For just a moment, Jenni Martinez panicked as she recognized the man at the counter in a small diner on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Although she had Googled John Boehner many times to make sure she and the others could identify him, the 16-year-old Redmond High School junior was still struck by his casual appearance — jeans, a windbreaker and baseball cap.
Then she froze: “What am I going to say?”
“It was that kind of moment, like balancing on the blade of a knife,” she said. “We were there for a reason and once you’ve made the decision you have to act,” she said.
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The reason she was in D.C., along with her brother, Carlos, about 40 other children from across the country, was to try to pressure Boehner and other House Republicans to support an immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship for nearly 11 million unauthorized immigrants, like her parents, who came to the United States from Mexico 25 years ago.
Their meetings and events were organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) a coalition of immigrant-advocacy groups that includes Seattle-based OneAmerica.
The story hit the networks, and the girls were booked for interviews to talk about their conversation with Boehner. A YouTube video of the exchange had nearly 13,000 hits by Wednesday evening.
“Our goal is to humanize immigration debate and “put pressure on those who are so stagnant in their position,” Martinez said. “We want to remind people this is not politics; these are human lives.”
She and her brother are activists in OneAmerica Youth Program, which engages students on immigration issues.
Nicknamed the Dynamic Duo, the two, both U.S. citizens, have participated across the state in marches and rallies and fasted alongside their peers, many of them undocumented immigrants.
As she stood before Boehner on Wednesday, she didn’t want to miss a chance to share what was on her mind.
She and another girl, 13-year-old Carmen Lima, of California, approached the powerful Republican. Lima went first, inviting the speaker to join them for breakfast.
When he declined, she asked if they could talk to him while he waited. She introduced herself and asked Boehner if he was a father.
He said he was, and she asked how he would feel if he had to tell his children he wasn’t coming home.
Martinez told the speaker that many kids aren’t as lucky as she and miss out on years with their parents when immigration status tears families apart.
“Imagine … missing out on your kids’ football games and soccer games,” she told him.
Boehner told the girls he’ll try to find a way to get it done. “It’s not gonna be an easy path forward. But I’ve made it clear since the day after the election that it’s time to get this done.”
Later, near the Capitol steps Martinez also approached Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, telling the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress it’s time for her to support immigration changes.
But that might not be anytime soon.
At a post-breakfast news conference at the Capitol, Boehner told reporters: “We’ve made it clear that we’re going to move on a common-sense, step-by-step approach in terms of how we deal with immigration.”
But as for the bill that passed the Senate this year, “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.