On Tuesday, over 100 immigrant workers gathered with their families outside the Lea County Museum for a mock Thanksgiving dinner to protest Congressman Steve Pearce's refusal to support immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Pearce, who was in town promoting his new book, "Just Fly the Plane, Stupid," was confronted by protestors holding signs that said "We picked your food," "We milked the cows," and "We are as American as your family."
For two hours, the immigrant protesters chanted outside the museum where Pearce was signing copies of his book. They criticized the Congressman for being one of several Republicans who continue to block a path to citizenship for immigrant families despite the hefty contributions they make to his district economically. They also pointed out his personal financial connections to immigrant labor.
"He has profited greatly from the oil industry, personally and politically," said Angel Escarcega, an immigrant oil worker in Lea County. "Our families help make that possible. We work hard in the fields and are vital to New Mexico's economy. Pearce says he wants us to keep working in this country, but he doesn't think we deserve to become American."
Victoria Ochoa, a mother of four who has lived in Lovington for 19 years said at the protest "I cherish spending this Thanksgiving holiday knowing that it could be our last together. If Congressman Pearce continues to deny us an opportunity to be citizens, my family will continue living in uncertainty. My husband works in the oil fields doing a dangerous job. We have done our part, now it's time that Pearce does his. "
The workers delivered a raw turkey to the Congressman, sending a message that without their labor New Mexicans would not have food on the table or the gas to cook it on Thanksgiving. The Congressman refused to accept the bird.
Pearce has been the target of numerous protests in recent months because he is one of several Republicans stymieing immigration reform in Congress by advocating for piecemeal legislation that would create a permanent underclass of immigrant working families. He has made public statements suggesting that immigrant workers should be afforded guest worker status with no guarantee of permanent legal residency or a path to citizenship.
"Pearce is part of the problem in Congress. He's not offering or working toward real solutions on immigration for the people of his district," said Marina Piña, a community organizer who works with Somos Lea County, an affiliate of New Mexico's statewide immigrant organization Somos Un Pueblo Unido. "He comes out saying that he supports guest worker visas and current paths to citizenship. All that means is that he supports the status quo. Does he think we're stupid? We are not going to let him off the hook."
Benito Galvan, a construction worker who has lived in Hobbs for 17 years said, "Immigrant workers helped build his house and put food on his table. We want the Congressman to treat us with dignity and not as second class citizens. We want a place at the table too."
Recent polling released by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 63% of Americans support immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented families.