A national union organizer and immigration activist was arrested after refusing repeated police requests to demonstrate farther away from a Doral building that houses U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s office.
The Friday arrest of 68-year-old Eliseo Medina is the latest sign of the increasing pressure from Democrats and their allies to get U.S. House Republicans to schedule an election-year vote on immigration reform.
“This is brilliant. This is brilliant,” one activist, whose identity is unclear from a YouTube video, said after Doral police busted Medina, a Los Angeles resident who’s the international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union.
Medina’s arrest and subsequent release from jail – on trespassing and nonviolent resisting of arrest charges -- made local English- and Spanish-language television.
Security at the building, which holds multiple tenants, called police of its own accord when a crowd appeared, and an officer then arrested Medina who repeatedly refused to step away, Diaz-Balart’s office said, pointing to a police report.
Medina and the activists appeared at the Diaz-Balart’s office after an immigration-reform press conference held with Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who described her Miami colleague as “a patriotic Floridian, a great Member of Congress, relentless, persistent, determined, dissatisfied.”
One organizer, Kathy Bird of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said the event and the arrest was not planned.
Bird said she's not sure who called the police, but she said that treatment of peaceful activists is "the worst at Mario Diaz-Balart's office."
"We go to congressmen in tea party country -- Bartow, Lakeland, some areas in Orlando -- and we don't get treated as badly as we do here," Bird said. "He's our congressman. He should face us."
Activists are targeting House Republicans because it's their caucus stalling immigration reform, Bird said. So Diaz-Balart is facing more pressure than Garcia.
Garcia and Diaz-Balart, both from Miami, occupy top roles in their respective party’s efforts to bring about a vote for bipartisan immigration reform. Election opponents in 2008 – when Diaz-Balart won -- the two don’t work closely together on the issue.
Garcia’s legislation largely mirrors a Senate bill passed with the help of another Miami-Dade politician, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
But where Garcia can point to an immigration-reform package that’s ready for a vote, Diaz-Balart is still working behind the scenes to get enough support for the issue from fellow Republicans, who control the House and haven’t let the issue move far.
The activists, who also included the group "Fast for Families," said they just wanted to deliver a letter calling on Diaz-Balart to fast every Wednesday to support immigration reform.
"No one is doing more to move immigration reform than the congressman," said Diaz-Balart’s chief of staff, Cesar Gonzalez. He said Medina had scheduled a private one-on-one interview with the congressman on Friday, but the office was not equipped or prepared for more than a dozen activists to attend.
Amid the confusion, security called police and police arrested Medina.
The YouTube video shows Medina refused five requests from an officer, whose name is unclear from the police report, to move to a sidewalk and away from entrance of the five-story American Welding Society.
Once Medina was cuffed, the crowd began a chant that called on House Speaker John Boehner to allow immigration reform to come to a vote. They also chanted “stop separating our families” and “si se puede” (“yes we can”).
“Are they really taking him to jail?” one unknown demonstrator asked.
Right after that question, another twice said it was brilliant. And a third then chimed in: “This is great, right?”