GREELEY, Colo. — “Stand with Cory” reads the website for Colorado’s Fourth District Congressman, a Republican vying to unseat Democrat Mark Udall in the U.S. Senate.
Rather than standing with Gardner on Wednesday, a group of immigration rights supporters chose a different tact — sitting in his district office, demanding he support immigration reform.
Gardner staffers listened to the 11 activists for about 15 minutes after they popped in unannounced. Then, they told the group the meeting was over.
“You can’t wait in here,” said Maria Secrest, a member of Gardner’s district office in Greeley.
“This is a federal office. We have other work and we have other constituents coming in. We have personal information in here. You guys need to leave. We’re going to call the police.”
The activists didn’t budge. The union members and civil rights activists refused to leave until Gardner met their demand and called Speaker of the House John Boehner and ask him to schedule a vote on H.R. 15. The bill, a version of which was passed in the Senate last year, calls for sweeping modernization of immigration policies, including the ability for undocumented farm workers to stay in the United States.
Marichel Mejia, representing the United Farm Workers Foundation, had come all the way from California to press Gardner on the issue. She wasn’t going to leave until she got what she came for.
“I think we’re gonna prioritize the right thing over the friendly thing and we’re gonna stay here,” she said. “We’ve been waiting over a year, and we need Congressman Gardner to call the Speaker. So, until that happens, we will wait here.”
Gardner’s staffers wouldn’t have it. After the 15-minute meeting, they called the police.
All but one of the protesters left the office, joining about 40 others picketing the building on 35th Avenue.
Linda Marquez remained in the office, sitting.
Let’s find out where everybody stands
Marquez was born and raised in Colorado, but supports immigrants struggling for citizenship rights. A vote on H.R. 15 needs to be brought the floor, she said, “for the whole nation to find out where everybody stands.”
Several police officers responded to the call from Gardner’s office, but they did not enter the building or speak with the protestors outside.
“They’re not doing anything wrong,” said a Greeley police officer who identified himself only as Sergeant Brown.
When the police left, it was unclear whether they were unaware or unconcerned that Marquez continued her sit-in upstairs.
While Marquez staged her solitary protest, her daughter and granddaughter participated in the demonstration outside.
“I support mi abuela,” said seven-year-old Linda Marquez, who was named after her grandmother. “She’s trying to help us (by) keeping families together.”
Marquez’s daughter, Sonia Marquez, led the chants outside and waved handmade signs. Drivers who passed by honked in support of the group.
“We need a leader who is willing to face these tough issues, and Congressman Cory Gardner has failed to demonstrate that,” she said.
Still waiting on a straight answer
When Benjy Sarlin, writing for MSNBC, tracked Gardner around the Fourth Congressional District last summer, he found immigration rights activists here were growing increasingly frustrated with Gardner’s responses on the issue of reform. They wanted a clear answer on whether he supported the bill passed by the Senate. They walked in a parade in his hometown Yuma and chanted at his car as it went by. “We need you,” they shouted.
They marched by the hundreds to the courthouse in Greeley, asking the same questions they asked at his office in Greeley on Wednesday: Does he support the comprehensive reform bill and will he press Republican leaders in the House to bring it to the floor for a vote?
“Gardner, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” they chanted. “Listen up, Gardner! We’re in the fight!”
It was August 2013 when activists told Sarlin they were considering a civil disobedience campaign but had decided to “hold off to see where Gardner was headed” on the issue.
Last week, Gardner joined House Republicans in voting for an amendment brought by hardline anti-illegal-immigration Iowa Republican Steve King. The proposal requested $5 million to investigate the release of criminals from immigrant detention. The vote underlined the fact that enforcement measures remain the only kind of policy action on immigration that House Republicans rally behind. Leaders still show no sign of bringing the full reform bill to the floor.
Lots of bravery, less bravery
After more than five hours on Wednesday spent chanting in the hot sun, the activists won a response from Gardner, who was campaigning in Denver. He phoned them as requested. According to Patty Kupfer of America’s Voice, an immigration reform group, Gardner said he refused to support H.R. 15 because he doesn’t believe the bill has enough votes to pass. He agreed to talk with Speaker Boehner about immigration reform in general, she said.
The activists disbanded when Gardner’s office closed for the day, disappointed.
“I witnessed a lot of courage and bravery today on the part of men and women, for whom this issue means so much,” said Pastor Nathan Soule-Hill of Family of Christ Presbyterian Church in Greeley. “I’m disappointed that I did not witness that same courage and bravery on the part of Congressman Gardner.”