There was a wide consensus that 2013 would be the year Congress passed immigration reform legislation. Though that didn’t happen, momentum for immigration reform reached a new high.
A diverse coalition of business, faith and civil rights leaders came together to advocate for legislation that would reform the nation’s immigration system and offer undocumented immigrants a chance to become U.S. citizens. Together, they held a number of rallies, civil disobedience actions and hunger strikes hoping to move the issue forward.
VOXXI compiled a list of events that made a big impact in the immigration reform debate this year.
A look back at the top immigration reform events of 2013:
National Rally for Citizenship: Thousands of people from across the country descended to the National Mall in April to attend the year’s first major immigration reform rally dubbed “National Rally for Citizenship.” They called for legislation that would pave a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.
A week after the rally, the bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight” introduced their immigration reform bill that includes a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and would allocate billions of dollars to secure the border. The Senate went on to approve the bill in June with a 68-to-32 vote, but it stalled in the House.
Dreamers reunite with mothers: For the past six years, thousands of miles separated three Dreamers from their mothers, two of whom were deported. But on June 11, it was only a rusted steel fence that separated these Dreamers from their mothers as they reunited at the Southern border.
The three Dreamers — Evelyn Rivera, Renata Teodora, and Carlos Padilla — traveled to Nogales, Ariz., where they were able to hug their mothers who stood on the Mexico side of the border. The reunion was part of United We Dream’s “Operation Butterfly,” a campaign calling for an end to the separation of families.
Dreamers re-enter the United States: Three Dreamers left the U.S. in July and crossed the border into Mexico with the goal of coming back and bringing with them four other undocumented immigrants who either left the U.S. or were deported recently. They requested asylum in the U.S. In September, another 34 undocumented immigrants crossed an international bridge from Mexico into Texas and requested humanitarian parole. Most of the Dreamers from both groups were released and allowed to stay in the U.S. while a few were deported.
Both groups say they did it to raise awareness of the millions of people who have been deported under the Obama administration and could be left out of any immigration reform legislation approved by Congress. Their actions have received praise by some who admire their courage to challenge the nation’s immigration policies. At the same time, the activists have received criticism from others who worry their actions could hurt the cases of asylum seekers who have credible fear claims and the chances of passing immigration reform legislation.
Cantaloupes delivered to lawmakers: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was highly criticized for saying in July that Dreamers are most likely to have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert” than to be valedictorians. Among those who condemned King for his comments was House Speaker John Boehner, who said King’s remarks were “deeply offensive and wrong.”
Immigration reform advocates and Dreamers responded to King’s comments by delivering cantaloupes to his office. They also delivered cantaloupes to the offices of members of Congress who voted in favor of an amendment introduced by King that sought to defund the deferred action program that currently allows Dreamers to stay and work in the U.S.
Efforts intensify during August recess: Immigration reform advocates kicked off the August recess with a civil disobedience action near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., that resulted in the arrest of 41 people. The action foreshadowed what was to come during the August recess when members of Congress went home for five weeks.
All throughout the August recess, advocates maintained pressure on House members, especially Republicans, to move immigration reform legislation forward in the lower chamber. They participated in town hall meetings and congressional visits. They also held rallies, marches and vigils in the congressional districts of key House members, especially Republicans. Among the groups leading efforts during the August recess was the Alliance for Citizenship, a coalition of groups pushing for immigration reform with a path to citizenship. The coalition targeted 52 congressional districts — a majority of them led by Republicans — where they held about 360 events aimed at pressuring lawmakers to take action on immigration reform.
Women arrested for immigration reform: More than 100 women participated in a civil disobedience action to express their frustration over the House of Representatives’ inaction on immigration reform. U.S. Capitol Police officers arrested the women after they joined together in a circle and blocked an intersection outside the House side of the U.S. Capitol building. Among those who were arrested were about 20 undocumented women.
They group of women wore red T-shirts that read “Women For Fair Immigration Reform.” They argued that women disproportionately bear the burden of the current broken immigration system despite their contributions to the wellbeing of their families, communities and the United States.
Advocates protest deportations: Seven undocumented immigrants were arrested Sept. 18 after they handcuffed themselves to the White House gate in an act of civil disobedience aimed at calling on President Barack Obama to stop deportations. The action kicked off a series of civil disobedience actions organized under the #Not1More Deportation campaign, which is led by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
At least a dozen more civil disobedience actions have taken place since the one at the White House. Other actions have included blocking the entrances of detention centers and stopping buses packed with undocumented immigrants who are on their way to being deported. Advocates say they plan to continue carrying out more of these actions until Obama takes action to stop deportations. One way they say Obama can do that is by expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to more undocumented immigrants. Currently, the program only benefits undocumented youth between the ages of 15 to 30 years old.
March for Dignity and Respect: Frustrated with the House’s inability to get the ball rolling on immigration reform legislation, eight House Democrats and about 200 advocates participated in an act of civil disobedience to pressure the House to take up immigration reform legislation. The members of Congress who got arrested were Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Al Green (D-Texas), Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), Jan Schawkowsky (D-Ill.), Keith Ellis (D-Minn.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).
The act of civil disobedience followed a march from the National Mall, where thousands of people from across the country gathered to rally for immigration reform. The march was dubbed “March for Dignity and Respect.” At the rally on the National Mall, the crowd saw a performance from six-time Grammy winners Los Tigres del Norte and heard speeches from prominent civil rights leaders, immigration reform advocates and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.
Teens confront John Boehner at breakfast: A pair of teenage girls confronted House Speaker John Boehner while he ate breakfast at a local restaurant in early November. One of the girls, 13-year-old Carmen Lima of California, asked Boehner: “How would you feel if you had to tell your kids at the age of 10 that you were never coming home?” Boehner responded, “That wouldn’t be good.” The girls then asked him to do everything in his power to pass immigration reform legislation, to which Boehner responded, “I’m trying to find a way to get this thing done.”
Later that day, after the video went viral, Boehner told reporters that House Republicans had no intention of going to conference with the Senate’s immigration bill. He added that the House remained committed to addressing immigration reform through a piece-by-piece approach.
Dreamer interrupts Obama’s immigration speech: While speaking about immigration reform on Nov. 25, President Barack Obama was interrupted by 24-year-old Dreamer Ju Hong who called on the president to use his executive power to stop the deportations of all undocumented immigrants. Obama responded to Hong’s plea, saying he doesn’t have the power to stop deportations en masse. He insisted the best way to stop deportations is by having Congress pass immigration reform legislation.
Following the incident, the calls for Obama to halt deportations grew louder. A group of 29 Democrats joined advocates, like Hong, in saying that Obama has the power to stop deportations. The group — led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona — wrote a letter to Obama, asking him to “suspend any further deportations and expand the successful deferred action program to all those who would be potential citizens under immigration reform.”
Fast for Families: Three immigration reform advocates went 22 days without eating food and only drank water at a tent set on the National Mall. They say they did it to call attention on the plight of undocumented immigrants and to stress the urgency of passing immigration reform legislation. The three fasters were: Eliseo Medina of the SEUI; Dae Joong Yoon of the National Korean American Services Consortium; and Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota. They were joined by Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, who also abstained from food, except juice, for 22 days.
The fast began on Nov. 12 and it quickly captivated the attention of many, including President Barack Obama who surprised the fasters with a visit at the tent on Nov. 29. Dozens of members of Congress also stopped by to show their support, while thousands from across the country committed to fast in solidarity.
Originally published on VOXXI as Top immigration reform events of 2013