Traffic Jams and Cantaloupes for Immigration Reform

Police arrested 41 protesters who blocked traffic outside the Capitol.

August 1, 2013, 3:34 PM

Aug. 1, 2013— -- Forty-one activists blocked traffic in front of the Capitol on Thursday morning, hoping to prod Congress into action on an immigration reform bill. Specifically, one that offers citizenship to the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.

After sitting down in the middle of the street and interlocking arms, the activists -- including three undocumented immigrants -- were arrested by police. Several hundred people gathered on the sides of the street in support of the demonstrators.

The protest comes at a time when the political debate over immigration reform has cooled. A large-scale immigration reform bill passed in the Senate this June with significant support from Republicans, but it's still unclear whether House Republicans will introduce and pass comparable legislation.

In any case, the House won't be dealing with any immigration legislation until September at the earliest. Next week, members of Congress head back to their home districts for August recess.

That makes this good time for activists to take their message to communities across the country, and some of the organizing is taking off already in Washington, DC.

In addition to the arrests on Thursday, activists made a statement with a stranger prop: cantaloupes.

The produce protest came about after Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) made disparaging remarks about undocumented immigrants several weeks ago. He said that there are more undocumented young people coming into the country with "calves the size of cantaloupes" from hauling marijuana than there are valedictorians. Since then, King's own party leadership has spoken out against him, and petitions calling for his removals have collected over 100,000 signatures.

On Thursday, United Farm Workers joined several other groups in delivering cantaloupes (grown and harvested by immigrants in California) to 224 members of the House, all but three of whom were Republicans. Those members voted for a Steve King-backed measure that effectively aimed to end deportation relief for DREAMers back in June. The vote was symbolic, and isn't going to become law, but sent a negative message to undocumented immigrants and their supporters.

Whether the actions will influence congressmen is another question. The immigration reform bill passed in the Senate after the bill's drafters agreed to an expansive -- and expensive -- influx of border security.

But top House Republicans have already said that body won't vote on the Senate bill. And Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said that any immigration legislation that comes to the floor of the House will need majority support of Republicans.

There is a group of Republicans who are working with Democrats on immigration reform in the House, but they haven't gone public with many of the details. In the group are Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), among others.

Gutierrez was among the protesters who were arrested on Thursday. Diaz-Balart, for his part, walked through the crowd minutes before the action, but never broke his stride.

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