endorse Donald Trump over the weekend.“Mr. Trump represents neither the danger his critics claim nor the magic elixir many of his supporters crave,” the editorial read, acknowledging concerns about Trump’s temperament. “But neither candidate will ever be called to the dais to accept an award for moral probity and character,” the paper said. “And we are already distressingly familiar with the Clinton way, which involves turning public service into an orgy of influence peddling and entitlement designed to line their own pockets — precisely what a disgruntled electorate now rises up to protest.”

Clinton Leads by 12 in ABC Tracking Poll
2 hours ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 12 percentage points among likely voters, 50 to 38 percent, in a new ABC News tracking poll, "her highest support and his lowest to date in ABC News and ABC News/Washington Post polls. Gary Johnson has 5 percent support, Jill Stein 2 percent. Clinton led by only four points in the last ABC/Post poll on Oct. 13.

Obama to Endorse 150 Down-Ballot Democrats
2 hours ago

President Obama "will make a late splash into races for state senate and assembly over the next week, endorsing roughly 150 candidates across 20 states. He’ll also back a candidate for the North Carolina Supreme Court. The endorsements — which will come along with a variety of robocalls, social media posts, mailers, photos of Obama with the candidates taken as he’s been traveling to campaign in recent weeks, and even a few radio ads — are Obama’s biggest investment in state races ever by far."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.