How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Immigration reform: 'Call-a-thon' part of advocates' shift to bolder tactics

Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Charlene Gomez of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles asks passers-by on Broadway in downtown L.A. if they're willing to leave messages for a member of Congress during an immigration "call-a-thon" on Thursday, Feb. 20. It's one example of more aggressive tactics that some immigrant advocates have promised in hopes of pressuring lawmakers to vote on immigration reform.

With immigration reform stalled in Congress, possibly for the rest of the year, some immigrant activists have vowed tougher, more confrontational protest tactics against conservative members of Congress - unless they agree to support an immigration overhaul.

How will this play out? Take an event in downtown Los Angeles on Thusday morning billed as an immigration "call-a-thon." Members of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles set up a table on a busy street and flagged down passers-by, urging them to call a member of Congress and demand immigration reform.

"Will you make a call for us?" pitched Charlene Gomez in Spanish, cell phone in hand.

It doesn't take long for one man passing by to say yes to her pitch. Gomez dialed the office of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, a Republican and today's call-a-thon target.

Then she handed the phone to Angel Lopez of Norwalk, who went on to leave a message urging McCarthy to help pass reform, and that the United States is a nation of immigrants.

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Later, Lopez explained why he was willing to leave a message.

"I wanted to participate because I was an illegal immigrant, then I became a resident, then I became a citizen, and I know how one suffers," he said in Spanish.

The call-a-thon is part of what a national network of immigrant advocacy groups has promised will be "relentless and constant confrontations" that will escalate until their targets agree to an immigration reform deal. CHIRLA is part of a national coalition called the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, which made this announcement last week.

"We're switching away from the 'Hey, work with us and we might support you politically' approach," said Ricardo Ramirez, a spokesman for the national coalition. "Now we have understood that they don't listen to that."

In addition the call-a-thon, activists protested Wednesday at the district offices of three California House Republicans, including the Santa Clarita office of Buck McKeon, who recently announced he will retire. McKeon spokeswoman Alissa McCurley said these protests don't necessarily get the desired result.

"Unfortunately, a lot to times when we have protests and things of that nature, things often tend to escalate," McCurley said. "So we really like to have people come in and actually engage in constructive dialogue with our office."

But the activists are thinking ahead to what Ramirez calls electoral punishment: getting lawmakers who don't back an immigration overhaul voted out of office. 

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