Sen Kyrsten Sinema slammed immigration activists for confronting her in a bathroom over the weekend regarding her stance on a massive social spending bill that would include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The Arizona Democrat criticised demonstrators affiliated with Living United for Change in Arizona (Lucha) for interrupting the class she teaches at Arizona State University.
“Yesterday’s behaviour was not a legitimate protest,” Ms Sinema said in a statement. “It is unacceptable for activist organizations to instruct their members to jeopardize themselves by engaging in unlawful activities such as gaining entry to closed university buildings, disrupting learning environments, and filming students in a restroom.”
Ms Sinema also said it was wrong of demonstrators to post a video of the encounter, which also captured her students on camera without their permission.
“It is the duty of elected leaders to avoid fostering an environment in which honestly-held policy disagreements serve as the basis for vitriol – raising the temperature in political rhetoric and creating permission structure for unacceptable behavior,” she said.
Lucha protesters tweeted a video of the group following Ms Sinema into a restroom over the weekend, showing them confronting the senator about her lack of willingness to support Democrats’ massive social welfare legislation. One activist named Blanca mentioned how her family was the victim of Arizona’s stringent immigration law passed in 2010.
“I was brought here to the United States when I was three years old. And in 2010, both of my grandparents got deported because of SB 1070,” she said. “I’m here because I definitely believe that we need a pathway to citizenship. My grandfather passed away two weeks ago and I was not able to go to Mexico to visit him because there is no pathway to citizenship. And if we have the opportunity to pass it right now, then we need to do it because there’s millions of undocumented people, just like me, who share the same story...”
Belén Sisa, an immigration activist in Phoenix, pushed back on people criticising activists for confronting Ms Sinema in a restroom. She asserted that protesters were only confronting the lawmaker in a private space because they had met resistance in trying to meet in a professional setting.
“Do you really think we haven’t tried? Events like yesterday happen when your constituents have been ignored since you took office,” she tweeted.
The Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill in August as part of a two-pronged approach by Democrats to enact President Joe Biden’s agenda. The second part of the bill included a $3.5 trillion package that included spending on care for elderly people and people with disabilities, tuition-free community college, paid family leave and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The bill would need to be passed through a process called reconciliation, which would allow Democrats, who only have 50 seats in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris being a tiebreaker, to sidestep a Republican filibuster and only pass the bill with 51 votes as long as it is related to the budget.
But Ms Sinema announced that she did not support the $3.5 trillion price tag. Furthermore, unlike fellow conservative Democrat Sen Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who proposed slimming the bill down to $1.5 trillion, Ms Sinema has not given out a number that she would accept.
But immigration activists also have another obstacle outside of Ms Sinema, as the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week for the second time that immigration reform could not be included in reconciliation.
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