PHOENIX – U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said Monday that activists who confronted her outside an Arizona State University classroom and filmed her inside a restroom were not engaging in “legitimate protest.”
The Democratic senator said that the immigration reform activists unlawfully entered the suburban Phoenix campus building, which was only open to ASU students and faculty, and recorded her and her students. Sinema, a former social worker, is a lecturer at ASU's School of Social Work.
“In the 19 years I have been teaching at ASU, I have been committed to creating a safe and intellectually challenging environment for my students," Sinema said. “Yesterday, that environment was breached. My students were unfairly and unlawfully victimized.”
Living United for Change in Arizona, also known as LUCHA, posted video of the Sunday encounter on its social media.
The video showed group members chastising Sinema on accusations that she did not adequately support expectations of a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally and has not been supportive enough of President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion infrastructure proposal.
Sinema did not say anything to the activists while they filmed her.
LUCHA said its members were forced to confront Sinema at ASU because she has been inaccessible.
“Sinema’s constituents have not been granted access to her office, they have been ignored, dismissed, and antagonized,” the group said in a Monday statement said.
Sinema said in her statement she has met with the group multiple times since she was elected to the Senate.
Both Sinema and fellow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin have been criticized for not fully backing the Democrats' $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, saying it's too expensive. Manchin, of West Virginia, was also confronted by activists over the weekend. People on kayaks approached his boat to yell at him.
When asked about the incidents, President Joe Biden, whose first year of office could be defined by this package passing, agreed they weren't the best strategies.
“I don’t think they’re appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody ... the only people it doesn’t happen to are people who have Secret Service standing around them," Biden said. "So, it’s -- it’s part of the process.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki sought to emphasize that Biden supports people's fundamental right to speak up. But in Sinema's case, boundaries were crossed.
“That’s inappropriate and unacceptable,” Psaki said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also took offense at the ASU confrontation.
“I started my career protesting the Vietnam War, and I get protested all the time,” said Schumer, who is trying to usher the Build Back Better Act through Congress. “And I understand and so feel for the immigrant community and what they are going through, but following someone into a bathroom and recording them, that’s over the line.”
LUCHA’s statement did not address the criticism of the tactics. Tomas Robles, the group's co-director, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the backlash over ASU bathroom confrontation.
“This is Sinema’s moment to do the right thing and stop blocking the Build Back Better Act,” the statement said. “We - her constituents - need a pathway to citizenship, access to healthcare and lower drug prices, better-paying jobs, education funding, and the ability to keep our families safe. Senator Sinema must listen to constituents and support a Build Back Better agenda."
Immigration reform advocates were outraged after an effort to add immigration provisions to the infrastructure bill, including a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants, was rejected. They believe Sinema's stance on the infrastructure package makes any immigration provisions unachievable.
Sinema spokesman John LaBombard told The Arizona Republic last month that she “supports both securing our border and fixing our broken immigration system, including passing a permanent fix for Dreamers.”
The DREAM Act — Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — is congressional legislation that would allow young immigrants in the country illegally who were brought here as children to remain in the country if they meet certain criteria. The legislation has never been approved by Congress. It is similar to but not the same as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Many refer to immigrants who would benefit from either the DREAM Act or DACA as “Dreamers.”