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Pro-immigration protesters again storm Eric Cantor's condo

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Congress,Virginia,Sean Higgins,Immigration,Eric Cantor,Congo

For the second time in six months, a group of pro-immigration protesters stormed inside the private northern Virginia residence of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

About two dozen activists from a group called Casa de Virginia appeared at the Cantor’s condo complex in Arlington at about 8 p.m. Thursday. One distracted the complex's front desk clerk long enough to allow the rest to stream into the lobby area.

Once inside, they attempted to distribute fliers to residents accusing Cantor of being “the one man blocking immigration reform.” They also loudly chanted, according to residents. At least one protester shouted through a bullhorn.

Police were called and the protesters continued their activities on the sidewalk outside the complex before finally leaving around 9 p.m. No one was reported injured and no arrests were made.

An affiliated group called Casa en Action did the exact same thing at Cantor's condo complex in November. In that incident, one protester gained entry by pretending to inquire about getting a unit, then letting the others in.

Both times, the groups did not alert anyone in the media that they would be staging a protest — despite the fact that publicity is usually the main point of such an event. I only found out about it because I happen to live in the neighborhood.

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

Sandoval was quite proud that the group had gotten inside the building, stating that they were in for 15 minutes before the police arrived and they had to move to the sidewalk. “They all got inside,” she said, gesturing towards the protesters. Several were at the November event as well, she added.

She was candid that the protest was driven by concerns that the chances for immigration legislation in Congress were dimming and they wanted Cantor to know that Virginia Latinos “wanted action.”

“We are running out of time,” Sandoval said. The group was staging similar events at Cantor's offices in Virginia and Washington.

Cantor, who must survive a hotly contested June Republican primary where immigration is a key issue, has generally supported reform but has given conflicting signals over how ardently he will push for it and in what form.

One flier distributed by the protesters urged the residents to “Know Thy Neighbor” and urged them to tell Cantor to support reform. The flier was clearly left over from a different event, though, as it began by stating, “We are visiting Chevy Chase because …” Chevy Chase is in Maryland.

Cantor himself was not seen and it was not clear if he was even at the complex Thursday evening. The condominium is in Arlington's Pentagon City neighborhood, a residential area near the Pentagon.

Residents of Cantor’s complex expressed irritation, calling it not a protest but a “home invasion.”

“They came in yelling,” said Susanna Gomez, one of the condo complex’s board members. “We tried to talk to them, but they wouldn’t talk to us.”

Gomez, herself a Cuban immigrant who backs moderate reform, added that she spoke to them in Spanish as well as English but still could not get a dialogue going with the protesters.

Eric Briggs, another board member, said the protesters had tried to get into residential units. No one did and nothing on the condo property was damaged, he said.

While Cantor's complex does have security, it does not lock the front doors until the evening. The protesters arrived just before they were locked.

If the purpose of the protest was to cause enough problems to turn Cantor’s neighbors against him, it apparently wasn’t working.

“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,” Briggs said.

Gomez agreed, stating: “This is no way to do it. Totally counter-productive.”

Casa de Virginia and Casa in Action are both offshoots of another group, Casa de Maryland.

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