A sit-in organized by immigration activists inside the Bakersfield office of U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy went deep into the night Wednesday, prompting a police response and, near midnight, a personal visit from the congressman.
About a dozen activists showed up at McCarthy's office at noon Wednesday and said they would not leave until McCarthy, the third-most powerful House Republican, signed a pledge to bring to a vote a bill that would grant a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without permission.
McCarthy has been the target of months of intense protest by immigrant and labor groups. During the August congressional recess, roughly 1,000 marchers from across California converged on his district office, located in a sun-baked strip mall in central Bakersfield.
McCarthy says he agrees that changes need to be made to the nation's immigration system, but he doesn't support a single, comprehensive bill like the one passed by the Senate. That bill would allow immigrants who came to the country illegally to apply for citizenship, so long as they meet certain requirements.
Instead, McCarthy and the rest of the House GOP leadership want to take up a series of smaller bills, including some measures focused on better securing the border.
The protesters in his office on Wednesday were repeatedly asked to leave by McCarthy's staff, but they refused. At about 5 p.m. police were called in. Officers escorted out the staff members.
The activists told police they would not leave until McCarthy, who was in town for a meeting, came to the office, according to Maria Machuca, a spokeswoman for the United Farm Workers.
Shortly after 11 p.m., the McCarthy arrived and talked to protesters for about 30 minutes, after which they agreed to leave, Machuca said.
But the meeting does not appear to have changed McCarthy's mind on immigration legislation. A spokesman the congressman issued a statement Thursday that said the lawmaker "will continue to listen to his constituents -- and not the protests and threats of outside special interest groups -- as he works with his House colleagues towards a step-by-step approach."
"Their intent instead was to disrupt the activities and services of the office," said the statement by McCarthy spokesman Mike Long. "Congressman McCarthy has met with these groups and has listened to their arguments, and it is unfortunate that these groups have resorted to these type of tactics, during, and long after, business hours."
The protesters, who were all female, were not all U.S. citizens, according to Machuca. The group included Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, as well as a daughter of famed labor leader Dolores Huerta.
Machuca said the activists are already planning more protests. "We're not going to take no for an answer," she said.