A group of eight men and women sweated under the glare of the midday sun Saturday, waving signs and American flags just beyond the green canopy and shade trees outside S.C. Rep. Mark Sanford's office in Beaufort.
They were there to rally for immigration reform, hoping to give voice to those who were conspicuously absent Saturday from 903 Port Republic St.: the Hispanic community of Beaufort County. The rally, which later grew to about 40 people, was organized by the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition as part of the National Day of Dignity and Respect, which wants Congress to institute comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Sanford does not back the bill the U.S. Senate passed in June, which would amp up border security and create a 13-year wait for citizenship for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants. Those at the rally said they want Sanford, the 1st District Republican, to change his mind or, at the very least, hear their perspective, said John Giles, president of the Democratic Club of Beaufort County South of the Broad.
"A labor force within our community, which we desperately need, is what he's missing out on," Giles said. "I feel he's out of touch with his constituency."
The coalition said it has tried for several months to secure a meeting with the congressman. The federal government shutdown this week has made scheduling even more difficult, said Jon Kohan, a spokesman for Sanford.
"It's definitely going to happen," Kohan said. "Mr. Sanford would like to meet the group."
Sanford was scheduled for a town hall meeting Saturday night in North Charleston and plans to attend Monday's gathering of the Hilton Head Island First Monday Club, a Republican group, Kohan said.
George Kanuck, co-chairman for the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, said he still plans to push for a town hall to address the potential effects of immigration reform on the Lowcountry. Sanford has no plans to hold an event specific to one issue, according to Kohan.
Outside the congressman's office Saturday, about 10 members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Beaufort led the crowd in a few verses of "This Land Is Your Land." One member of the group, Marilyn Martino of Beaufort, said most immigrants are just looking for a better life for themselves and their children.
"The people who are in this situation want to do the right thing. They want to be legal, tax-paying citizens," Martino said. "But they need a vehicle to get there."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.