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Immigration Activists Occupy Congress

PHOTO: Immigration activists await the arrival of Capitol Hill police in the office of Virginia congresswoman Barbara Comstock. Photo credit: Julie Karant.
PHOTO: Immigration activists await the arrival of Capitol Hill police in the office of Virginia congresswoman Barbara Comstock. Photo credit: Julie Karant.
February 12, 2015

WASHINGTON - Calling the nation's broken immigration system a "moral crisis," activists Wednesday occupied scores of congressional offices - including the office of Congressman Andy Harris (R–Cockeysville).

A press release from one of the many groups taking part said it was targeting 35 "hard-line" Republican representatives and senators.

Julie Karant with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was with a group occupying one office. She spoke by cell phone as a migrant from El Salvador sang a psalm about justice for the poor in the background.

"Hundreds of people are flooding through Capitol Hill offices right now as we speak. They can no longer ignore it," she says. "It's hurting our economy and it's tearing hard-working families apart."

Congress has been unable to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and so-called hardliners within the GOP are now threatening to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over a presidential executive order. That order would remove the threat of deportation for many otherwise law-abiding migrants who are living in the U.S. without permission.

Some immigration activists say the opposition to President Obama's deportation rollback is rooted, in part, in resentment. Jaime Contreras with the SEIU says their local 32BJ chose to target Comstock, and Maryland Congressman Andy Harris, because of the way they have attacked migrants.

"They have been outspoken attacking the immigrant community," he says. "We have a moral crisis on our hands that Congresswoman Comstock and Congressman Andy Harris can no longer ignore: the broken immigration system."

Contreras says the idea of refusing to fund the DHS is profoundly wrong.

"We're outraged they're trying to undo this executive order by not passing a clean funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security," he says. "It's just un-American."

Opponents of immigration reform say amnesty would reward people who break the law. Some of the protest leaders were arrested by Capitol police, but most of the protestors were removed without incident.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - MD