Tuesday Nov. 5, 2013
In the end, Jesusa Rivera wasn't arrested.
In the end, she spoke with staffers of U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski on the red-hot immigration issue, though she perhaps didn't get the sort of clarity or answers she sought.
Rivera, a South Bend immigrant advocate, converged, uninvited, on Walorski's field office in Mishawaka on Monday afternoon. Other advocates gathered at the Thomas F. Eagleton Federal Courthouse in St. Louis (where six were arrested).
The aim of the concerted effort -- linked to Gamaliel, a grassroots network pushing for immigration reform -- was to press the call for reform in the U.S. House, and Rivera, like other protesters, had said she was willing to be arrested if it furthered the cause (look here). Speaking Tuesday, though, Rivera said it didn't get to that, though there were apparently some uncomfortable, awkward moments.
Rivera started with a group of other protesters, she said, but ended up entering Walorski's office alone around 4 p.m. Monday. Already inside were five Mishawaka Police Department officers, tipped off, perhaps, by the public announcement last Friday of the advocates' plans (look here).
"There was tension, without a doubt, when I walked in," Rivera said. Rivera has met three times previously with Walorski or her staff on the immigration question, but they were planned meetings, and much more relaxed.
Rivera and her colleagues seek a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as part of any reform measure, one of the more controversial elements of the debate. "We want a pathway to citizenship. We don't want to stand in line 15 to 20 years," said Rivera, active in the Indiana Organizing Project, a Gamaliel affiliate.
Walorski's staffers, though, offered no indication if the Republican lawmaker would be favorable to such change. Rather, the staffers kept the focus on Walorski's support for increased border security. "They seemed to be so centered on border security," said Rivera.
After about an hour of discussion, shortly after 5 p.m., the staffers left the room, Rivera said, and two Mishawaka police officers entered. They asked Rivera twice to leave. She stayed put.
"I just wanted a little more tension to be felt," said Rivera. After the police asked a third time, though, she left.
According to some observers, time is running out if immigration reform is to happen anytime soon. The Democrat-led U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive plan last June, but the GOP-led U.S. House has been more reluctant to act.
"It's the push. If we're not moving this thing (forward), we wait for another five, 10 years," Rivera said.
Where things go from here remains unclear. Rivera said she's not sure where Walorski stands on the question of a pathway to citizenship, but warns that immigration reform advocates may not be forgiving, depending on how the issue unfolds, come 2014 elections.
"If you're not standing with us, how can we possible stand with you?" Rivera said.
Walorski's office on Monday said the lawmaker will "take a careful look" at any immigration reform legislation. The lawmaker didn't offer any public followup on Tuesday.
Tim Vandenack is a reporter at the Elkhart Truth newspaper in Elkhart, Ind., www.etruth.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-296-5884. Visit him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack.