Immigrant advocacy groups stepped up pressure on Rep. Kevin McCarthy Thursday to stand up for immigration reform, even as the Bakersfield Republican dismissed the possibility of a comprehensive vote on the matter by the House.
About 50 activists representing labor, minority and environmental justice groups staged a loud noontime rally in front of McCarthy's Bakersfield office to announce a series of actions aimed at persuading the House majority whip to push for a vote on the immigration bill passed by the Senate last month.
"Show the American people you can solve tough problems in a bipartisan manner," said Patty Diaz, executive director of SIREN, a San Jose-based immigrant rights and education group.
United under the name California Table, groups including United Farm Workers and the Dolores Huerta Foundation outlined plans to register new voters and organize get-out-the-vote campaigns, as well as make phone calls and send text messages to members of Congress.
Speakers also promised to return to McCarthy's office month after month with thousands of supporters to push for the dignity and respect they say immigrants are due.
"Kern County, we'll come back as many times as we have to," said Martha Arevalo, executive director of CARECEN, a Los Angeles-based Central American immigrant rights group.
The coalition is asking for passage of legislation that would give the estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States a chance at citizenship.
Central Valley agricultural groups have also been agitating recently for legislation such as the Senate bill, which in addition to increasing border security could give farmers access to a legal and ample supply of experienced laborers. No farming organizations were represented at Thursday's rally, however.
On Wednesday, House leaders ruled out a vote on the Senate's immigration reform bill. The Washington Post reported that they indicated a preference for more limited legislation, none of which has included a path to citizenship.
On Tuesday, a group of more than 80 groups sent a letter to McCarthy urging a full House vote on immigration reform. It noted that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the federal deficit would shrink by about $200 billion over the next decade, and the nation's economic output would rise by 3.3 percent, if Congress can "fix" the nation's immigration system.
In an email to The Californian late Thursday afternoon, McCarthy provided the clearest statement yet about his position on immigration reform.
"Rather than take up the legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken immigration system.
"The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy. We are a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws. You have to consider both principles when addressing our broken immigration system.
"Throughout history, our country has been made better by the contributions of immigrants. We must secure our borders as a first step in developing a long-term, realistic and enforceable solution. Congress will continue to thoroughly review all proposals as we work to restore faith in our immigration system."
Activists toting banners and chanting loudly just feet from his office Thursday called on McCarthy to "have a heart" and "give us a vote on citizenship."
Local residents joined leaders of several groups in delivering impassioned speeches in favor of immigration reform. Many targeted McCarthy personally.
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Los Angeles-based immigration rights group CHIRLA, said she had come to tell McCarthy that "we are not going to let him say 'no' to immigration reform."
Salas asked the congressman to think about his own family and then consider how deportations divide immigrant families. "That love that he has for his family, we have for ours," she said.
Among the crowd walked a woman in a green and purple dinosaur suit with a mask bearing a photo of McCarthy's face. She held a sign that read: "Kevin, If you don't support immigration reform, your party will be extinct!"
Cal State Bakersfield communications major Daniel Jimenez took up a microphone to share a story of how his immigrant mother worked multiple jobs to support her family here.
He said he will continue to fight for her and for what he said immigrants in this country deserve.
"If not," he said, "our community will hold (McCarthy) accountable."