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Hundreds Protest Silence From UCI’s Congresswoman Walters

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Over 200 citizens of California’s 45th Congressional District, encompassing UCI’s campus and much of Irvine, demonstrated in front of 45th District Representative Mimi Walters’ office last Tuesday, Jan. 31 in response to the Congresswoman’s silence on President Trump’s recent “Muslim ban” and Mexican border wall executive orders. The demonstrators, including several UCI students and affiliates, said that Rep. Walters has been inaccessible to constituents in recent months, refusing to meet in person or announce a schedule for a town hall meeting, the last of which occurred in August 2016.

Tuesday’s demonstration was the second in a series of weekly demonstrations at Rep. Walters’ Irvine office, which have taken place each Tuesday from 3-5 p.m. since Trump’s inauguration. The first demonstration, calling for a viable replacement of the Affordable Care Act, drew about 65 constituents. Last week’s demonstration, urging Walters to take a stance against Trump’s immigration ban and border wall, nearly tripled in size. Another demonstration is planned for this Tuesday, Feb. 7.

Rep. Walters, a Republican, has been the target of recent criticism alleging that she is not acknowledging the concerns of her constituents. According to Jessica Riegert, a member of Orange County Democratic Socialists of America and co-organizer of last week’s demonstration, these demonstrations have “centered on meeting with Walters in person” in the form of meetings and open public forums.

“These are groups of constituents who want their concerns heard,” said Riegert. “We met with the Director of the District and he heard our concerns. However, he and his staff declined to tell us about future meetings with Walters or ways to set that up. We did proceed to have a sit in until her office gave us an avenue to request face to face. No one has heard a response.”

Many demonstrators at Walters’ office were personally affected by Trump’s executive orders; one constituent at the protest said that they came because their mother was being deported. Trump’s executive order on immigration, issued on Jan. 27, has since been halted nationwide by federal courts, but originally called for a 90-day ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries with exceptions for Christians. Due to the apparent religious overtones, many have called it a “Muslim ban.” UCI currently has 154 students and scholars from the affected countries.

“[Walters’] district has a huge population of immigrants, second generation, and community members that are directly impacted by this ban,” said Riegert. “This is not a far away ‘them’ that is impacted. On top of that, in a general American sense, these bans are un-American. It directly goes against what is on the Statue of Liberty and the foundations of our country.”

UCI informatics and computer sciences professor Cristina Videira Lopes could not attend last Tuesday’s protest, but expressed disappointment over Walters’ interactions with constituents after her own concerns were “bounced back with generic replies.”

“There are no signs of the Congresswoman wanting to meet her constituents and hearing what they have to say,” said Professor Lopes. “I am extremely worried about [her] lack of response to her constituents. This is not how democracy is supposed to work. She seems to be hiding. It’s not even clear if she actually exists, or if she is some sort of robot operated by the central Republican Party machinery.”

Walters has not released any recent statement on the Muslim ban or border wall, but previously expressed her disagreement with the proposals when Donald Trump was still running for the Republican nomination. In Dec. 2015, Walters told the Orange County Register, “[The Muslim ban] does not represent conservative values nor the principles upon which this country was founded.”

According to Rep. Walters’ press liaison, Abigail Sigler, Walters is currently in Washington D.C., and has been there during both of the demonstrations, “doing the job the people of California’s 45th District elected her to do.” However, Sigler said, “she is in near constant contact with her staff in the Irvine office.”

Sigler encouraged constituents with concerns to continue calling and emailing Walters’ office, as “Walters understands that it is her responsibility to represent the people of California’s 45th District, and it is a responsibility she takes very seriously. She reviews all constituent calls and emails, and our staff is meeting with concerned constituents and engaging in productive discussions with many constituents.”

Several constituents who were present at the protests last Tuesday expressed hope that Walters will issue a direct response to their calls and emails before returning from D.C. to her Irvine office, at risk of alienating her voting base.

“I personally see this as callous disregard for her district. We are not automatically opposed to Walters. She is our Representative and should be hearing input, just as any other elected official should,” said Riegert. “The perceived avoidance of her constituents…and lack of concern for American ideals is going to be something she will need to face.”