Opinion: Columnists

Bringing the immigration debate to your living room

By |
Opinion,Congress,Virginia,Columnists,Sean Higgins,Immigration,Border Security,Eric Cantor,Magazine

It was a pleasant, balmy evening in Arlington's Pentagon City neighborhood, and I had just settled for the night on Thursday when I heard the ruckus down the street.

“Well, here we go again,” I thought.

The noise was from a group of about two dozen pro-immigration activists chanting in front of a nearby condo complex where House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., maintains a residence.

The activists, who had done this before, wanted Cantor, who has given conflicting signals on where stands, to back comprehensive immigration reform. The event couldn't really be called a protest, though. “Harassment” would be more accurate.

In the immigration debate, it is the “control the borders” crowd that gets tagged as the ugly, thuggish side, and they do have some real knuckleheads in their midst. But the pro-immigrant faction has its ugly side, too, and it was in evidence that night.

Protests are ordinarily media events that are intended to draw attention to an issue. The group that staged Thursday's event, Casa de Virginia, never bothered to alert anyone in the media. I was the only reporter who showed up -- and I only learned about it because I just happen to be Cantor's neighbor.

“No, we did not send out a press release,” Casa de Virginia spokeswoman Maria Jose Sandoval told me. “Not for this one.”

That’s the main reason why, despite all of the attention currently on Congress and immigration reform right now, you’re probably reading about this incident for the first time now.

Nor did the activists stop at street in front of Cantor’s condo complex. They actually stormed inside the private residence. According to witnesses, they arrived just before the building was locked up for the night. One distracted the front desk clerk long enough for the rest to stream in.

Once inside, the raucous crowd shouted and chanted, with at least one using a bullhorn. According to Eric Briggs, a resident and member of the condo’s board, some were trying to get into private residences before the police arrived.

Susana Gomez, another member of the Condo's board and herself a Cuban immigrant, tried to talk to the activists in English and then Spanish -- to no avail. “They wouldn't talk to us.”

They distributed fliers accusing Cantor of being personally responsible to not passing legislation. One said “Know Thy Neighbor,” although it was apparently left over from an earlier protest. It began by stating, “We are visiting Chevy Chase because …” Chevy Chase is in Maryland.

The protesters did exit once the police arrived. No one was arrested or injured, and the whole thing lasted only about an hour. Cantor himself was not spotted and may not have even been in the building at the time.

Activists had pulled this exact same stunt of barging to the condo complex back in November. Then it was a group of about 60 affiliated with the group Casa in Action. Both Casa in Action and Casa de Virginia are affiliated with a larger group, Casa en Maryland. According to Sandoval, some of the same people were at both events.

So: Arriving without notice; holding the protest event at a politician’s private residence rather than a public office; entering said private residence without permission; and keeping a low profile so reporters won’t notice what they're up too. That's beyond the boundaries of traditional free speech protest tactics.

Briggs characterized it as a “home invasion” instead.

“Nobody here has a problem with them marching in the street. We believe in free speech. It is the home invasion that is the problem. It was like somebody staging a protest in your living room,” he said.

View article comments Leave a comment