Police break up peaceful Willowdale event after neighbor complains
Updated: 4:30, adds comment from Rep. Pitts.
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — More than two dozen county residents gathered to prod U.S. Representative Joe Pitts (R-16) to get behind a bipartisan immigration reform effort, before police broke up the peaceful gathering, Monday morning, near Pitts’ Willowdale district office.
“We know he’s not here,” said Rhett Lipscom, the Chester County Administrator for Organizing For America of Pitts. “But we hope that he gets the message.”
Although no one from Pitts’ staff said they objected to the peaceful event and all attendees were invited into the office to offer formal comment on the issue to the Congressman, a neighboring business owner called police to complain about the gathering in the parking lot. Township police responded about 45 minutes into the event, which primarily involved a few chants and people waiving signs, Police asked the protesters to leave, and they did.
Monday afternoon, Pitts’ staff issued a statement from the congressman, which while it did not say where he stood on the current bill, did express his thanks for the civil manner of those in attendance today.
“A functioning and welcoming immigration system is essential to American prosperity,” the statement said. “We need to take the politics out of this issue and do what is right. I hear frequently from constituents on all sides of this debate. There is a lot that needs to be fixed with our immigration law. I’m glad people are making their voices heard. I understand the people who visited my Willowdale office today were very friendly and civil, and I thank them for their courtesy. The Senate has passed a bill. This fall, the House will be debating the issue too and considering a series of bills.”
While Lipscom said she was pretty sure that Pitts was not going to support the immigration reform bill, a Pitts spokesman said that the congressman — as is the case with his Chester County colleagues, Pat Meehan (R-7) and Jim Gerlach (R-6) — has not formally stated a position on the legislation, crafted as a compromise between U.S. Senate Republicans and Democrats earlier this year.
Lipscom noted that Pitts — maybe uniquely among Chester County Congressmembers — may be persuadable. The 16th District is one of the top mushroom growing regions in the country and local agriculture has been dependent on immigrant labor, primarily Mexican, for decades. She admits that local Tea Party members, who some at the rally compared to the “Know-Nothings,” a rabid, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant party from the 1850s that later became incorporated in the modern Republican Party, would likely be pressing Pitts in the opposite direction. Seeking to remind Pitts that others in the community have opinions was the primary reason for Monday’s event.
“We hope he’ll hold out,” Lipscombe said. “We all deserve a chance.”
Babette Janny, from Newlin, said she came to Monday’s rally in the hope of increasing awareness of the issue in the greater public.
OFA, the organizing group that morphed from President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, is pushing the economic impact of passing immigration reform, and Lipscombe pointed to the four key points her organization is making in support of the legislation.
She cited a report from Center for American Progress saying, among other things, if the reform bill passes the local economic impact will be the following:
• In Pennsylvania, the 10-year cumulative increase in GSP will be $14.8 billion.
• The increase in the earnings of state residents will be $9.3 billion
• Immigration reform will create an average of an additional 2,100 jobs annually.
• Immigrants will experience increases in their income and pay more taxes to their states. In Pennsylvania, over the 10-year period it is estimated that they will earn $7.7 billion more and pay an additional $810 million in state and local taxes on these increased earnings.