As members of the Senate and the House, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), spoke about immigrants and their family’s ancestry inside the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, immigration activists who were not permitted inside chanted outside about giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Saturday was the last stop on the Becoming America Congressional Pilgrimage, led by The Faith and Politics Institute.
The group of 15 mostly Democratic representatives, co-led by Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), visited places like Ellis Island, Gracie Mansion and the African Burial Ground National Monument to highlight the nation’s immigrant heritage. Diaz-Balart and Cantor were the only Republican participants.
The tour purposely left out any discussion of legislative proposals. Last month a bill that would create a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in exchange for stiff border control passed in the Senate and the issue is being debated in the House.
Many say the bill won’t have much traction in the Republican controlled House, with some representatives saying the full bill will probably be broken into several smaller bills.
Cantor spoke of his grandmother, a Jewish immigrant, raising her sons in the segregated South. She owned a grocery store that she ran on her own after Cantor’s grandfather died.
“She seized on that promise of being an American,” he said.
He did not mention his position on the bills, but outside immigration reform was exactly what people were talking about.
“We want to send a clear message that we want a path to citizenship,” said Jacqueline Esposito, New York Immigration Coalition director of immigration advocacy.
Ralliers held several feet tall black and white photos of unauthorized individuals and chanted “Undocumented. Unafraid.”
Natalia Mendez joined the group. Her son Marco Saavedra is one of the nine undocumented individuals known as the Dream 9 being detained in Eloy, Ariz., after trying to enter the United States from Mexico to protest the deportation of 1.7 million people during the last five years.
“It’s important they hear my voice,” Mendez said in Spanish.
“We want reform not based on militarization of borders but family unification,” said Katherine Debaris, a political science student living in the United States illegally for three years. “It’s 11 million or 11 million,” meaning she wants citizenship offered to all illegal immigrants in the States, not a bill that would only give that to a few.
Cantor is writing legislation with Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va) called the Kids Act that would probably create a path to legalization for the about 1 million illegal immigrant students who were brought here as children. Both legislators voted against the similar Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act in 2010.
The pilgrimage is modeled after a tour of civil rights sites in Selma, Ala., led by the Faith and Politics Institute.