Written by Ashley Frechette
Henrico, VA — On Sunday afternoon, protestors gathered alongside Broad Street at Innsbrook to protest Congressman Dave Brat’s policies and statements on immigration reform. The event, 7th District Citizens Resist Dave Brat: Stop Separating Families, organized by Together We Will-Henrico, was intended according to their Facebook page to ask Congressman Brat: “to issue a STRONG DENUNCIATION of President Trump and Jeff Session’s border security proposition. Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants and they deserve respect and compassion for the crisis they are fleeing.” Brat has recently defended the President’s zero-tolerance border policy. “Additionally, a border wall is a costly, ineffective proposition to secure the border of the United States. It is not fiscally responsible to spend tax-payer dollars on this initiative.”
Richmond 2day spoke with an organizer for the event, Melissa McKenney of Together We Will -Henrico: “With the President advocating for an end to due process, the community is calling on Representative Dave Brat to support federal legislation that would provide a framework for decriminalizing the asylum-seeking process and establish a preference for family unification and reunification.
Congressman Brat responded to the protest by accusing Democrats of wanting open borders.
“Shouting and protesting without listening has become a trademark of the Democrat Party. On Friday I introduced a bill in the House that would keep families together at the border, so today’s protest was completely without merit considering I’ve put forth a solution. Democrats have already indicated they will oppose this legislation, just like they have every single real, common sense policy fix Republicans have offered on immigration, signaling very clearly they want open borders — something the American people do not want.”
Congressman Brat has been often been criticized for being out of touch with his constituents and staying in his conservative lane. This is something that he accused his predecessor, the former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of doing when he ran a Tea-Party campaign in the 2014 Primary to beat Cantor.
McKenney, spoke to the importance of holding this public protest to ensure he knows where his constituents stand on these issues: “Congressman Brat has been denying his constituents a voice by refusing town halls, our group felt it was important to provide a much-needed outlet for expressing growing concerns around human and immigration rights. The large turnout of concerned citizens from all corners of the 7th District suggests that the event was a success — and just a start.”
Cheryl Ware, a constituent from Henrico attended the protest on Sunday: “Congressman Brat controls much of his own narrative through his appearances on Fox news and other conservative outlets. He has repeatedly denounced VA07 constituents who disagree with him rather than engaging with them. So, reluctantly, many people like myself, have decided that joining with others in a unified voice is the most effective way to counter Congressman Brat’s mangled talking points.”
The bill that Brat referenced in his response, the Protect Kids and Parents Act, piggybacks on Sen. Cruz’s S. 3091, Protect Kids and Parents Act. His proposed legislation would mandate that families must be kept together, authorize temporary shelters, and attempts to expedite asylum cases so that they will be heard within 14 days. Critics of the Senate bill say that the 14-day-window is not a realistic timeframe for lawyers to build cases and compile evidence. While Brat’s comments in regards to Sunday’s scheduled protest are accurate, it is important to note that Sunday’s event was rescheduled from Friday due to inclement weather.
Experts in immigration law have warned that asylum cases take years to build and be heard. Expediting the process to 14 days is simply unrealistic. Nolo, an online legal aid, shared that USCIS rarely meets it’s deadlines for processing and hearing asylum cases. But, some say that Brat and Cruz want to increase the number Federal Judges to hear these cases – while that is true, unfortunately it does not help fix a broken system.
Hacking Law Practice, based out of St. Louis, cites the reason behind why these cases take a long time: “The government doesn’t have enough money to process these cases properly and in an efficient manner. Another reason the cases are taking so long is because for many applicants, it’s simply impossible for the government to do what they consider to be proper background checks, and they’re really falling behind in processing these cases.” Increasing the number of judges does not increase the number of attorneys, assistants, aides, and law students available to help gather evidence and information. It also does not add more money appear to the budget, in fact increasing the judges could decrease funds available to conduct background checks, etc. if it is not allotted properly. Even if we increase the judges and legal staff, there are only so many hours in the day that cases can be heard and these cases take time to read and adjudicate.
Brat’s comments about “shouting and protesting without listening” are a double-edged sword. Many constituents in Brat’s district feel that protesting is the only way to get their voices heard. Simply reaching out via e-mail, phone call, and letter usually receives no response, a hang up, or a form letter reiterating Brat’s previous comments. It took a protest along with a written piece criticizing Brat’s stance and silence on the issue in order to get any comment from his camp.
It has been over a year since Brat’s last town hall.
McKenney spoke on the neccesity of physical presence to reach Brat: “Since he won’t engage in substantive conversations, Dave’s left his constituents with one way to demonstrate their will, which is to literally demonstrate with a physical presence. He seems to have taken action in direct response to the community organizing a free speech event.”
Brandon Jarvis contributed to this report.