Thousands of immigration reform supporters descend on Bakersfield

Thousands of immigration reform supporters descend on Bakersfield

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - They came from Oakland, Selma, Springfield and numerous other parts of California. Thousands of advocates for comprehensive immigration reform descended upon Bakersfield on Labor Day, hoping to keep the pressure on local Congressman Kevin McCarthy.

The goal is to have Congress pass legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States who qualify.

"They work hard and contribute to our communities," said Edward Bertholdt who came to the rally from Selma.

More than 2,000 jammed into and occupied every seat at the Fox Theater for a rally and to hear testimony from some of the 11 pilgrims who just returned from a pilgrimage of 285 miles from Sacramento to Bakersfield. About 500 others had to wait outside the theater, because it was filled to capacity.

The recent trek by the 11 pilgrims lasted 21 days and was meant to call attention to and dramatize the need for Congress to pass a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for those who qualify. Dubbed the "Campaign for Citizenship," it was organized by PICO California, a coalition of faith-based organizations statewide that includes diverse clergy and congregations, including Faith in Action Kern County.

"This is an issue of hope. If you start to take away hope out of a people, then you have decimated the heart of our nation," said Rev. Damita Davis-Howard of First Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church of Oakland.

Organizers invited McCarthy to the rally. An empty chair on stage was meant to dramatize his absence.

Earlier in the day, a small group of Bakersfield Tea Party members held their own demonstration in front of McCarthy's office, urging the congressman to reject any legislation providing legalization for undocumented immigrants.

As House majority whip, McCarthy is the third-most powerful Republican in Congress, a key reason why his office is targeted for support by proponents of immigration reform. Eyewitness News has asked McCarthy repeatedly if he specifically supports a pathway to citizenship as part of any immigration reform legislation. McCarthy has skirted the issue.

He issued the following statement: "Rather than take up the rushed Senate bill, I believe we must fix our broken immigration system through a step by step legislative approach that focuses on securing the border first. Our discussions on immigration will continue, however I have been in Washington D.C. since Sunday morning to moderate a classified briefing with members of the House and Senate to to discuss the situation in Syria with President Obama and his national security team on Tuesday."