WASHINGTON -- A coalition of immigration activists formed a picket line outside of the White House Monday to call for advocacy groups to stop meeting with President Barack Obama until undocumented immigrants are included in discussions on further immigration action.
As tourists stared, the protesters, some of whom said they are undocumented, marched in a circle just steps from the north entrance to the White House. They chanted "no more meetings about us, without us," and carried homemade signs with the faces of undocumented immigrants that read "I am my own best advocate."
Activists with ties to various immigration reform efforts attended the event, which was organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. The protest was part of a campaign to urge advocacy groups to sign a pledge promising to only meet with Obama if undocumented immigrants have a seat at the negotiating table.
Before heading to the White House on Monday, the advocates visited the offices of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, the Center for American Progress and the National Immigration Forum, said Maru Mora Villalpando, a consultant with Latino Advocacy. But so far, none of the groups have signed the pledge.
"They have a very legitimate request: that their voices be heard directly by the president," Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said in an email. "I cannot make that pledge on behalf of CAP, but I told them that I would urge the administration to engage them directly."
Representatives from the Leadership Conference for Civil and the Human Rights and National Immigration Forum did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“There’s no better advocate for any issue than those persons directly impacted by the issues,” Jorge Gutierrez, who came to the United States from Mexico and is undocumented, said at the picket line. “So for us it’s crucial that organizations, politicians, advocates that are going into the White House to talk 'on our behalf,' that needs to stop. Those most impacted need to be the ones self-representing in those meetings."
Tension between grassroots activists and national immigration advocacy organizations has existed for years. While the groups mostly presented a unified front publicly during the early months of the debate over immigration reform in 2013, they split later in the year over whether they should give up on Congress and move on to pressuring Obama full-time for deportation relief.
Grassroots groups said it was time to focus on the president, while many of the national groups continued to pressure the House GOP. Eventually, most of the groups same to the same conclusion: Immigration reform wasn't going to happen this year.
After meeting with advocates from national groups, Obama announced in June that he was ready to go it alone and do what he could to change immigration policies without Congress.
Now, as Obama considers what kind of funding he can get to help deal with the current influx of undocumented minors at the nation's southern border, the protesters outside the White House Monday said they want to be at the table.
"We know that we don’t have the political power that others do," said Villalpando, who came to the United States from Mexico 22 years ago and is undocumented. "Those that are advocating for us, if they believe that they are doing the right thing, they should allow us to be in those meetings."
“We are the ones pushing because at the end of the day we are the ones that will live with the consequences of Obama’s decision,” Villalpando added.
The picket line was the second demonstration at the White House Monday. Earlier in the day, the advocacy group United We Dream convened a large group in front of the White House to urge the president to expand the deportation relief he has granted to young undocumented immigrants to their families. Sharing personal stories in several different languages and often reaching the verge of tears, undocumented families urged the president to bypass Congress and take more action on immigration.
But Lorella Praeli, the director of advocacy and policy for United We Dream, said at the rally Monday that Republicans are “cowards” for not taking action on immigration.
“Republicans can put a bill on the floor right now. If they’re so concerned about the president taking action, that’s my quickest response,” said Praeli, who added that her family could not travel back to Peru to care for her ailing grandmother because her mother was undocumented. “If you’re just going to whine and obstruct every avenue for relief, I have no business with you.”