Posted Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014

ARLINGTON — Congress is unlikely to touch the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate in the summer despite recent efforts by Hispanic activists to pressure lawmakers to act now, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, told immigration advocates on Tuesday.

Leaders of Fast for Families, a national advocacy group made up of union leaders and church leaders, met with Barton in Arlington as part of their lobbying of Republican lawmakers to move the bill forward by persuading House Speaker John Boehner to bring it to the floor.

The bill would provide a path to citizenship for about 11 million illegal immigrants, but it is sitting in the House while GOP leaders decide how to proceed.

“The trickiest issue is, What do you do with people that are here illegally? We need to weed out the bad apples and send them back home or put them in jail,” said Barton, who said he is drafting his own immigration bill and hopes to introduce it in late spring or early summer.

“But the others whose only illegal act is coming to this country illegally, we sort them out and put them on a legalization path, and minors on a citizenship path.”

In January, Boehner released his principles for an immigration reform plan that first stresses border enforcement, then focuses on a legalization path for adults who pass background checks, pay fines and back taxes, learn English and avoid legal trouble.

Barton said he is on board with Boehner.

‘Deporter in chief’

As part of the immigration reform tour, Janet Murguía, president of the largest national Hispanic civil-rights organization, and other community leaders spoke to a crowd outside St. Matthew Catholic Church in Arlington after the talks with Barton.

Some in the crowd held signs that read, “Obama, Deporter in chief,” and “Today I fast. Tomorrow I vote.”

At an awards dinner March 4, Murguía called President Barack Obama the “deporter in chief” because the administration has deported nearly 2 million immigrants.

“The House Republicans are standing in the way of comprehensive immigration reform,” Murguía told the crowd. “The consequences will be played out this November and in 2016.”

Organizer Eliseo Medina attracted national attention in November when he and Cristian Avila consumed nothing but water for 22 days, ultimately garnering support from 10,000 people from their tent on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Medina, who lost 24 pounds, asked Arlington residents to commit to fasting every Wednesday throughout Lent. “If Texas decided it will support immigration reform, we will have immigration reform,” he said.

“We have to work to fix the broken immigration system. We are trying to create enough action for Congress to take a vote, but the speaker won’t allow it,” said Medina, who represents the Service Employees International Union, the largest healthcare and property services union in North America.

Dividing families

Wanda Zamorano of Organizing for Action, a group formed from the president’s re-election campaign, attended the Fast for Families rally with longtime Dallas County volunteer Marsha Fishman and Kim Morris.

Zamorano said that she was raised by illegal immigrants in West Texas and that by allowing only children the option of citizenship, the government will divide families.

“I don’t believe when we landed on Plymouth Rock we asked the Indians’ permission to immigrate,” she said. “We want [immigrants] to sacrifice blood and sweat, but we can’t give them dignity.”

Advocates also met with Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, on Tuesday afternoon. Johnson supports an “enforcement first” approach, with increased border security and workforce enforcement. The group ended its Texas rally at the Vietnamese Martyrs Parish Church in Arlington.

The Fast for Families tour will continue in Oklahoma on Wednesday and wrap up April 9 on the National Mall.