Immigration activists pressure GOP's Goodlatte in Virginia

HARRISONBURG, Va. – Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) didn’t attend the immigration rally that advocates of reform held in his district Monday, but organizers of the event made sure he got the message.

They plastered his congressional phone number along the facing of the city courthouse, taped it to water bottles, scrawled it on hand-written placards, and at the end of the rally, they instructed an estimated 300 attendees to text their demands for comprehensive immigration reform to Goodlatte, the conservative Republican who leads the House Judiciary Committee.

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As the leader of the important House panel, Goodlatte has become a ripe target for immigration reform advocates, who view him warily but recognize that the kind of far-reaching legislation they seek may need his blessing to advance.

While activists delivered their message to Goodlatte, the absent chairman drew lighter treatment from the rally’s main attraction, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), the leading Democratic advocate for an immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship.

“If you came here to hear me say some bad things about Congressman Goodlatte, you came to the wrong place,” Gutiérrez, a member of Goodlatte’s committee, told the crowd.

Gutierrez delivered a similar message earlier Monday in the northern Virginia district of another House Republican, Rep. Frank Wolf.

The goal of the visit, Gutiérrez said, was not to antagonize the Republicans but to demonstrate that the push for immigration reform transcends party lines, and that advocates do not hail only from Democratic districts.

“One of the things we wanted to make sure was just how deep and how wide the support for immigration reform is across this country, even in Virginia, even in Republican parts of Virginia,” he told reporters.

Gutiérrez and the organizers of the events invited Goodlatte and Wolf, but both declined, citing scheduling conflicts. Neither was available for an interview on Monday.

“I would have hoped he would have found time to be here,” Gutiérrez told reporters, referring to Goodlatte.

In Chantilly, more than 100 people, mostly Latinos, jammed into a Mexican restaurant to hear Gutiérrez and a five-person panel discuss immigration reform as it affects women.

About 100 miles south, hundreds gathered in Harrisonburg, a city of nearly 50,000 people in Goodlatte’s district where about one-sixth of the population is Latino.

The superintendent of schools, Scott Kizner, said about 40 percent of students in the city are Latino.

Under Goodlatte’s leadership, the Judiciary Committee in July passed a series of individual immigration bills, but none dealt with the thorny question of legal status for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. No immigration bills have come to the House floor, and attendees at the Harrisonburg rally said they wanted to see action.

“Try to do something already,” Reyes Castaneda, 50, said in describing his message to Goodlatte. “He shows a little bit of interest, but he’s too slow.”

Goodlatte has said he opposes a “special” path to citizenship for the 11 million, but he is crafting legislation with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that would grant legal status and a potential citizenship path for children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

In similar remarks at both events, Gutiérrez assailed Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) stated requirement that immigration legislation earn “majority of the majority” support, describing it as “a corrupting of the democratic system.”

“We must have a vote in the House of Representatives on comprehensive immigration reform,” Gutiérrez said in Harrisonburg.