BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — Some 1,500 activists descended on the third-ranking House Republican's congressional district Wednesday to push for action on immigration legislation, seeking to increase pressure on the House GOP at a critical time in the immigration debate.
Caravans of cars and buses carrying union members and others came from all over California to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy's Central Valley district, where they held a rally pressing him to support a pathway to citizenship for the millions of immigrants in the country illegally. They then visited his office.
"Kevin, if you don't support immigration reform your party will be extinct," read one sign, perched on a truck next to a large stuffed dinosaur bearing a photo of McCarthy's face.
Other signs demanded a vote on citizenship this fall.
"We are here to send a clear message to House Whip Kevin McCarthy that people are demanding that Congress take immediate action on immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and the people are going to hold their Congress members and House leadership responsible," said Hee Joo Yoon, executive director of the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.
The rally came as advocates nationwide seek to use Congress' five-week summer recess to build momentum to persuade House Republicans to act this fall on sweeping immigration measures, including eventual citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally.
Immigration legislation stalled in the GOP-led House following Senate passage in June of a far-reaching bill that included billions of dollars for border security, new visa and workplace enforcement measures, and a 13-year path to citizenship.
House leaders have rejected that approach, saying they'll proceed with single-issue bills instead, beginning with border security.
McCarthy has become a particular focus for activists trying to change minds this month. His district is around 35 percent Latino and reliant on agriculture, which uses immigrant labor, and he's the highest-ranking House Republican from an immigrant-heavy state like California.
McCarthy has recently indicated openness to some legal status for some of the immigrants here illegally, though he's stopped short of endorsing citizenship.
The congressman responded to Wednesday's rally, estimated by Bakersfield Police at around 1,500 people, by saying through a spokesman that he welcomed visitors to Bakersfield but valued input from his constituents more.
"I have long said that our immigration system is broken, but rather than take up the Senate bill, the House will move in a step by step approach that first secures the border," McCarthy said.
Associated Press writer Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.