BAKERSFIELD -- As more than a thousand immigrant rights activists marched outside his district office, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) issued a statement Wednesday that cast further doubt on the likelihood that he will support an immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for millions of people living in the U.S. without permission.
Protesters from across California converged on Bakersfield in 100-degree heat for what organizers billed as one of the nation's largest rallies in favor of an immigration overhaul.
They targeted McCarthy, the third-most powerful Republican in the House, because they say he has the ability to persuade House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to pass legislation that would allow immigrants to apply for citizenship. They have asked members of Congress to vote on a bipartisan citizenship bill passed by the Senate or to craft a similar law that achieves the same thing.
McCarthy, who is traveling in the Middle East this week, issued a statement indicating that a vote on the Senate bill is out of the question.
"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," he said.
He did not say whether one of those steps might include a measure to grant a path to citizenship for immigrants here without permission, but in the past he has said "we should not provide any amnesty that would benefit those who defy our laws and enter the United States illegally."
Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said she was disappointed with McCarthy's statement, but said she is hopeful that further pressure will change his mind.
"We're not going to take no for an answer," she said. She said she and other immigrant rights leaders met with McCarthy last week and came away feeling optimistic. "I have hope that he can come toward us."
Wednesday's protest was one of hundreds planned across California this month and next, to persuade members of Congress to vote on a comprehensive bill. On Tuesday, activists targeted the Orange County district of Rep. Ed Royce.
After a rally in a city park that included dozens of speakers and live music, the activists marched to McCarthy's office, where a smaller contingent that included Salas and labor leader Dolores Huerta went inside and delivered a bucket of cleaning supplies and two canteloupes to one of McCarthy's aides. The gifts were symbols of the work immigrants do to keep America working, they said.
Outside, about two dozen people held signs and chanted "USA" at a counter-protest organized by an anti-immigration group and the Bakersfield Tea Party. One activist, Cathi Chrisco, said she was offended that people outside McCarthy's district had traveled there to try to sway him.
"Most of those people don't even live in our district," she said.
Chrisco opposes legislation that would allow people who broke the law to get here to apply for citizenship, she said, and she also visited McCarthy's office to deliver her message. "People need to abide by our Constitution," she said.