The day after he and his colleagues passed an immigration reform bill, U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal returned to Fair Haven to thank the grassroots activists who started the movement and urge them to keep fighting on the next battleground: the House of Representatives.
Blumenthal (pictured) spoke Friday afternoon in front of the Grand Avenue headquarters of Junta For Progressive Action, the Fair Haven-based Latino advocacy group. Grassroots groups like Junta lit the fire under politicians across the country to make real movement toward comprehensive immigration reform.
That movement happened Thursday when the Democratic-majority U.S. Senate passed a bill that would overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, creating a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Fourteen Republicans joined Democrats to pass the bill.
The proposed legislation is now headed for the Republican-majority U.S. House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner has said he will not take up the Senate bill for a House vote, but will rather have the House create its own bill.
It remains to be seen whether political pressure will force Boehner’s hand. Some Republican strategists argue they need to pass immigration reform to win back some of the Latino votes from Democrats; others argue in favor of responding more to the party’s conservative base.
“I need your help. The House of Representatives is our next obstacle,” Blumenthal told the gathering of two dozen elected officials, activists, and union members at Junta.
Blumenthal said the grassroots fight for immigration reform must continue, to pressure the House to act. He said he’s sure an immigration bill would pass the House if Boehner will allow one to get to the floor.
Blumenthal said he thought of his immigrant father as he cast his vote yesterday, and about all the immigrants “who will be great United States citizens.”
Also speaking at the press event were a representative from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s office, Juan Hernandez of the SEIU Local 32BJ, and Mayor John DeStefano (pictured).
“Let’s remember something: This did not start from the top down,” said DeStefano. The push for immigration reform came from the bottom up, he said.
“If there is a ground zero” in the fight for immigration reform, “one of them is this city,” DeStefano said.
Kica Matos, the former head of Junta and current director of immigrant rights and racial justice at Washington DC’s Center for Community Change, said she and other advocates approached Blumenthal early on and asked him to “champion” immigration reform. He responded to every request, becoming a leader on the issue, she said.
Matos presented Blumenthal with a Diego Rivera print signed by activists and advocates.
Standing next to the podium throughout the event was Henry Fernandez, Junta board member, husband to Matos, former city economic development chief, and Democratic candidate for mayor.
“The fight for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship is something I’ve worked on for 10 years,” said Fernandez (pictured next to Blumenthal at the top of the story). The passage of the Senate bill represents “the best chance for real reform we’ve seen in decades,” he said.
Once it is passed, it will fall to the city to work to integrate its immigrant population—help them to learn English, pay taxes, and help build the economy, Fernandez said.