About 800 people packed a church rally Sunday that culminated in two critical questions to Durham’s two congressmen: Do you support immigration reform, and will you push the U.S. House speaker to bring it to the floor for a vote?
Pandemonium broke out when Reps. David Price and G.K. Butterfield, both Democrats, gave strong support.
“We need your help,” Butterfield told a cheering crowd. “Continue to make us do the right thing.”
The rally was one of scores nationwide aimed at pushing forward immigration reform, which is stalled in the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives.
A Durham County Republican Party official, responding to questions about the meeting, said immigration reform is needed, but emphasized the need to control U.S. borders before adopting other aspects of pending legislation.
And even Price said the measure faces tough odds given the stance of House Speaker John Boehner.
At Sunday’s event in support of change, a packed house including hundreds of Latinos, filled Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Families waved posters and small American flags.
Sunday’s event ran like clockwork, with three dozen speakers fitting in the 90-minute format – quite a challenge, given that every speech was translated into either English or Spanish.
Casey Steinbacher of the Durham Chamber of Commerce called the business argument for immigration reform a no-brainer. James Andrews of the N.C. AFL-CIO drew wide applause when arguing that workers deserve the fair treatment and families should remain intact.
‘You are all welcome here’
Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple of the Episcopal Diocese cited the biblical stories of exile and immigration: Adam and Eve, Sarah and Abraham, Moses, and Joseph and Mary.
“You are all welcome here,” she said. “You are our brothers and sisters.”
And though the speakers were local, their eyes were on the nation’s capital, where political opinion on changes in immigration law is far from uniform.
In July, the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill 68-32 with the support of strange bedfellows: business and labor, farmers and farm workers, Democrats and Republicans.
The Senate bill would make citizenship possible for illegal immigrants, increase security spending on the Mexican border by $40 billion over the next decade, and set up a national system to verify that new hires are authorized to work.
The bill is now in the U.S. House, which is controlled by Republicans, who have not been eager to take up the Senate bill.
Local Republicans, a minority in Durham, support reform with a caveat.
“Immigration reform is absolutely appropriate but first we need to secure the border,” said Ted Hicks, chairman of the Durham Republican party.
Ben Monterroso of the Service Employees International Union, has been working on immigration reform since 1994.
In addition to rallies like the one in Durham on Sunday, Monterroso said pro-reform groups will rally in at least 80 cities on Oct. 5 followed by a national rally in Washington, D.C., on Oct 8.
Reform push faces long odds
Peter Siavelis, a political scientist at Wake Forest University, supports reform but said it’s unlikely to get a vote on the floor.
“The biggest challenge is Syria,” Siavelis said. “And then the budget and the debt ceiling.”
Many Republican-controlled House districts do not have a significant Latino vote, Siavelis said. Republican incumbents worried about tea party challengers in the primary are not going to support immigration reform, he said. This poses long-term risk for Republicans running for national or statewide office, he said.
Price said the biggest obstacle is Boehner’s position not to bring legislation to the floor without the support of half of the House Republicans.
“The odds are pretty long right now,” Price said.
That is not welcome news to Karina Garcia, a 16-year-old junior at Early College High School at N.C. Central University.
Her father, Pedro Garcia, was detained in March after working in the United States since 1990, she said. Karina Garcia is attending school full time, working at a Subway 25 hours a week and, as the oldest child, taking on parental responsibilities for her siblings, including Sophia, born after her father was detained.
“We didn’t expect this at all,” she said. “I’m feeling what other people have felt when their family is broken up.”